Tag Archives: kwhittaker@gloucester-ma.gov

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.

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.

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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 🙂

DEBUNKING PIPING PLOVER MYTH #5: PIPING PLOVER HELPERS ARE NOT CALLING FOR AN OUTRIGHT BAN OF DOGS ON THE BEACH

Despite the extremely inflammatory posts you may have been reading elsewhere, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors and local wildlife experts are not in any way, shape, or form promoting the permanent ban of dogs from Good Harbor Beach.

Currently, dogs are not allowed on the beach from May 1st to September 30th. The PiPl volunteer monitor core group, Dave Rimmer from Greenbelt, Ken Whittaker, who is Gloucester’s conservation agent, and Mass Wildlife’s John Regosin all agree that dogs should not be allowed on Good Harbor Beach beginning April 1st, but that it would be safe for Piping Plover fledglings and other migrating shorebirds for dogs to return after September 15th.

This new suggested time frame will allow birds to nest 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 1st, is quite common. Allowing them to return after September 15, and in many cases after September 30th, 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.

To be very, very clear, we Piping Plover volunteers do not wish to permanently and forever ban dogs off Good Harbor Beach, or any Gloucester beaches.

Please email or call Mayor Sefatia’s office and your City Councilors and let them know your thoughts about Piping Plovers, dogs, and all the wildlife that finds a home at Good Harbor Beach. We hope you agree that making this simple change in the ordinance from April 1st to September 15th is the best solution for all our wild and domestic creatures. This modification to the dog ordinance will also show the federal agents that the Gloucester community recognizes our responsibility and takes very seriously our commitment to protecting endangered and threatened species.

Thank you.

Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken: sromeotheken@gloucester-ma.gov, 978-281-9700

Councillors At Large

Paul Lundberg, President: plundberg@gloucester-ma.gov, 978-282-8871

Melissa Cox: mcox@gloucester-ma.gov, 978-631-9015

Jamie O’Hara: johara@gloucester-ma.gov, 978-979-7533

Jen Holmgren: jholmgren@gloucester-ma.gov, 978-335-4748

Ward 1 Councilor Scott Memhard: smemhard@gloucester-ma.gov, 978-283-1955

Ward II Councillor Ken Hecht: khecht@gloucester-ma.gov, 617,755-9400

Ward III Councillor and Vice-president Steven LeBlanc: sleblanc@gloucester-ma.gov, 978-283-3360

Ward IV Valerie Gilman: vgilman@gloucester-ma.gov, 978-621-4682

Ward V Councillor Sean Nolan: snolan@gloucester-ma.gov, 978-375-8381

If you would like to be a Piping Plover volunteer monitor, please contact Ken Whittaker at kwhittaker@gloucester-ma.gov.

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Our Nine-day-old Piping Plover Little Pip and Mama

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY! BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAPA PLOVER

Papa and Pip snuggling today

Whenever folks stop by to ask questions at the nesting area and they see the little chicks snuggling under the adult PiPl, they almost automatically assume it is the Mama Plover. Half the time it is the female, and the other half, the male. Mom and Dad share equally in caring for the chicks, generally in twenty minute to half hour intervals. They are always within ear shot and while one is minding the chicks, the other is either feeding itself, grooming, or patrolling for predators. Last year, as is often the case, the Mama Plover departed Good Harbor Beach several weeks before the chick fledged, leaving Little Chick entirely under Papa’s care.

Eight-Day-Old Little Pip

Papa piping a warning call to Mama, while snuggling Pip 

If you would like to help monitor Pip and our PiPl family, please contact Ken Whittaker at kwhittaler-ma.gov.

OUR THIRD GOOD HARBOR BEACH PIPING PLOVER CHICK WAS KILLED THIS MORNING

We are so very sorry to share that the third chick was killed this morning. The seven-day-old chick was taken and eaten by a very large crow that swooped in unexpectedly, as witnessed by the volunteer monitors.

One week ago today all four Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers hatched in the parking lot. We celebrated, but also knew that the really hard part was yet to come. Monitoring tiny marshmallow sized fluff balls, made the color of their surroundings, is like looking for sand upon sand. To do this several hours at a time is no small feat, made even more challenging on Gloucester’s busiest of beaches.

I would like to give a huge shout out and thank you to all our super dedicated PiPl monitors. Know that they are doing the very best they can to fend off predators of every kind, ill mannered people, astronomically high tides, diminished beach, people who have been drinking in the hot sun all day, garbage left behind on the beach (which attracts crows and gulls), and every other creepy thing you can think of. The core group is putting in many hours, are sunburnt, and neglecting their families.

A terrible mishap of death or injury to a chick could happen on anyone of our shifts. When you see a PiPl monitor at GHB, stop and feel free to ask questions about the plovers, and please thank them for their dedication. I honestly hope I don’t see one more facebook post/comment blaming the monitors about how we are not doing enough to keep the chicks safe and not reporting enough about the scofflaws. It is just plain cruel. Thank you. 

Our one remaining chick, the one volunteer monitor Heather Hall calls Pip, is the smallest of the hatchlings and the one we think hatched last. This afternoon Mom was keeping watchful eye while Pip was foraging between the foot of the dunes and line of folks at the rope’s edge.

Climbing Mount Washington

Mama Plover and Pip

Early this morning when we still had both chicks.
 

SHOUT OUT TO GLOUCESTER’S ANIMAL CONTROL OFFICERS TEAGAN AND JAMIE!

Gloucester’s Animal Control Officers Teagan and Jamie were on the scene at the crack of dawn at 4:30 this morning fixing the posts around the PiPl nesting area and writing tickets. Last night Jamie was on the beach as well. Thank you Jamie, Teagan, and Chief McCarthy for the stepped up patrolling.

The posts needed to be pulled out of the sand because last night we had yet another super high tide, all the way up to the bluff for most of the length of the beach.

I read a comment yesterday that stated falsely that the animal control officers make $80,000.00 a year and sit around and drink coffee all day. I have it on good authority that their combined incomes do not total $80,000.00 a year. Stating misinformation and disparaging the hard working people in our community is creating a false narrative and is hurtful to everyone involved, to the people, the dog owners, and to the shorebirds.

Teagan and Jamie writing tickets at dawn this morning.

We don’t have as much an enforcement problem as we do an issue with entitlement and ignorance. Ignorance in the sense that scofflaws may be from out of town and may be unable to read, and entitlement in that some people know the rules and know the dangers that dogs pose to the shorebirds, yet choose to do as they please.

Upon entering Good Harbor Beach this morning, the scofflaws with their dog walked by these three signs.

Walking a dog on a beach is a purely recreational activity. For teeny tiny nesting shorebird chicks, protecting that same beach habitat is a matter of life and death.

If you see a dog at anytime or anywhere on Good Harbor Beach, please call this number: 978-281-9900.

As of late, it appears as though many more people now have the need of a service dog. Having a service dog requires that it be on leash at all times, not jumping on people, and not running through the dunes. Service dogs cannot go in the dunes, or anywhere on the beach that is restricted to humans.

Would the people with service dogs consider taking their dog to any other of Cape Ann’s stunning beaches, rather than to Good Harbor Beach during shorebird nesting season I wonder?

Folks getting ticketed and escorted off the beach.

Truly, the most important action people can take is to volunteer to help watch over the chicks. We have a number of folks posing as helpers but sadly, they are not actually volunteering for shifts. Two monitors on each shift would be ideal, but this year we have fewer volunteers, and don’t even have single person coverage during large chunks of time. Keeping watch over the baby birds will make a difference in whether or not the chicks survive. Anyone can be a volunteer and anyone of us can show you what to do. Finding people to help has been especially difficult on the weekends. Please contact kwhittaker@gloucester-ma.gov if you would like to lend a hand. Thank you so very much  

Six-day-old Piping Plover Chick

This morning’s dog tracks at Good Harbor Beach – Dog tracks are easy to spot and to differentiate from other canids (fox and coyote). For example, notice the sharp toenail indentation. Coyotes have rounded toe tip prints because they wear their nails down.

Dog tracks Good Harbor Beach

Look what other tracks were spied this week, deer! These too are easy to spot in the sand. The deer’s cloven hoof makes a broken heart shape.

White-tailed Deer Tracks Good Harbor Beach

Today’s early morning Good Harbor Beach view of Thacher Island Twin Lights