So proud to live in Massachusetts, a state where the lives of threatened and endangered shorebirds that nest along our coastline, birds such as Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oyster Catchers are considered worth protecting.
Despite all that the State government is trying to manage with the pandemic at its very peak, a huge shout out to Governor Baker and his administration for continuing the fight to help protect Piping Plovers. The Governor’s list of essential workers includes natural resource workers and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has placed symbolic roping and threatened species signs on DCR beaches.
For over forty years, people have been working to rebuild the Piping Plover population and it will only add to the coronavirus tragedy if we cease protecting threatened and endangered wildlife.
The PiPls are having a tough time of it this spring, largely because so much of their overwintering habitat was ravished during last year’s Hurricane Dorian. Let’s all work together to share the shore with wildlife and to protect our own Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover family.
Males and females are pairing up at local beaches
Male PiPl building a nest scrape and tossing bits of shells and sand into the scrape.
Female PiPl keeping out of the path of gusty winds.
Grant helps plovers have record year on Crane Beach
By John P. Muldoon
ROTARY CLUB PAID FOR THREE SOLAR-POWERED ELECTRIC FENCES
IPSWICH — Those little birds you see running around the beach don’t have it easy.
Although they have wings, they won’t fly to trees to build their nests. Instead, they scoop holes, or “scrapes,” in the sand and lay their eggs there.
And that’s an invitation for all kinds of trouble: predators, rogue waves, dogs, or clumsy or malicious humans.
Combined with widespread loss of habitat, piping plovers are now on the federal government’s threatened species list. One estimate says there are just 8,400 left worldwide.
But along with lease terns, which are protected in Massachusetts, the plovers are well taken care of on Crane Beach.
In fact, they were so well taken care of in 2019 that a record number of chicks fledged and are now ready for the next perilous phase of their lives — a migration to the Bahamas.
This year, 49 pairs of plovers raised 96 chicks, said Jeff Denoncour, coastal ecologist with The Trustees of Reservations.
The last year that good for the birds was in 1999, when 44 pairs produced 89 fledglings, he added.
To show how precarious the species’ existence can be, Denoncour said the year 2000 was disastrous. Just 12 fledglings survived despite the efforts of 49 pairs. “That was due to a major storm,” he explained.
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.
The most joyous story about Cape Ann wildlife during the summer months of 2018 is the story of the high number of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and meadows, seen not only in strong numbers along the Massachusetts coastline, but throughout the butterfly’s breeding range–all around New England, the Great Lakes region, Midwest, and Southern Canada.
Three days after celebrating the two week milestone of our one remaining Piping Plover chick, Little Pip, he disappeared from Good Harbor Beach. It was clear there had been a bonfire in the Plover’s nesting area, and the area was overrun with dog and human tracks. The chick’s death was heartbreaking to all who had cared so tenderly, and so vigilantly, for all those many weeks.
Our Mama and Papa were driven off the beach and forced to build a nest in the parking lot because of dogs running through the nesting area. Despite these terrible odds, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair hatched four adorable, healthy chicks, in the parking lot. Without the help of Gloucester’s DPW, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, Ken Whittaker, Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, and the AAC, the parking lot nest would have been destroyed.
These brave little birds are incredibly resilient, but as we have learned over the past three years, they need our help to survive. It has been shown time and time again throughout the Commonwealth (and wherever chicks are fledging), that when communities come together to monitor the Piping Plovers, educate beach goers, put in effect common sense pet ordinances, and reduce trash, the PiPl have at least a fighting chance to survive.
Little Pip at twelve- through seventeen-days-old
All four chicks were killed either by crows, gulls, dogs, or uneducated beach goers, and in each instance, these human-created issues can be remedied. Ignoring, disregarding, dismissing, or diminishing the following Piping Plover volunteer monitor recommendations for the upcoming 2019 shorebird season at Good Harbor Beach will most assuredly result in the deaths of more Piping Plover chicks.
Not one, but at least two, healthy and very hungry North American River Otters families are dwelling at local ponds, with a total of seven kits spotted. We can thank the fact that our waterways are much cleaner, which has led to the re-establishment of Beavers, and they in turn have created ideal habitat in which these beautiful, social mammals can thrive.
Several species of herons are breeding on our fresh water ponds and the smaller islands off the Cape Ann coastline. By midsummer, the adults and juveniles are seen wading and feeding heartily at nearly every body of water of the main island.
In order to better understand and learn how and why other Massachusetts coastal communities are so much more successful at fledging chicks than is Gloucester, I spent many hours studying and following Piping Plover families with chicks at several north of Boston beaches.
In my travels, I watched Least Terns (also a threatened species) mating and courting, then a week later, discovered a singular nest with two Least Tern eggs and began following this little family, too.
Least Tern Family Life Cycle
Maine had a banner year fledging chicks, as did Cranes Beach, locally. Most exciting of all, we learned at the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird meeting that Massachusetts is at the fore of Piping Plover recovery, and our state has had the greatest success of all in fledging chicks! This is a wonderful testament to Massachusetts Piping Plover conservation programs and the partnerships between volunteers, DCR, Mass Wildlife, the Trustees, Greenbelt, Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.
Cape Ann Museum
Friends Jan Crandall and Patti Papows allowed me to raid their gardens for caterpillars for our Cape Ann Museum Kids Saturday. The Museum staff was tremendously helpful and we had a wonderfully interested audience of both kids and adults!
In August I was contacted by the BBC and asked to help write the story about Monarchs in New England for the TV show “Autumnwatch: New England,. Through the course of writing, the producers asked if I would like to be interviewed and if footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing, could be borrowed for the show. We filmed the episode at my friend Patti’s beautiful habitat garden in East Gloucester on the drizzliest of days, which was also the last day of summer.
Three days after hatching the Rosetti’s Least Tern parents moved the chicks further down the beach and deep into the roped off sanctuary. Tiny gray and white speckled fluff balls well-hidden amongst the rocky shoreline became increasingly difficult to see.
Well-camouflaged and nearly impossible to see one-week-old Least Tern chicks.
Every now and then though I would catch a glimpse and one of the best moments was watching both chicks test their wings in short little take offs. Stretching wide their wings and in little fits and bursts, the flights lasted about two- to three-feet in length, and equally as high. After witnessing the tremendous hardships the Least Tern colony at Winthrop had undergone this nesting season, I was over joyed to see at least one family hit this milestone.
One-week-old Least Tern chick feeding.
Two-week-old Least Tern chick.
Eighteen-day-old Least Tern chick taking shelter under beach vegetation on a scorchingly hot day in July.