We had a terrific informal Piping Plover informational gathering at Good Harbor Beach this afternoon. If you would like to sign up to volunteer, please follow this easy link. We would love to have you join us.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment in the comment section.
Today the chicks are two days old; the photos are from yesterday at daybreak. It was foggy and overcast and the chicks mostly wanted to warm up under Mama and Papa.
All four chicks are doing fantastically, feeding well and venturing further and further from the upper wrack zone. Because of the cool temperatures, the beach has been relatively quieter this past spring, which has been ideal not only for our GHB PiPl family, but for nesting and hatching PiPl families all around the state.
Briefest update just to let everyone know the hatchlings are all doing beautifully. So many thanks to everyone who is volunteering ❤
One-day-old teeny tiny wing buds
WE ARE HAVING AN INFORMAL GET TOGETHER AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT 4:00 FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN BECOMING A PIPING PLOVER MONITOR AND LEARNING MORE ABOUT THE PIPLS. MEET AT BOARDWALK #3. WE HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!
Only hours-old, our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover chicks were learning to navigate the varied terrain–climbing mini hummocks, falling into divots, somersaulting, tripping over dried bits of beach grass and seaweed, running for short bits, and just generally stumbling and tumbling. In one photo you can even see a chick already eating a tiny ant. After an afternoon of exploring, all four seemed pretty tuckered out and were taking turns snuggling under both Mama and Papa.
Weighing about as much as a nickel at the time of hatching, Piping Plover chicks are able to feed themselves but are unable to regulate their body temperature. They need to tuck under Mom and Dad to warm up.
These sweet Piping Plover chicks are only hours old. All four are healthy, vigorous, and already feeding themselves and stretching their wing buds. They sure were giving their Mom and Dad reason to panic as they ran hither and thither, not yet understanding the adults piping voice commands. A dog ran through the nesting area and a pair of Crows added to the parent’s stress. After both parents briefly left the chicks to distract the dog and give chase to the Crows, calmness was restored and three snuggled under Mom while the fourth kept dad on the run.
*Note–I have been following and filming half a dozen PiPl nests around the state and just to be clear in case of any confusion, these are not our Good Harbor Beach PiPls 🙂
There have been quite a few PiPl chicks hatching around New England beaches. The cool, overcast weather will benefit the hatchlings tremendously. The beaches are relatively quieter, with fewer people, dogs, and trash that attracts avian predators, which will help allow the babies to reach that critical one week old age.
One-day-old chicks foraging at the shoreline on a foggy Memorial Day Monday
It was a beautiful Memorial Day weekend in more ways than one. Piping Plover chicks have been hatching all around Massachusetts this past week and I was fortunate to observe two nests with a total of six one-day-old chicks zooming around beaches. We’re so blessed that our Good Harbor Beach pair are also on a relatively early track, which greatly increases the chicks chance of surviving.
Mama and Papa spent the weekend on the crowded beach incubating their eggs and foraging. Ironically, I think they benefitted from beach goers picnics (minus the gulls and crows). Papa spent a busy Monday morning pecking at the sand and devouring mouthfuls of large tasty black ants.
Throughout the day, a threesome has been actively feeding, battling for territory, and two of the three, displaying courtship behavior.
Often times I have read that Piping Plovers in Massachusetts do not begin to actively court until mid-April. That simply has not been the case with our Good Harbor Beach pair. As soon as they arrive to their northern breeding grounds, they don’t waste any time and get right down to the business of reproducing! Last year, the PiPls were courting within a week of arriving, and this year, on the first day.
I only had brief periods of time to visit the beach this morning, but within that window, FOUR separate times the male built a little scrape, called Mama over to come investigate, while adding bits of dried seaweed and sticks, and fanning his tail feathers.
Papa scraping a nest in the sand.
Fanning his tail and inviting Mama to come inspect the nest scrape.
Tossing sticks and beach debris into the scrape.
Papa high-stepping for Mama.
It was VERY cold and windy both times I stopped by GHB and the PiPls were equally as interested in snuggling down behind a clump of dried beach grass as they were in courting.
Mama and Papa finding shelter from the cold and wind in the wrack line.
Good Harbor Beach was blessedly quiet all day. Our awesome dog officer Teagan Dolan was at the beach bright and early and there wasn’t a single dog in sight, I think greatly due to his vigilance and presence educating beach goers this past week.
Saturday we had the pleasure of meeting Katharine Parsons, Director of the Mass Audubon Coastal Waterbird Program. She gave an outstanding program to a crowd of Piping Plover advocates and interested parties, which was held at the Sawyer Free Library. Katharine covered everything from life cycle, management strategies and tools, habitat conservation, and the fantastic role Massachusetts is playing in the recovery of Piping Plovers, Least Terns, Roseate Terns, and Oystercatchers. We are so appreciative of Alicia Pensarosa and Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee for sponsoring Katharine!
Ward One City Councilor Scott Memhard and Katharine
City Council President Paul Lundberg, Katharine, and Alicia
Fun Fact we learned from Katharine’s presentation–a Piping Plover chick weighs six grams at birth. In comparison, and after consulting Google, a US nickel weighs a close 5.5 grams.
We have a definite female joining our male! On Monday when I first spotted a pair of PiPls on the beach, I think I mistook them for a male and female because one was doing a kind of torpedo-like run, and the other was following behind. This behavior is often followed by nest scraping. I think what we actually saw was one male establishing his territory over the other male. Since Monday (Tuesday through Thursday), only one singular male has been seen foraging at Good Harbor Beach.
This morning my daughter Liv and I went to check on the little male and a beach goer gave us a heads up that she had seen two. Liv spotted the pair in the tide flats and they were most clearly a male and a female. The two were at any one time only several feet apart, foraging in the tidal zone and preening on the shore, primarily in front of the nesting No. 3 area. There were a bunch of dogs off leash, despite it being an on leash day, and there were several dogs on leash, too.
Will these two that are currently at Good Harbor Beach stay and mate and nest? Will we have more Piping Plover pairs join the scene (as did last year)? Will we have troubles with a “Bachleor” again? It’s still so early in the season and I sure am excited to see what lies ahead!
The following photos, of the pair currently at Good Harbor, were taken this morning in the rain, and despite the dreary light, clearly show the difference between male and female Piping Plovers. I am eventually going to redo this post with photos from a sunny day because it will be even easier to tell the difference.
Female Piping Plover, left, male Piping Plover, right
During the courting and nesting season, the female’s crescent-shaped head band is paler in color than the male’s jet black head band. The male’s collar band is usually darker and larger, too, often completely circling the neck. Typically, the male’s bill is a brighter, deeper colo orange at the base than the female’s.
Female Piping PLover, left, male Piping Plover, right.
It’s very easy to tell the difference during courtship and mating because of behaviors exhibited and I’ll post more about that in the coming months.
There are exceptions to this general rule of thumb–sometimes a female will have darker shading and sometimes the male will be paler.
By the end of the summer, the coloring of both male and female becomes paler and it is much more challenging to see the difference between the two.
Good Harbor Beach on a sunny day earlier this week.
The Piping Plovers are nesting between Good Harbor Beach entrance #3 and the footbridge area. They have been here for eight days, since last Tuesday, and courtship is fully underway.
Greenbelt has not yet put up the posts and roping that the PiPl so desperately need to keep safe. In the mean time, would it be possible for dog owners to spread the word and let fellow dog owners know that on off-leash days it would be so very helpful to the Plovers if folks allowed their dogs to play from #3 entrance to the Good Harbor Beach Inn? That encompasses most of the beach. This would create a safe nesting zone for the PiPl.
Please share if you would. Thank you so very much for your kind help.
Foggy Morning Plovers Courting
Papa creates a variety of nest scrapes by digging shallow miniature teacup-size craters in the sand.
He pipes his love call to Mama, inviting her to come inspect the potential nest site.
And adds some dried bits of seaweed to the nest to make it extra appealing to her.
With a flourish of her wings she says NO.
Nest inspecting is very tiring and Mama takes a nap in between inspections (even though Papa is doing all the work!)
Saturday at 5:30pm and there are not three, but four PiPl!! The Dunlin is still here and doing everything Plover, it is so funny to see. I think we have three males and one female.
They were sleeping at the wrack line but as the sun was setting, more and more dogs. They don’t seem to mind people playing in close proximity, but then a bunch of dogs ran through where they were resting and so down to the water’s edge they flew.
Sixteen off leash between 5:30 – 7pm, and it’s an on leash day. I avoid GHB during the off season because of dog owners that allow their dogs to jump on you, but it is so disheartening to see them running wild through the dunes. So much habitat destruction taking place. How will the dog owners respond when they learn the Piping Plovers have returned and are nesting again at GHB I wonder.
Total mayhem on the beach. Dogs are everywhere, on the shoreline, the wrack zone, and running completely wild through the dunes. One knocked me over. I love dogs but this is crazy. The PiPl don’t have a chance and it’s too distressing to watch them try and rest and forage and nest and constantly be chased off.
Precisely where they were sleeping at the wrack line, a couple threw their dog’s tennis ball right smack at the PiPl. So startled, I and the PiPl both jumped up half a foot, before they flew off. Of course the couple didn’t know the PIPl were sleeping but it’s just really, really frustrating.
I wish so much we could do what they do at Crane’s Beach, where during the off season, dogs are allowed on a section of the beach. And at Cranes dog owners do not allow their dogs to run rampant through the dunes.
Tom came back from a walk at noon and couldn’t find the PiPl anywhere, and he is really good at spotting. I’ll check back at sunset to see if the PiPl can be found. Praying and hoping they have found a safe place.
Heartbroken. No plovers at sunset, anywhere, walked from the creek to the hotel twice. Still chaotic with dogs. Will try tomorrow at dawn.
Pretty Mama Plover
The boys of spring.
Hooray!! Daybreak and I found them, three Plovers sleeping all in a row! Hopefully will find the other PiPl and Dunlin later today. Emailed Ken Whittaker, Gloucester’s awesome conservation agent, and we are meeting this afternoon. The goal is to get a cordoned off area in place before the next weekend when dogs are off leash. Reminder to let people know to contact Ken if they would like to help this summer by being a Plover ambassador.
Three in a row sleeping this morning, with Mama in the middle
Large dead Black-backed Gull on the beach near the big rock and will move that this afternoon after I speak with Ken. We don’t want to attract varmints to the Plovers’ nesting area!
Avery from the Tufts Wildlife Clinic at the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center phoned this morning to let us know that our Piping Plover chick passed away in the night. Although he was showing some positive signs yesterday, after a traumatic brain injury such as his, bleeding on the brain and other complications can occur. Know that he was well cared for by the incredible team at Tufts and that they did their very utmost best to save him.
I spoke with Avery about what would have happened had he survived. Little chick would have been re-habituated with other Piping Plovers. As Piping Plovers are a protected species, U.S. Fish and Wildlife dictate where his recovery were to take place.
Although it was very unusual for the clinic to have a Piping Plover, they have helped even smaller animals recover from injury. Most recently, a wounded hummingbird in their care was healed and released back in the wild.
Thank you to everyone for your kind concern.
Thank you to Jodi Swenson from Cape Ann Wildlife for meeting us at the beach at nine in the evening and caring for our little injured chick until the following morning when Catherine, George, and Charles delivered him to Tufts veterinary school. We should all thank our volunteers, Catherine, Caroline Haines, Hazel Hewitt, George King, Charles King, Paul Korn, Cliff King, Chris Martin, Diana Peck, Lucy Merrill-Hills, Cristina Hildebrand, Carol Ferrant, Jeanine Harris, Ruth Peron, Karen Shah, Annie Spike, and conservation agent Ken Whittaker for their diligent and continued monitoring of our two remaining chicks.
Please let’s everyone be mindful of the chicks afoot, help keep the beach clean, and please, please dog owners, please leave your sweet pooches off Good Harbor Beach. Thank you.
If you find orphaned or injured wildlife, the clinic has pages to guide you in appropriate procedures for birds, squirrels, mammals, and more, as well as a list of links to wildlife organizations. Go here for more information: Useful Links from the Tufts Wildlife Clinic
Two sixteen-day-old chicks snuggling under Papa Plover this morning at daybreak.
Our little injured chick is hanging on. Crystal from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine phoned to report that she fed him through the night. He remains on supportive care and is being given antibiotics and pain medication. Little chick has been moved to a heated incubator. The veterinarians are again stating that prognosis is unpredictable.
What are these things called wings?
Meanwhile, these two chick were having an easier morning than usual. There were no fires, dogs, or beach rake, and with the cooler temperatures and overcast skies, many fewer people. PiPl super volunteer monitor Hazel came by with flyers of the injured chick and she posted them around the beach, hoping to help people understand why we need to be on the look out for chicks afoot.
Fifteen-day-old Piping Plover Chick with Mama
I wonder what a baby bird think of its funny little appendages that will soon grow into beautiful wings?
Not a great deal of information is known about when exactly PiPl fledge. Some say 25 days and some reports suggest up to 32 days. In my own observations filming a PiPl family last summer on Wingaersheek Beach, the fledglings could not fly very well until mid-August. The PiPl fledglings and parents maintained a family bond through the end of August, even after it was becoming difficult to tell whether they were fledglings or adults. All during that period, the fledglings appeared still dependent upon the adults, who were still parenting, for example, offering distinctive piping instruction especially when perceived danger such as joggers and dogs were in the vicinity.
Two little butts, extra snuggles under Dad’s brood patch on this chilly day fifteen.
Our littlest chick to the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts. Thanks to Jodi, they were prepared and waiting for him. Little chick was assigned a case number and we were told to call after 3pm. As I am writing this report, Avery from the school just returned my phone call. She sounds terrific and was very helpful in explaining little chick’s injury and care. He has a traumatic brain injury, most likely caused by being stepped on. Little chick is being given supportive care, which includes pain medication, an anti-inflammatory, and fluids. He is also in an oxygen cage that allows him to breathe more easily. The vets are guarded in their prognosis as recovery from head trauma is very unpredictable.
Very sadly, I have to report that dogs were running around the beach unleashed at the time of the injury. No one witnessed exactly what happened, but last year I saw a dog running over and instantly killing a chick, despite my very best efforts to get the owner to control his dog. This morning at 6am dogs were on the beach leashed, but the owner was obliviously walking her two dogs through the sanctuary area precisely where the chicks were darting about. Leashed or unleashed, irresponsible dog owners are one of the chick’s greatest threats. Please, please folks tell your friends and neighbors about the Plovers and why it is so important to follow the dog ordinances. It seems as though late in the day, after 5 and before sunset, the chicks are the most vulnerable. Perhaps folks think its okay to bring dogs to the beach after the life guards leave. Early evening is exactly the same time of day that the chick was killed last year.
Our two Good Harbor Beach siblings, this morning at fourteen days old.
Earlier this morning updates:
Catherine writes, “I called Kim who met me right away at the beach. Soon After 9pm Jodi was there getting the bird. Jodi implemented ER incubator and hydration methods. By 11pm chick pooped which may be sign that he was reacting to rehydration. (She explained that body shuts down digestion quickly to protect brain and heart. Pooping could be things working.) One eye swollen may equal head injury or seizure. All was speculation and she hoped chick would make it through night.”
Volunteer Nancy, who found the chick wrote, “My daughter spotted the chick on the soft sand lying just off the wet sand of the creek bed near where we were this morning. My son in law carried the chick from creek bed to large enclosure. I held chick while giving it water and tried to keep it warm, then put it in the covered part of the enclosure on advice of Audubon woman, hoping its mom would be able to give care. We called every emergency number we could find but no one picked up. Thank you so much for responding as you did.”
Today at 6:15am–dog walking through the Plover’s sanctuary–leashed or unleashed, dogs (as well as people) unintentionally step on Plovers. Please be careful.
Mama and the two fourteen-day-old chicks this morning at daybreak.
Two of our three Piping Plover chicks are doing beautifully, the third however is hanging on for dear life. The littlest chick was found limp and helpless by beach goers, on the dune edge near the creek. The chick was placed in the wire enclosure where Catherine Ryan and I found it at around nine pm. Jodi Swenson from Cape Ann Wildlife arrived shortly thereafter. She immediately tucked the chick into her shirt and has been keeping the chick in a warming nest. Jodi reports that the chick’s eye is swollen and that it is having neurological problems. More information to follow.
Foraging for tiny crustaceans at the high water line.
This morning at 5am found all three adorable balls of fluff zig zagging in and out of their roped off area. All was going well and I had planned to leave at 6:30 for work when the beach rake arrived on the scene. At the very moment the roaring rake was passing in front of the roped off safety area, the chicks decided to head to the water. It was harrowing trying to herd the chicks back up towards the wrack zone and at one point I lost sight of one. The rake passed twice in front of the sanctuary and both times the chicks were in extreme, extreme danger. The beach rake driver is super conscientious and stopped for Papa Plover when he ran in front of the rake, but not in a million years would a chick have been seen. I think eventually the chicks will learn to run in the opposite direction of the giant noise-making machine, but at this stage of development, they are running directly towards the beach rake. Additionally, while the rake drama was unfolding, half a dozen gulls flew in. I don’t know if they were there to check on what was tumbled up by the beach rake, or if they knew the babies were vulnerable as both parents were trying to herd the chicks away from the rake.
After writing this post, the next order of business is emailing Dave from Greenbelt and our conservation agent Ken Whittaker about the beach rake. I sincerely hope it can be redirected to stay on either side of the safety zone, traveling behind the beach through the parking lot road to clean both sides, but completely avoiding the area the PiPls are using as their morning and night time sanctuary.
Compare the photo on the left of a one-day-old chick and the photo on the right of the thirteen-day-old chick.
Despite their growing size, warmth and cuddles are still needed from Papa and Mama.
One of my favorite images, I think I’ll call this photo OctoPop.
This morning found all three chicks (hooray for three!) hungrily zooming around the symbolic enclosure, as well as outside the roped off area, and down to the water’s edge, but only for very brief moments. When the PiPl chicks get to the water, they drink quickly, before mom or dad calls them back up towards the wrack zone. Later in the morning they will journey over to the creek, where they can safely spend more time in the water drinking and feeding.
Zooming around the beach at top speed.
So this morning, five of the endangered nesting bird signs were either knocked over or mangled. Young adults lighting fires on a busy public beach is just plain dumb, but destroying the signs is pure viciousness. The Piping Plover monitor volunteers are so terrific and 99.99999999999 percent of the community are rooting for the Plovers; it’s just sad to see how a tiny minority can so negatively impact Plover recovery programs.
More food for thought–why do you think there was a Coyote spotted this morning on Nautilus Road in nearly exactly the same spot where there should be a trash barrel? Because of the disgusting pile of food and plastic garbage that sits there every night and well into the morning (or blows into the marsh and ocean), until the DPW arrives. The Coyote’s favorite meal is the the human garbage they have scavenged. Additionally this morning, I filmed super up close two crows alongside the Plover area and they were very intelligently digging in the sand and un-burying food that had been buried there in the sand.
Mama Plover and twelve-day-old chicks.
Patti Amaral and the King family reset the signs and a full schedule of volunteers will be monitoring the PiPlover family again today. Thank you to all the volunteers and to our wonderful community for all you are doing to help the Piping Plovers survive our busiest of beaches.
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!
Post a No Dog sign at the footbridge. I think this is critically important.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Do not linger near the Piping Plovers or their nests. Activity around the Plovers also attracts gulls and crows.
Respect the fenced off areas that are created to protect the Plovers.
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
* * *
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
Dad (left) and Mom (right) changing guard.
Tuesday Day Two:
Miniature rockets zooming over miniature sand mounds, running so fast, they’ll often land in a face plant. I captured a somersault on film!