Category Archives: Piping Plover

The Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Pair Are Struggling and Need Our help

Good Morning Papa Plover!

Over the past several weeks, five Piping Plovers battling over nesting turf have been observed at Good Harbor Beach, from the creek end of the beach, all the way to the entrance by the Good Harbor Beach Inn. In the past three days, there hasn’t been activity in the roped off area nearer the GHB Inn. It appears only one pair has decided to call GHB their home for the summer and they seem to be zeroing in on the cordoned off area by boardwalk #3, same as last year.

Unfortunately, the “Party Rock,” the large exposed rock up by the wrack line, is this year not in the roped off area; the roping comes just short of enclosing the “Rock.” The past few evenings, even before the heat wave, folks have been setting up their hibachis, behind the rock, abutting the restricted area. This morning there were a group of six sleeping next to the rock. Needless to say, our Plover pair was super stressed. Early morning is when they typically mate and lay eggs, and neither are happening under duress.

Papa wants to mate with Mama, but she is too stressed.

Here are just a few things we can do to help the Plovers. Please write and let us know your ideas and suggestions, they are so very much appreciated. It would be terrific to put together all the suggestions to present to Mayor Sefatia and Chirs. Thank you!

  1. Post a No Dog sign at the footbridge. I think this is critically important.
  2. Post signs at entrances to the beach to help educate folks about the Piping Plovers, why respecting the restricted area is so important, and why removing trash is equally as vital to the survival of the plovers.
  3. Additionally, I would love to make a brochure about the Piping Plover life cycle that we could hand out to visitors at the parking entrance. Though when I suggested that idea to a friend, he thought the brochures may end up littering the beach. What do you think?
  4. Fix the fencing around the dunes. As it stands now, the rusty old fencing is nearly buried in the sand and actually dangerously invites tripping. If the fences were mended and signs posted about the fragility of the dunes, folks would stop cutting through the dunes to go to and from the parking lot. Right now, they are walking through the restricted area to access the dune trail. Visitors may also want to know that the grass and shrubby growth on that trail is teeming with ticks, another reason to keep off the dunes.
  5. If folks are setting up a cookout or planning a sleepover next to the nesting area (especially near the party rock), gently explain why it would be best to move further down the beach, away from the restricted area.

Mama Plover fishing for worms

I would be happy to meet anyone at Good Harbor Beach to show exactly what are the issues. Dave Rimmer from Essex Greenbelt mentioned that in other communities where Piping Plovers have nested on very busy beaches, a network of Piping Plover babysitters was established to help the chicks survive on the busiest of beach days. If we are so fortunate as to have chicks, I would love to get together a group of “Piping Plover Babysitters.”

Good Harbor Beach

M is for May Migration Through Massachusetts

During the month of May, Massachusetts is graced daily with species arriving from their winter homes. Some need to fortify for the journey further north, to the boreal forests, bogs, and tundra of Canada and Alaska. Some will nest and breed in Massachusetts, finding suitable habitat along the coast, and in the marsh, scrub, shrub, forest, and grassland found throughout the state. For several projects on which I am currently working, I have been exploring wildlife sanctuaries along the Massachusetts coastal region. Here is just a sampling of some recently spotted migrants, and it’s only May 4th. Lots more to come!

Biggety Brant ~ This Brant Goose appeared to be the bossy boots of his gaggle, chiding, nipping, and vocally encouraging the group along. A large of flock of approximately 40 Brants was recently reported by readers Debbie and Dan, seen at Back Beach in Rockport. The Brants are heading to the wet, coastal tundra of the high Arctic. No other species of goose travels as far north or migrates as great a distance as do Brants.

W is for Wading Willet. A PAIR were well hidden in the marshy grass! Both the flesh and the eggs of Willets are considered tasty. They were nearly hunted to extinction, saved only by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Willets breeding in Massachusetts is nothing short of a miracle. Notice how closely they resemble Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs; all three belong to the Genus Tringa.

Y is for Yawping Yellowlegs. Both Greater and Lesser Yellow are seen in Massachusetts marshes at this time of year. Greater Yellowlegs have a loud, distinct call, which they utilize often. The Greater Yellowlegs are feeding on tiny crustaceans, killfish, and minnows to fortify for the journey to the boggy marshes of Canadian and Alaskan coniferous forests.

Piping Plover Piping ~ We should be proud that our state of Massachusetts has the greatest record of Piping Plover recovery. I recently saw a bar graph at a lecture presentation, given by Dave Rimmer at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, which illustrated that the recovery rate has flatlined in Canada and New Jersey, and diminished in the Great Lakes region.

T is for Tree Swallow Tango ~ Males arrive on the scene prior to the females. The courtship ritual involves the gents showing the ladies possible nesting sites.

Tree Swallow preparing for takeoff.

 

Piping Plovers Have Returned to Cape Ann Beaches!

Male Piping Plover

The sweetest and tiniest of shorebirds has been spotted at several of our local beaches, including Wingaersheek and Good Harbor Beach. They have also been seen at Plum Island, as well as other Massachusetts barrier beaches, for several weeks. The Plovers have traveled many thousands of miles to reach our shores and are both weary from traveling and eager to establish nesting sites.

What can you do to help the Piping Plovers? Here are four simple things we can all do to protect the Plovers.

  1. Don’t leave behind or bury trash or food on the beach. All garbage attracts predators such as crows, seagulls, foxes, and coyotes, and all four of these creatures EAT plover eggs and chicks.
  2. Do not linger near the Piping Plovers or their nests. Activity around the Plovers also attracts gulls and crows.
  3. Respect the fenced off areas that are created to protect the Plovers.
  4. If pets are permitted, keep dogs leashed.

The last is the most difficult for folks to understand. Dogs threaten Piping Plovers in many ways and at every stage of their life cycle during breeding season, even the most adorable and well-behaved of pooches.

Dogs love to chase Piping Plovers (and other shorebirds) at the water’s edge. After traveling all those thousand of miles, the birds need sustenance. They are at the shoreline to feed to regain their strength.

Dogs love to chase piping Plovers at the wrack line. Here the birds are establishing where to nest. Plovers are skittish at this stage of breeding and will depart the area when disturbed.

Dogs love to chase Piping Plover chicks, which not only terrifies the adult Plovers and distracts them from minding the babies, but the chicks are easily squished by a dog on the run.

Please keep dogs leashed when at the beach. Thank you!

Female Piping Plover

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Dave Rimmer, Greenbelt’s director of land stewardship, is giving a lecture about the Piping Plovers at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Thursday, April 27th, from 2:00 to 4pm. Preregister by email at: Andrew@ecga.org.

TREE SWALLOWS MASSING

This short film is dedicated a dear friend who recently lost a beloved family member. Along with the tender melody by Jules Massenet, especially the last bits of footage, before the credits, made me think of angels and of hope.

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Over the course of the summer while filming the Piping Plover Family at Wingaersheek Beach, Tree Swallows began flocking in ever increasing numbers. They became part of the Piping Plover story not only because a Tree Swallow will occasionally dive bomb a Piping Plover, for whatever reason I am not entirely sure, but also because they are beautiful to observe, and occasionally, seemingly playful, too.

Songbirds that they are, Tree Swallows make a cheery chirping chatter. They have long narrow forked tails, all the better for gliding and for their signature aerial acrobatics. The male’s upper parts are a brilliant iridescent blue-green, the female’s somewhat duller, and both female and male have white underparts. The migrating juveniles are almost entirely brown with either white or pale grayish underparts.tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-11-copyright-kim-smith

Tree Swallows breed in the wetlands and fields of Cape Ann. Their name comes from the species habit of nesting in tree cavities. Tree Swallows have benefited tremendously from efforts to help save the Eastern Bluebird because they also nest in the nest boxes built specifically for the Bluebirds.

Acrobatic aerialists, they twist and turn mid-flight to capture a wide variety of insects including butterflies, dragonflies, greenheads, bees, beetles, and wasps.tree-swallows-gloucester-massachusetts-copyright-kim-smithTree Swallows eating  insects on the beach and from the crevasses in the driftwood. 

Utilizing both fresh and saltwater to bathe, Tree Swallows have a unique habit of quickly dipping and then shaking off the excess water while flying straight upwards.

Tree Swallows begin migrating southward in July and August. The flocks that we see gathering on Cape Ann migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. They overwinter in the southern states of the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Unlike migrating species of butterflies, several generations of Tree Swallows migrate together, the older birds showing the younger birds the way.

Music composed by Jules Massenet: “Méditation” from Thaïs

MEET THE PIPING PLOVERS OF GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Work has begun in earnest sorting through all the Piping Plover footage and editing the documentary. In the mean time, I thought readers would enjoy this rare moment where we catch a glimpse of  the new born chicks, and both mom and dad together.

Impossibly tiny—no larger than a marshmallow—moments after hatching Piping Plover chicks are on the move, running, tumbling, somersaulting, face-planting, and curious about every little thing in their brand new great big world. PuffPuff, FluffFluff, and TootsiePop are less than twenty-four hours old in this clip. Our East Gloucester neighborhood kids named the Plover family after spending an afternoon getting to know them, watching safely from beyond the roped off area.

Dad Joe finds an impression in the sand and the chicks come running to warm under his protective wings. Piping Plover chicks can feed themselves at birth but can’t yet perfectly regulate their body temperature. They need Mom and Dad for protection and for the warmth they provide. After a few moments rest, Joe pops up and Joy zooms in to take his place. Watch how PuffPuff does a somersault and FluffFluff gives her a little bump out of their cozy nest. Mom runs off camera to create a new resting spot and the chicks are chided by piping calls to come join her.

In shades of bone and driftwood, note how beautifully the Plovers are camouflaged in the colors of the sand and dry beach grass. There isn’t a living thing that doesn’t pose a threat to these most vulnerable of creatures. For protection against predators they will soon learn how to stand perfectly still when Joe and Joy pipe commands, but for now, it’s willy-nilly around the beach, much to the parents great consternation.

Thanks to Esme, Lotus, Meadow, Frieda, and Ruby for naming the Piping Plover family!

piping-plover-chicks-babies-nestlings-male-female-copyright-kim-smithThe male Piping Plover is on the left, the female, on the right. The male’s little black forehead band makes it easy to distinguish between the two.

Meet the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Chicks!

Please help get the word out that the Good Harbor Piping Plover chicks have hatched and that they are extremely vulnerable. Feel free to share these photos on social media.Piping Plovers chicks nestlings babies Kim Smith

Monday Day One: Judging from when the nest was first spotted, I had a feeling the Plovers were going to hatch Monday. The morning was drizzly and foggy and it was difficult to see into the nest but there appeared to be more activity than usual. By the time I returned later in the afternoon it was a wonder and joy to see all three Plovers had hatched!

Unlike songbirds, the Piping Plover chicks leave the nest almost immediately. They are not fed by the adults and begin to forage for insects in the sand soon after hatching. Although only hours old, they can run, and run they do, looking mostly like jet propelled cotton balls.

Piping Plovers chicks nestlings babes copyright Kim Smith 6-11-16The chicks snuggle under Dad. Both Mom and Dad take turns guarding the nestlings, in thirty minute intervals, just as they did when on the nest waiting for the babies to hatch. 

Piping Plover chicks Mom Dad copyright Kim Smith 6-12-16Dad (left) and Mom (right) changing guard.

Tuesday Day Two:

Piping Plover chicks nestlings -3 copyright Kim Smith 6-12-16Miniature rockets zooming over miniature sand mounds, running so fast, they’ll often land in a face plant.  I captured a somersault on film!

Piping Plover chicks nestlings copyright Kim Smith 6-12-16Nature’s camouflage in hues of sand and dune.

Piping Plover chicks nestlings -2 copyright Kim Smith 6-12-16Mom and chick, all three survive day number two!

Read More Here Continue reading

Three Actions We All Can Take to Help the Piping Plover Chicks Survive

Piping Plover chicks nestlings -2 copyright Kim Smith 6-13-16

ACTION NO. 1) HELP NEGATE THE LITTER PROBLEM

The number one threat to the Plover’s survival is the trash left on the beach. If you see someone littering, please remind them to clean up after themselves. Explain that we have a threatened species nesting on the beach and that the trash left behind attracts gulls and crows, which will undoubtedly eat the baby Plovers. Additionally, if you are so inclined and can lend a hand, please bring a trash bag and fill it on your way out. I know tons of friends already do this and it is a huge help. If more of us did it, and folks saw us doing it, they might be inspired not to leave theirs behind. If you see me on the beach filming, I now carry trash bags in my gear bag and would be happy to give you one. Getting rid of the trash on the beach doesn’t just help the Plovers, but all marine and wildlife.

ACTION NO. 2) HELP NEGATE THE THOUGHTLESS DOG OWNER PROBLEM

Inform the dog owner about the law. Explain to them that their dog, leashed or unleashed, can easily squish cotton-ball sized chicks. The babies are all over the beach now, not just in the roped off area. If the dog owner still disregards and if you can, take down their license plate number. I did it today for the first time and Diane, who is the animal control officer, just happened to be at the beach shortly after it happened. She asked for the information and studied the photo that I took to determine what type of dog.

ACTION NO. 3) HELP INFORM BEACH GOERS ABOUT THE CHICKS

The baby Plovers are at their most vulnerable in the first 10 to 14 days. As of this writing, all three chicks have survived the first three days, and that is nothing short of a miracle. The Plovers chicks are now running to the water’s edge. Please walk carefully on the beach and along the shoreline as they are not yet quick enough to get out of the way. Upload a photo of a Piping Plover chick to your phone and show it to folks on the beach. Explain that they aren’t much larger than a cotton ball. Additionally, David Rimmer, Director of Land Stewardship at Essex County Greenbelt, who was checking on the Plovers this morning, is concerned that a child may see a Plover chick and try to catch it. This has happened! In case of any kind of emergency situation such as this, David urges that the the Plover be place in the cordoned off area.

Thank you for you help, and the Piping Plovers thank you, too!

Piping Plover chicks nestlings copyright Kim Smith 6-14-16In the above photo you can see how tiny the Plover chick is in relation to the sunbather.

DSCF2770This woman claims she brings her dog every evening after five and states she has for fifteen years.