Our Ambassador schedule is looking great for mornings and I am so appreciative of all who have volunteered to lend a hand.
We need Ambassadors during the afternoons. Please write at email@example.com and let me know if you would like to volunteer for an hour a day for the next several weeks, possibly a month. The first week in a chick’s life is the most critical. When a chick reaches the 7 to 10 day milestone its chances of survival increase exponentially.
One hour old Piping Plover chick
We are meeting Monday, June 22nd, at 5:30pm, to go over any questions Ambassadors may have. We’ll meet at the the Saratoga Creek end of the beach, by the symbolic roping, on the Nautilus Road side of the beach, just after boardwalk #3. There should be no difficulty parking in the lot at that time of day.
I look forward to seeing familiar friends and meeting our new ambassadors. Thank you so much again for your willingness to help. Our new motto this year is Educate, not Enforce and our goal is to keep the energy positive and kind. Our City government is managing many, many issues due to the global pandemic and we do not wish in any way to add to their responsibilities.
The most tenacious of Piping Plover pairs has a second egg in their nest!
For the next few days you may see them on and off the nest. The pair won’t start brooding full time until all the eggs are laid. The reason being is that the hatchlings are precocial, which means active from birth. The parents want the chicks to hatch as closely together as possible so the tiny rockets zooming around the beach are more easily managed. The difference in a PiPl day old hatchling and a PiPl week old chick in human years is like trying to look after a newborn and a precocious preteen simultaneously.
Salt Island Family Mom briefly on nest this morning.
SI Dad at the shoreline foraging at sunrise.
Piping Plovers take about a week to complete the nest and lay all their eggs (sometimes two eggs or three or five, but most often four eggs). If they started brooding one egg full time, that egg would hatch a week earlier than the last egg laid, which would spell disaster for a precocial chick. Observing PiPl chicks that had hatched twenty-four hours apart was hard enough on the parents, let alone a week apart!
If you stop by to see the PiPls on the beach, please bear in mind they are working hard at completing their nest and laying eggs. Please don’t hover around the roped off areas or when you see the birds on the shore. Trust me, hovering attracts gulls and crows. Both species are smart and I’ve seen over and over again how human interest in the PiPls attracts these super predators to the nesting sites. Additionally, hovering around the adults off the nest stymies courtship and mating as well. Have a look with binoculars or take photo or two with a long lens and move on, especially when with more than one adult.
Thank you so much for your consideration!
Good Harbor Beach Salt Island Family Two Eggs June 16, 2020
Please consider becoming a Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Ambassador this summer. We are looking for volunteers who can commit to one hour a day, from the time the chicks hatch to the time they fledge, which is approximately one month. Our first family of Good Harbor Beach chicks may hatch as early as June 23rd. Many of the morning times are filled, so we are especially looking for help mid-day, afternoon, and early evenings if you can lend a hand. Thank you! HERE IS THE LINK WITH MORE INFORMATION
This morning the awesome Dave Rimmer and his assistant Mike Galli installed an exclosure at the area we call #1 (because it is closer to boardwalk #1). I write “awesome” because Dave Rimmer is Director of Land Stewardship at Essex County Greenbelt Association and for the fifth year in a row, he has lent his experience and expertise at absolutely NO CHARGE $$ to the City of Gloucester. We all owe Dave and Greenbelt huge thanks of appreciation. Thank you once again Dave for your kind assistance.
The exclosure was quickly and efficiently assembled and sledge hammered into place. Would the young pair accept the wire exclosure? It looked dicey for about half an hour or so. I had Charlotte with me and had to leave but a short time later, Dave texted that they were back on the nest. In all his years of installing exclosures (30 plus), only one pair has ever rejected an exclosure.
This nest with currently one egg is located in an extremely open site and not at all where expected. It is their fourth attempt at a serious nest. The first was up by the dune edge in a nicely camouflaged location but as it was not symbolically roped off, it was visibly disturbed by people and pets. Their next nest was located in the roped off area at #1 and that sweet nest had two eggs. Sadly, the eggs disappeared from the nest. The third active nest scrape was actually in the dunes but unfortunately again that was disturbed by people, this time by people going along their same path to go to the bathroom in the dunes. So this fourth nest is in a most open spot and not entirely safe from a stormy high tide.
New nest location, with no protective vegetation
Our Salt Island pair mating and nest scraping, with one egg.
June 15th is late in the year to begin a new nest but it happens often enough. Last year I filmed a PiPl family nesting in July, with three eggs. The nest gets hot as the summer progresses, but the adults were very smart about brooding. They would stand over the nest, not actually sitting on it, which provided shade from the melting sun, without their additional body heat. The adults were also panting to keep cool in the heat. One chick was lost in a storm, but two survived to fledge and the Dad stayed with them the entire time.
In the photos above you can see the PiPl heat wave brooding technique.
I think we should change the names of the nests to the Creek Family and the Salt Island Family. It sounds a lot more personable than #3 and #1. What do you think?
Saturday afternoon I arrived back to the nest at about 5:30pm hoping to see if the fourth and last chick had hatched. Yes it had hatched! Judging by how sleepy and that he appeared to be still a bit wet and sticky, I think it had happened within the past hour.
Piping Plover chicks are precocial birds. That is a word biologists use to describe a baby bird’s stage of development at birth. Precocial means that shortly after hatching, the bird is fully mobile. Plover chicks are not completely mature, they still need parents to help regulate their body temperature, but they have downy feathers and can run and feed themselves within an hour or so after emerging.
The opposite of precocial is altricial. Birds that hatch helpless, naked, usually blind, and are incapable of departing the nest, are altricial. Robins and Cardinals are examples of altricial birds.
Weighing about as much as a nickel at the time of hatching, Piping Plover chicks are able to feed themselves but are unable to regulate their body temperature. They need to tuck under Mom and Dad to warm up.
Please don’t eat my toe!
Tiny wing bud stretches
It makes it hard on the parents when hatching is stretched over a twenty four hour period. The day old chick was full of vim and vigor while the newborn could barely walk. To make matters even more challenging, and because the nest was sited in an extremely exposed location, the parents were trying to move the entire family, including the newborn hatchling, to a safer and less exposed site on the beach.
The adults piped softly to the newborn, coaxing him to leave the nest. He kept taking a few steps and then flopping back toward the nest.
In the meantime, the three older chicks were out exploring the beach in short forays and then snuggling together under Mom or Dad.
Mom takes a much needed break
After an hour or so of watching the youngest hatchling struggle, slowly making its way across the beach, the parents eventually succeeded in moving all four chicks to a safer location at the base of the dune where there were divots, dried beach grass and seaweed, and new vegetation sprouting, providing much needed cover.
Mom returned several times to inspect the empty nest.
You can see the tiny one’s feathers are still sticky and not fully fluffed out.
By day’s end all four were tucking under Mom and Dad.
It was a gift to witness the beautiful Clam Fam hatch day, a day I won’t soon forget. So small and sparrow-sized, you could hold an adult Piping Plover in the cup of your hand, but so beautiful, fascinating, resilient, and intelligent a species of bird.
Please consider becoming a Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Ambassador this summer. We are looking for volunteers who can commit to one hour a day, from the time the chicks hatch to the time they fledge, which is approximately one month. Our GHB chicks may hatch as early as June 23rd. HERE IS THE LINK WITH MORE INFORMATION
I arrived at daybreak the following morning with myriad questions –would the first hatchling make it through the night, would they all have hatched over night, would the nest still be in the same location if all had hatched? The nest was sited in the most extraordinarily vulnerable location. And this beach in particular is plagued by a plethora of hungry avian predators that readily make a meal of both eggs and chicks.
Hooray! First glimpse showed a fluffy puffball snuggling next to Mom and the next peek showed at least two eggs still remaining in the nest. I couldn’t tell initially if there was a new chick or three eggs.
Mom popped off the nest for a moment and there were two perfect little chicks! And one of the two remaining eggs was showing a mosaic of tiny cracks with the tiniest of external pips beginning to appear (egg on the right).
It’s Dad’s turn back on the nest. Both parents were active in helping the chicks hatch.
Early in the morning, the two hatchings stayed close to the nest and only made periodic and brief forays further out onto the beach. The one that was twelve hours old that had hatched the night before was clearly stronger, while the newly hatched wobbled along on unsteady legs, spending more time stumbling than standing.
At about 7:15, I could see Dad beginning to help pull apart the eggshell with his beak.
He and Mom switched places and only twelve minutes later, nestling #3 was completely free of its eggshell.
Chick #1 was outside the nest observing all, while #2 was fast asleep as baby sibling was hatching in the nest next to him. Mom and Dad took turns removing the eggshells from the nest.
Two chicks, newborn hatchling, and one egg .
Newborn chick drying in the nest with one egg remaining.
The third chick to hatch was nearly dry and the last egg was still in the nest when I departed at noon, with plans to return later in the day.
From the moment of hatching, both parents give constant soft melodious piping calls and commands to the chicks and they learn within a few days time to listen and obey.
As the morning progressed, the most remarkable observation is that the family split in half. In roughly twenty minute intervals, Mom or Dad would watch the two older, stronger chicks as they began to run around on the beach learning to forage while either Mom or Dad would brood the remaining egg and the most recently hatched and still sleepy-eyed chick.
Please consider becoming a Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Ambassador this summer. We are looking for volunteers who can commit to one hour a day, from the time the chicks hatch to the time they fledge, which is approximately one month. Our GHB chicks may hatch as early as June 23rd. HERE IS THE LINK WITH MORE INFORMATION
I hope everyone is doing well and taking good care. I am writing to let you know that our Piping Plover pair at area #3 will soon be hatching their chicks, possibly by June 23rd. This is super exciting but also somewhat worrisome because it is more than a month later than when the chicks hatched last year. As we all know, GHB only becomes busier and busier as the season progresses.
What can we do to help the chicks reach the fledging age? I am organizing a group of citizen Piping Plover Ambassadors. This will be a volunteer group, not connected with the City administration. Our main objective is to keep the Piping Plover chicks safe and by doing so, we will ensure our beloved beach stay open to the public.
Ambassadors will be at the beach observing as well as informing interested beach goers about Piping Plover behaviors.
I’d like to try something different with scheduling that I hope will make things much less complicated. Ambassadors are needed for approximately one month. I am asking people to commit one set hour a day for that month.
So for example, I will be at the beach every morning from approximately sunrise until 7:00am
We need volunteers every hour from 7am to sunset; the 7am to 8am shift, the 8am to 9am shift, the 9am to 10am shift, etc. If you know you can commit to one hour every day for a month, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If we get a viable nest at Area #1, we will cross that bridge if and when we come to it.
This week I am ordering several coroplast signs, just like the ones we had last year. I wish I could afford to purchase many, but am asking volunteers to pay for and order the signs for yourself. The information to purchase signs will be at Seaside Graphics. During your shift, you would place the signs in the vicinity of where the chicks are located and then take your signs home with you at the end of your shift.
Ambassadors will wear a mask during their shift and maintain social distancing.
We will not be speaking directly with people regarding aberrant behavior, especially not to children. We can put ourselves between flying balls, runaway pets, joggers and children running towards the chicks, in a friendly manner. Especially with the global pandemic, many people are on edge. We do not want heated discussions taking place on the beach. We will not be taking photos of people’s behavior noticeably. If someone is acting badly, take a photo without them seeing you, and record any other information.
If someone is behaving very badly, ie. drunk and disorderly, or committing a crime, you are asked to stay clear, for your own personal safety, and to call the police. If there is a dog on the beach during your shift, it is imperative to call the dog officer. Without your calls, there is no record.
I am planning to make up data sheets where we can record our daily observations. And am happy to train anyone interested in lending a hand.
Please email and let me know if you would like to volunteer to be a Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover Ambassador. We would love, love to have your help! Thank you!
So sorry to not be posting as much as usual and if I promised to stop by your store or business to take photos this week I am doubly sorry. Our nation is undergoing a sea change for social justice and how I wish I could join the peaceful protest but know that I am super high risk. February was pneumonia month; perhaps maybe what I really had was corona because breathing was so difficult and it took so long to recover, and now June has become Shingles month. I am learning how to manage the pain and since it was diagnosed early enough I am hoping it won’t linger. So again, I am so sorry if I haven’t made it to your shop or restaurant, but I will surely do so soon!
In the mean time, here is a beautiful scene I wanted to share with you. The Piping Plover family in the photos is one I have been following for several years. This pair is truly remarkable in so many ways I can’t even begin to explain here. You will see why when my PiPl film comes out, but trust me, these two have co-parenting down to an art form. I have learned so much from watching specific families of Plovers at specific sites, and especially my Clam Fam.
I call them the Clam Fam because the pair always make use of large Atlantic Surf Clams, which is pretty smart because from an avian predators overhead point of view, a nesting PiPl looks like a clam shell. I can’t wait to share it all!
Here they are in early April. The pair returned to their nesting site about a week and a half later than our GHB nesting PiPl pair. These two famously always nest early in the season.
This year’s Clam Fam nest was sited right next to a pedestrian walkway and that is why we have such a clear view into the nest.
Dad’s potential nest scrapes and Mom inspecting.
First two eggs in early May
The tiniest peep hole appeared and you could see movement beneath the surface. The peep hole is called an external pip.
Mom and Dad take turns guarding and sitting on the nest while the chick is hatching.
Once the eggshell has unzipped, the parents oftentimes help the chick hatch by pulling away the shell.
Eggshells are a concern to the PiPl parents because they can attract predators. Here you see Dad kicking the eggshell away. Mom quickly ran to the nest and carried off one half of the shell. Shortly after that Dad did the same.
The newborn chick’s feathers are matted wet with fluid.
In an hour or so the chick is dry and fluffy and has already learned to push up under Dad or Mom’s wings to keep warm.
A sweet sleepy chick – it’s early evening and there are three more eggs to go. I’ll return tomorrow morning first thing
Read More and see the photos here of how a chicken chick hatches. As both PiPl and chickens are precocial birds, and from what I have observed, PiPl chicks are very similar in hatching.
Piping Plovers are listed as a US threatened species. Threatened species share the same protections as endangered species.
Just a very brief update from my morning 5-7am shift- I was happy to see Mom has returned to looking after the chicks. It’s really a relief because the beach was so crowded today with beach goers, beginning very early this morning. The chicks (all three!) spent most of the day at the creek with volunteer monitors keeping a watchful eye on the babes throughout the day.
Mom keeping watch while occasionally pausing to forage and to preen.
FYI, last we checked on Sunday afternoon, both Mama and Papa Plover were in the safety zone of the roped off nesting area, Papa on the nest, and Mama hanging out nearby behind one of the mini hummocks.
All three PiPls, Mom, Dad, and the Bachelor, are finding drifts of sand, clumps of dry beach grass, and this morning, even a clam shell, to hunker down behind to get out of the way of the harsh winds. They are also doing a great deal of standing and hopping around on one leg. I hope the wind dies down and soon so we can all enjoy more seasonably spring-like weather!
Mama taking a nap behind a clump of beach grass, and standing on one leg.
Papa standing on one leg even while doing wing stretches.
And what Piping Plover scene would be complete without a bachelor (an unmated male). I hope we get a “new girl” this summer!
Why do birds stand on one leg? “The short answer is that for the simple reason that you put your hands in your pockets when cold, birds stand on one leg to conserve heat. Birds also stand on one leg to relax muscle fatigue in the retracted leg.
The long answer is that birds’ legs have a blood flow referred to as “rete mirabile” that minimizes heat loss. The arteries that transport warm blood into the legs are next to the veins that return colder blood to the bird’s heart. The arteries act as a heat exchanger and warm the veins. Because the veins also cool the arteries, the bird’s feet are closer to environmental temperature and thus don’t lose as much heat as they would if they were at body temperature. By standing on one leg, a bird reduces the amount of heat lost through unfeathered limbs.
Birds that have short legs, such as Mourning Doves, do not need to stand on one leg because they have fleshy feet and they can snuggle down so that their warm belly presses against their feet.” Reposted from “Why is Little Chick Missing a Leg.”
If you see Gloucester’s dog officers, Teagan and Jamie, please thank them and let them know what a great job they are doing. Off and on throughout the day, they are walking the beach, talking to the dog owners who continue to bring their dogs to the beach, and handing out tickets.
Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee has submitted outstandingly well-researched recommendations to the Mayor’s office and to our City Councilors in regard to the upcoming Piping Plover season. Please see recommendations at the end of the post below.
In thinking ahead to April, which is the month when Piping Plovers usually arrive to Massachusetts beaches to begin courting and nesting, I am reminded of the beautiful story of Old Man Plover. The locals in his region originally called him BO:X,g (pronounced box gee) after the combination of letters on the bands of his legs, which are used to identify and track PiPl through their migration cycle. But as he lived longer and longer, the storied PiPl became known as Old Man Plover.
Not only was Old Man Plover legendary because he returned to the same nesting site and wintering grounds for fifteen straight years, but because he was crippled. In 2013 he lost most of the toes on his left foot. A stick became lodged in one of the leg bands, which could have caused an abrasion, a lesion, or possibly constricted blood flow to his toes. After losing his toes, wherever he hobbled, Old Man Plover left a distinct peg mark in the sand.
Old Man Plover’s stumpy leg
Old Man Plover was part of the endangered Great Lakes Piping Plover population, where numbers are even lower than the Atlantic region of PiPl. He hatched at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan, and wintered over at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina. Not merely did he return for fifteen summers to nest at his birthplace, he was also extremely punctual. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, he arrived on the exact same day, April 13th.
The last decade of Old Man Plover’s life was not easy. In addition to losing his toes, he lost his childhood sweetheart in 2011 and a second mate in 2013. Plants took over his original nesting spot and his beach grew narrower due to rising lake water levels.
Piping Plovers famously show fidelity to the same nesting site. We have seen that with our own Papa Plover, who has created nest scrapes in nearly exactly the same spot for the past three years. My nickname for our Papa is Big Papi because David Ortiz retired from the Red Sox the same year our Papa arrived, and because our Papa has the same fighting spirit as Big Papi.
Old Man Plover is not the oldest known PiPl on record. That title goes to an Atlantic Coast PiPl that was photographed in Cuba last year, after being tagged 17 years ago at the same location biologists had first banded the bird!
Migrating between Michigan and South Carolina over a fifteen year period, Old Man Plover traveled tens of thousands of miles in his lifetime. He was an amazing Dad. The average PiPl pair raise 1.5 chicks. Old Man Plover raised a whopping 36 chicks, averaging 3-4 chicks per clutch! Read more about Old Man Plover’s offspring here: Old Man Plover’s Legacy Lives On
Old Man Plover’s chicks
Animal Advisory Committee Recommendations
On September 12, 2018, the Animal Advisory Committee voted unanimously on the following proposed ordinances for protections to piping plovers and other wildlife species.
Section 4-2: Feeding or disturbing wildlife No person shall disturb, harass, harbor or feed directly or indirectly gulls, pigeons, waterfowl, coastal shorebirds, or crows on any streets, beach, or other public property or anywhere in the downtown area unless properly permitted by the appropriate state and federal wildlife authorities. Violation results in a $300 fine per incident/violation. No person shall feed either directly or indirectly any coyotes on any public or private property. Violation results in a $300 fine per incident/violation.
(New Ordinance- Endangered/Threatened Wildlife Buffer zone: ) Buffer zone of 50 feet around an area will be established around any area designated as protected for wildlife. Prohibited activities in the buffer zone include whiffle ball, frisbee, soccer, volleyball, paddle ball, kites, inflatable balls and any other activities that involve objects that can fly or roll into the restricted area. Violation results in a $300 fine per incident/violation.
Sec. 9-8. – Littering prohibited. (update to a): No person shall throw, drop, release or otherwise dispose of directly or indirectly into any harbor, river, or pond or on to any beach, or any public property garbage, refuse, rubbish, bottles, cans, containers, paper, cigarette butts, balloons, wrapping material, glass, filth or any noxious or dangerous liquid or solid. Violation results in a $300 fine per incident/violation.
Sec. 4-16a. – Dogs allowed on public beaches at certain times. Adhere to ordinances for specific beaches below.
Good Harbor and Wingaersheek Beaches: Dogs shall be prohibited from Good Harbor Beach and Wingaersheek Beach from April 1st -Sept 30th annually. In addition, unleashed dogs shall be allowed on Good Harbor Beach and Wingaersheek Beach, from: October 1st to March 30th annually, subject to the following conditions: Off leash on even-numbered days of the month at Good Harbor Beach and odd numbered days of the month at Wingaersheek Beach.
Plum Cove and Cressy Beaches: Unleashed dogs shall be allowed on Plum Cove Beach and Cressy Beach in the off season from October 1st to April 30th annually. Crab Beach: Dogs shall be allowed on “Crab Beach” off leash at all times subject to the enumerated conditions contained in section 4-16a.
All other public beaches: Dogs shall be prohibited from public beaches from May 1 to September 30 annually. Dogs shall be allowed on public beaches from October 1 to April 30 annually and shall be under the control of the owner or keeper.
(1) Owners must remain with and monitor their dogs. Owners, per the below conditions, define person with direct care, custody, and control of a dog while in a designated off-leash area.
(2) Dogs must be licensed and vaccinated as required by applicable law and ordinance.
(3) Dogs must wear their tags and have no contagious conditions, diseases or parasites.
(4) Dogs must be leashed when entering and exiting a designated off-leash area.
(5) Dogs and humans are not allowed in the dunes.
(6) Dogs with a history of dangerous or aggressive behavior as determined by the animal control officer are prohibited.
(7) Dogs younger than four months are not allowed.
(8) Unaltered male dogs or female dogs in heat are not allowed.
(9) Owners must immediately remove dogs who are exhibiting aggressive behavior.
(10) Owners must carry a leash; one leash per dog is required.
(11) Maximum of two unleashed dogs per owner.
12) Owners must fill in any holes dug by their dog(s).
(13) Any violations of conditions (1)—(12) above shall be subject to a fine of $50.00 for each offense.
(14) Unless renewed or made permanent by the city council and signed by the mayor, the provisions of this section shall expire on December 31, 2017.
Fine of $300 per violation. Fines for violations will be double in season for beaches and other off-leash areas as determined.
Beach Ordinances: Beach, litter, dog violation fines should be increased to $300 from $25 per the proposed ordinances and approved ordinance language should be carried over to the beach ordinances. Sec. 9-8 Litter, Sec. 4-2 Feeding and Disturbing wildlife, Buffer Zone (new sec), Sec. 4-16a. – Dogs allowed on public beaches at certain times.
A second egg was laid yesterday by our Parking Lot Plover family. The second egg is an indication by the PiPl that they are committed to the nest, which means it is time to put up the wire exclosure. If the exclosure is installed earlier, the risk of the PiPl abandoning the first egg is far greater. We immediately called Essex County Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer to let him know about the second egg.
Dave and his assistant Mike Carbone arrived early this morning to set up the exclosure. Roughly six feet in diameter and made of wire with four inch spacing, the exclosure’s four inch openings are the ideal size to let PiPl in and out, and to keep large predatory birds and small mammals from entering. With thanks and gratitude to Dave and Mike for coming so quickly to exclose the nest.
After installing the exclosure the fear is that the PiPl will abandon the nest site. Our Mama Plover returned to the nest a short time after the exclosure was installed!
And thanks again to dog officer Teagan Dolan, who stopped by to check on the Piping Plovers and has been regularly ticketing 🙂
How You Can Help the Piping Plovers
1) Under no circumstances is it acceptable for people or dogs to enter the Piping Plover nesting area.
2) Please drive slowly and cautiously when in the parking lot. Our Mama and Papa PiPl are now residing between the parking lot and nesting area #3.
3) Keep ALL dogs off the beach and out of the parking lot. The parking lot is considered part of the beach according to Gloucester Police Chief McCarthy. A Piping Plover’s brain does not differentiate between a dog on-leash versus a dog off-leash. When a dog, off-leash or on-leash, comes within twenty feet of a PiPl, they immediately stop what they are doing, whether foraging, courting, mating, nesting, or resting. Please call the following number to report any dog sightings or dog related incidences at Good Harbor Beach: 978-281-9746.
4) When observing, please bear in mind that Piping Plovers tolerate one or two quiet persons, from a distance, but crowds of three or more put them in panic mode. Large groups of people hovering near the PiPl also attracts crows and gulls, a nesting shorebird’s natural enemy because they eat both baby chicks and eggs.
5) Help spread the word about the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers.
6) Sign up to be a Piping Plover volunteer ambassador by emailing Ken Whittaker at email@example.com
Thank you, but most importantly, the Piping Plovers will thank you too when chicks hatch and chicks fledge!
Nest with egg in the parking lot at Good Harbor Beach
Thanks to our awesome DPW, who has barricaded the area, and to my husband Tom, who discovered the egg, our PiPlover egg is protected from cars and trucks. I checked on the PiPl this morning before work at about 6:30 to 7am and the PiPl were courting in the #3 nesting area. A dog off leash ran by and they quickly flew. I checked for an egg in their nest scrape in the parking lot before leaving and the egg had not yet been laid. Tom discovered the single egg at 11am and immediately spoke to Phil Cucuru, who was working on the boardwalks.
Kevin Mazzeo, Phil Cucuru, Kenny Ryan, Joe Lucido, and Steve Peters were immediately on the job, placing a barricade around the nest.
We are all going to work together to help our PiPl pair, despite this most difficult of all locations. One thing the pair has going for it is that this is relatively early in the season. If all four are laid within the upcoming week, we could have chicks by mid-June, a full two weeks earlier than last year. Dave Rimmer, from Greenbelt, will be placing the exclosure around the egg shortly. The DPW is placing a second tier barricade around the nest.
Please, please please, do not allow your dog in the GHB parking lot or on the beach. There were umpteen dogs, off leash and on, at Good Harbor Beach this past week, despite the fact that there should be no dogs after May 1st. I asked each person who had brought their dog where they were from–it seemed fairly equal–half were from out of town and half were local.
Our Mama and Papa are still mating in the nesting area. Whether the parking lot is their alternate plan or the only plan, at this point, please no dogs.
A second pair of PiPl arrived yesterday. Will they be staying or is GHB is just a stopover? The following may sound like a strange request, but part of the problem this weekend was kites. Just as we love dogs, there are few things more magical to a young child than flying a kite on the beach. The issue is, when folks are flying their kite over the nesting area, to a PiPl, a kite looks like a giant vulture looming overhead, ready to snatch them up. Please when flying a kite (or a drone) on the beach, please fly away from the nesting area, keeping the kite at least 500 yards away from the Plovers. Early in the season there was a pair of Turkey Vultures eating a dead seagull on the beach. It was amazing to film the PiPl reaction because as the Vultures flew overhead, all the PiPl, and the one Dunlin, foraging in the intertidal zone flattened to the sand in unison, and stayed that way long after the Vulture had disappeared over the horizon.
Thank you to everyone for all that you are doing to help the PiPl. Special thanks to Joe Lucido, Phil Cucuru, and the tremendous support from the DPW crew, to PiPl monitor Heather Hall, who spent many hours at GHB this past weekend watching over the PiPl, and to my husband Tom, for his eagle eyes.
Mama and Papa courting in the nesting area in today’s early morning fog.
THE PIPING PLOVERS HAVE GIVEN UP ON THE BEACH AND ARE NESTING IN THE PARKING LOT.
During some part of each of the past four off leash beach days, the Piping Plovers have been found in the parking lot, forced off the beach by a barrage of dogs in the nesting area, and dogs chasing them and and down the beach. For the first three of those four off leash days that they were driven off the beach, the PiPl spent a good part of the time going from white painted line to white painted line, using the color white as camouflage against predators such as hawks, crows, and falcons. They are miniature “sitting ducks” when in the parking lot, not only to natural predators, but because they are so well camouflaged, and so tiny, they are in tremendous danger from car and truck drivers who would not see them until it is too late.
Nesting and courting in the parking lot.
New little nest scrape.
Yesterday morning at 7am, an off leash day, the PiPl were chased off the beach by a dog and its owner. They flew to the parking lot. For the next twelve and a half hours, Mama and Papa did not leave the parking lot. They did not eat or drink, but spent the entire time courting, mating, and building a nest scrape in the gravel, traveling from white line to white line. It was sadly beautiful and heartbreaking to watch. Beautiful in the way that no matter what obstacles they face, the little pair’s desire to reproduce is so powerful that they will continue to try, even in a habitat that is so wholly unsuitable for raising chicks. Sad and heartbreaking because this scenario was unquestionably and completely unnecessary.
Yesterday the dogs were in the nesting area, poohing, peeing, romping, and digging. It happened throughout the day, from 6:30am to 8pm, but was especially challenging during high tide, when so little beach remains. The following batch of photos was taken in the short period of time that I was on the beach and not in the parking lot, as the tide was receding.
When dog owners were asked by volunteer Preston if they were aware of the PiPl–most said yes–as they allowed their dog to wander into the nesting area.
Dog runs into nesting area, dog goes poop, owner enters nesting area to clean up poop, can’t find poop, has to muck around in nesting area to find, finally finds poop, cleans up, dog meets a new friend in the nesting area.
Last night Mama and Papa flew back to the beach after the coast was clear, at sunset. As you can imagine, they were ravenous, and ate with great gusto at the water’s edge.
The Bachelor returned to the nesting area at sundown, too.
Early this morning I found all three eating and bathing in the tide pools, before they were chased off again later in the morning. As I write this, the Mama and Papa are taking turns sitting on their nest scrape, in the rain, in the parking lot.
The Piping Plovers can’t catch a break – off leash dogs this morning on an on leash day.
It is difficult for the animal control officers to give out tickets as the ordinance is written, when it is an off leash day, especially when the dogs are running willy nilly and far away from their owners. And it is impossible for them to be there 24/7.
Early this morning, which is an on leash day, Officer Dolan was handing out tickets.
Call your councilors and Mayor Sefatia’s office and let them know your thoughts on protecting the Piping Plovers. Tomorrow is the last day of the spring summer season 2018 that dogs are allowed on the beach. But they are not allowed under ANY circumstances in the nesting area. If you see a dog on the beach at any time of day or night after April 30th please call the dog officer at 978-281-9746. Thank you.
I have an idea to make a brochure to not only hand out to people at the parking lot entrance to the beach, but to circulate door to door around the neighborhood. We need to help folks understand why it is so important that we help the PiPing Plovers.
Thank you to all the volunteers who helped yesterday. If you came and I unfortunately did not see you it is because most of the day was spent in the parking lot. Thank you to Lillian and Craig, Leontine, Deborah, Heather, and Preston for your good work!!
Mama sleeping on the white lines in the parking lot
No one paid attention to our signs that we added to the nesting area yesterday. My friend Deborah Cramer stopped by to see the PiPl and watched half a dozen dogs running through and playing in the nesting area. When I returned to the beach at 6:30, the PiPl were in the parking lot, again driven out of the nesting area by off leash dogs. Very frightening when an SUV drove past and they didn’t budge.
While the PiPL were in the parking lot, I thought would be good time to reinforce the signs with duct tape. When at the nesting area adjusting signs, there were more dogs owners allowing dogs to run through and completely ignoring the signs.
Reading the federal regulations from the USFWS:
“Pets should be leashed and under control of their owners at all times from April 1 to August 31 on beaches where piping plovers are present or have traditionally nested. Pets should be prohibited on these beaches from April 1 through August 31 if, based on observations and experience, pet owners fail to keep pets leashed and under control.”
All the signs in the world won’t make people who don’t care, care.
Tomorrow, especially at high tide, and as the skies are clearing, I am afraid will be another terrible situation for the PiPl. If you would like to lend a hand, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or just come. I will be there for the better part of the day and will show you what to do. High tide tomorrow is at 10:54 am. Thank you!
We had a new group of Piping Plover travelers fly in overnight, earlier in the week, but since that one-day stopover, where they rested and foraged at the nesting area around boardwalk #1, the travelers have not since been seen. If we see evidence of PiPl tracks at #1, we can add more signs there, too.
There has been tremendous criticism regarding signage. The signs that Greenbelt posted at Good Harbor Beach are similar in size and scope of information to signs used up and down the East Coast, and on the West Coast, too, for Snowy Plovers, a similarly threatened species. I especially like the first one and the second sign in the gallery and would like to design one for our Good Harbor Beach similar to one of these.
Kind folks have suggested adding banners to the posts, which I am afraid would only serve to attract gulls and crows, and would also disturb the PiPl. More kind folks have suggested fencing. I think that conservationists don’t use dune fencing for several reason. The adults (and chicks) need to run freely to and from the water’s edge to forage, the fencing would be disruptive to install, in our case, part of the fencing would need to be in the tidal zone and would easily be damaged during high tides, and because it would trap small predatory mammals within.
Regardless of whether or not we have adequate signs, we find ourselves in the struggle of Dog Owner versus Piping Plover. It’s partly because the Plovers have arrived a full month earlier than in previous years. In 2016 and 2017, they arrived at Good Harbor Beach when the beaches are closed to dogs for the season, on May 15th, and May 3rd, respectively. This year, the PiPl arrived on April 3rd. I know this for certain because this spring I had been checking everyday since mid-March.
There are many, many dog owners who are keeping their dogs leashed when at Good Harbor Beach and many who are walking their dogs at alternative locations during this last week in April. We should all be grateful and appreciative to these friends of the PiPl, I know I sure am!
The struggle of Dog Owner versus Plover is not simply an issue at this time of year, with dogs off leash during the month of April, but is consistently challenging throughout the summer during the entire nesting season. Yes, there are folks from out of town who aren’t familiar with our no dogs on the beach between May 1st through October 1st ordinance, but the folks who most frequently ignore our ordinances are people who live here and are aware of the rules. This is especially apparent in the early hours of the morning and after five, when people know there are few enforcers on duty at those times of day.
Another threat to Piping Plovers, again created by humans, are people that leave their trash on the beach. Good Harbor Beach looks pristine and incredibly beautiful after the tremendous job done by the Clean City Commission’s Great Gloucester Cleanup volunteers. Daily there are typically only a handful of crows and gulls. Soon that will change. People will leave their trash on the beach, which attracts a plethora of hungry gulls and crows, which eat baby chicks.
Red Fox foraging for shorebird eggs, West Gloucester
Piping Plovers face many other threats including fox and coyotes that forage on eggs, large predatory birds such as Great Horned Owls, plastic pollution, loss of habitat, and rising sea level. But the two threats that are under our immediate ability to manage are preventing dogs and people from disturbing the nesting sites, and keeping the beaches super clean of trash.
Crows in the PiPl nesting area, fighting over chicken bones left on the beach, 2017.
Many North Shore beaches that find themselves home to the Piping Plovers are also under the management of federal and state organizations. Plum Island is a US Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Nahant and Revere Beaches are managed by DCR, and Crane Beach is managed by the Trustees of Reservations.
Gloucester has none of the daily oversight and funds provided by federal and state organizations. The Piping Plovers need our help and so it is up to we citizens of Gloucester and Cape Ann to do all we can.
Piping Plovers are facing extinction. There are approximately only one thousand five hundred breeding pairs in the world, and that simply isn’t enough to sustain the population, especially since the rate of fledging has recently dropped precipitously. Conservationists hope to raise the number to at least two thousand five hundred pairs, and the bird will not be taken off the threatened species list until that time.
The early arrival of the Piping Plover this year signals a success of sorts. The pair successfully fledged one chick last summer, which is better than the current overall Massachusetts state average of .6. The birds are maturing and finding their way more easily to GHB.
This year, there simply wasn’t enough time to change the dog ordinances, which as they are currently written, allow dogs off leash fifteen days out of the month of April. Because the leash ordinances at this time allow dogs off leash, the only way we are going to help the Plovers is if we work together as a community, to help each other understand what is happening with the PiPl, and do all we can to protect this tiniest of shorebirds on the busiest of our beaches.
The Piping Plover is a “threatened” species under both the state and federal Endangered Species Acts. As such, the City, along with the Commonwealth, is required to protect them under the law. Having said that, we are committed to making every effort possible to protect the nesting Piping Plovers at our beaches while, at the same time, maintaining public access.
Piping Plovers typically arrive from their southern wintering areas to our local beaches in late March or early April. Males and females quickly form breeding pairs that begin the process of courtship and select a nest site throughout April and May. During these months, it is critically important to limit any disturbance of the birds and their habitat.
Chicks can hatch from nests in late May and are immediately mobile and move out of the nest in search of food. As chicks grow older and larger, they will roam from the dunes to the water’s edge in search of food. Chicks are very vulnerable to human disturbance and are susceptible to predators like gulls, foxes, and dogs.
While dogs are allowed to run free during this time of year on many of our beaches, that right does not supersede the requirements under federal law to protect the Piping Plovers on those beaches. Unleashed dogs can pose a very real threat to Piping Plover adults and chicks. As such, dog owners are responsible for controlling their dogs and keeping them as far away from Piping Plover areas as possible. The owner of any dog that adversely or negatively impacts the Piping Plovers and their habitats will be in violation of federal law and will likely face legal action.
Please keep a close eye or your dog during this Piping Plover season.
A Piping Plover nest is a mere depression in the sand.
Male and female Plovers do not begin sitting on the eggs 24/7 until all are laid, which takes about a week. Especially during that time, the eggs are often left exposed and are extremely vulnerable to being stepped upon by people and dogs.
Despite best efforts, the Piping Plovers were again driven off the beach.
Knowing an off leash weekend day was going to be tough on the PiPl, I spent most of Sunday at Good Harbor Beach. During the morning hours, it wasn’t so bad because most dog walkers were with their pooches by the water’s edge. As the tide came in, the situation quickly deteriorated. Countless dogs ran into the roped off area; I lost track after forty. The PiPl gave up on courtship and tried to forage. A pair of bird dogs chased all three Plovers up and down the beach repeatedly, when they finally gave up.
I searched for an hour and couldn’t find. As I was leaving, there were Mama and Papa, in the parking lot. Mama was sitting quietly on the painted white lines and Papa was desperately trying to dig a nest scrape in the course gravel. This exact same scenario happened last Saturday, on the off leash beach day.
Papa trying to scrape a nest in the gravel parking lot
I had hoped that by spending the day trying to keep dogs out of the #3 nesting area, the parking lot scene would not be repeated. Volunteers are desperately needed during this last week of off leash days. For the area around #3, where I was stationed, at least two are needed, because as you are trying to keep dogs out of one side, they are coming in from the opposite end.
Please email Ken Whittaker if you would like to help. His email address is: email@example.com
The worst days are going to be Thursday, Saturday, and Monday, the three last off leash days of April, with Saturday being by far the hardest.
High tides for the upcoming weekend off leash days:
Thursday April 26th – 9:03 am – off leash day
Friday April 27th – 10:01am – on leash
Saturday April 28th 10:54am – off leash day
Sunday April 29th 11:42am – on leash
Monday April 30th 12:27pm – off leash day
Our Piping Plover pair are resilient. They left the parking lot and returned to the beach at sunset, but again, the same pair of dogs chased them off the beach.
Mama and Papa Plover, and the little Bachelor, survived this past off leash weekend day, but as you can imagine, courting and nesting are again delayed. The most important thing for folks to understand is that the earlier in the season the Piping Plovers are allowed to nest, the earlier the chicks will hatch, which means they will have a thousand fold better chance of surviving.
Some good news—overnight four new additional Piping Plovers arrived! They are in a battle with one another over turf at the roped off area by boardwalk #1.
The following video was produced in 2014. The number of Piping Plover chicks that have survived has gone down since that year, but I thought that what coastal biologist Jorge Ayub from DCR at Revere Beach has to say is especially relevant to our Good Harbor Beach. He begins speaking at 2:45.”We have seen this year an improvement, relative to last year, and acceptance. We’ve seen a tremendous amount of success. This year the Plovers fledged earlier in the season and the reason for that is thanks to the visitors and the residents who didn’t disturb them earlier in the season.”
Thank you to all the friends of our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers, to dog owners who are staying away from Good Harbor Beach, and to all who are advocating for the PiPl.
Early this morning I found both Mama and Papa feeding in the intertidal zone, along with the “Bachelor.” The second pair has not been seen since they were chased off the beach last weekend. There seemed to be fewer dogs on the beach this morning and I am so grateful to the dog owners who are helping to watch over the Plovers.
Yesterday was a much needed quiet day for the Plovers; it was cold and rainy, and an on-leash day. There were folks with dogs off-leash, though they weren’t near the PiPl. But there were fresh tracks running through the nesting area.
Here is why, at this very critical time during Piping Plover breeding, it is imperative to keep dogs and people out of the nesting area. The Plovers are actively courting. What does that mean exactly?
The Plovers first stake out a territory. For the third year in a row, they have chosen the area around the big rock, by boardwalk #3.
Both male and female vigorously defend the territory from other Piping Plovers, as well as other species of large and small birds.
Throughout an average quiet day, the male PiPl builds many “nest” scrapes for the female to inspect. If the female is interested, the male displays an involved courtship dance. If she continues to be interested, he will mate with her by jumping on her back where they join together cloaca to cloaca, but for only mere seconds. During that time the male fertilizes the female’s egg.
Piping Plover courtship requires a tremendous amount of energy, and each courtship episode takes about twenty minutes, from nest scrapings to mating. If the birds are constantly interrupted by dogs tearing through, and people walking through, the nesting area, courtship and mating are delayed, over and over again.
If the Piping Plovers are allowed to mate early in the season, the chicks will be born that much earlier. The earlier the chicks hatch the greater their chance of survival, especially in the case of Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester’s most beloved and heavily trafficked beach.
In addition to repeated courtship interruptions, we are having an unseasonably cold April. The Piping Plovers are spending a great deal of energy just trying to keep warm. This is evidenced by how often they stand on one leg to thermoregulate.
Papa Plover defending all things Mama Plover.
Papa Plover energetically building shallow teacup-sized nest scrapes.
Papa Plover inviting Mama Plover to inspect.
Male Plover cloaca. All birds have a cloaca, the V-shaped vent from where sperm, eggs, and pooh are emitted. During courtship, the male’s cloaca swells considerably.
Meet “the Bachelor,” the bird bane of Papa’s existence.
How You Can Help the Piping Plovers
1) Under no circumstances is it acceptable to enter the Piping Plover nesting area.
2) Keep ALL dogs far away from the nesting areas. A Piping Plover’s brain does not differentiate between a dog on- leash versus a dog off-leash. When a dog, off-leash or on-leash, comes within twenty feet of a PiPl, they immediately stop what they are doing, whether foraging, courting, mating, or resting.
3) During courtship, the Piping Plovers tolerate one or two quiet persons, from a distance, but crowds of three or more put them in panic mode.
4) Help spread the word about the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers.
5) Sign up to be a Piping Plover volunteer ambassador by emailing Ken Whittaker at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you, but most importantly, the Piping Plovers will thank you too when chicks hatch and chicks fledge!
Good Harbor Beach was slammed hard again by yesterday’s April storm. The high tide was hitting the edge of the dune, with more water surging through the openings in the dunes, dumping sand several feet deep ten feet down the boardwalks.
Half the newly installed Piping Plover signs were were buried in the sand, as well as the ropes.
The DPW was on the scene digging out the snack bar boardwalk, beach entrance #2.
Fresh dog and owner tracks on the dune side of the fence. Why?? Our beaches are in trouble folks. Please keep off the dunes.
With so many dogs and people trampling the Piping Plovers nesting area over the weekend, followed by the fierce storm and historic high tides, I wonder if the PiPl will even return to the nesting areas. A total of five had been here since April 3rd (what appear to be two nesting pairs and one bachelor) but I could only find one lone male this morning.
Over the past several weeks, five Piping Plovers battling over nesting turf have been observed at Good Harbor Beach, from the creek end of the beach, all the way to the entrance by the Good Harbor Beach Inn. In the past three days, there hasn’t been activity in the roped off area nearer the GHB Inn. It appears only one pair has decided to call GHB their home for the summer and they seem to be zeroing in on the cordoned off area by boardwalk #3, same as last year.
Unfortunately, the “Party Rock,” the large exposed rock up by the wrack line, is this year not in the roped off area; the roping comes just short of enclosing the “Rock.” The past few evenings, even before the heat wave, folks have been setting up their hibachis, behind the rock, abutting the restricted area. This morning there were a group of six sleeping next to the rock. Needless to say, our Plover pair was super stressed. Early morning is when they typically mate and lay eggs, and neither are happening under duress.
Papa wants to mate with Mama, but she is too stressed.
Here are just a few things we can do to help the Plovers. Please write and let us know your ideas and suggestions, they are so very much appreciated. It would be terrific to put together all the suggestions to present to Mayor Sefatia and Chirs. Thank you!
Post a No Dog sign at the footbridge. I think this is critically important.
Post signs at entrances to the beach to help educate folks about the Piping Plovers, why respecting the restricted area is so important, and why removing trash is equally as vital to the survival of the plovers.
Additionally, I would love to make a brochure about the Piping Plover life cycle that we could hand out to visitors at the parking entrance. Though when I suggested that idea to a friend, he thought the brochures may end up littering the beach. What do you think?
Fix the fencing around the dunes. As it stands now, the rusty old fencing is nearly buried in the sand and actually dangerously invites tripping. If the fences were mended and signs posted about the fragility of the dunes, folks would stop cutting through the dunes to go to and from the parking lot. Right now, they are walking through the restricted area to access the dune trail. Visitors may also want to know that the grass and shrubby growth on that trail is teeming with ticks, another reason to keep off the dunes.
If folks are setting up a cookout or planning a sleepover next to the nesting area (especially near the party rock), gently explain why it would be best to move further down the beach, away from the restricted area.
Mama Plover fishing for worms
I would be happy to meet anyone at Good Harbor Beach to show exactly what are the issues. Dave Rimmer from Essex Greenbelt mentioned that in other communities where Piping Plovers have nested on very busy beaches, a network of Piping Plover babysitters was established to help the chicks survive on the busiest of beach days. If we are so fortunate as to have chicks, I would love to get together a group of “Piping Plover Babysitters.”
Dad Piping Plover spends considerable time showing Mom how good he is at nest-building.
Mom nonchalantly makes her way over to the nest scrape.
She thoroughly inspects the potential nest.
Dad again rearranges the sand. Mom pipes in, “Honey, i think I’d prefer that mound of dried seaweed over there, nearer the blades of seagrass. And can you please add a few seashells to the next one, rather than bits of old kelp.”
Here we go again!
Five Piping Plovers have been observed at Good Harbor Beach. They are battling over territory and beginning to pair up. The male builds perhaps a dozen nests scrapes in a single day–all in hopes of impressing the female. Hopefully, within the next week, they will establish a nest; the earlier in the season Plovers begin nesting, the greater the chance of survival for the chicks.
Dave Rimmer from Essex County Greenbelt reports that although many nest scrapes have been seen, no nests with any egg on any of Gloucester’s beaches have yet been discovered. He suggests that perhaps the cooler than usual spring temperatures are slowing progress.
Work has begun in earnest sorting through all the Piping Plover footage and editing the documentary. In the mean time, I thought readers would enjoy this rare moment where we catch a glimpse of the new born chicks, and both mom and dad together.
Impossibly tiny—no larger than a marshmallow—moments after hatching Piping Plover chicks are on the move, running, tumbling, somersaulting, face-planting, and curious about every little thing in their brand new great big world. PuffPuff, FluffFluff, and TootsiePop are less than twenty-four hours old in this clip. Our East Gloucester neighborhood kids named the Plover family after spending an afternoon getting to know them, watching safely from beyond the roped off area.
Dad Joe finds an impression in the sand and the chicks come running to warm under his protective wings. Piping Plover chicks can feed themselves at birth but can’t yet perfectly regulate their body temperature. They need Mom and Dad for protection and for the warmth they provide. After a few moments rest, Joe pops up and Joy zooms in to take his place. Watch how PuffPuff does a somersault and FluffFluff gives her a little bump out of their cozy nest. Mom runs off camera to create a new resting spot and the chicks are chided by piping calls to come join her.
In shades of bone and driftwood, note how beautifully the Plovers are camouflaged in the colors of the sand and dry beach grass. There isn’t a living thing that doesn’t pose a threat to these most vulnerable of creatures. For protection against predators they will soon learn how to stand perfectly still when Joe and Joy pipe commands, but for now, it’s willy-nilly around the beach, much to the parents great consternation.
Thanks to Esme, Lotus, Meadow, Frieda, and Ruby for naming the Piping Plover family!
The male Piping Plover is on the left, the female, on the right. The male’s little black forehead band makes it easy to distinguish between the two.