Tag Archives: Least Tern

PIPING PLOVER UPDATE – WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Pip, the day before he was killed.

You may be asking, “where are the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers now?” Surprisingly, they are still around! After the night the last chick was killed (tracks point to a skirmish with a dog and several people in the nesting area), two Piping Plovers were reported at Cape Hedge Beach the following evening. Rockport resident Gail, who first reported the sighting, and PiPl volunteer monitor Laurie Sawin and I, found one at Cape Hedge the next morning, and by the next day, two had returned to the roped off area at #3 boardwalk!

Everyday since, either Greenbelt’s Dave McKinnon, my husband Tom, Deborah Cramer, or myself have spotted at least one in the cordoned off #3.

Recent PiPl sightings at the Good Harbor Beach nesting area.

Our thoughts are to leave some part of the roping up as long as the Piping Plovers are still using it as a sanctuary during high tide when the beach is crowded. For a second and even more important reason, many of us would like to see part of the cordoned off area stay in place for the simple reason it is helping with dune recovery.

You may recall that during late winter we had back to back nor’easters, which had a devastating effect on Good Harbor Beach in that much of the beach’s sand was washed away. The beach dropped about ten feet, which now causes the tide to come up high to the edge of the bluff. Beach grass and beach vegetation will help prevent future washouts. Because the area around #3 has been roped of since mid-April, a fantastic patch of beach grass has begun to take hold!!! If we leave a narrow strip roped off from the public, about ten to fifteen feet wide, running the length of the beach and around the creek bend, this simple step alone will have a marked impact on the overall health of the dune habitat.

Beach plants help prevent erosion while also providing shade and shelter for tiny shorebirds.

A pair of one-day-old Least Tern chicks finding shade.

DEBUNKING PIPING PLOVER MYTH #4, WINTHROP BEACH IS AMAZING, AND LOTS OF SEX ON THE BEACH

DEBUNKING PIPING PLOVER MYTH #4, WINTHROP BEACH IS AMAZING, AND LOTS OF SEX ON THE BEACHPiping Plover Mama and Chick, Winthrop Beach

Recently an “Anonymous” person made a comment on the post “Heartbreaking to See the Piping Plovers Nesting in the Good Harbor Beach Parking Lot.” The name Anonymous is placed in quotes, because the commenter is so oddly uninformed and factually incorrect, I am wondering if an actual Winthrop resident even wrote the comment. Anyway, here is the comment:

“I live in Winthrop. One pair nested on Winthrop Beach about 6 years ago. Now there are 7 nesting pairs. 80% of the beach is now roped off for the plovers. They are rarely successful and keep trying to breed until August. Gloucester needs to determine whether it would like the income from parking or a successful plover population on one of its nicest recreational beaches. I was at Good Harbor the other day and it appears that there is not much of a sandy beach left to use. I realize the birds are endangered and federal law protects them. Gloucester may have to by law pay for 24 hour security like they do in Plymouth.”

Just like the towns of Gloucester and Revere, Winthrop has a beautiful beach (officially named Winthrop Shores Reservation), which within the last decade has become home to nesting shorebirds. Both Revere and Winthrop beaches are managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and both Revere Beach and Winthrop Beach have been on my to do list of places to visit to learn how other communities in Massachusetts manage their nesting shorebird populations.

Least Tern Nesting

Revere and Winthrop Beaches are relatively narrow at high tide, similar to Good Harbor Beach, and both beaches run adjacent to densely populated urban neighborhoods. I have been making good use of my commute from Cambridge and Boston to Gloucester this spring by regularly visiting Revere Beach, and have now added Winthrop Beach. I am so glad that I did! Go to Winthrop Beach if you have never been, or haven’t been in recent years. It is a delight in every way. Visitors sunbathe, picnic, windsurf, paddle board, ride bikes, hold hands, walk their babies, and do all the things visitors do at our Gloucester beaches. You don’t need a sticker to park, and parking is free, if you can get a spot along the main thoroughfare.

Winthrop Beach wasn’t always beautiful. Over the course of the past one hundred years, the devastating effects of pollution and erosion had washed the sand off shore, causing the beach to dip twenty feet below the seawall in some areas. This meant that every time there was a major storm, the waves were not slowed by a gradually inclining beach, but instead slammed into the seawall, flooding streets and homes, and further eroding the foundation of the seawall.

Despite this, in 2008, two pairs of Piping Plovers began nesting at Winthrop Beach. Not only has Winthrop Beach become home to nesting PiPls, at least ninety pairs of Least Terns (Sternula antillarum), a similarly threatened species of shorebirds, have also begun to nest there. The endangered Red Knot (Calidriss canutus), along with a locally nesting pair of American Oystercatchers (Haematopus palliates) forage at Winthrop Beach as well.

One half of Winthrop’s resident American Oystercatcher breeding pair.

Winthrop Beach is in the midst of a 31 million dollar restoration project. To renourish the beach, 500,000 cubic yards of sand have been distributed along the one-mile stretch, the seawall has been rebuilt, improvements to beach access and amenities have been made, road repairs to Winthrop Shore Drive completed, sidewalks widened and made handicap accessible, and gorgeous new lighting is being installed.

During the Winthrop Beach major renovation project, care was taken to protect the Piping Plovers and by 2017, the population had quadrupled. Unfortunately, despite the community’s best efforts, 2017 was an unusually bad year. No chicks fledged due to predation by a male American Kestrel. The Kestrel was subsequently captured and moved to the western part of the state.

Massachusetts holds about 30 to 40 percent of the world’s population of Piping Plovers. It is a testament to our clean beaches and water. The Piping Plover’s diet consists of invertebrates and insects, and both require a clean environment.

From my observation during the past several weeks, there are only two roped off areas; one small, similar in size to GHB nesting area #3, and the other, about three times larger. The thing is, the large area is comprised of a restricted dune restoration project and the other part is filled with popples and cobbles, not in the least an ideal location to sunbathe or picnic. There is a wide sandy area in the center of the beach for recreation. Each time that I have been there, including the Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, there were very few people on the beach. The only people I had a free moment to speak with, a group of young women that live directly across from the cordoned off area, said they LOVE that their beach is home to the nesting shorebirds. The point is, just as exists at Good Harbor Beach, there is plenty of room to share the shore.

The shorebird nesting area is pebbly and part of a dune restoration project.

The “Five Sisters” breakwater area is well loved by windsurfers and paddle boarders as well as a favored habitat by foraging shorebirds.

Beautiful Beach Pea (Lathyrus maritimous) growing in the restored dune/shorebird nesting area.

Access to Winthrop Beach is restricted by what appears to be a complete lack of public parking. Even with no one on the beach, it has been difficult to find a spot to park on the main drive along the beach, and it is not yet summer time.

On my first visit to Winthrop Beach, the timing could not have been more perfect. Least Terns and Piping Plovers were mating like crazy. It was wonderful to observe both species mating dances and rituals, and both are unique to each other. I’ll post more about the Least Terns courting, essentially “sex in exchange for fish,” as it was so terribly funny to observe.

Least Terns Mating. Males offer a minnow to a prospective female. She will allow him to mount her while simultaneously taking the fish although, sometimes the females take the fish before mating and fly off.

I’ve been back several times since and have seen some courtship displays, but nothing like the free for all of the first visit. There was however a newly hatched Piping Plover family of four tiny little chicks. And one of the pairs of Piping Plovers that I had observed mating is now nesting!

Piping Plovers Mating 1) The male’s high stepping dance, asking the female if she is interested. She says yes by positioning herself with her rear end tilted upward. 2) He dances on her back. 3) The Plovers join cloaca to cloaca 4)Invariably, love making ends with a not too nice sharp nip from the male.

The mating pair are now nesting, with at least three eggs in the nest!

Camouflaged! Can you spot the four birds in the above photo?

Just south of Winthrop Shore Reservation is Winthrop’s Yirrell Beach and it is home to several nesting Piping Plover pairs, as well as a pair of nesting American Oystercatchers.

Point Shirley and Crystal Cove with views of the Boston skyline

Clear Evidence of the Destructive Force of Global Warming on the Massachusetts Coastline and How This Negatively Impacts Local Wildlife

Female Piping Plover Sitting on an Egg

The recent winter storms of 2018 have provided empirical evidence of how global climate change and the consequential rising sea level is impacting the Massachusetts coastline. Whether broken barriers between the ocean and small bodies of fresh water, the tremendous erosion along beaches, or the loss of plant life at the edge of the sea, these disturbances are profoundly impacting wildlife habitats.

The following photos were taken after the March nor’easter of 2018 along with photos of the same areas, before the storm, and identify several specific species of wildlife that are affected by the tremendous loss of habitat.

Barrier Beach Erosion

Nesting species of shorebirds such as Piping Plovers require flat or gently sloping areas above the wrack line for chick rearing. Notice how the March nor’easter created bluffs with steep sides, making safe areas for tiny chicks nonexistent.

You can see in the photos of Good Harbor Beach (top photo and photos 3 and 4 in the gallery) that the metal fence posts are completely exposed. In 2016, the posts were half buried and in 2017, the posts were nearly completely buried. After the recent storms, the posts are fully exposed and the dune has eroded half a dozen feet behind the posts.

In the photo of the male Piping Plover sitting on his nest from 2016 the metal posts are half buried.

Although scrubby growth shrubs and sea grass help prevent erosion, the plants have been ripped out by the roots and swept away due to the rise in sea level.

Plants draw tiny insects, which is food for tiny chicks, and also provide cover from predators, as well as shelter from weather conditions. If the Piping Plovers return, will they find suitable nesting areas, and will plant life recover in time for this year’s brood?

Other species of shorebirds that nest on Massachusetts’s beaches include the Common Tern, Least Tern, Roseate Tern, American Oyster Catcher, Killdeer, and Black Skimmer.

Common Tern parent feeding fledgling

Where Have All the Wildflowers Gone?

Female Monarch Depositing Egg on Common Milkweed Leaf

Wildflowers are the main source of food for myriad species of beneficial insects such as native bees and butterflies.

Monarch Butterflies arriving on our shores not only depend upon milkweed for the survival of the species, but the fall migrants rely heavily on wildflowers that bloom in late summer and early fall. Eastern Point is a major point of entry, and stopover, for the southward migrating butterflies. We have already lost much of the wildflower habitat that formerly graced the Lighthouse landscape.

Masses of sea debris from the storm surge washed over the wildflower patches and are covering much of the pollinator habitat at the Lighthouse.

Broken Barriers

American Wigeon Migrating at Henry’s Pond

Barriers that divide small bodies of fresh water from the open sea have been especially hard hit. The fresh bodies of water adjacent to the sea provide habitat, food, and drinking water for hundreds of species of wildlife and tens of thousands of migrating song and shorebirds that travel through our region.

The recently rebuilt causeway (2014) between Niles Pond and Brace Cove was breached many times during the nor’easter. The causeway is littered in rocks and debris from the sea.

The causeway being rebuilt in 2014.

The road that runs along Pebble Beach, separating the sea from Henry’s Pond has been washed out.

The footsteps in the sand are where the road ran prior to the storm.

Mallards, North American Beavers, Muskrats, North American River Otters, and Painted Turtles are only a few examples of species that breed in Massachusetts fresh water ponds and wetlands. All the wildlife photos and videos were shot on Cape Ann.

Migrating Black-bellied Plover

Cape Ann is hardly alone in coping with the impact of our warming planet and of rising sea level. These photos are meant to show examples of what is happening locally. Regions like Plymouth County, which include Scituate and Hingham, have been equally as hard hit. Plum Island is famously heading for disaster and similar Massachusetts barrier beaches, like Cranes Beach, have all been dramatically altered by the cumulative effects of sea level rising, and recently accelerated by the devastating winter storms of 2018.

To be continued.

Impassable Road to Plum Island

Snowy Owl Cranes Beach

GLOUCESTER MARCH NOR’EASTERS STORM COVERAGE 2018

Covering storms back to back, I didn’t have time to post on both Good Morning Gloucester and on my blog. The following are links to storm posts from the region’s three March nor’easters, beginning on March 2nd.

LIVE FROM ATLANTIC ROAD WITH HUGE WAVES THREE HOURS BEFORE HIGH TIDE

LITTLE RED SHED NO MORE

BANGERS, CRASHERS, COASTAL FLOODING, BEACON MARINE BASIN, PIRATE’S LANE, AND THE GOOD HARBOR BEACH FOOTBRIDGE BOMBOGENESIS RILEY NOR’EASTER #GLOUCESTERMA

#GLOUCESTERMA RILEY STORM DAMAGE ATLANTIC ROAD PASS AT OWN RISK, GOOD HARBOR BEACH FOOTBRIDGE DAMAGE, PHOTOGRAPHERS WITH DEATH WISH, CHURNING SEAS, YOU WANTED TO BUILD A HOUSE WHERE?, AND THE THIRD SUPER HIGH TIDE ON THE WAY

#GLOUCESTERMA RILEY STORM DAMAGE MORNING AFTER, EASTERN POINT ROAD IMPASSABLE DUE TO STROM SURGE, CLEAN-UP BEGINS, HUGE SHOUT OUT TO GLOUCESTER’S DPW AND POLICE OFFICERS, GOOD HARBOR BEACH FOOTBRIDGE IN THE EMBANKMENT

DOWNED PHONE POLE AT THE ELKS BASS ROCKS #GLOUCESTERMA RILEY NOR’EASTER

BREAKING: BRACE COVE-NILES POND CAUSEWAY ANNIHILATED, NILES POND FLOODING #GLOUCESTERMA NOR’EASTER RILEY

BREAKING: EASTERN POINT LIGHTHOUSE ROAD WASHED AWAY AND PARKING LOT LITTERED WITH STORM SURGE DEBRIS; DO NOT DRIVE DOWN, NOWHERE TO TURN AROUND! #GLOUCESTERMA NOR’EASTER RILEY

DISASTER AT PEBBLE BEACH #ROCKPORTMA MARCH STORM NOR’EASTER RILEY

BEFORE AND AFTER ATLANTIC ROAD ESTATE MARCH NOR’EASTER STORM RILEY 

ATLANTIC OCEAN WAVE WATCHING -EXPLODERS, BANGERS, ROLLERS, CRASHERS, AND SONIC BOOMERS – #GLOUCESTEMA #ROCKPORTMA MARCH NOR’ESTER STORM RILEY 

CLEAR EVIDENCE OF THE DESTRUCTIVE FORCE OF GLOBAL WARMING ON THE MASSACHUSETTS COASTLINE AND HOW THIS NEGATIVELY IMPACTS LOCAL WILDLIFE 

NILES POND BRACE COVE RESTORATION UNDERWAY 2018 #GLOUCESTERMA NOR’EASTER STORM RILEY

SHORING UP THE NILES POND-BRACE COVE CAUSEWAY BEFORE THE NEXT NOR’EASTER (ARRIVING TONIGHT)

MARCH NOR’EASTER #GLOUCESTER MA ATLANTIC OCEAN EXPLODING WAVES, SPINDRIFTS, AND THE PRICE TO PAY

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The Magical Month of May for Migrations in Massachusetts

May is a magical month in Massachusetts for observing migrants traveling to our shores, wooded glens, meadows, and shrubby uplands. They come either to mate and to nest, or are passing through on their way to the Arctic tundra and forests of Canada and Alaska.

I am so excited to share about the many beautiful species of shorebirds, songbirds, and butterflies I have been recently filming and photographing for several projects. Mostly I shoot early in the morning, before setting off to work with my landscape design clients. I love, love my work, but sometimes it’s really hard to tear away from the beauty that surrounds here on Cape Ann. I feel so blessed that there is time to do both. If you, too, would like to see these beautiful creatures, the earliest hours of daylight are perhaps the best time of day to capture wildlife, I assume because they are very hungry first thing in the morning and less likely to be bothered by the presence of a human. Be very quiet and still, and observe from a distance far enough away so as not to disturb the animal’s activity.

Some species, like Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets, Brant Geese, and Osprey, as well as Greater and Lesser Yellow Legs, are not included here because this post is about May’s migration and these species were seen in April.

Please note that several photos are not super great by photo skill standards, but are included so you can at least see the bird in a Cape Ann setting. I am often shooting something faraway, at dawn, or dusk, or along a shady tree-lined lane. As so often happens, I’ll get a better capture in better light, and will switch that out, for the purpose of record keeping, at a later date.

Happy Magical May Migration!

The male Eastern Towhee perches atop branches at daybreak and sings the sweetest ta-weet, ta-weet, while the female rustles about building a nest in the undergrowth. Some live year round in the southern part of the US, and others migrate to Massachusetts and parts further north to nest.

If these are Short-billed Dowitchers, I’d love to see a Long-billed Dowitcher! They are heading to swampy pine forests of high northern latitudes.

Black-bellied Plovers, much larger relatives of Piping Plovers, look like Plain Janes when we see them in the fall (see above).

Now look at his handsome crisp black and white breeding plumage; its hard to believe we are looking at the same bird! He is headed to breed in the Arctic tundra in his fancy new suit.

The Eastern Kingbird is a small yet feisty songbird; he’ll chase after much larger raptors and herons that dare to pass through his territory. Kingbirds spend the winter in the South American forests and nest in North America.

With our record of the state with the greatest Piping Plover recovery rate, no post about the magical Massachusetts May migration would be complete without including these tiniest of shorebirds. Female Piping Plover Good Harbor Beach.