So proud to live in Massachusetts, a state where the lives of threatened and endangered shorebirds that nest along our coastline, birds such as Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oyster Catchers are considered worth protecting.
Despite all that the State government is trying to manage with the pandemic at its very peak, a huge shout out to Governor Baker and his administration for continuing the fight to help protect Piping Plovers. The Governor’s list of essential workers includes natural resource workers and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has placed symbolic roping and threatened species signs on DCR beaches.
For over forty years, people have been working to rebuild the Piping Plover population and it will only add to the coronavirus tragedy if we cease protecting threatened and endangered wildlife.
The PiPls are having a tough time of it this spring, largely because so much of their overwintering habitat was ravished during last year’s Hurricane Dorian. Let’s all work together to share the shore with wildlife and to protect our own Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover family.
Males and females are pairing up at local beaches
Male PiPl building a nest scrape and tossing bits of shells and sand into the scrape.
Female PiPl keeping out of the path of gusty winds.
Hard to miss in the wintertime both at Crane Beach and at Plum Island are the layers and swirls of pink and purple sand. On a recent visit to Revere Beach I noticed there were also rivulets of pink and purple sands.
The pink and purple are mineral deposits of rose quart and garnet and come to north of Boston beaches via the White Mountains. Water and wind worn rock is carried in river waters until it meets the ocean and becomes deposited on barrier beaches. We mostly see the garnet and quartz deposits in winter as storms erode the dunes, leaving the heavier minerals exposed. During the spring and summer, the lighter white quartz sand blows back over the dunes and covers the heavier sand.
JEOL is a supplier of electron microscopes, ion beam instruments, mass spectrometers and NMR spectrometers. On a visit to Plum Island looking for Snowy Owls, several JEOL employees found purple sand. They analyzed it using an optical microscope, a scanning electron microscopes (SEM) and an energy dispersive X-Ray spectrometer (EDS).
At first look under the optical microscope, the granules of sand appeared like scattered jewels of many colors; predominantly glassy pink angular grains, with smaller quantities of milky white rounded grains, clear angular grains, black grains (some magnetic and some not), and even the occasional green.
What could be the cause of the purple color? The answer was one that came as no surprise to the scientist, but was exciting for the beach walkers because they had an exact answer to a question that no doubt is one that many people have when they visit Plum Island – which was actually named for its beach plum bushes, not the plum-colored sand.
When large amounts of fine grained pink is intermixed with a smaller number of darker grains and dampened by rain or sea water the human eye will “see” the sand as a much darker pink to almost purple. The two most common pink minerals are rose quartz (while quartz is one of the two most common minerals on earth, the pink rose quartz variety is not so common ,especially in the New England geology, and is found only in a few isolated pegmatite deposits in NH & southern Maine which are where most gemstones originate) and the solid solution series of almandine and pyrope garnet which is also a very common mineral (and is quite common in the Seacoast area from the abundance of metamorphic rocks called mica schist and from contact metamorphism. This is also why many commercial sandpaper products have a pink color as the angular hard gains of almandine / pyrope garnet are the perfect abrasive. The most likely candidates for the white and clear are any of the feldspars and or quartz. The green is most likely epidote. Just based on the optical examination these are no more than educated logical guesses (but still guesses).
Vern Robertson, JEOL’s SEM Technical Sales Manager, originally examined the grains under a low power optical stereo microscope with the above conclusions. In addition to providing technical and scientific support to JEOL SEM customers for a multitude of applications, Vern holds a degree in Geology. After a cursory look optically, it was time to get down to some spectroscopic analysis to determine the actual mineral species present in the sand.
Individual grains of various colors were selected and mounted for examination with the JSM-6010LA+ InTouchScope SEM and for analysis using EDS. The SEM allows much higher magnification imaging with greater depth of field than a traditional OM and the low vacuum capability allows examination of the sample without the traditional conductive coating that needs to be applied for SEM imaging. However, it generates images in only black & white (electrons have no color!). One specialized detector in the SEM, the Backscatter Electron Detector, yields images with the gray level intensity directly proportional to the average atomic number (or density). This means that minerals containing only lighter elements like O, Si are darker in appearance to minerals that contain heavier elements like Fe or any of the metallic or rare earth elements.
Once located, each grain can be analyzed with the EDS. When an electron beam hits a sample it creates not only an image from the emitted electrons but creates X-rays, which when collected in a spectrum, indicate what elements are present and at what concentrations. This allows not only the elemental composition of the individual grains to be determined but the concentrations can be compared to known stoichiometry of the suspected mineral grains. The combination of color and magnetic properties from OM examination and the chemical makeup of the individual grains yield the answer.
The purple color (or more appropriately, pink color) comes from the abundance of almandine-pyrope garnet with a nominal solid solution composition of Fe3+2Al2Si3O12 to Mg3+2Al2Si3O12. As expected, the white grains are a mix of feldspars but mostly K-feldspar (potassium alumino-silicates) and quartz SiO2. The black nonmagnetic grains were a mix of a pyroxene called augite which showed its characteristic strong cleavage, (Ca,Na)(Mg,Fe,Al)(Si,Al)2O6 , and a mix of ilmenite FeTiO3 and hematite Fe2O3 which are the magnetic components. The green was confirmed to be epidote Ca2(Al,Fe)3(SiO4) 3(OH). With the exception of the high concentration of garnets the rest are common minerals one would expect to find in sands.
ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING THURSDAY AUGUST 2ND AT 6:30PM AT CITY HALL. PIPING PLOVERS ON THE AGENDA.
Dogs romping within the clearly posted and cordoned off nesting area in April, forcing the Piping Plovers off the beach and to nest in the parking lot.
This past spring and summer we had a tremendously difficult time with our nesting bird symbolic fencing. The posted and roped off area is referred to as “symbolic” because it is not an actual physical barrier, but a visual warning to let people know to keep themselves and their pets out of the cordoned off area. People often ask, why can’t more permanent fencing be placed around the nesting area? After nearly thirty plus years of working with Piping Plovers, biologists have established that physical fences placed on the shoreline and in the wrack area are all too easily washed away by high tides, create safety issues and, too, you wouldn’t want to trap dogs and predators within a nesting area.
The difficulty with our metal posts is that they were knocked about and pushed down with nearly every high tide, dragging the roping into the sand as well. The rope and posts needed almost daily righting.
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which successfully protects Piping Plovers and other endangered birds at dozens of Massachusetts beaches have come up with what appears to be a good fencing solution for areas within tidal zones. DCR uses long, narrow fiberglass rods which can be pushed easily into the sand. The poles are strung with two rungs of roping, and in some places three rungs. I measured the distances between the poles at Revere Beach; they are placed about every twenty to twenty four feet.
In early spring, before the Piping Plovers and Least Terns have nested, historic nesting areas are roped off. After a nesting pair establishes a territory, a second row of poles and roping are added around the perimeter of the nesting area. The fiberglass poles can be adjusted without too much difficulty.
Wooden poles are used to post the nondescript, but informative endangered species signs. According to DCR staff, the only time they have complications with the fencing is when the wooden posts are tied into the fiberglass poles and the tide takes both down.
I don’t understand why the fiberglass poles are less likely to shift in the tide, but they don’t shift and appear to work very well in the tidal zone–perhaps because they are flexible and less rigid. If anyone knows the answer to that, please write.
PIPING PLOVER VOLUNTEER MONITOR GOOD HARBOR BEACH NESTING AREA FENCING RECOMMENDATION:
Symbolic fencing of the two historic Piping Plover nesting areas roped off between March 15th and April 1st (boardwalk #3 and boardwalk #1).
Fiberglass poles placed every twenty feet to twenty four feet.
One to two rungs of roping.
Wooden posts with endangered species signs installed at the same time and in place by April 1st, but not attached to the fiberglass poles.
When active nest scrapes are identified, adjust exisiting fencing, and add a second row of fencing around the perimeter.
To the outer perimeter of fiberglass poles, use three rungs of orange roping attached to the poles, extending all around the perimeter. One rung at 12 inches above ground, one rung at about 24-30 inches above ground level, and the top rung at four feet above ground level.
Piping Plover volunteers monitor fencing and adjust as needed.
The above photo, taken at Good Harbor Beach in early April, shows why it is so important to have the signs and roping in place by April 1st. People and dogs were playing in the nesting area while the PiPl were trying to nest. The photo below shows that a second, and even a third rung of roping, placed at dog height, may help to keep dogs out of the roped off area.
Examples of symbolic fencing areas at Revere Beach and Nahant Beach. Notice the double row of fencing and the double and triple rungs.
Information is unambiguously posted at Revere Beach.
Piping Plover chicks finding shelter in the roped off nesting area on a hot summer day.
While filming wildlife over the past week at Revere and Winthrop Beaches, it has been fascinating to see the sand sculptures taking shape for this weekend’s festive International Revere Beach Sand Sculpting exhibit and competition. The theme is “Celebrating Literacy,” and the sculptors have created interpretations of favorite works of literature written for children, teens and adults. A storybook castle is the centerpiece of the exhibit. It’s all so beautifully ephemeral. The whimsical sculptures will be gone next week.
The festival begins today, Friday, July 20th and runs through Sunday, July 22nd. A ferris wheel and merry-go-round add to the fun, and a fireworks display over Revere Beach is scheduled for Saturday night. The event is free and open to the public. Attached is the complete schedule. For more information visit: http://reverebeachpartnership.com/
To better understand how to help Gloucester’s Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers survive nesting at our most well loved and highly trafficked beach I have been following a little Plover family at Revere Beach.
Like Gloucester, Revere is a city north of Boston. Only ten square miles, with six miles of land, four miles of water, and a population of 52,000 people, Revere is a much more densely populated city than Gloucester. Gloucester’s year round population is 28,000, covering an area of 41 square miles, with 26 miles of land and 15 miles of water.
Revere Beach is the first public beach established in America (1895). Misperceptions about a needle and trash littered shoreline are deeply held but in reality, Revere Beach is a beautiful beach, beautifully maintained.
Each year Revere Beach hosts the International Sand Sculpting Festival, with amazing sculpting competitions, amusements, food, and fireworks. This year’s festival will be held on the weekend of July 20-July 22nd (photo courtesy wiki commons media).
Piping Plovers began arriving at Revere Beach at the same time the GHB PiPl arrived, in late-March and very early April. There are at least half a dozen nesting areas cordoned off for Piping Plovers. Revere has had excellent success with fledging Piping Plover chicks because the PiPl are allowed to establish nests early in the season, without disturbance. From decades of field work, it is known that the earlier the chicks hatch, the greater their chance of survival.
I stopped by to check on the Revere Beach PiPl family on a recent Sunday afternoon; it’s not that out of the way to make it part of my regular routine coming home from Cambridge and Boston jobs. And then stopped at Good Harbor Beach. The difference was astounding. There wasn’t any trash or dog poop on Revere Beach, and there wasn’t a dog anywhere along the five mile stretch of beach. There were however six dogs off leash at Good Harbor Beach within the twenty minutes that I was there to say hello to PiPl monitor Heather and to check on our PiPl parking lot family.
Perhaps you might not think a fair comparison; Revere Beach is much longer than GHB, and it is under the management of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation but I did not see a single DCR employee or officer policing Revere Beach that dog-and-trash-free Sunday afternoon.
Over the past several decades, communities throughout Massachusetts have been learning how to live with Piping Plovers. I am hopeful that the more we learn about the issues confronting the Piping Plovers, the Gloucester community will come together to take the steps to insure their safety and successful nesting.
There are a great number of helpful signs at Revere Beach.
The triangular-shaped signs that are posted at the PiPl nesting areas are on the small side, only about 8 inches.
Just like at Nahant Beach (above) many of the roped off areas at Revere Beach have three rows of roping.
At Revere Beach dogs are not allowed on the beach beginning April 1st. The rules are clearly posted at each and every entry to the beach. The signs and poles aren’t fancy and I imagine would be affordable and easy to obtain.
The Gabe and Gabby Family with their leashed dog on the boulevard, sitting next to a PiPl nesting area–no problem for this family to keep their dog off the beach during nesting season.
Plenty of trash barrels.
Some folks are under the false impression that the reason our GHB PiPl are nesting in the parking lot is because when they arrived it was cold and the parking lot hard pack is warm. Factually speaking, Piping Plovers arrived at beaches all along the Massachusetts coastline in mid-March and early April. As far as we know, the Good Harbor Beach PiPl are the Only Piping Plovers nesting in a parking lot.
Male Plover nesting at Revere Beach. The Revere Beach PiPl were creating their nest scrapes on the beach at exactly the same time our GHB PiPl were trying to establish a nest on the beach.
Just like our GHB PiPl family, it looks like there are four eggs in the Revere Beach nest!
Next time I stop to visit the Revere Beach PiPl family, I am going to have to bring home some Kelly’s roast beef sandwiches for dinner. I’ve heard the seafood is pretty good at Kelly’s, too!