Tag Archives: Piping Plover chicks

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

OUTSTANDING PIPING PLOVER GROWTH CHART

Friend Dawn Vesey shared the Piping Plover Growth Chart to my facebook timeline and I thought our plover lovers would appreciate seeing. The chart was made by Jim Verhagen and he has offered a high resolution version, gratis, to anyone who would like it for education/research purposes. Contact Jim via his website “Readings from the Northside.”

 

CELEBRATING DAY TWENTY WITH OUR PIPING PLOVER CHICK–ALMOST-FLEDGLING

Confident Little Chick

With each passing day, our Little Chick looks less and less like a chick and more and more like a fledgling. As with all Piping Plover new fledglings, the pretty stripe of brown feathers across the back of the head is becoming less pronounced, while flight feathers are rapidly growing and replacing the baby’s downy fluff. It won’t be long before we see sustained flying.

Little Chick spent a good part of the morning at the intertidal zone finding lots of yummy worms and mini crustaceans.

Thanks to all our volunteers for their continued work in monitoring the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. Volunteer Hazel Hewitt has created a series of informative signs, placing them all around the beach and at every entrance. 

Thanks to GLoucester High School Coach Mike Latoff and the players for keeping an eye on the Plovers.

Papa Plover, sometimes feeding in close proximity to Little Chick, but more often, now watching from a distance. 

Twenty-day-old Piping Plover Chick

Chick Yoga

Piping Plover chick yoga that is, mastering Warrior Three.A funny little morning stretch the PiPl chicks do often.

What Do Piping Plovers Eat?

The question should really be what don’t they eat in the world of insects and diminutive sea creatures. Over the past two summers I have filmed PiPl eating every kind of beach dwelling crawly insect and marine life imaginable.

Piping Plovers eat freshwater, land, and marine invertebrates. Their general fashion of foraging is to run, stop, peck, repeat, all the day long, and during the night as well.

Run, Stop, Peck

When foraging along the wrack line and up to the dune edge Piping Plovers eat insects, both alive and dead, including ants, spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles, along with insect larvae such as fly larvae. Foraging at the intertidal zone, Piping Plovers find sea worms, tiny mollusks, and crustaceans, as well as crustacean eggs.

When the chicks get a little older they will learn how to do a sort of foot tamping technique where they rapidly shake their feet in the sand to stir up crustaceans. I have yet to see our chicks do this, but soon enough.

The purpose of discontinuing to rake the beach to help the Piping Plovers is twofold. Not raking in the nesting site creates a habitat rich in dry seaweed and dry grasses, which attracts insects, the PiPl food on dry land. Secondly, raking in the vicinity of the Plovers after they hatch can be deadly dangerous to the chicks. Not only is there danger of being squished, but also, they can easily become stuck in the impression in the sand made by the tires of heavy machinery.

This morning I had a disagreeable conversation with a woman about her unleashed puppy. She feigned lack of knowledge about the dog ordinances, but aside from that, she informed me that her large puppy would be “afraid” of a chick. And there seems to be a frustrating lack of understanding about where the chicks forage. We can only share again that the Piping Plovers, both adults and chicks, feed from the dunes’s edge to the water’s edge, and everywhere in between. Sunrise and sunset are not safe times to walk dogs on the beach because Piping Plovers forage at all times of the day, and into the night. Adult birds can fly away from a person or dog walking and running on the beach, but a shorebird chick cannot.

Big Beach, Tiny Chick ~ Sixteen-day-old Piping Plover Chick Foraging at the Ocean Edge

ONLY ONE CHICK SEEN THIS MORNING (*EDITED RE DOGS ON THE BEACH)

Our one remaining Piping Plover chick spent the early morning in the vegetation at the edge of the dune.

Perhaps we lost the third chick to the tremendous deluge late yesterday that happened not once, but twice. Or perhaps to the crows. When I arrived at the sanctuary this morning there was a tremendous kerfuffle underway between two crows and both adults. As the crows were departing, after being vigorously chased away by the PiPl parents, I couldn’t see clearly whether or not they were carrying off a chick. Or perhaps, none of the above. There was an unleashed puppy on the beach, but after speaking with the woman, she and her dog departed. The PiPl were up by the sanctuary at that time so I am sure it wasn’t because of the puppy. I hope with all my heart we can don’t loose the one remaining chick.

*Comment added from my Facebook friend Susanne: Thank you to all for your kindness re the baby plovers. Yesterday after the downpour, I went to Good Harbor. No life guards and it was relatively quiet. There were three groups of people with dogs and two dogs were unleashed, One unleashed dog was near the piping plovers and too far from me to catch easily. I talked to two of the other dog owners. One said they didn’t know the rules and thanked me. The other said her dog is very old and this may be the last time she ever gets to walk on a beach. I love dogs and hope people have a lovely time on our beautiful beaches. I also wish they cared more about following our beach rules, which are common sense and about caring for others.

The adults and chick were acting oddly this morning, not wanting to venture too far from the symbolically roped off area. Papa Plover spent a great deal of time perched on the party rock and surveying the family’s territory (not usual behavior), and got into several times with the Interloper.

Thank you so much to all our volunteers who are trying their best to help keep these beautiful protected birds safe.

OUR LITTLE PIPING PLOVER CHICK PASSED AWAY

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.