Thanks to Piping Plover Ambassador Deborah Brown for sharing the following story. Way to go Maine!
For the third consecutive year, Maine saw a record number of nesting piping plovers and fledglings despite greater traffic at some beaches as people looked to get outside during the pandemic.
There were 98 nesting pairs and 199 fledglings at the 25 beaches where the birds are monitored, up from last year’s mark of 89 nesting pairs and 175 fledglings, said Laura Minich Zitske, the plover project director at Maine Audubon, which runs the program for the state. Zitske attributes the banner year to the work of hundreds of volunteers who helped educate the public – such as at Higgins Beach, where there were 40 patrolling, and in Wells, where 40 volunteers helped at three beaches.
“I do think the big year is unrelated to the pandemic. We expected to have a lot of birds back after last year’s record year,” Zitske said. “But we did have a lot of pandemic-related problems. Birds nested right next to paths when the beaches were closed. And some people struggled to follow rules. Some people left common sense behind. You definitely could see that to a degree.”
Late this afternoon, Essex Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer and my husband Tom observed the Plover family leaving the parking lot and heading toward the dunes. Dave shares that they first appeared to be heading to the beach via the marsh creek end, when they suddenly switched direction and started back in the opposite direction towards Boardwalk #3. They went part way down #3, then back toward the parking lot, then back down #3. The family next began to go through the dunes toward the the middle of the beach, away from the #3 roped off area. After all the zig and zagging, the little family returned to the boardwalk, and then headed straight through the dunes, in the direction of #3 nesting zone. Dave lost sight of the chicks, but could hear the parents urging them on. Out they tumbled, down the dune edge, and into the roped off #3 area!
Please keep your eyes peeled for tiny toothpick-legged mini-marshmallow sized chicks zooming around in the sand.
We are elated that all four chicks made it safely out of the parking lot. Quite possibly this was the PiPl plan all along. Several times I observed the adults making the overland route at the very same time that they began nesting in the parking lot, which I had not seem them do in the the previous two years that they nested at GHB (in the very same location all three years).
The PiPl left the beach due to extreme dog disturbance while trying to court and nest, sadly finding the parking lot to be the quietest and safest place. Yesterday afternoon, we all observed folks trying to bring their dogs through the parking lot and onto the beach, after the life guards had left. The presence of dogs caused extreme alarm by the parents, they would pipe loud warnings and then leave the chicks to try to distract the dog. This is when chicks are at their most vulnerable, when the adults have to leave them to defend against predators. The problem is only going to get worse now that the footbridge has reopened.Please, please to the folks bringing your dogs to the beach after hours, now it is more critical than ever to please leave your pets at home. If any of our readers see a dog on the beach at anytime of day for any reason, first make sure the chicks are safe, and then please don’t hesitate to call the police.
Trash left on the beach is another huge issue for endangered shorebird chicks, of any species. Trash on the beach equals a plethora of seagulls. As do dogs, seagulls cause extreme duress for the PiPl parents. Even though the gulls prefer the easy garbage pickings left behind, they also eat baby chicks.
If you would like to be a a volunteer PiPl monitor, please contact email@example.com. Thank you!
Huge Shout Out to all our volunteers, Gloucester’s awesome DPW, Dave Rimmer, Ken Whitaker, Jasmine Weber, and Jonathan Regosin <3
Both Mama and Papa are now able to tend the chicks, while they are also able to feed and take care of themselves simultaneously keeping within earshot and eyesight of each other.
Our GHB Parking Lot Family survived the first night and day two, despite shenanigans from Barn Swallows, Red-winged Blackbirds, and the ever present Bachelor. The Bachelor’s aggressive behavior seemed even more pronounced this morning. Unmated males will attack baby PiPls in hopes of mating with the female, but our Papa PiPl has his number and does his best to keep him at bay. As if they don’t have enough to contend with, Plover on Plover violence is a real threat.
Here are the chicks waking up this morning after a snuggling session with Papa.
Thank you once again to Joe Lucido and Gloucester’s DPW for their interest and help throughout and to our amazing cadre of PiPl volunteers. If you would like to be a Piping Plover volunteer monitor, please email Ken Whittaker, Gloucester’s conservation agent, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mass Wildlife intern Jasmine Weber and her aunt Terry Weber
Thanks to today’s dozen or so volunteers, Gloucester’s DPW crew, and John and Jasmine from Mass Wildlife, our parking lot PiPl family made it through day one with flying colors (meaning all four chicks survived). It appears as if they are slowly advancing towards the beach. Plovers are active at night–perhaps they’ll make the migration tonight after the lot is closed–let’s hope.
We need more volunteers, at least two per shift would be fantastic. More eyes equals better coverage. Please contact Ken Whittaker at if you would like to be a PiPl volunteer monitor email@example.com.
Our Piping Plover chicks began hatching yesterday afternoon. The fourth chick hatched today at 7:50am. We have all been on pins and needles and are overjoyed that all four babies appear to be healthy and vigorous.
Hopping over the yet-to-hatch egg and testing out tiny wing buds
Piping Plovers lend true meaning to the expression “take under a protective wing.”
With thanks and gratitude to Joe Lucido and our amazing DPW, Gloucester’ s conservation agent Ken Whittaker, Mayor Sefatia, Dave Rimmer from Greenbelt, Jonathan and Jasmine from Mass Wildlife, and to all our volunteers (especially Heather Hall who has been at the GHB parking lot every single day for several hours) for helping us get this far. Now the truly challenging phase begins, which is helping the chicks grow to the next stage of life. Piping Plover Chicks fledge on average at about 35 days, which is almost to the day when last year’s Little Chick departed our shores.
We were hoping to keep the hatching on the down low for a few days, but the PiPl is out of the bag, so to speak. Volunteer Piping Plovers are most definitely needed. Please contact Ken Whittaker at firstname.lastname@example.org
The first to venture out of the exclosure (at 7am this morning). Piping Plovers are precocial birds, which means that within hours after hatching they are mobile and relatively mature. Piping Plover chicks begin to feed themselves within the first 24 hours after hatching.
Kenny Ryan, Cindy Frost, Cliff King, and Joe Lucido
DPW Crew laying out the temporarily restricted parking area. The cordoned off zone will be in place this weekend and until the PiPl migrate to the beach.
Cliff King and Jasmine Weber – Jasmine joined the team yesterday. She is an intern at Mass Wildlife and will be with us all weekend.
Early this morning the Bachelor appeared on the scene, again, causing yet another kerfuffle. Papa leapt off the nest and chased him away, with a good bit of ruffled feathers.
A few more snapshots–see how adorable they are–wouldn’t you like to be a Piping Plover monitor this upcoming month <3
Despite the throngs of beach goers and a full parking lot by noon time on Friday, the nesting Piping Plovers appear to be doing a-okay. Both Mama and Papa Plover were seen at the nest this morning (Saturday) at daybreak. They traded places on the nest without event.
Piping Plover volunteer monitors will be checking on the PiPl throughout the day. The parking lot attendants are keeping an eye out our feathered friends as well. With a hope and prayer, and lots of cooperation from the community, our little pair will survive the holiday weekend 🙂
At daybreak this morning, Mama left the nest to stretch her wings, forage, and take a bath, but only after Papa flew on the scene to relieve her; Papa on the nest Friday evening.
Myth #2: “The reason the Piping Plovers are nesting in the parking lot is because when they first arrived to Gloucester it was cold and they find the asphalt warmer.”
Not true and by this logic, Piping Plovers would be nesting in parking lots from here to Canada!
Piping Plovers arrive at Atlantic coast and Great Lakes beaches every year from late March through the month of May. Along the Atlantic Coast, they breed from the mid-Atlantic states to New England and all the way up the coastline to the maritime provinces of Canada, as far north as Newfoundland and Labrador. The temperature is no colder on a Gloucester beach than a beach on Plum Island or a beach on Prince Edward Island.
Myth #3: “The reason the Piping Plovers are nesting in the parking lot is because the tides are higher and the beach area was disrupted after the winter storms.”
Also not true.
Piping Plovers typically nest on both narrow and wide sandy beaches. Unfortunately, nests and eggs are occasionally swept away during a storm when the tides are high.
Beaches all along the Massachusetts coastline were hit hard by late winter storms however, Piping Plovers often do well on beaches where winter storms have created a change in the topography. Storms generate what is called overwash, when water from the sea carrying beach sediments flows onto the dunes. Overwash is critical for beaches to maintain their shape and size in the face of sea level rise. The best foraging areas for Piping Plovers are known where you have large expansive mudflats created by storm overwash.
Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover parking lot nest and eggs.
As you can see, there is a theme to these comments, to blame the fact that the PiPl are nesting in the parking lot on everything else except what in actuality drove them to the parking lot.
Constant and unrelenting disruption by dogs off leash in the nesting area is what forced the Piping Plovers to the parking lot.
By speaking frankly to help bring awareness about what occurred in the nesting area at Good Harbor Beach during the months of April and May is by no means meant to malign or portray as wicked and threatening dogs or dog owners. Disruption by dogs was witnessed by myself, by fellow PiPl volunteers, as well as by Greenbelt and Mass Wildlife representatives, and the dog officers.
In the minds of our nesting pair of Piping Plovers, the Good Harbor Beach parking lot was seemingly the safest location at the time of mating and nest scraping, as it was also the quietest and least disrupted. Readers may be wondering, why did our pair not nest in the wide expanse of dunes? I think the green growth found in the dune habitat does not provide protective camouflage as do the white painted lines and gravel found in the parking lot. If you have stopped by to see the PiPl in the parking lot, you may have noticed that they are practically invisible, the way they blend in with their surroundings. The little pair are certainly resourceful!
Don’t mistake their resourceful choice of nesting locations as ideal. The parking lot is a horrendous place to nest. It is far away from their food and water. Piping Plover parents take turns sitting on the nest. In a normal situation where the nest is on the beach, one sits on the nest while the other forages close by, but at the same time is always on the lookout to zoom in and help defend the nest from real and imagined predators. Under the parking lot circumstance, while one is brooding in the lot and the other foraging on the beach, they are not in constant contact or communication with one another, making the chance of successfully hatching young all that much slimmer.
And safeguarding the chicks during their first days after hatching in the parking lot, until they make the epic journey to the beach, is going to be a monumental challenge and take tremendous teamwork.
Mama at the parking lot nest exclosure while Papa is foraging at the beach and out of the range of communication.
The problems that arise with dogs on the beach during shorebird nesting season has been dealt with and resolved conscientiously in coastal communities over decades.
Some solutions for next year:
With gratitude to Mayor Sefatia and the DPW, effective signage has been posted at each beach entryway. The signs need to be in place all year round because they also have a No Dunes icon. Letting people know that throughout the year the dunes are off limits to people and pets will help lessen erosion and create a healthier dune habitat, which over time will help protect our beach for everyone.
Enforcement of existing ordinances.
Education about the life story of the Piping Plovers.
Recently a meeting of the Animal Advisor Committee was held at City Hall. Many suggestions and proposals were discussed. A very simple and effective solution for Good Harbor Beach is to close the beach to all dogs beginning April 1st and to reopen on September 16th, making the time dogs are allowed on the beach only two weeks shorter than the existing ordinance. The time period from April 1st to September 15th would give all shorebirds the uninterrupted space needed to mate and establish their nests, and time enough for the young to fledge.
The Piping Plover mating dance is elaborate. Each time the PiPl are interrupted, they do not resume where leaving off, but begin the dance anew. In the above photo, the male is high stepping all around the female while she has positioned herself to accept the next step, where he jumps on her back, and they connect, cloaca to cloaca. The courtship dance takes about twenty to thirty minutes while copulation only lasts a mere minute.
“Because of those gosh darn *&%$@# Piping Plovers, Gloucester is going to lose tens of thousands of dollars in parking revenue.”
Here is why. The Piping Plovers will be out of the parking lot, before the summer season begins and before school is out!
The one thing the parking lot PiPl have going for them is that they laid their eggs relatively early in the season. If the nest is left undisturbed, by the time the chicks hatch, we will be in the second week of June. It may take a day or two for them to make the epic journey to the beach, where they will much prefer to spend the summer. At the very latest, the chicks will be out of the parking lot by the third week of June.
So to be completely clear: the Good Harbor Beach parking lot is not closing and we will have ample parking during the summer months.
I hope this quells the rumors circulating. Look for more PiPl myths debunked this week in upcoming posts 🙂 Please share this post to help folks understand more about our Good Harbor Beach parking lot Plovers.
Fluffing and puffing – morning bath for Mama Plover.
Meet the Swan family. They live on a pond in Eastern Massachusetts. On an island in the middle of the pond, Papa and Mama built a nest made of cattails, reeds, and sticks. For six weeks Mama and Papa Swan took turns sitting on the nest warming, or incubating, the eggs.
Within hours of hatching, the baby swans, called cygnets, are mobile. Precocial refers to animal species in which the young are relatively mature from the moment of hatching. Within a day or two, Mama and Papa take the cygnets to water for their first swim.
Unlike songbirds, which are born naked, blind, and helpless, cygnets are born with downy soft feathers and with their eyes open. Piping Plovers are another example of a bird species that is precocial. The cygnets will soon outgrow the soft down.
A family of cygnets is called a clutch or brood.
Two week old swans are sleeping on the bank of the pond. Although cygnets are precocial and relatively independent, they are unable to regulate their body temperature. They rely on warmth from Mom and Dad, and from snuggling each other during nap time.
Cygnets absorb the last of their yolk into their tummies before hatching, which means they don’t have to eat for several days. Their first meal might be a nibble of an insect caught along the water’s edge.
The cygnets forage for insects and pond vegetation.
Precocial birds find their own food, occasionally with instructions from Mom and Dad.See the little tiny V-shaped wing bud, tucked over the bill. Notice how much proportionately larger are an adult swan’s wings (below). Cygnet’s wings grow rapidly. They usually learn to fly by early fall, at about five months old.
Back to shore to preen and to warm up.
Time for another nap!
An adult swan’s bill has jagged, serrated edges that look like small teeth and are very sharp. Nesting swans can be very aggressive. They will hiss, puff out their feathers to appear larger, flap their wings, move very quickly when angered, and smash their body and wings at a perceived predator. Swans will bite and peck, too. Please keep a safe distance when observing swans, especially nesting swans.