Gloucester Plovers Go Swimming! New short created for Mass Wildlife Coastal Waterbird Cooperators.
No one knew these tiny little shorebirds could swim. They don’t have webbed feet so how do they swim? I think the sheer movement of their little feet going a mile a minute keeps them afloat–they paddle as fast as they run on the beach. Turn up the volume to hear the chicks peeping and Dad Plover piping.
On Tuesday I attended the Coastal Waterbird Conservation Cooperators meeting, which took place at the Harwich Community Center on Cape Cod. The meeting is held annually to bring together people and organizations that are involved with population monitoring and conservation efforts on behalf of coastal waterbirds. Threatened and endangered species such as Least Terns, Piping Plovers, Roseate Terns, and American Oystercatchers are given the greatest attention.
I was invited by Carolyn Mostello, event organizer, to create a short film, Gloucester Plovers Go Swimming, for the “Strange and Unusual” section about our three little chicks and the fact that for about a week they were SWIMMING in the tidal creek (see next post). I also provided a group of photos of the late hatching chicks for DCR. The film and the photos were well-received, which was gratifying to me, to be of help in documenting these wonderful stories.
Conservationists from all seven Massachusetts coastal regions participated, as well as conservationists from nearby states, including representatives from Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. To name just some of the organizations presenting at the meeting-Mass Wildlife, Trustees of Reservations, Essex Greenbelt, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Mass Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.
In the morning, each region gave the 2019 population census report for nesting birds as well as providing information about problems and solutions. We all share similar challenges with predation from crows and gulls, uncontrolled dogs, enforcement, and habitat loss and it was very interesting to learn about how neighboring communities are managing problems and issues.
Trustees of Reservations Coastal Ecologist Jeff Denoncour presented on behalf of the north of Boston region, of which Gloucester is a part. Essex Greenbelt’s Director of Land Stewardship Dave Rimmer and intern Fionna were in attendance as well. Both Crane Beach and Parker River are having a fantastic year and the numbers are up across Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island. There are still many young chicks yet to fledge on Massachusetts beaches so the final count has not been determined.
The afternoon session was filled with outstanding lectures presented by conservation biologists and all the programs were tremendously informative.
I met Beth Howard from Mass Audubon, who has been involved with care taking the L Street Piping Plovers and Paige Hebert from Mass Wildlife who has been helping manage Roseate Terns. The DCR staff managing the shorebirds at Nahant, Salisbury, Winthrop, and Revere Beach were all there and they are just a stellar group of young people.
It was a great day! Many attendees expressed congratulations for Gloucester fledging three chicks. Last year after attending the meeting I wrote the following and it’s wonderful that our hope for Gloucester’s Plovers was realized this year: “After attending the cooperators meeting, I am more hopeful than ever that our community can come together and solve the problems that are preventing our PiPl from successfully nesting and fledging chicks. What we have going in our favor is the sheer number of amazing super volunteers along with strong community-wide support.”
I stopped by on my way home from work, fully expecting to see all three chicks hatched. Dad was sitting on the nest and two fluffy chicks were zooming in and out. He left the nest for a moment and wonderful luck of luck, the third chick was making its appearance!!
When I write messy, it is because while the third chick was hatching, the two older ones needed to thermoregulate, or cuddle, beneath the parent’s wing. There was a great deal of seeming disorder going on beneath the canopy provided by Dad’s fluffed out feathers.
Because the two older siblings were running in and out of the nest, as well as the parents leaving to discard the remaining chick’s eggshell pieces, I had a longer window into the third chick’s hatching (by mere seconds, I mean). Plus the twelve-hour-old chicks were just as adorable as could be!
From a nest of three eggs, two chicks hatched at dawn and the third, at day’s end. During both times, I had my movie camera on a tripod zoomed in on the nest and was able to film and simultaneously take still photos. A very unforgettable and happy day!!!!!!!!!!
Mom switched places with Dad but only stayed for a few moments before hopping up quickly. All three chicks were in the nest. You can see the newly hatched chick with its two older siblings.
As many of our readers know, this summer while finishing up with editing my Monarch film, I have also been continuing to document our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. To make the best and most informed documentary, I have also been filming at other north of Boston beach locations. During our last heat wave, we posted about about how PiPl parents protect their eggs during extreme temperatures. The chicks that you see hatching in the photos are the same eggs that survived the heat wave! and are from a very, very special Piping Plover pair. More about these two parents in an upcoming post; for now I just have time to write about the chicks hatching.
Witnessing a beautiful family of Piping Plover chicks hatch is a day I won’t soon forget. Not only struck by the sheer beauty of it all, I was highly aware of the formidable challenges these valiant little birds face at every stage of development. Even hatching was messy and challenging.
On my way into work, I had been checking daily on the nest and knew the hatching day was soon approaching. Arriving at dawn on the twenty-fifth day from when the pair had begun brooding all three eggs, it was apparent and wonderfully exciting to see something was going on in the nest. Mom was on the nest and she was unusually active, moving around and adjusting the eggs repeatedly. She popped up for a split second and I could see an egg cracking. A miracle truly, that the eggs were viable, as it was so late in the season and the heat had been so extreme.
During hatching, the Mom (or Dad, whoever happens to be brooding the eggs at the time hatching begins) makes a canopy over the nest with their fluffed-out feathers. The nest is a mere depression in the sand, below eye level, so the only time you can see what is happening is when the parent leaves the nest. This only happens for the briefest of moments. A chick begins emerging and while it is still half in its eggshell, the nesting parent takes any parts of the broken eggshell in his/her mouth and runs, then flies further with it, dropping the eggshell far away from the nest. During those few brief seconds when the parent leaves to discard the eggshell, you can see what is taking place in the nest.
In the last three photos, the chick’s feathers are almost completely dry and fluffy.
Enthralled, I watched as two chicks hatched over an hour period, but then had to leave to be on site for a job installation that couldn’t wait. I hated to leave wondering, not knowing how the third chick would fare, and just prayed that it would still be light out when I stopped back on my way home from work that night.
Snowy Egret in the creek this morning, and Coyote, too.
Snowy Egrets are the most animated of hunting herons and this one did not disappoint, tossing his minnows in the air, flapping his wings while leaping from rock to rock, stirring the sand with his bright cadmium yellow feet, dip diving, and shimmy shaking his feathers.
Our Good Harbor Beach PiPl Family is thriving. Here’s another morsel that didn’t get away. More on the PiPls on Friday 🙂Seventeen-day old Piping Plover Chicks
This year we have a sweet photo from yesterday of our Papa PiPl snuggling all three chicks, not just one chick as was the case last year on Father’s Day. I wrote, “Whenever folks stop by to ask questions at the nesting area and they see the little chicks snuggling under the adult PiPl, they almost automatically assume it is the Mama Plover. Half the time it is the female, and the other half, the male. Mom and Dad share equally in caring for the chicks, generally in twenty minute to half hour intervals. They are always within ear shot and while one is minding the chicks, the other is either feeding itself, grooming, or patrolling for predators. Last year, as is often the case, the Mama Plover departed Good Harbor Beach several weeks before the chick fledged, leaving Little Chick entirely under Papa’s care.”
But there is more to the story about what makes Piping Plover males Super Dads. Papa is not only an excellent Dad in that he is a fifty/fifty caretaker of the chicks, but male Plovers are also fierce defenders of their family. Our Papa is no exception. He is always on high alert, especially when it comes to the Bachelor and his antics. Between gulls, crows, other avian predators, human caused disturbances, and even danger from one of their own kind, it’s not easy being a Plover Dad.
Papa Plover warming all three chicks. They were fifteen days old on Saturday morning.
The Bachelor tries to camp out in the protected area. Papa is having none of it and leaps up to give chase to the Bachelor.
Papa and the Bachelor smack down over control of the protected area.
Male Piping Plovers fight, and even bite, competing males for mates and for nesting territory.
Two weeks ago today, four tiny Piping Plover chicks hatched at Good Harbor Beach. Nesting got off to a rocky start, with the mated pair first attempting to nest at the beach, then at the parking lot, but then thankfully, returning to their original nest site.
The relative peace on the beach, excellent parenting by Mama and Papa PiPl, cooler than average temperatures, vigilant monitoring by a corps of dedicated volunteers, outpouring of consideration by beach goers, as well as support from the DPW, City administration, and City Councilors has allowed the chicks to attain the two-week-old stage of maturity. With each passing day, we can see the chicks are gaining in strength and fortitude and listening more attentively to their parent’s voice commands. Adhering to Mama and Papa’s piping calls is an important milestone in their development. The parents continuously pipe commands and directions, warning of danger and directing the chicks to come to a stand still. The tiny shorebird’s best defense is its ability to blend with its surroundings when motionless.
The chicks spent the early morning warming up and foraging at the protected area. Afternoon found them camped out at the creek.
Snapshots from the morning
There was a group of young people stationed near the PiPl protected area enjoying the beach on this fine sunny afternoon. All was good though as the chicks were perfectly safe, foraging far down the creek. With gratitude and thanks to everyone who is helping to keep our PiPl family safe.
Today our little chicks, all three, turn ten-days-old. This is a milestone in that their chances of survival are greatly improved when they reach the age of ten-days-old.
The family of five spent the morning foraging, mostly in the protected area, and venturing to the shoreline only occasionally. A Mourning Dove made his way through the dune edge into the protected area and Mama was having none of it. She flew at the Dove, but it attacked back. Papa suddenly appeared out of nowhere and really gave the Dove the business, buzzing it several times. The Dove flew off and then returned. Both parents left the chicks briefly and both attacked the Dove simultaneously. It’s always dramatic when you see how these pint sized shorebirds go after the much larger birds, and usually win.
Our Papa and Mama will fight to the death for their chicks, and because of that the chicks have survived ten whole days. Additionally, the Piping Plover family could not have survived this long without the vigilance of tender hearted volunteer monitors. They are a tremendous bunch of people and if you would like to join our group, please contact Alicia Pensarosa and sign up for a shift. Everyone is welcome. Weekends, especially, volunteers are needed.
Thank you to all the volunteer monitors. Two volunteers deserve an extra huge shout out and they are Heather Hall and Laurie Sawin. These two daily spend hours upon hours monitoring the chicks. Thank you sweet ladies for all your time and devotion <3
Big Chair, Tiny Bird
Papa keeping a watchful eye on the family this morning.
Our Good Harbor Beach PiPls made their first journey down to the creek this morning. They left the protected area about 11:00am, just as the soccer tournament was heating up. The family traveled along the dune fencing, crossed the back road, and spent the better part of the day foraging in the creek tidal flats and in the vegetation at the marsh edge.
For volunteers who have never seen this behavior before, in 2016 the chicks hatched over Fiesta weekend, when the beach was very busy. At only two days old, the PiPl family began making the epic journey to the creek from the protected area. This is harrowing for them and we lost a chick during the 2016 trek. Volunteers can best help the chicks by following along, from a safe distance that does not impede their movement. Keep an eye on stray balls and let folks in the vicinity know what is happening, if possible. They typically return as the tide is coming in or at dusk.
I believe easy access to the creek is one reason why our GHB PiPls choose to nest at the No. 3 boardwalk over the No. 1 boardwalk area. The creek is closer to No. 3 and gives the birds a secondary option for feeding when the main beach is super crowded.
The hatchlings are eight days old and are nearing the ten-day-old milestone. They are growing visibly stronger and increasingly more independent everyday. I have lots of photos to share and will provide a longer update after the weekend.
Creek tide flats
Mom calling for a chick, which is hiding in the vegetation at the edge of the marsh 🙂
Our little Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover family of five all appear to be doing well. The three chicks made the five-day-old milestone today. They are becoming increasingly independent, so much so that is is occasionally difficult for the PiPl volunteers to find. We monitors have had it relatively easy up to this point. With the cooler temperatures, the chicks have spent a great deal of time tucked under Mama and Papa. This first warm day of June, they were zooming from one length of the beach by the No. 3 boardwalk, all the way to the creek end, in and out of the cordoned off area, and to the shoreline. The chicks were also observed by monitor Laurie Sawin running up into the edge of the dunes and taking shelter from the heat and sun under the beautiful native flowering Beach Pea.
Ward One City Councilor Scott Memhard has provided laminated information about Piping Plovers, on a clipboard that any PiPl monitor can access via Cape Ann Coffees, which is around the corner from Good Harbor Beach at 86 Bass Avenue. The information can be picked up and dropped off by asking at the counter. Many, many thanks to Rick and Dorthe Noonan, proprietors of Cape Ann Coffees, for volunteering to keep the information at their wonderful coffee shop.
The weather prediction for the weekend is blue skies and seventies, so much help will be needed, especially during the mid-day when the beach is most congested. If you have any questions or comments, please email Alicia at gloucesterAAC@gmail.com.
Three-day-old PiPls waking up at sunrise, foraging in the wrack zone, and taking turns warming up under Mom and Dad.
Looking for the well-camouflaged PiPl chicks makes my head spin!
Four-day-old chick venturing into the dunes.
Five-day-old Piping Plover chick.
Great news from our PiPl friends at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge-as of May 31st, they have 39 pairs, 25 active nests, and their first chick is projected to hatch on June 6th!
So sorry to have to post that we lost one of our little chicks last night. It’s impossible to know what happened; there were no tracks or signs of unusual activity. Could it be the chick became separated from the family in the heavy fog and last night’s thunderstorm? We’ve seen chicks survive on similar nights, and we lost one in 2017 after a thunderstorm. They are only three-days-old today so I imagine the rough weather is rough on the chicks, too.
We had a terrific informal Piping Plover informational gathering at Good Harbor Beach this afternoon. If you would like to sign up to volunteer, please follow this easy link. We would love to have you join us.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment in the comment section.
Today the chicks are two days old; the photos are from yesterday at daybreak. It was foggy and overcast and the chicks mostly wanted to warm up under Mama and Papa.
All four chicks are doing fantastically, feeding well and venturing further and further from the upper wrack zone. Because of the cool temperatures, the beach has been relatively quieter this past spring, which has been ideal not only for our GHB PiPl family, but for nesting and hatching PiPl families all around the state.
Briefest update just to let everyone know the hatchlings are all doing beautifully. So many thanks to everyone who is volunteering ❤
One-day-old teeny tiny wing buds
WE ARE HAVING AN INFORMAL GET TOGETHER AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT 4:00 FOR ANYONE INTERESTED IN BECOMING A PIPING PLOVER MONITOR AND LEARNING MORE ABOUT THE PIPLS. MEET AT BOARDWALK #3. WE HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!
Only hours-old, our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover chicks were learning to navigate the varied terrain–climbing mini hummocks, falling into divots, somersaulting, tripping over dried bits of beach grass and seaweed, running for short bits, and just generally stumbling and tumbling. In one photo you can even see a chick already eating a tiny ant. After an afternoon of exploring, all four seemed pretty tuckered out and were taking turns snuggling under both Mama and Papa.
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.
These sweet Piping Plover chicks are only hours old. All four are healthy, vigorous, and already feeding themselves and stretching their wing buds. They sure were giving their Mom and Dad reason to panic as they ran hither and thither, not yet understanding the adults piping voice commands. A dog ran through the nesting area and a pair of Crows added to the parent’s stress. After both parents briefly left the chicks to distract the dog and give chase to the Crows, calmness was restored and three snuggled under Mom while the fourth kept dad on the run.
*Note–I have been following and filming half a dozen PiPl nests around the state and just to be clear in case of any confusion, these are not our Good Harbor Beach PiPls 🙂
There have been quite a few PiPl chicks hatching around New England beaches. The cool, overcast weather will benefit the hatchlings tremendously. The beaches are relatively quieter, with fewer people, dogs, and trash that attracts avian predators, which will help allow the babies to reach that critical one week old age.
With sadness, but not entirely unexpected, I am sorry to report that only one baby Piping Plover chick remains at Good Harbor. The good news is that the one surviving chick is doing fantastically as of this writing. Don’t worry when I write too that the Mom has left the family. She has begun to migrate southward. This is somewhat normal and I don’t think she would have left had not the chick been doing so well. Dad is minding the baby full time and he is doing a tremendous job.
A week since the Plovers hatched and it sure has been a joy to film, and wonderfully educational. I am very inspired to work on this short film and hope to have it ready for our community this summer.
Notice the growing wing buds!
A heartfelt reminder to please, please, please let’s all work together to keep the dogs off the beach. I had a terrible encounter, really frustrating and the owner and his friends very cruel. Ninety nine point nine percent of dog owners are wonderful and respectful and are rooting for the Plovers as much as are non-dog owners. The Plovers are all over the sandy beach, at the water’s edge, and down the creek. Although growing beautifully, the chick is still about the size of a cotton ball, maybe a cotton ball and a half. Up until fourteen days old, they are at their most vulnerable.
As with before, please fee free to share the photos and information on social media. The more people know about the garbage and dog owner trouble (certain dog owners that is), the more likely the chick’s chance of survival. Thank you!
Garbage left on the beach late in the day and overnight continues to be an issue. Bring a bag with you and we can help the DPW by cleaning up after the the folks who don’t know any better. Garbage strewn on the beach attracts gulls, and they, especially Great Black-backed Gulls, eat baby Plovers.
Piping Plovers, like many shore birds, are precocial. That means that within hours after hatching, they are ready to leave the nest and can feed themselves. They cannot however immediately regulate their body temperature and rely on Mom and Dad to warm them under their wings. Although the chick is six days old in the above photo, it still looks to Dad for warmth and protection. Examples of other precocial birds are ducks, geese, and chickens.
If you spot the baby and want to observe, I recommend staying fifteen to twenty feet away at least. Any closer and Dad has to spend a great deal of energy trying to distract you. We don’t want him to get tired out and unable to care for the baby. Also, you’ll appear less threatening if you sit or kneel while observing the chick. No sudden movements and talk quietly and the baby may come right up to you!
A sweet dog with a very unkind owner.
Around 6pm Saturday evening, this playful dog came bounding down the water’s edge, within inches of the baby. I stood between the owner, dog, and Plovers, with cameras in hand, and cell phone unfortunately back in my bag. After a good twenty minutes of arguing he and his equally unkind friends departed. In the mean time, the Plovers were able to get away from the dog and further down the shore line.
Dad and chick Monday morning, the July 18th, exactly one week old!
Please help get the word out that the Good Harbor Piping Plover chicks have hatched and that they are extremely vulnerable. Feel free to share these photos on social media.
Monday Day One: Judging from when the nest was first spotted, I had a feeling the Plovers were going to hatch Monday. The morning was drizzly and foggy and it was difficult to see into the nest but there appeared to be more activity than usual. By the time I returned later in the afternoon it was a wonder and joy to see all three Plovers had hatched!
Unlike songbirds, the Piping Plover chicks leave the nest almost immediately. They are not fed by the adults and begin to forage for insects in the sand soon after hatching. Although only hours old, they can run, and run they do, looking mostly like jet propelled cotton balls.
The chicks snuggle under Dad. Both Mom and Dad take turns guarding the nestlings, in thirty minute intervals, just as they did when on the nest waiting for the babies to hatch.
Dad (left) and Mom (right) changing guard.
Tuesday Day Two:
Miniature rockets zooming over miniature sand mounds, running so fast, they’ll often land in a face plant. I captured a somersault on film!