Over the past several months of documenting our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers, beginning in March, we have seen a beautiful collection of shorebirds, gulls, hawks, and wading birds. The continuous ebb and flow of replenishing waters at the tidal creek, expansive marsh, and intertidal pools make for a range of rich habitat where birds can find food and shelter. Minnows, sea worms, crabs, tiny mollusks, and a wide variety of other invertebrates provide fuel for hungry travelers as well as summer residents.
Too many photos for one post I just realized and will post heron and egret photos next.
GLOUCESTER CITY COUNCIL VOTES UNANIMOUSLY FOR ORDINANCE CHANGES REGARDING PIPING PLOVERS AND ALL WILDLIFE!!!
Thank you Community for seeing the wisdom in these changes and for giving voice to these tiny endangered birds.
Last night’s Council vote a was win for our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers and a win for all the citizens of Gloucester. There was a tremendous turnout by the Piping Plover volunteers and friends, as well as an impressive number of letters written to the Councilors in favor of the changes to the ordinance. The combination of the two spoke volumes and definitely tipped the scales in favor of the Plovers.
Our sincerest thanks to City Councilors Scott Memhard, Paul Lundberg, and Melissa Cox for putting forth the ordinance. Our sincerest thanks to O and A Councilors Steven LeBlanc, Jamie O’Hara, and Sean Nolan for voting unanimously to put the ordinance change to City Council for a vote. A huge shout out to all the Councilors for voting YES! Thank you to Jim Destino for presenting on behalf of Mayor Sefatia and the Administration. And a huge shout out to Alicia Pensarosa and the Animal Advisory Committee for their tremendous presentation and a job well done.
The greatest thanks goes to all our Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover monitors who have given so generously of their time and energy to our tiniest of shorebird friends. <3
Next steps are tighter enforcement, and signage, and with the ordinance in place and increased awareness, I am very hopeful this can be accomplished.
Just some of the many friends of Gloucester’s Piping Plovers who participated last night -Preston, Cruz, Laurie, Kim N., Heather, and Catherine
Piping Plover Fledglings Coffins Beach
Notes for City Council meeting
February 26, 2019
Thank you Councilors for providing me the opportunity to speak.
The Mass Wildlife Piping Plover 2017 Census Report, with Dog Ordinances, which was submitted last week, affirms why prohibiting dogs on affected beaches by April 1st is the correct course of action needed to protect our Piping Plover nesting areas. The April 1st date has been determined best course of action by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Trustees of Reservations Coastal Shorebird Protection Program, Mass Audubon, USFWS National Refuges such as Parker River (where dogs are prohibited year round), and our own Gloucester Animal Advisory Committee.
Only one chick out of eleven has fledged during the last three years. Rather than focusing on who is to blame, and who reported what, and how many times incidences were reported, I hope we can come together and do what is best for this tiny endangered bird. Beach communities that take full precautionary measures to protect the Piping Plovers have a greater than 80 percent success rate in fledging chicks. Communities that only take partial measures have a 20 percent rate of success in fledgling chicks.
Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee, under the leadership of Alicia Pensarosa, has recommended a full set of precautionary and protective measures, which are in alignment with neighboring communities, and they include creating a buffer zone, better signage, increasing fines, precautionary roping in place by April 1st, stricter enforcement and, the single most important piece of the protective measures, to prohibit dogs on the beach from the dates of April 1st to September 30th.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA), which also applies to threatened species, specifically prohibits the “taking” of Piping Plovers. Taking doesn’t only mean killing, taking also includes, harassing, harming, and removing. The ESA requires Federal agencies to take action to prevent further harm and harassment. By only taking half-hearted measures, and without strict enforcement, our community is at high risk of beach closures and heavy fines.
Piping Plovers are facing tremendous pressure from human disturbances, natural predators, loss of habitat, and rising sea level. One of the single most pervasive threats to Piping Plovers is dogs disturbing the nesting area, and we have seen this first hand over the past three years, beginning in May 2016 when the Piping Plovers first began nesting at Good Harbor Beach, continuing through 2017 and 2018.
The result of dogs disturbing the nesting area last spring forced a Piping Plover pair to nest in the Good Harbor Beach parking lot, a highly unusual and dangerous outcome, and this is well documented.
Here is why dogs are a threat not only to Piping Plovers, but to all nesting shorebirds.
To a Plover, dogs look and act like coyotes and foxes. Whether the dog is on a leash or not, to a shorebird’s brain, a dog is scary. Dogs unwittingly crush eggs in the nest, accidentally crush chicks, chase adults, and eat chicks.
But that is only part of the story. Because all leashed and unleashed dogs appear threatening, even if your pooch is the sweetest most non-threatening creature that ever lived, dogs cause the adult Plovers to go into protective behavior.
By protective behavior, I mean that the Piping Plover will try to distract the dog with a series of vocal calls (which also disturbs and brings its mate to the scene), by running in front of the dog, and by pretending it is weakened by dragging its wing on the ground (imitating a bird with a broken wing). These protective behaviors are very stressful and force the Plover away from the nest and chicks, often far down the beach, leaving the eggs and babies open to attacks by gulls, crows, and raptors.
During the night, a Piping Plover may encounter a disturbance by a single coyote or fox, or two, but when dogs are permitted on the beach during nesting season, the dog traffic and disturbance can be unrelenting, quite literally, with hundreds of dog disturbances per day.
Piping Plovers have a much greater tolerance for humans. For example, they do not try to chase people out of their territory and will often behave very nonchalantly, unless, of course, a chick is nearby. But just as they perceive dogs to be threatening, Piping Plovers also perceive kites, drones, and balls as threats for similar reasons, because these airborne activities appear to be flying predators.
Last year, Piping Plovers were first seen at Good Harbor Beach on April 3rd The small flock appeared very weary, but after a few days of resting, pairs began actively courting. Countless dog disturbances, especially during the very early hours of the day, and late in the afternoon, caused the Boardwalk #3 pair to abandon their nest on the beach and to nest in the parking lot. These disturbances and nesting dates are well documented. Constant dog disturbances also caused a second pair attempting to nest at the Boardwalk #1 area to abandon its nest scrapes, and Good Harbor Beach altogether.
Since 2016, I have also been documenting Piping Plovers at Coffins Beach and Cranes Beach. Last year, I began following Piping Plovers nesting at both Revere Beach and Winthrop Shores Reservation because these two beaches are more similar to Good Harbor Beach. Revere and Winthrop, like Good Harbor, are highly trafficked beaches frequented by locals and by people from out of town, and we can learn a great deal from these communities. Both Revere and Winthrop Shores Reservation follow the guidelines of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation where precautionary fencing is installed by April 1st, and no dogs are allowed. If chicks can fledge from Revere and Winthrop beaches, so too can chicks fledge from Good Harbor Beach.
A sentence in the 3PPlan gave me great pause, and that is why I decided to include the photos attached in tonight’s discussion. “There has been friction with a small number of dog walkers who resent being denied access to the beach or requests to leash their pets in the vicinity of the Plover area.”
The problem is much greater than a small number. The faces have been blocked because I don’t want law enforcement to go after specific individuals. The photos are meant to show the much larger issue, that there are many, many dogs disrupting the nesting area on Good Harbor Beach during the month of April.
All photos were taken on April 28th and 29th at Good Harbor Beach. April 28th was a warm off leash day. The nesting area at No. 3 was being impossibly overrun with dogs in the roped off section. Because of the uncontrolled dogs running through the nesting area, it would have taken at least three monitors to monitor only No. 3, not to mention area No. 1.
Photos No. 2-14 were taken within a one-hour time period. Photos 2-5 show a woman on her cell phone ignoring her dog, her dog runs into the nesting area and goes pooh, she goes into the nesting area to clean up while in the mean time, her dog continues to run through the nesting area with a pal. Photos 6 through 12 show a bunch of different dogs playing in the nesting area and could be photographed with roping as part of the photo. Photos 13 and 14 show dogs up by the nest, at the dune line. Photo 15 show the dog tracks in the nesting area.
The PiPl had given up on the beach and moved to the parking lot because there was far less dog disturbance there. Photos 16-18 show their parking lot nest scrape, mating behavior, and trying to camouflage on the white lines of the parking lot. They stayed in the parking lot the entire day and did not eat or drink.
I returned to Good Harbor beach the following morning, an on leash day, hoping that it would be quieter and the PiPl could catch a break, but instead found a number of dogs off leash.
I hope these photos are helpful in showing why it is so critically important to prohibit dogs on the beach during the month of April. And that it is clearly not a “small number of dog walkers” causing the disruption to nesting.
I am happy to answer any questions. Please email me or at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 978-283-3910
Thank you so much again for your time and consideration.
Good Harbor Beach Papa (left) and Mama Piping Plover and Chicks
Tonight Gloucester City Councilors are meeting at 7pm to vote on an ordinance change that will impact whether Gloucester’s Piping Plovers will or will not have a chance to successfully nest at Good Harbor Beach. Statements have been made referencing “…a small number of dog walkers” at Good Harbor Beach during the Piping Plover nesting season.
Very plainly said, if there were only a small number of dogs, the Piping Plovers would not have nested in the parking lot. The problem is much greater than a small number.
The faces have been blocked because I don’t want law enforcement to go after specific individuals. The photos are meant to show the much larger issue, that there are many, many dogs disrupting the nesting area on Good Harbor Beach during the month of April.
All photos were taken on April 28th and 29th at Good Harbor Beach. April 28th was a warm day. The nesting area at No. 3 was being impossibly overrun with dogs in the roped off section. Because of the uncontrolled dogs running through the nesting area, it would have taken at least three monitors to monitor only area No. 3, not to mention area No. 1.
Photos No. 2-14 were taken within a one hour time period.
Photos 2-5 show a woman on her cell phone ignoring her dog, her dog runs into the nesting area and goes pooh, she goes into the nesting area to clean up and can’t find the pooh, while in the mean time, her dog continues to run through the nesting area with a pal.
The above group of photos shows a bunch of different dogs playing in the nesting area and could be photographed with roping as part of the photo.
These dogs dogs were up by the nest, at the dune line.
Photo 15 show the dog tracks in the nesting area.
In the mean time, the PiPl had given up on the beach and had moved to the parking lot because there was far less dog disturbance there. Photos 16-18 show their parking lot nest scrape, mating behavior, and trying to camouflage on the white lines of the parking lot.
I returned to Good Harbor beach the following morning, an on leash day, hoping that it would be quieter and the PiPl could catch a break, but instead found a number of dogs off leash. Photos 23 and 24.
I hope these photos are helpful in showing why it is so critically important to prohibit dogs on the beach during the month of April. And that it is clearly not a “small number of dog walkers” causing disruption to nesting.
Please come tonight and show you support for Gloucester’s Piping plovers. Thank you <3
To give readers an idea of how Gloucester compares to other North of Boston beaches provided below is a list of Massachusetts beaches, the number of chicks fledged at each beach, and the dog ordiance.
As you can see, prohibiting dogs on beaches beginning April 1st would bring us in alliance with the majority of Massachusetts coastal communities. If anyone would like the list of all Massachusetts beaches where Piping Plovers are nesting, please feel free to email me at email@example.com and I will be happy to send you the pdf.
The beaches and information about chicks was found at the Mass Wildlife Massachusetts Piping Plover Census 2017.
NORTH OF BOSTON
Crane Beach, Ipswich: 33 chicks fledged, No Dogs April 1 to Sept 30, on leash off season.
Sandy Point Reservation, Ipswich: 21 chicks fledged, No Dogs allowed at any time.
Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester: 0 chicks fledged, No Dogs May 1 to September 30.
Parker River Wildlife Refuge: 54 chicks fledged, No Dogs allowed at anytime.
Newburyport Town Beach: 5 chicks fledged, Nog dogs May 15 to October 15, On leash all year.
Point of Pines, Revere: 1chick fledged, Private.
Revere Beach: 8 chicks fledged, No Dogs April 1 to September 30.
Winthrop Beach: 6 chicks fledged, No Dogs April 1 to September 30.
Yirrell Beach, Winthrop: 3 chicks fledged, No Dogs April 1 to September 30.
The Gloucester Animal Advisory Committee members and the three volunteer Piping Plover monitors present at the AAC meeting January 24th (Deborah Cramer, Heather Hall, and myself) were stunned when city council liaison Jen Holmgren announced that all the councilors had decided, under the direction of yourself and Councilor LeBlanc, against addressing the dog ordinances in regard to the Piping Plovers. The reason given by Jen, amongst several (see second to last paragraph), was because “they (the councilors) have already been dealing with dog ordinances for five years.”
Deeply concerned, I contacted Councilor Memhard the following morning. As a City Councilor, he too was very surprised to learn what was said of him. Councilor Memhard was under the impression, as are we, that we are all working toward a change in the ordinance.
There has been some kind of breakdown in communication in moving forward in our efforts to help the Piping Plovers.
The all-volunteer AAC has done an outstanding job in researching, and in their recommendations, on how better to help these tiny threatened birds that each spring call Good Harbor Beach home.
Mayor Romeo Theken’s administrative office, Mike Hale and the DPW, Chief McCarthy and the Gloucester Police Department, along with Animal Control, plan to provide greater support in the coming months. The members of the Animal Advisory Committee, under the excellent leadership of Alicia Pensarosa, and the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover volunteer monitors are a stellar group of individuals who have worked tirelessly to help our little Piping Plover family.
As a community, I hope we can continue to work together to give the Animal Advisory Committee members and the volunteer monitors all the support needed to ensure we successfully fledge chicks.
All that being said, the greatest threat to the Piping Plovers is the lack of common-sense dog restrictions at Good Harbor Beach during the month of April, coupled with only partial enforcement of the current ordinances during the bird’s nesting season.
During the entire month of April 2018, we observed the nesting pair of Piping Plovers regularly encounter interruptions from dogs off leash running through the nesting area, dogs chasing the birds, and dogs—just being their sweet curious selves—coming up to the PiPl while they were courting, mating, and feeding. Eventually, the pair were completely driven off the beach and forced to nest in the parking lot. The PiPl perceived the parking lot as the safest place because it was early in the season and the parking lot, for the most part, during the off season is a low-traffic area.
The PiPl had made a nest on the beach and would have begun hatching eggs a full ten days to two weeks earlier if they had not been driven off the beach and forced to establish a new territory in the parking lot.
The importance in allowing the birds to nest early cannot be overstated. If our Piping Plovers are allowed to nest early in the season, their chicks could well be on their way to fledging by time the summer tourist season is in full swing.
Piping Plovers have been shown to have tremendous fidelity to their chosen nesting site. There is one male documented who for fifteen springs nested at nearly the exact same location, arriving on exactly April 13th each year.
Additionally, a statement was made by Councilor Holmgren at the AAC meeting that she personally felt that dog owners who had not broken the rules should not be “punished” by changing the ordinance to disallow dogs from the beach beginning April 1st. This misses the point entirely. No one in any way shape or form is trying to “punish” fellow dog owners. It has been documented on Good Harbor Beach, as well as in numerous studies, that simple, normal dog behaviors negatively impact the nesting and feeding of innumerable species of shorebirds, not just the threatened and endangered Piping Plovers.
Out of a total of eleven Piping Plover chicks hatched at Good Harbor Beach since 2016, only one has survived. I think as a community we can do much, much better than this, but we need everyone working together, with the proper ordinances in place, to help the AAC and Piping Plover monitors do their work.
Dear Friends and Volunteers of Gloucester’s Piping Plovers,
I hope so much everyone is having a great winter and, despite the usually freezing temperatures, is able to get out and enjoy.
I am writing to let you know that this coming Tuesday, February 26th, at 7:00pm, Gloucester’s City Council is voting on an issue that will have tremendous impact on our Piping Plovers.
The single, most important issue facing the Piping Plovers is prohibiting dogs from beaches where they are nesting. This must begin on April 1st. I don’t have to tell our volunteers how incredibly important this change will bring because we were all witness to countless dog disturbances, particularly during the month of April. Innumerable dogs constantly disrupting the nesting area are why our PiPl pair was forced into the parking lot, a highly unusual and dangerous outcome.
Without the ordinance change in place for the month of April, there is nothing that the police, the Animal Control Officers, or the volunteers can do to enforce disruptions. From eleven eggs hatched on Good Harbor Beach in recent years, only one chick survived. I know that with support from the community in regard to the ordinance changes, the odds of chicks surviving will increase exponentially.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA), which also applies to threatened species, specifically prohibits the “taking” of Piping Plovers. Taking doesn’t only mean killing, taking also includes harassing, harming, and removing. The ESA requires Federal agencies to take action to prevent further harm and harassment, and our City is at tremendous risk for fines and beach closure, not to mention the terrible publicity it would bring.
To be clear, dogs are not the only issue affecting the Piping Plovers, but they are the reason they were driven into the parking lot. I am writing to you as a former dog owner, and as a member of a family who hopes again to one day welcome another dog into our lives.
Gloucester’s Animal Advisory Committee submitted the Piping Plover recommendations and ordinance changes after many months of solid research. City Councilors Scott Memhard, Melissa Cox, and Paul Lundberg put forth the ordinance change. Councilors Steven LeBlanc, Sean Nolan, and Jamie O’Hara then held a special Ordinance and Administration meeting, voting unanimously to bring the ordinance change to City Council, which brings us to this coming Tuesday.
Now it is up to us to show up in full force Tuesday night!!!
If you wish to speak in favor of the ordinance change, Alicia Pensarosa from the Animal Advisory Committee has forwarded some guidelines, which I think you will find helpful if you do not have experience giving public testimony. Here is the link:
If you would like to show your support for the PiPl, but don’t want to give testimony, you can simply come forward, state your name and address, and say, YES, I am in favor of the ordinance changes.
As you know, a small group has been spreading a great deal of misinformation on this issue, which has made the PiPl discussion much more challenging and convoluted than necessary. Please, please come show your support for the Piping Plovers and the ordinance changes to prohibit dogs from beaches where the birds are nesting. Deborah Cramer, Heather Hall, and myself will be giving testimony, and we will only be successful if we have many more. Also, you don’t have to be a Gloucester resident to come.
If you have any questions, please email Heather, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please let either of us know if you a planning to attend.
Attached are my notes that were presented to the City Council back in January when we first became concerned that the ordinance changes had been deliberately stalled. Also attached is a copy of the ordinance the councilors will be voting on, a list of articles about how dogs threaten the PiPl, and probably the strongest argument regarding the safety of the PiPl is a list of Massachusetts beaches, the number of chicks fledged at each beach, and the dog ordinance at each beach. I compiled this list from the Mass Wildlife 2017 Census Report, and added the dog ordinances, beach by beach. As you can see, April 1st is the cut-off date chosen by the vast majority of coastal towns.
Please don’t feel like you have to read everything attached; it is only provided to help give background. Just come Tuesday night, and say YES, you are in favor of the ordinance change. Thank you, dear Friends of Gloucester’s Piping Plovers.
You may recall that several weeks back we posted a photo of a Killdeer nest with four eggs. I only discovered the nest because each and every time anyone walked past, a Killdeer would call shrilly and drag its wings through the dunes in a dramatic display of “broken wing” trickery. I would often play along and see how far away the Killdeer would take me until one morning I decided to see what it was they were hiding.
Killdeer Broken Wing Distraction Display
Off to the side of the path that leads to the beach, not more than six feet away, was a loose scrape of dirt and sticks, with four perfect Killdeer eggs!
I had no idea when they had been laid, so there was no way of knowing when the chicks would hatch. Each morning on my way to check on the Piping Plovers I’d take a peak, until one day there weren’t any. How sad I thought, and wondered if a predator had eaten the eggs. But the nest had not been disturbed and there were no broken egg shells. A mystery.
The following morning I checked on the Piping Plover nest in the parking lot. It was drizzly but there were two Killdeers near to where the PiPl exclosure is located. I sat in my car watching the adult Killdeers when to my delight and amazement, out tumbled four teeny chicks from under Mama Killdeer. A car makes the perfect blind and for quite some time I photographed and filmed the Killdeer family.
Off and on during that rainy day I stopped by to check on the Killdeers. Because of the weather, the parking lot was virtually empty. Tiny tufted black, brown, and white feather balls atop overly long spindly legs, the baby birds spent all their time zooming here and there, foraging on itsy bitty insects in the grass and gravel.
When not foraging, they would run under Mom or Dad to warm up on that damp drizzly day. Just like Piping Plover chicks, Killdeer chicks are precocial birds and can feed themselves within hours after hatching however, because they are so tiny, they lose body heat relatively quickly. The chicks need the warmth provided by snuggling under Mom and Dad.
The next morning it was still drizzling, and the Killdeer family was still in the same location! I watched them for a bit, when a man showed up with his dog. The Killdeer parents went into high alert and did their best distraction displays. The dog chased the adult Killdeers around the parking lot while I spoke with the man. It is the same man who brings his dog to Good Harbor Beach via the footbridge end at the close of the day, after the lifeguards and dog officers have left. This was a tremendous problem last year after the Piping Plovers hatched. Last summer I was too busy preventing his dog from squashing a PiPl chick to get his license plate number, but not this time. The man and his dog left the parking lot.
Moving to the marsh
Shortly after the dog encounter, both Killdeer parents led the chicks into the marsh. To see the chicks navigate over the incline at the edge of the marsh was amazing; it must have seemed like fording a mountain to them. I’ve looked but have not seen the family since. I am hoping that they are thriving and growing in the marshland.
We don’t hear as much about Killdeer Plovers because they are not an endangered species. Killdeers are found in every state of the continental US, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America. They are the least shorebird-like of shorebirds because they breed and dwell in many types of habitats including grasslands, fields, urban areas, gravel pits, airports, parking lots, athletic fields, and golf courses. Despite their super ability to adapt to human habitats, it is a species in decline.
Killdeers begin courting in our area in March. Although I imagine they have been nesting at Good Harbor Beach for a longer period of time, I only have a record of Killdeers nesting at GHB going back three years and it is yet another important reason as to why humans and pets should not be traipsing through the dunes.
It is difficult to tell the difference between a male and female Killdeer unless they are side-by-side, and even then, still challenging. The male is a bit larger.
Pictured above are the beautiful mottled eggs of a different species of plover, the Killdeer. Notice how the Killdeer eggs look similar to the PiPl eggs, but are a deeper gray. Killdeers make their nest scrapes on the ground, just as do PiPl, but in gravel and soil, and the darker colored eggs are perfectly camouflaged amidst the sticks and stones. Conversely, Piping Plover eggs are beautifully camouflaged when laid in sandy nest scrapes.
Stay tuned for wonderful news about our Good Harbor Beach Killdeer Family.