Category Archives: Piping Plover

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.

  *   *   *

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.

Dog Owner and Trash Trouble at Good Harbor Beach Part Two

Crow battle copyright Kim SmithDear Friends,

A reminder that no dogs are allowed on Good Harbor Beach during the summer and particularly while the Piping Plovers are nesting. It truly is a matter of life and death for these rare and endangered tender shorebirds. The past several mornings there have been dogs on GHB, off leash.  Although the Plovers nest is at the edge of the dune, once they have hatched, the tiny nestlings will soon be going to the water’s edge to feed. They will most assuredly be squished by an exuberant pooch if owners do not keep their dogs off the beach. Please let your house guests, friends, neighbors, and family know about these rare creatures calling Good Harbor Beach home for the summer, and why it is so vitally important to keep dogs off the beach.

Yes, I took photos of the scofflaws, but do not want to post another batch. I’d rather we spend the time helping people understand why not, and trying to prevent further incidences.Piping Plover with garbage plastic bottle pollution copyright Kim Smith

Of far greater concern is the fact that last night some persons were picnicking in the Plover’s cordoned off area. The thoughtless ones buried their trash in the sand, but left some remaining on top. At daybreak several crows, I am sure drawn by the brightly colored Doritos bag, began digging in the sand. They were soon joined by a dozen or so crow family members, where a great noisy battle ensued over the bones and garbage. The combat took place in the Plover’s plot, causing the nesting Plover extreme distress. She left the nest, trying all her tricks to distract the crows from the eggs, and was really quite brave in fending them off, all the while calling frantically to her mate. The battle lines were coming closer and closer to the Plover nest.

Why was she so alarmed? Because crows (and gulls) eat Piping Plover eggs!

As a filmmaker I try very hard not to intervene in wildlife behaviors while filming, I stand as still as a stone and the creatures soon forget about me and go about their normal business. However, in this case, the garbage strewn about in the Plover’s plot was human created and needed human intervention. I chased the crows out of the area and within a few moments, the Plovers had resumed their morning routine.Crow battle -2copyright Kim Smith

Some folks are under the misguided notion that it is a good thing to bury trash, even burying glass bottles. Tony and Murray, our awesome GHB DPW crew, told me that burying bottles is the worst thing people do because as the clean up tractor unwittingly is driven over the hidden garbage, bottles break, and then there is broken glass everywhere. Burying food and bones and plastic is nearly as bad. The seagulls and crows inevitably find the trash, drag it all across the beach, and then the plastic ends up in the ocean. If there weren’t so much nightly trash left on the beach, we wouldn’t have nearly as many crows, and the shorebirds would be far safer.

Please, no dogs and no trash on our beautiful beach. Thank you. The Piping Plovers thank you too!
Crow feeding copyright Kim Smith

A Good Harbor Beach Good Morning

The Piping Plovers thank you!

Good Harbor Beach good morning – no dogs today!

A post shared by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Dog Owner Trouble at Good Harbor Beach and Why It is Not a Good Idea To Ignore Federal laws

Piping Plover overexposed copyright Kim SmithFor the sake of the Piping Plovers folks really and truly need to keep their dogs off Good Harbor Beach. It is a matter of life and death for these beautiful creatures and their soon-to-be-arriving offspring. Additionally, the following article was brought to our attention by friend Pauline Bresnahan. The town of Scarborough, Maine, was threatened with a $12,000.00 fine for not enforcing their leash laws. A dog off leash killed a Piping Plover. If one of Gloucester’s Piping Plovers are killed by a dog, we taxpayers could very well be held responsible for the maximum fine. Read the story here.Good Harbor Beach No Dogs cooyright Kim Smith

Good harbor Beach Scofflaw

This morning I arrived at GHB a little later than usual, around 6:30am. Within the first three minutes, there were three dogs on the beach, and all off leash. The man in the above photo had two dogs, and one of the dogs made a beeline for the Piping Plover nesting site. The guy did absolutely nothing to prevent his dog from running into the restricted area. I called out to him to let him know. He made a rude remark and called his dog back, but only after it was halfway in. The dog owner then walked the length of the beach with his dogs still off leash. When he returned his dogs chased the gulls as well as the Plover feeding at the shoreline. Now if it was a fledgling Plover, the baby bird wouldn’t have stood a chance in heck in the face of the exuberant dog. So after the dog ran into the restricted area, chased one Plover at the water’s edge, he then put his dogs on leash as he was leaving the beach. He was joined by another fellow at the footbridge, whose dog was off leash.

Good harbor Beach no dogs copyright Kim SmithIt is in some dog’s nature to chase birds. Why oh why would a dog owner bring a dog like that to the beach with a known endangered bird species? The rule is no dogs during the summer months. We have a sweet Scottish Terrier and I sure would love to bring her with me when I am filming and photographing early in the morning. But even she, with her calm, gentle disposition, I know would terrify the Plovers and could easily accidentally squish a nestling.

Good Harbor Beach Dog copyright Kim SmithThe Culprit. Is this a bad dog? No, of course not. I think it looks quite cute. Are there any bad dogs, or just thoughtless owners?

Piping Plover retruning to nest copyright Kim SmithPlover returning to its nest this morning

With merely only a few thousand pairs of nesting Piping Plovers remaining nationwide, it’s super important that we all work together as a community to insure the successful nesting of the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. There are so many unavoidable, natural mishaps for the birds and their nestlings; let’s prevent the avoidable disasters. Please, let all your friends and family know to keep dogs off the beach. If you see a dog, please ask the owner to remove the dog.

Piping Plover comparative photo with seagull copyright Kim SmithIn the above photo, you can compare the size of the adult Plover to the size of the immature gull and get an idea of just how tiny they are. And the nestlings are teeny tiny!

It’s no excuse for the behavior of today’s scofflaws, but I think we need bold signs at both ends of Good Harbor Beach, clearly explaining what a federally endangered species is, what a Piping Plover is, and why it is so important to keep all dogs off the beach. Also, perhaps if an officer were stationed at the footbridge end beginning at 5:30am, handing out tickets, folks would take the law more seriously. Or, if the officer were positioned in the middle of the beach, he would catch offenders in the act. I imagine it wouldn’t take more than a few days of ticketing for word to get out that the laws were being enforced. In just the short period of time that I was there this morning, the City could have earned well over a thousand dollars in dog fines alone!

      *   *   *

Male and Female Piping Plover’s take turns on the nest. Every morning they each spend time at the water’s edge feeding and bathing in the tide pools. Today this little fellow gave himself an extra vigorous washing! 

Piping plover bath copyright Kim Smith.Piping plover bath -2 copyright Kim Smith.Dunking from side to side

Piping plover drying wings copyright Kim Smith.Drying WingsPiping plover drying wings-2 copyright Kim Smith.