What is happening here? A hungry swim of cormorants have pushed a stream of bait fish towards the shallow shore waters. The minnows are met by equally as hungry Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets waiting on the rocks. I’ve watched many egrets eat prey and they often toss it about in the air for half a minute before swallowing whole, I think to line it up so the fish or frog goes straight down its gullet. At that very moment when the egrets are adjusting their catch, the gulls swoop in and try to snatch the minnows from the egrets.
All by his lonesome, Little Chick survived his first super busy Sunday entirely on his own. Perhaps he needs a new grown up name such as Tuffers, something that recognizes his strong spirit–or instinct for survival–subject to how anthropomorphic your views. I’ve gotten used to calling him Little Chick, but am open to suggestions 🙂
Little Chick survived his first Good Harbor super busy Sunday, all on his own. I found him last night just after sunset feeding in the tide pools and expertly dodging beach goers and beach balls. Ditto this morning, day thirty-nine. He's one smart little bird! #pipingplover #goodharborbeach #gloucesterma
Saturday through Sunday and still no sign of Papa. He has not been seen since Friday night. We can only surmise that he has departed of his own accord or been killed by a predator. Either way, it’s terribly worrisome for the chick, just one of its kind, at the city’s most popular of beaches. Little Chick hasn’t as of yet shown great flying skills, and only Friday, Papa was piping warning commands when predators approached.
The summer migration is underway and within this past week we’ve seen Bonarparte’s Gulls, Laughing Gulls, Least Sandpipers, Sanderlings, and Semipalmated Plovers at Good Harbor Beach.
Little Chick has been foraging in close proximity to the Semipalmated Plovers, which are similar in size to Piping Plovers, only much darker. The SemiP know to fly away when the beach rake is near; Little Chick still only hunkers down deeper into the sand. His plumage works as both an advantage and disadvantage. He’s well camouflaged from predators, and too much so from well meaning beach goers.Notice how much paler the Piping Plover (foreground) is in comparison to the Semipalmated Plover. Little Chick tried to rest at the high tide line during yesterday’s blustery afternoon. He didn’t like the strong winds one bit and quickly changed his mind, taking shelter beneath the vegetation in the roped off area.Thirty-seven-day old Piping Plover
On Gloucester’s busiest of beaches, a tiny Piping Plover chick has survived five whole weeks. His survival is in large part due to the tremendous effort and kind caring of our community. My most heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped this resilient little guy come so far. Thank you especially to all the PiPl monitors, the crews of the DPW, especially the gentlemen who clean the beach and who drive the beach rake, beach picker uppers such as Patti Amaral, Patti and Kerry Sullivan, Gloucester conservation agent Ken Whittaker, Police Chief McCarthy, Animal Control Officer Dianne Corliss, the Volleyball Players, Coach Latoff and the GHS sports teams, the GHS cheerleaders, and countless others who have made allowances for the Piping Plovers to successfully nest at Good Harbor Beach.
All who are monitoring Little Chick have seen him fly fairly low to the ground in approximately ten foot distances. Within days he will have fully fledged, but it will still be several weeks more I think before he can undertake his first migration to the lower Atlantic states, Bahamas, or West Indies. He and Papa have adapted well to Good Harbor Beach and they very possibly could stay several weeks into August, feeding to build reserves for the long migration south. Or, they could leave GHB and join the Piping Plovers starting to gather at other barrier beaches such as Cranes and Plum Island. Young birds travel with old birds, who show them the way.
Hourly monitoring may no longer be needed, but it doesn’t hurt either to check in with the little guy and Papa regularly. It’s super important for the roping to stay in place as the family continue to use the cordoned off area as a “safe zone.” I will continue to film and update as long as they are at Good Harbor Beach, because that is part of the documentary, too.
The most rewarding moments are meeting on the beach fans of our Little Superstar. They are full of delighted interest and concern for the chick. Just this morning, I met mom Amy and her daughter Emma. They live in Southborough and have been daily following along with the adventures of Little Chick on Good Morning Gloucester. Amy thanked us for sharing Little Chick’s story.
Friend Dawn Vesey shared the Piping Plover Growth Chart to my facebook timeline and I thought our plover lovers would appreciate seeing. The chart was made by Jim Verhagen and he has offered a high resolution version, gratis, to anyone who would like it for education/research purposes. Contact Jim via his website “Readings from the Northside.”
The question should really be what don’t they eat in the world of insects and diminutive sea creatures. Over the past two summers I have filmed PiPl eating every kind of beach dwelling crawly insect and marine life imaginable.
Piping Plovers eat freshwater, land, and marine invertebrates. Their general fashion of foraging is to run, stop, peck, repeat, all the day long, and during the night as well.
Run, Stop, Peck
When foraging along the wrack line and up to the dune edge Piping Plovers eat insects, both alive and dead, including ants, spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles, along with insect larvae such as fly larvae. Foraging at the intertidal zone, Piping Plovers find sea worms, tiny mollusks, and crustaceans, as well as crustacean eggs.
When the chicks get a little older they will learn how to do a sort of foot tamping technique where they rapidly shake their feet in the sand to stir up crustaceans. I have yet to see our chicks do this, but soon enough.
The purpose of discontinuing to rake the beach to help the Piping Plovers is twofold. Not raking in the nesting site creates a habitat rich in dry seaweed and dry grasses, which attracts insects, the PiPl food on dry land. Secondly, raking in the vicinity of the Plovers after they hatch can be deadly dangerous to the chicks. Not only is there danger of being squished, but also, they can easily become stuck in the impression in the sand made by the tires of heavy machinery.
This morning I had a disagreeable conversation with a woman about her unleashed puppy. She feigned lack of knowledge about the dog ordinances, but aside from that, she informed me that her large puppy would be “afraid” of a chick. And there seems to be a frustrating lack of understanding about where the chicks forage. We can only share again that the Piping Plovers, both adults and chicks, feed from the dunes’s edge to the water’s edge, and everywhere in between. Sunrise and sunset are not safe times to walk dogs on the beach because Piping Plovers forage at all times of the day, and into the night. Adult birds can fly away from a person or dog walking and running on the beach, but a shorebird chick cannot.