Thank you so very much to Gloucester Times Editor Andrea Holbrook and staff writer Michael Cronin for sharing about the fence post installation and the great information provided for the public. We are so appreciative of the ongoing support given by the community and the Gloucester Times.
By Michael Cronin
Photo by Paul Bilodeau
March 29, 2021
Part of Good Harbor Beach is fenced off to protect some tiny seasonal visitors.
A crew of Public Works personnel began fencing out an area of the beach on Monday to protect migrating piping plovers. The first pair of the threatened shorebirds reportedly landed this weekend.
“They put up the posts today,” said Kim Smith, a local documentarian and advocate for the piping plovers. “The roping will come next and then they’ll put up the signage telling people what’s going on. This is super that they’re doing it early this season. The earlier it goes up, the earlier the chicks hatch which gives them a better chance of survival as the beaches aren’t so busy yet.”
According to Smith, the piping plovers that visit Good Harbor typically nest in the same spot each year.
“One year they nested out in the parking lot because they were pushed out by the dogs on the beach,” she recalled. “But once the ordinance was put in place they were able to return to their usual spot.”
Dog are banned from Good Harbor Beach between April and September. Wingaersheek will remain open to canines on odd numbered days until April 30.
Smith said she’s waiting for the birds to lay their eggs. Once they do, members of the Essex County Greenbelt Association will encapsulate the nest with wire netting.
“Dave Rimmer of Essex County Greenbelt has been guiding us since 2016,” said Smith. “He’s the first one I call when the first egg is laid. The holes in the cage are big enough for the birds to enter and leave, but small enough to keep predators out.”
I’m writing to share the exciting news that the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law today! The culmination of fifty years of bipartisan conservation effort, the law ensures that the critically important Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is permanently funded.
LWCF is used to acquire, protect and manage our public lands, including National Parks and Wildlife Refuges such as the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge right here in Essex County. The new law means that $900 million will be committed each year from offshore drilling revenues to protect important land, water and recreational areas that benefit all of us.
Greenbelt applauds the efforts of so many over so many years. This is the biggest win for our public lands in a generation and it ensures LWCF can protect our lands and waters forever!
Thanks for your ongoing support of land conservation, and be well,
Thank you so very much to Heather Atwood and Kory Curcuru for sharing about our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. It’s a joy to participate in these interviews and I also want to thank Heather for stopping by to meet Marshmallow. I am so glad she got to see our super Dad in action!
You can follow 1623 Studios on Facebook. If you like the page, Cape Ann Today with Kory and Heather will pop up in your news feed.
Cuteness Alert! “Marshmallow,” this year’s Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover hatchling, stars in Kim Smith’s new video. Come for the fluffy, leggy sweetness; stay for the interview.
Located in our East Gloucester neighborhood is a rare bit of New England coastal habitat called a Relic Sandplain Grassland or Open Heathland (see below to read more about Sandplain Grasslands). I love walking there in the early morning when the light is especially beautiful. The native flora attracts a wide array of wildlife, including favorite songbirds, skippers, butterflies, hawks, and Eastern Coyotes.
Eastern Coyote (Canis latrans) Seine Field
Earlier in the summer on an evocatively lit semi-foggy morning I went to photograph. The sun was pouring long shooting rays through the atmosphere and it was stunning to see.
Several weeks later I went again on a foggy morning and was delighted to find the field shrouded in seine nets. Called Seine Field because during the 19th and 20th centuries, fisherman laid out their seine nets across the expansive field to dry and to repair.
Seine nets were used by Gloucester’s seiner boat fishermen, the same type of boats we see during Fiesta: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. The field is still used by local fishermen and it was totally random and by chance when I was there while in use.
Gloucester Seine Boats
In 2018, Essex Greenbelt applied for, and received, a Community Preservation Act grant to improve the quarter mile trail. The wide, newly graded walkway provides accessibility for most and I especially love it because ever since I had complications from a tick bite, I don’t feel much like traipsing through grass and dense vegetation, particularly during the summer months, and especially when with Charlotte (she loves Seine Field, too!). The trail is fantastic for adults and young children alike.
Seine Field is managed by Essex County Greenbelt Association and is located on Farrington Avenue in Gloucester. For more information about ECGA and to learn how you can be come involved follow this link: Essex County Greenbelt Association
Sandplain Grasslands are open, essentially treeless, grass dominated communities that generally occur on sand or other dry, poor soils; Occurrences are maintained by fire, salt spray, and, now, mowing.
Differentiating from Related Communities: Sandplain Grasslands are part of a structural and successional continuum with other coastal communities. When communities are not distinct the best fit should be named. Sandplain Heathlands and Sandplain Grasslands share ~70% of their dominant species: the proportions of the species and the community structure separate the types. Sandplain Heathlands look shrubbier with a taller shrub layer comprised of scrub oak, black huckleberry, and/or lowbush blueberry, and overall have fewer plant species. Both Sandplain Grasslands and Maritime Dune Communities have grasses, forbs, and low shrubs, with patches of bare soil. Dune communities are often dominated by beach grass and beach heather that occur less abundantly in grasslands, where if they occur they are with other plants. Sandplain Grasslands – Inland Variant are located inland away from maritime influences and fewer coastal species including sandplain flax, golden heather, and sandplain blue-eyed grass.
Whether the chick hatched last Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, today marks the one week milestone. His chance of survival improves exponentially. That is not to say we aren’t needed as much, just that the chick is getting better at listening to the adult’s piping voice commands and growing smarter and more savvy everyday.
Sue and Jonathan – I don’t recall the protective exclosure being removed this close to hatching in past years but will try to find out why.
Did not see the beach raker this morning before leaving, but did clean the PiPl and Creek side of the beach and it looks good- I am getting a break with the amount of trash left behind because the rain is keeping folks away 🙂
This morning I arrived later than usual and while crossing the footbridge, one of our GHB Red Foxes ran through the roped off area. Even though far off, I could hear an adult piping the danger call very loudly and saw a flash of feathers trying to lead the Fox away from their home base. Then the Fox stopped to eat something? Thankfully it wasn’t one of our PiPls, but it took me another half hour to locate all three. There were no bones or feathers where he had been chowing down, and he ran off empty-mouthed, so I don’t have a clue as to what he was eating. Love our Red Fox family, but they sure are a worry as far as the PiPls are concerned!
Have a great day everyone and so thankful for all your help and interest!
Please consider becoming a Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Ambassador this summer. We are looking for volunteers who can commit to one hour a day, from the time the chicks hatch to the time they fledge, which is approximately one month. Our first family of Good Harbor Beach chicks may hatch as early as June 23rd. Many of the morning times are filled, so we are especially looking for help mid-day, afternoon, and early evenings if you can lend a hand. Thank you! HERE IS THE LINK WITH MORE INFORMATION
This morning the awesome Dave Rimmer and his assistant Mike Galli installed an exclosure at the area we call #1 (because it is closer to boardwalk #1). I write “awesome” because Dave Rimmer is Director of Land Stewardship at Essex County Greenbelt Association and for the fifth year in a row, he has lent his experience and expertise at absolutely NO CHARGE $$ to the City of Gloucester. We all owe Dave and Greenbelt huge thanks of appreciation. Thank you once again Dave for your kind assistance.
The exclosure was quickly and efficiently assembled and sledge hammered into place. Would the young pair accept the wire exclosure? It looked dicey for about half an hour or so. I had Charlotte with me and had to leave but a short time later, Dave texted that they were back on the nest. In all his years of installing exclosures (30 plus), only one pair has ever rejected an exclosure.
This nest with currently one egg is located in an extremely open site and not at all where expected. It is their fourth attempt at a serious nest. The first was up by the dune edge in a nicely camouflaged location but as it was not symbolically roped off, it was visibly disturbed by people and pets. Their next nest was located in the roped off area at #1 and that sweet nest had two eggs. Sadly, the eggs disappeared from the nest. The third active nest scrape was actually in the dunes but unfortunately again that was disturbed by people, this time by people going along their same path to go to the bathroom in the dunes. So this fourth nest is in a most open spot and not entirely safe from a stormy high tide.
New nest location, with no protective vegetation
Our Salt Island pair mating and nest scraping, with one egg.
June 15th is late in the year to begin a new nest but it happens often enough. Last year I filmed a PiPl family nesting in July, with three eggs. The nest gets hot as the summer progresses, but the adults were very smart about brooding. They would stand over the nest, not actually sitting on it, which provided shade from the melting sun, without their additional body heat. The adults were also panting to keep cool in the heat. One chick was lost in a storm, but two survived to fledge and the Dad stayed with them the entire time.
In the photos above you can see the PiPl heat wave brooding technique.
I think we should change the names of the nests to the Creek Family and the Salt Island Family. It sounds a lot more personable than #3 and #1. What do you think?
Tune into Greenbelt’s live Osprey cam to see a pair (possibly a third) chick being fed right now by the adults Annie and Squam. One parent (Squam I think) flew in with a fresh caught fish and Annie is tearing it into bits and feeding each gaping wide little mouth. Squam is perched at the edge of the nest, looking so proud!
Greenbelt’s OspreyCam is located in Gloucester, MA on Greenbelt salt marsh near LobstaLand Restaurant.
History: In 2017 a pair of young Osprey took up residence on the LobstaLand platform in July/August and made a small nest. In 2018 they returned in April, stayed until August and built a large nest but never laid eggs. We call this a “house-keeping pair”- almost always a young pair learning the ropes.
In 2019, the pair returned in April to the nest and produced a clutch of 3 eggs, all under the watchful eye of the newly installed webcam. The adults were named Annie and Squam. They hatched one egg, and eventually fledged one chick – named River. River was banded before he fledged. He left the nest for good in late summer.
2020 – Annie and Squam returned to the nest in mid-April, and since then they have been tending to the nest, preparing to produce a clutch of eggs. They have been very patient as we have been back and forth to the nest site many times getting the new webcam set up.
Update April 29, 2020 – The webcam is now live. We’re awaiting what this season will bring! We hope you enjoy it with us.
Update May 11, 2020 – All good news. Annie has laid 3 eggs, completing her clutch yesterday. So that would suggest the first egg might hatch around June 15. Squam has been busily catching mostly river herring these days, feeding himself and Annie a steady diet of fresh fish.
Update May 28, 2020 – Not much new to report. The incubation phase for Annie and Squam continues. Squam is still bringing in numerous fresh fish daily, mostly river herring but the occassional small striped bass as well. Once we roll into June the count down is on for hatching.
Great morning at Good Harbor Beach with Dave Rimmer and his intern Mike Galli along with Gloucester’s DPW Joe Lucido installing the wire exclosure at #3. The guys were in an out hammering in the exclosure and after completing, before they had walked thirty feet, Dad PiPl was back on the nest!
One of the chief risks of installing an exclosure is the birds may reject the nest after placing the exclosure. Dave shared that in all his years of experience (and he has been helping Piping Plovers on the North Shore since 1986 when they were first declared threatened) only once did the nesting birds reject the exclosure. He waited forty five minutes for the birds to return and then removed the exclosure.
For friends who may not recall what an exclosure is – an exclosure is a six foot in diameter wire cage placed over a nest and held securely with metal stakes. The openings in the exclosure are large enough to allow PiPl sized birds to go in and out of the cage, but small enough to prevent most small mammals and larger birds such as crows, gulls, hawks, and owls from entering and eating the eggs. Exclosures don’t work in all circumstances but are very practical at busy town beaches such as ours. Bear in mind that over the course of four years, 15 eggs have been laid at Good Harbor Beach by one Piping Plover pair. All fifteen eggs survived and hatched because of the use of an exclosure.Mom sitting on the nest prior to the exclosure installation
It is the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. As of this morning, at 10am, there are still NO threatened and endangeredspecies signs posted at Good Harbor Beach.
Despite the pandemic, every other city and town along the Massachusetts coastline that has threatened and endangered birds nesting on their beaches has SIGNS.
Friends, I hate to ask you, but if you could, Please share this post and please write to your Councilors (see address below). Thank you!
This is why we need signs and the reason could not be any clearer.
Woman leaving the dunes after going to the bathroom (not posting her going to the bathroom photo)
and cutting through through the nesting area.
As I was leaving the beach several nights ago and turned to have one last look at how beautiful was the light, the woman in the photos was cutting through the nesting area to use the dunes as a bathroom. You can’t blame the beachgoers for cutting through the nesting area because there is not a single sign at GHB explaining about the birds.
The lack of signage is just plain cruel to the birds. And it is equally as cruel to our citizens because what if, God forbid, a beachgoer accidentally steps on an egg or stray ball injures a Piping Plover? How terrible will they feel, and how many tens of thousands of dollars will we be fined by the state and federal government if there is a take?
Why are signs so important and impactful? For the simple reason that they alert people to the presence of the birds. They are used at every beach along both the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts, as well as at lakes regions.
Please don’t write to say the City is short of manpower because we have a very simple solution. Essex County Greenbelt has signs. They are willing to put them up immediately and only need the go-ahead from the City.
Additionally, who will we call when the inevitable eggs are laid? Gloucester’s conservation agent applied for, but was denied, a permit, for her lack of experience.
We have been writing letters to the City, beginning this past January and prior to the pandemic outbreak, to try to understand the City’s overall plan for the Piping Plovers, but we have been completely stonewalled. We were assured months ago that “everything was under control.”
It is utterly ridiculous that we are being put in this position of endless letter writing to beg for signs, especially during the pandemic when we have families and work to take care of.
This year we thought was going to be easy, with the new dog ordinance for the beach, Greenbelt’s trusted assistance, and a cadre of people who care deeply about the birds, along with their willingness to spend time monitoring tiny chicks at Gloucester’s most popular and populous of beaches. After four years of working toward improving conditions for the nesting shorebirds at GHB, the PiPls are being thrown under the bus for what we can only surmise are personal and political reasons.
It is my understanding that Governor Baker made continuing to protect endangered species part of the original essential worker pandemic plan and that is why state wildlife officials have not been furloughed.
A Piping Plover update from the City administration is planned for the City Council meeting Tuesday at 7Pm. It is a live Zoom meeting. I think a link will be provided and I will post that here and on Facebook.
If you have not already done so, and you have a spare moment, please write to our City Councilors.
Please keep letters kind and friendly, or just simply copy paste the following:
Subject Line: Piping Plovers Need Our Help
Dear City Councilors,
Gloucester Plovers need our help. Please ask the Conservation Commission to install the threatened species signs at the symbolically cordoned off nesting areas and at the entrances at Good Harbor Beach.
Thank you for helping these birds raise their next generation.
Link to all the City Councilors, but I believe that if you send one letter and also cc to Joanne Senos, a copy will be sent to all the City Councilors. Her address is: JSenos@gloucester-ma.gov
Our Good Harbor Beach mated PiPl pair courting – Papa fanning his tail feathers and bowing, all for Mama’s benefit. Photo taken yesterday, May 21, 2020.
Here is a timeline compiled based on film footage, photos, and notes. As you can see, because of the timely assistance provided by Greenbelt, at this time last year, our chicks more than half way to hatching. We don’t even have eggs yet this year!
2019 Piping Plover Timeline Good Harbor Beach
March 25 Piping Plover pair arrive GHB.
March 27 Symbolic fencing and signage installed by Greenbelt at areas #3 and #1
April 28 First egg laid (estimated date).
May 3 Greenbelt installs wire exclosure.
May 4 Adults begin brooding all four eggs.
May 31 Four chicks hatch.
2020 Piping Plover Timeline Good Harbor Beach
March 22 Piping Plover pair arrive at GHB
March 27 11.5 foot deep narrow strip of symbolic roping is installed along the length of the entire beach. No one has responded from the conservation office re. Is this meant to protect the dunes? It is much, much narrower than the area delineated the previous four years by Greenbelt. No signs installed at this time, as they had in previous years at the time of installing roping.
April 17 Symbolically roped off area widened by boardwalk #3, the area where the PiPls have nested and courted the previous four years. No signs installed at this time.
May 11 A second pair of PiPls is trying to become established at GHB.
May 13 Still no signs, continued dog disturbance, kite flying next to nesting area, human and dog footprints in roped off #3 area.
May 21 Exclosure erected at Coffins Beach for nesting PiPls. Installed by Greenbelt.
May 22 Still no threatened or endangered species signs at Good Harbor Beach, continued dog disturbance, kite flying next to nesting area, human and dog footprints in roped off #3 area.
Update May 11, 2020 – All good news. Annie has laid 3 eggs, completing her clutch yesterday. So that would suggesting the first egg might hatch around June 15. Squam has been busily catching mostly river herring these days, feeding himself and Annie a steady diet of fresh fish.
Hello from Kate Bowditch canoeing on the Ipswich River
Enjoy this paddle on the Ipswich River with Greenbelt President Kate Bowditch. The Ipswich flows for miles through beautiful, pristine scenery, much of which is permanently protected thanks to years of generous support from you, our Greenbelt community. During these uncertain times, we hope that you will continue to support our work to the extent that you are able. Together, the land we conserve today is protected forever. Thank you.