Tag Archives: Beautiful Birds of Cape Ann

FOUR WAYS IN WHICH WE CAN HELP THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVERS SUCCESSFULLY FLEDGE CHICKS: OUR RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MAYOR

Dear Readers,

Last Tuesday we sent our letter to Mayor Sefatia and the City Councilors with a short list of recommendations, based on the past three years of daily Piping Plover monitoring by myself and our core group of volunteer monitors. We purposefully kept the recommendations modest out of consideration to both the Piping Plovers and to our Good Harbor beach going community. Please find below the recommendations suggested by the Piping Plover volunteer monitors.

July 9, 2018

Dear Mayor Romeo Theken and Gloucester City Councilors,

We, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, are submitting our short list of recommendations regarding the Piping Plovers nesting at Good Harbor Beach. Our goal is to have in place by next April 1, 2019, measures and ordinances that will greatly increase the likelihood that the hatchlings of this tiny threatened shorebird will have a fighting chance at surviving life on Good Harbor Beach.

Piping Plovers began nesting at Good Harbor Beach in 2016. Each year, the PiPl are coming earlier and earlier. In 2016, they arrived mid-May, in 2017 they arrived at the beginning of May, and this year, they arrived on April 3. It would appear that the same pair is returning to Good Harbor Beach, as the male marks his territory and attempts to build a nest scrape only several feet from the previous year’s nest (at Boardwalk #3 nesting area). More Plovers than ever were seen at Good Harbor Beach this spring, and if not for constant interruptions in the Boardwalk #1 nesting area, we would have had two pairs nesting on the beach.

Why are the birds arriving earlier and earlier? We can presume that the pair are more experienced travelers and that Good Harbor Beach is their “territory.” Does this mean we will eventually have dozens of pairs nesting on Good Harbor Beach? No, because the PiPl are very territorial and they will defend a fairly large area, preventing other PiPl from nesting in their site.

This year the PiPl pair hatched four chicks. All four chicks were killed by crows, gulls, and dogs. All three are human-created issues, and all three can be remedied. The following are the four recommendations and actions we wish to see take place.

Recommendations

1) Change the dog ordinance to not allow dogs on the beach after March 31.

Currently, dogs are allowed on the beach from October 1 to May 1. The Piping Plover volunteer monitor core group, Dave Rimmer from Greenbelt, Ken Whittaker, and Mass Wildlife’s John Regosin, all agree that dogs should not be allowed on Good Harbor Beach beginning April 1, but that it would be safe for Piping Plover fledglings and other migrating shorebirds for dogs to return after September 15.

This new suggested time frame will allow birds to nest on the beach (as opposed to in the parking lot), with far less interruption, shorebirds will nest earlier in the season, which will help with the chicks survival rate, and the chicks will be stronger by the time Good Harbor fills with summer crowds.

This is a very logical and simple solution. Disallowing dogs on Massachusetts coastal beaches where shorebirds are nesting, beginning April 1, is the norm. Allowing them to return after September 15, and in many cases after September 30, is also very common. For Piping Plovers and other nesting shorebirds, protecting their habitat and sharing the shore is a matter of life and death.

2) Rope off the nesting area by April 1.

Poles, with threatened species signs, and a triple row of roping of nesting sites, to be in place no later than April 1. Essex County Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer will assist with this measure.

3) Enforce the existing ordinances regarding dogs (and littering) at all times throughout the year.

Only enforcing dog ordinances at Good Harbor Beach during nesting season is creating hostility toward the Piping Plovers.

Additionally, we do not recommend extremely high fines as we feel that may become an impediment to issuing and collecting the fines. We know of at least one example where the magistrate dismissed the tickets issued to a woman who claimed to have a service dog. This woman was running rampant on the beach and throughout dunes with her service dog off leash throughout the entire time the PiPl were nesting, from April through May. Despite the fact that former dog officer Diane Corliss caught the woman on camera with her dog off leash on the beach, and in the dunes, all her tickets that were issued by the animal control officer were dismissed. This is neither fair to the officers who are working hard to keep the dogs off the beach or to the plover volunteers who are spending inordinate amounts of time trying to keep the PiPl safe.

4). Increase trash collection.

When no barrels are placed at the entrances to the beach, people dump bags of trash there anyway. When barrels are in place, people put trash in the barrels however, when the barrels become full, they again resort to leaving bags of trash behind, only next to the barrels. In either scenario, gulls and crows are attracted to the trash. Both gulls and crows rip open the bags and the trash is blown throughout the parking lot and marsh, soon finding its way onto the beach and into the ocean. Hungry gulls and crows waiting for people to leave their trash behind eat tiny shorebirds.

A friend who lives on a North Carolina beach shares how her community keeps their public beaches looking pristine. Not only do they have barrels, but every few weeks, police patrol the beach and hand out fines for littering. This is taken as a wake up call, everyone is good for a bit of time, but then become slack about littering again. Out come the officers for another round of ticketing.

Thank you for taking the time to consider our recommendations.

Sincerely yours,

Kim Smith

cc Paul Lundberg, Steven LeBlanc, Val Gilmam, Ken Hecht, Melissa Cox, Jen Holmgren, Scott Memhard, Sean Nolan, Jamie O’Hara, Dave Rimmer, Ken Whitakker

Piping Plover chicks coming in for some snuggles.

PIPING PLOVERS ON THE ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING AGENDA THURSDAY NIGHT

ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING

THURSDAY, JULY 12TH AT 6:30 PM

3RD FLOOR CITY HALL

PIPING PLOVERS ARE ON THE AGENDA

Little Pip Good Harbor Beach

Our Little Pip is Missing

I am so very sorry to write that Little Pip and Mama went missing overnight.

When super PiPl volunteer monitor Heather Hall left last night at 9:30 the beach was quiet and peaceful. The Plover Family had a good evening, despite the fact that a Burmese Mountain dog was off leash on the beach and the owners weren’t too happy about being asked to leave.

When I arrived at 4:50am, the beach was eerily quiet. Except for the gulls and crows, there were only the singular calls from Papa Plover. Back and forth he went, from feeding in the tide pools to running into the nesting area and piping for Mama and Pip.

A most heartfelt thank you to all our wonderful PiPl monitors, who are just the kindest people you will ever want to meet. Sunburns, neglected families, missing appointments, late for work–thank you for guarding our little PiPl family from sunrise to sunset. These dedicated volunteers fully understand what it means for a species to be threatened and on the brink of extinction. We all fell in love with our PiPls, it’s hard not to. If you see a volunteer, please stop and thank them for their good work. Please know too, that without their tireless dedication, we would not have known for sure how the other three chicks perished.

By understanding that the chick’s deaths are human-caused, whether it be garbage-attracting gulls and crows or dogs on the beach, we will be much, much better equipped next year to better help nesting shorebirds. It is my understanding that there was a bonfire and party at the rock last night, which I can imagine how terrified that must have made our PiPl family. We can only learn from these past incidents and are determined to make positive steps for the future. For example, imagine if Mama and Papa had been allowed to nest when and where originally intended. The chick would have been a full week older, with just that much more critical development to better adapt to situations such as warm weather night time beach partygoers.

Thank you and a huge shout out to Joe Lucido, Phil, Mike, (both) Kennys, Newt, Cindy, and the entire DPW crew. We know you were rooting for the PiPl family and your kind assistance made a difference at every turn.

Thank you to Gloucester’s conservation agent Ken Whittaker and to Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer. These two have been working together and behind the scenes since the PiPl first arrived on April 3rd, consulting with wildlife agencies, installing roping, installing the wire exclosure, coordinating the crazy monitor scheduling, and much more.

Big Hug and thank you to all our PiPl monitors and friends of the Piping Plovers who I know are just heartbroken tonight.

LITTLE PIP ZING ZANGING AROUND THE BEACH

What are these things called wings?

Pip grows rounder, stronger, and more capable of catching tiny sea creatures daily. We love watching the development of his wings especially. Soon his flying feathers will begin to grow. In the meanwhile, periodically throughout the day he does wonderfully zany-looking zing-zang-up-down-sideways-zig-zag mini flight tests throughout the day.

The Piping Plover’s soft sandy feather colors and patterns blend seamlessly with the surrounding beach habitat, but camouflage alone is not enough to keep the birds safe. The ability to fly to escape predatory danger is equally as important to Piping Plovers.

Massachusetts state wildlife biologists consider a Piping Plover fully fledged at 24 to 28 days, whereas federal wildlife biologists have determined a Piping Plover chick to be fully fledged at about 35 days. Judging from our observations of Little Chick last year, he did not fully fledge until five weeks old (35 days). He could manage brief sustained flight up to that time, but until he reached that five week milestone he was still at risk from predators, including and especially dogs and raptors.

Seventeen-day-old Pip needed lots of warming snuggles on this chilly Tuesday morning.

COMMON EIDER DUCKLINGS AT CAPTAIN JOES!

Lobster Boat Arethusa and Crèche of Common Eider Hens and Ducklings

You never know what wonderful glimpses of wild life you may encounter at Captain Joe and Sons. Sunday morning during the podcast, a crèche of fourteen Common Eider ducklings and their mother hens were spotted, bobbing in the waves and foraging at the edge of the dock.

Common Eider Moms, along with non-breeding “aunties,” band together for protection. The individual broods come together to form a crèche, which may include as many as 150 ducklings!

HAPPY TWO-WEEK-OLD BIRTHDAY TO OUR LITTLE PIP!

Our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Little Pip made the two-week-old milestone on Saturday!!!

To survive two whole weeks is an important date for a Piping Plover chick. Pip’s chance of fledging has improved exponentially.

Every day he grows a little stronger, a bit taller and rounder, and noticeably faster. Less sleepy-eyed when waking up from snuggling under Mom or Dad, out he zooms from the warm wing of the parents like a jet-propelled rocket. And now he does this fascinating thing with his wings. Just as did Little Chick last year, at top speed, he zings and zangs with wings aflutter and aflap, seeming airborne for a few seconds. He won’t be able to sustain flight for another several weeks, but won’t it be marvelous when he does!

Piping Plover chicks and parents communicate with a wide range of piping calls. We are more likely to hear Mama and Papa’s shrill, urgent notes warning of pending danger. But more often, both chicks and parents communicate in soft, barely audible gentle notes. At about twelve days old, our Little Pip appeared to understand, and respond more quickly, to the piping calls of the parent’s commands. He now flattens level with the sand when Mama and Papa pipe danger notes, or when a predatory bird flies overhead.

Dip-diving in the tide pools for breakfast! 

This insect was so large, from a distance I at first thought Pip was eating seaweed. He swallowed the bug in one gulp!

Pip continues to snuggle under wing, but will do so less and less frequently as he develops and is better able to thermoregulate. I recall our Little Chick last summer attempting to snuggle under Papa Plover even at thirty-days-old, which by the way, looked terribly silly, but sweet, to see a chick nearly as large as the parent try to snuggle under its wing.

*   *   *

Two weeks ago Saturday, our lone surviving chick hatched in the parking lot at Good Harbor Beach. Despite being driven off the beach by dogs running through the nesting area (sadly finding the lot to be the least dangerous place to nest), Mama and Papa PiPl successfully hatched four chicks from four eggs. This would not have been possible without a whole lot of help from Gloucester’s DPW, Essex County Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, Gloucester’s conservation agent Ken Whittaker, and a core group of super dedicated volunteers.

After spending the first day in the parking lot, the family of six–Mama, Papa, and four one-day-old chicks made the epic journey across the width of the parking lot, through the landscape of tall dune grass, tumbling down the steep slope of the dune, and into the roped off nesting area. Had Papa and Mama pre-planned this route? I think yes.

Life for a Piping Plover chick, especially at Gloucester’s most well-loved and highly trafficked of beaches, is impossibly tough. The first chick to perish was eaten by a gull, the second was taken out by a dog off leash in the nesting area, and the third, by a crow. In one way or another, the trail as to why these tender little shorebirds perished leads to the heavy footprint left by people.

Morning meet and greet of the Crow Breakfast Club, held every day on Nautilus Road following a warm sunny beach day.

Same for the Seagull Breakfast Club

Gloucester does not have a seagull and crow problem, but we do have a littering, as well as a lack of trash barrels problem. If the crows and gulls were not finding the mounds of trash littering the beach, and piled at the entryways to the beach, each and every single morning, they would simply find somewhere else to forage. Bright and early, every morning the DPW crews arrive to clean the beach, but what happens before they arrive? For the first three hours of daylight, the crows and gulls devour a smorgasbord of tantalizing treats, feasting on loose garbage strewn the entire length of the beach, in the parking lot, and at all the entrances to the beach. Forget placing the garbage in bags if the bags are not contained in barrels; the birds, rats, and coyotes knowingly rip right through them. The plastic cups, bottles, to-go containers, and accoutrements blow freely through the dunes and marsh and eventually, all is carried into the ocean.

The trash problem holds true throughout the city. If folks stopped feeding the crows and gulls, and we solve the garbage problem, we will rid ourselves of ninety percent of the issues surrounding gulls, crows, coyotes, and rats. Carry in, carry out works to a degree, but barrels are sorely needed at locations such as the entrance to the footbridge. Additionally, residents would ideally place their garbage, in barrels, the morning of trash collection (as opposed the the night before), dumpsters always kept tightly covered, and littering laws strictly enforced.

A friend from North Carolina shared that the beaches in her community are pristine. How do you do it I asked? Two simple solutions. Number one is barrels and number two is enforcing littering laws. Every few weeks, police patrol the beaches and hand out fines for littering. After a few weeks or so, people become lax about littering, and out come the police handing out another round of fines. Would this be a money-maker for the City of Gloucester I wonder?

Plastic glistening in the morning sun – Good Harbor Beach, before the DPW arrives.

Dogs off leash at Good Harbor Beach continue to frustrate us all. Despite stepped up enforcement, local residents and out-of-towners continue to flaunt the rules and the No Dogs signs. Every single day, we monitors see dog owners with their dogs, and dog tracks, at Good Harbor Beach.

Dune fencing, which is slated to be replaced after the Piping Plovers leave, is going to help to keep the dogs (and people) out of the dunes. I hope well placed signs that speak to the fragility of the dunes will also accompany the new fencing. If you can imagine, people allow their dogs to run freely through the dunes and also use the dunes as their personal bathroom. Sometimes the scofflaws don’t even bother to climb the dunes, but run right through the nesting area and stand in broad daylight at the base of the dunes, in full view of all, to relieve themselves.

Note the beach grass growing at the base of the dunes where the roping has been in place since mid-April. I hope this area continues to be roped off, even after the PiPls depart. Growing sturdy patches of dune grass will help tremendously with the ever increasing problem of beach erosion.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is coming into bloom at the Good Harbor Beach dunes. The many species of wildflowers found growing in the dunes provides myriad species of wildlife with both food and shelter.

Why?

Fifteen-Day-Old Piping Plover Chick and Mama 

 

What Do Piping Plovers Eat

“What do Piping Plovers eat, especially the chicks?” is one of the questions most frequently asked of our volunteer monitors. 

Piping Plover chicks eat everything the adults eat, only in smaller bites, and pretty much anything they can catch. We’ll often see the chicks pecking repeatedly in one spot. Unlike Mama and Papa PiPl, they don’t always eat the insect in one swallow. The chick will chase after the insect and eat it in several beakfulls.

Piping Plovers forage at the shoreline, in the intertidal zone, and at mud and sand flats. While running, they scan the immediate area, and then peck at the prey it locates. When by the water’s edge and in the sand flats, they eat sea worms, tiny crustaceans, and mollusks. When around the wrack line, they find teeny insects including spiders, beetles, ants, and insect larvae.

Here’s our little Pip at eight days old feeding on a winged insect. Piping Plover chicks begin pecking and looking for food within hours after hatching.

If you would like to be a Piping Plover volunteer monitor, please contact kwhittaker@gloucester-ma.gov. Thank you, and the PiPl thank you, too 🙂