Tag Archives: Piping Plovers nesting

GLOUCESTER DPW ROCKIN THE NEW FENCING AT GOOD HARBOR BEACH!

Check out the awesome new dune fencing recently installed at Good Harbor Beach by our DPW crew. The wire fencing runs along the length of the beach. The DPW did an outstanding job, very neat and unobtrusive.

Dune fencing plays an important role in reducing erosion. One of the main benefits of dune fencing is to help keep pets and people out of the dunes. Why is it detrimental to the dunes to allow uncontrolled dogs to run through the dunes and for people to use the dunes to access the parking lot, or worse, as their personal toilet? Repeated traffic through the dunes damages and kills the plants growing in the dunes. Plants help control erosion by stabilizing soil and sediments with their roots. Dune vegetation helps break the impact of of wave splash and rain, and also traps sand to help build up the dunes.

The fencing material installed by the DPW is an excellent choice for nesting shorebirds. This year especially, with much of the beach vegetation washed away and with the beach greatly narrowed, the Piping Plover adults and chicks had learned to use the area behind the old wire fencing for shade and to hide from predators. The open fencing still allows for small wild creatures to go in and out of the holes to find shelter and safety at the base of the dune.

Pip snuggled under Mama PiPl

Thank you Gloucester DPW for a super job well done!

Adult Piping Plovers and chicks found shelter along the wire fencing (the Bachelor left, and Mama and Pip, right).

Two-Day-Old Least Tern Chicks

Clamoring for dinner, feed Me, feed Me!

In only one day’s time, you can see the teeny shorebirds gaining strength. As Dad approaches with dinner, the two-day-old Least Tern chicks stretch and flap their wings and open wide their beaks. The noisiest and flappiest is fed first. After depositing a minnow in one beak, off he flies to find dinner for the second sibling.

Camouflaged

The polka-dot fluff balls blend perfectly with the surrounding sand and rocks. The brilliant red inside the chicks mouth makes it easier for the adult terns to find them against the monochromatic pebbly beach habitat.

Waiting for dinner.

The tern parents will share feeding their chicks and fledglings non-stop for weeks; the chicks won’t be on their own for another two months.

For the first several days after hatching, Least Tern chicks keep fairly close to Mom in scooped out scrapes and natural divots in the sand, or well-hidden hidden behind rocks and beach vegetation.Tiny Least Tern Chick camouflaged in the sand, flanked by an adult Least Tern and Piping Plover male passing by (right).

The Rosetti’s Piping Plover fledglings (three) sharing the nesting site with the Least Tern Rosetti’s family.

Fishing For Sex

FISHING FOR SEX

Or is it Sex for Fish? –The Quid Pro Quo Courtship of the Least Tern

While learning more about Piping Plovers on North Shore beaches I happened to be on Winthrop Shore Beach on an afternoon in May when dozens and dozens of Least Terns were pairing up in an elaborate dance of courtship and mating. It was fascinating to observe their courtship feeding and I was so curious to learn more.

That very same afternoon, the “Rosetti’s” Piping Plovers were mating, too. Well known to the area is a pair of Plovers that nest every year directly in front of Café Rosetti’s, a fabulous Italian restaurant located on the main boulevard that runs along the beach. The Rosetti’s Plovers are very successful and each year they fledge a clutch of chicks. This year was no exception!

For the past several months I have been documenting through film and photographs the Rosetti’s Plovers and the Rosetti’s Terns, along with a family of PiPl at Revere Beach (more about the Winthrop and Revere Beach’s PiPl in future posts). Both species of birds are on the state and federal threatened species list. Piping Plovers and Least Terns began nesting on the area’s urban beaches as a direct result of the Boston Harbor cleanup, a wonderful, and very surprising to all involved, turn of events. In some regions, both species share the same habitat, as is the case with Winthrop Shore Reservation.

The more we learn about how and why Plovers (and other species of threatened shorebirds) successfully nest on other north of Boston much loved and much utilized beaches, the more we can help our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers successfully nest in years to come.

During the breeding season Least Terns perform courtship displays in the air and on the ground. In dramatic aerial display, a fish-carrying male is chased by the female, sometimes up to four females.

On the ground, the male parades his fish to a prospective mate. With fish dangling from his bill, he bobs his head from side-to side, then opens and closes his wings over the female.

The male mounts the female, still with fish dangling. During copulation he passes the fish to the female.

The funniest thing is, when the female allows the male to mount, she sometimes snatches the fish and flies away before mating has occurred.

No privacy, and lots of piracy!

The male continues to feed the female throughout the incubation period. Both parents incubate the eggs however, the female does about eighty percent of the brooding, while the male provides most of the fish for she and the chicks.

When one adult Least Tern feeds another, whether during courtship when the pair are first becoming established, or during the incubation period, this behavior is called “courtship feeding.”

The courtship feeding display perhaps provide the female tern the assurance that her male mate will be a good provider of fish for both she and the young. Both male and female Least Terns feed the chicks for the first several months after hatching; the better the fisherman, the stronger the chicks. Studies have shown too that courtship feeding provides the female with considerable nutritional benefit. The number of eggs, and weight of the eggs, are determined by the female’s nutritional status and how much food is fed her by her mate.

In Massachusetts, Least Terns primarily eats fish, including Sand Lance, Herring, and Hake. They also eat insects and crustaceans.

And we have a nest, with two eggs!

Read more about Winthrop Shore Reservation here.

Winthrop Shore Reservation Nesting Bird Observers

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

PIPING PLOVERS DRIVEN OFF THE BEACH

Despite the case that posted signs were in place for Saturday’s off leash day, it was a complete disaster for the Piping Plovers.

When I was there early in the morning there was a large group of dog owners by the Good Harbor Beach Inn area and the dogs were playing by the water’s edge, away from the nesting sites, and it was wonderful to see!

Piping Plover nesting signs at Good Harbor Beach.

At noon I stopped by for a quick check on the PiPl, in between a meeting and babysitting, and it was a complete and utter disaster. There were dozens of dogs and people frolicking WITHIN the nesting areas, as if the signs were completely invisible. The nesting areas were so full of people and dogs, one of the pairs of PiPl had been driven off the beach and into the parking lot. They were trying to make nest scrapes in the gravel. Heartbreaking to see.

My husband and I put up roping as soon as I was finished babysitting. We ran out of rope for both areas and came back today to finish cordoning off the nesting sites. Hopefully the rope will help.

Perhaps because of climate change, and for reasons not fully understood, for the third year in a row, we now have a beautiful species of shorebird nesting at Good Harbor Beach. This year they arrived on April 3rd. Piping Plovers are a federally threatened species and it is our responsibility to do all that is humanly possible to insure their safety.

We live in coastal Massachusetts, which means we also have a responsibility in the chain of migration along the Atlantic Flyway to do our part to help all wildlife, particularly endangered wildlife.

Wouldn’t it be tremendous if the dog friendly people and all citizens of Gloucester would work together to change the leash laws to restrict dogs from our barrier beaches, Good Harbor Beach (and Wingaersheek, too, if birds begin nesting there as well), beginning April 1st?

Much, much better signage is needed as well as a wholehearted information campaign. And better enforcement of the current laws would be of great help as well however, if the laws are written such that dogs are allowed on the beaches during the month of April, which is the beginning of nesting season, then we are not being good stewards of species at risk.

We need help enforcing rules about keeping people and pets out of the dunes. The dunes are our best protection against rising sea level and are weakened terribly by trampling through the beachgrass and wildflowers.

It may be helpful for people to understand that the earlier the PiPl are allowed to nest, the earlier the chicks will be born, and the greater their chance of survival. Yesterday morning one pair mated and the female helped the male dig a nest, which means we could very well see eggs very soon (if they return to the nesting sites after yesterday’s debacle).

Papa Plover bowing in the courtship dance.

And here he is puffed out and high-stepping in the mating dance.

If the PiPl begin laying eggs now, and it takes about another month for hatching from the time the first egg is laid, the chicks would be a month old by the time July 4th arrives, when GHB becomes packed with visitors.

If the eggs and nest are destroyed, the nesting cycle will begin all over again and we will have chicks born over Fiesta weekend, with days-old chicks running around the beach on July 4th, as happened last year.

One-day-old Piping Plover chick – a marshmallow-sized chick with toothpicks for legs is super challenging to watch over on a typical Good Harbor Beach summer day!

I believe that as a community we can work together to help the Piping Plovers, as was done last year. It took a tremendous effort by a fabulous group of volunteers. The hardest thing that the volunteers had to deal with were the seemingly endless encounters with scofflaw dog owners. Especially difficult were the sunrise and sunset shifts because folks think they can get away with ignoring the laws at those times of day. I cannot tell you how many times I have had terrible things said to me when I tried to speak to people about keeping their dogs away from the PiPl nesting sites. Some folks do not want to be told that their dog cannot play there.

Rather than expecting volunteers and citizens to call the dog officer, when it is usually too late by the time they arrive, the dog officers should be stationed at the beach at key times, on weekends, and after five pm, for example.

Now that we know the Piping Plovers are here this early in the season, better rules, signage, and more information need to be in place. Gloucester is not the only north shore coastal Massachusetts area this year experiencing Piping Plovers arriving earlier than usual. We can learn much historically from how other communities manage these tiniest and most vulnerable of shorebirds. For example, after April 1st, no dogs are allowed at Crane Beach. Throughout the year, no dogs are allowed at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, and at Revere Beach (also home to nesting Piping Plovers), which was the first public beach established in the United States, no dogs are allowed from April 1st to mid-September.

The female Piping Plover lays one egg approximately every day to every few days, usually until a total of three to four eggs are laid. The male and female begin sitting on the eggs when all are laid. Until that time, the eggs are extremely vulnerable to being stepped upon.

Currently the two nesting areas identified on Good Harbor Beach are taking up more space than will be the case once the PiPl begin to lay eggs. As soon as the first egg is laid, an exclosure will be placed over the nest and the overall cordoned off area will shrink some.

Mama PiPl and one-day-old chick

HELPING PIPING PLOVERS AND A HUGE SHOUT OUT TO GREENBELT’S DAVE RIMMER AND DAVE MCKINNON

Help arrived for the Piping Plovers yesterday afternoon when Greenbelt’s Dave McKinnon installed the symbolic posts and informative signage. Roping will come next week, but at the very least, cordoning off the nesting area informs the community to tread lightly and where to keep out. Two nesting areas have been identified. The signs are posted between boardwalk 3 and the footbridge, as well as between boardwalks 1 and 2.

So many thanks to Dave Rimmer and Dave McKinnon. I happened to meet up with them yesterday morning and initially Dave R. thought they would not be able to help until next week. What great relief when I read the email from Dave R. that Dave M. would be back later in the day to install the posts and signs!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

REMINDER: TOMORROW IS AN OFF LEASH SATURDAY, WHICH IS GOING TO BE VERY, VERY TOUGH ON THE PIPING PLOVERS. PLEASE DOG OWNERS, IF YOUR DOG IS NOT UNDER VOICE COMMAND, THEN THE RULE IS, THE DOG IS NOT ALLOWED ON THE BEACH. PLEASE TRY TO UNDERSTAND THAT THIS THREATENED SPECIES OF SHOREBIRDS NEEDS EVERYONE’S HELP. THANK YOU!

I wrote the above because yesterday I got a very disturbing call from a friend, a person who is usually mild mannered and not easily angered. He was calling to say that he had just observed a woman with her “birder” dog chasing the Plovers up and down the beach over and over again. When he spoke with her about the Plovers, she said she was aware of the threatened birds, but that she couldn’t control her dog because he “was having a bad day.” All I can write, is please, please, please do not allow your dog to chase the Piping Plovers. It may be fun and games for you and your dog, but allowing the PiPl to nest is a matter of survival for these beautiful and tiniest of shorebirds.

Two adorable sweet dogs, off leash today, on an on leash day.

Currently there are four PiPl at Good Harbor Beach. One very bonded pair (excellent possibility that it is our Mama and Papa Plover from the past two summers) and two unattached males. The above photo is of one of the two bachelors.

FENCING IS URGENTLY NEEDED FOR THE NESTING PIPING PLOVERS!! PLEASE SHARE THIS POST

The Piping Plovers are nesting between Good Harbor Beach entrance #3 and the footbridge area. They have been here for eight days, since last Tuesday, and courtship is fully underway.

Greenbelt has not yet put up the posts and roping that the PiPl so desperately need to keep safe. In the mean time, would it be possible for dog owners to spread the word and let fellow dog owners know that on off-leash days it would be so very helpful to the Plovers if folks allowed their dogs to play from #3 entrance to the Good Harbor Beach Inn? That encompasses most of the beach. This would create a safe nesting zone for the PiPl.

Please share if you would. Thank you so very much for your kind help.

Foggy Morning Plovers Courting

Papa creates a variety of nest scrapes by digging shallow miniature teacup-size craters in the sand.

He pipes his love call to Mama, inviting her to come inspect the potential nest site.  

And adds some dried bits of seaweed to the nest to make it extra appealing to her.

With a flourish of her wings she says NO.

Nest inspecting is very tiring and Mama takes a nap in between inspections (even though Papa is doing all the work!)