PLEASE NOTE THE CHANGE OF MEETING PLACE. THE MEETING WILL BE HELD AT THE FRIEND ROOM AT THE SAWYER FREE LIBRARY.
Animal Advisory Committee Meeting Thursday, August 23rd, at 6:30. This meeting is being held at the Friend Room at the Sawyer Free Library.
Lest anyone has forgotten, a beautiful pair of Piping Plovers tried to establish a nest on Good Harbor Beach during the month of April. Time and time again, they were disrupted by dogs–dogs off leash on on-leash days, dogs running through the nesting area, and bird dogs chasing the birds up and down the shoreline. This was witnessed multiple times during the month of April by the Piping Plover volunteer monitors.
Piping Plovers face many man made problems and natural predators however, the two greatest threats at Good Harbor Beach are dogs and crows. Changing the ordinance on Good Harbor Beach to help the Piping Plovers will at the very least allow them to nest in their natural environment. Our parking lot nesting pair were extremely stressed having to defend both territories, the parking lot nest and their roped off territory. Please let Mayor Sefatia and city councilors know that you support the change in ordinance to restrict dogs on Good Harbor Beach during the month of April.
Thank you for your help!
The following series of photos shows why it is so critically important to not allow dogs on Good Harbor Beach during shorebird nesting season, which begins April 1st on most Massachusetts beaches.
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.
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).
ANIMAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING THURSDAY AUGUST 2ND AT 6:30PM AT CITY HALL. PIPING PLOVERS ON THE AGENDA.
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.
Please come and show your support for endangered and threatened shorebirds in Gloucester. Thank you!
On the Agenda:
- Open session for public comments.
- Approval of meeting minutes from 7/12/18.
- Review of ACO reports and citations.
- Piping Plover protections: ordinance recommendations.
- Clark and First Parish Cemetery -dog walking.
- Event planning
- Annual report
The chicks of threatened birds such as Piping Plovers and Least Terns evolved to blend perfectly with their surrounding shoreline nesting habitat. This trait helps afford protection from hungry predatory birds flying overhead, birds such as hawks and owls. Because they are so well camouflaged, the shorebird nestlings are at great risk from fast moving pets and unknowing beach goers.
PIPING PLOVER RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE MAYOR FROM THE PIPING PLOVER VOLUNTEER MONITORS ~
July 9, 2018
Dear Mayor Romeo Theken and Gloucester City Councilors,
We, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, are submitting our short list of recommendations regarding the Piping Plovers nesting at Good Harbor Beach. Our goal is to have in place by next April 1, 2019, measures and ordinances that will greatly increase the likelihood that the hatchlings of this tiny threatened shorebird will have a fighting chance at surviving life on Good Harbor Beach.
Piping Plovers began nesting at Good Harbor Beach in 2016. Each year, the PiPl are coming earlier and earlier. In 2016, they arrived mid-May, in 2017 they arrived at the beginning of May, and this year, they arrived on April 3. It would appear that the same pair is returning to Good Harbor Beach, as the male marks his territory and attempts to build a nest scrape only several feet from the previous year’s nest (at Boardwalk #3 nesting area). More Plovers than ever were seen at Good Harbor Beach this spring, and if not for constant interruptions in the Boardwalk #1 nesting area, we would have had two pairs nesting on the beach.
Why are the birds arriving earlier and earlier? We can presume that the pair are more experienced travelers and that Good Harbor Beach is their “territory.” Does this mean we will eventually have dozens of pairs nesting on Good Harbor Beach? No, because the PiPl are very territorial and they will defend a fairly large area, preventing other PiPl from nesting in their site.
This year the PiPl pair hatched four chicks. All four chicks were killed by crows, gulls, and dogs. All three are human-created issues, and all three can be remedied. The following are the four recommendations and actions we wish to see take place.
1) Change the dog ordinance to not allow dogs on the beach after March 31.
Currently, dogs are allowed on the beach from October 1 to May 1. The Piping Plover volunteer monitor core group, Dave Rimmer from Greenbelt, Ken Whittaker, and Mass Wildlife’s John Regosin, all agree that dogs should not be allowed on Good Harbor Beach beginning April 1, but that it would be safe for Piping Plover fledglings and other migrating shorebirds for dogs to return after September 15.
This new suggested time frame will allow birds to nest on the beach (as opposed to in the parking lot), with far less interruption, shorebirds will nest earlier in the season, which will help with the chicks survival rate, and the chicks will be stronger by the time Good Harbor fills with summer crowds.
This is a very logical and simple solution. Disallowing dogs on Massachusetts coastal beaches where shorebirds are nesting, beginning April 1, is the norm. Allowing them to return after September 15, and in many cases after September 30, is also very common. For Piping Plovers and other nesting shorebirds, protecting their habitat and sharing the shore is a matter of life and death.
2) Rope off the nesting area by April 1.
Poles, with threatened species signs, and a triple row of roping of nesting sites, to be in place no later than April 1. Essex County Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer will assist with this measure.
3) Enforce the existing ordinances regarding dogs (and littering) at all times throughout the year.
Only enforcing dog ordinances at Good Harbor Beach during nesting season is creating hostility toward the Piping Plovers.
Additionally, we do not recommend extremely high fines as we feel that may become an impediment to issuing and collecting the fines. We know of at least one example where the magistrate dismissed the tickets issued to a woman who claimed to have a service dog. This woman was running rampant on the beach and throughout dunes with her service dog off leash throughout the entire time the PiPl were nesting, from April through May. Despite the fact that former dog officer Diane Corliss caught the woman on camera with her dog off leash on the beach, and in the dunes, all her tickets that were issued by the animal control officer were dismissed. This is neither fair to the officers who are working hard to keep the dogs off the beach or to the plover volunteers who are spending inordinate amounts of time trying to keep the PiPl safe.
4). Increase trash collection.
When no barrels are placed at the entrances to the beach, people dump bags of trash there anyway. When barrels are in place, people put trash in the barrels however, when the barrels become full, they again resort to leaving bags of trash behind, only next to the barrels. In either scenario, gulls and crows are attracted to the trash. Both gulls and crows rip open the bags and the trash is blown throughout the parking lot and marsh, soon finding its way onto the beach and into the ocean. Hungry gulls and crows waiting for people to leave their trash behind eat tiny shorebirds.
A friend who lives on a North Carolina beach shares how her community keeps their public beaches looking pristine. Not only do they have barrels, but every few weeks, police patrol the beach and hand out fines for littering. This is taken as a wake up call, everyone is good for a bit of time, but then become slack about littering again. Out come the officers for another round of ticketing.
Thank you for taking the time to consider our recommendations.
cc Paul Lundberg, Steven LeBlanc, Val Gilmam, Ken Hecht, Melissa Cox, Jen Holmgren, Scott Memhard, Sean Nolan, Jamie O’Hara, Dave Rimmer, Ken Whitakker
Least Tern eggs are astonishingly well camouflaged on a pebbly beach, making them nearly impossible to see. It’s easy to understand why the species is threatened, and in some regions, endangered. Least Terns nest on sandy beaches with little vegetation, the same type of beach habitat that people love. Piping Plovers and Least Terns often nest in association with each other. In Massachusetts, the Least Tern is considered a Species of Special Concern.
Mom and Dad Least Terns take turns brooding the eggs. Here they are changing places. Least Terns are monogamous and the Rosetti’s Least Terns are especially good parents.
Unlike Piping Plovers, they cannot feed themselves and will be fed for the next eight weeks by Mom and Dad, a diet consisting mostly of tiny fish.
First day venturing away from the nest, and then returning to Mom for warmth and protection.
Almost as adorable as are Piping Plover chicks are Least Tern chicks. However, they are much, much harder to film and to photograph. Least Terns are shyer of humankind than are Piping Plovers. Anyone who has seen PiPl in action know that they have a high tolerance for people and may come right up to you especially if you are standing perfectly still and are perfectly quiet. Least Terns on the other hand are elusive and skittish. The nestlings quickly take cover behind a rock or clump of beach vegetation when disturbed. The Mom and Dad when both courting and nesting will let you know if you are too close by dive bombing and if you still can’t take a hint, will poop on your head. If either happens, then you know for sure you are way too close and are interfering with the chicks feeding. Back away and observe from a more considerate (considerate-to-the-Terns distance that is).
Unfortunately, I recently observed a fellow photographer repeatedly being dive-bombed by a nesting pair of Terns, and that person has a humongously long telephoto lens. She would have gotten perfectly lovely photos from a distance more respectful of the Terns.