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.
One-day-old chicks foraging at the shoreline on a foggy Memorial Day Monday
It was a beautiful Memorial Day weekend in more ways than one. Piping Plover chicks have been hatching all around Massachusetts this past week and I was fortunate to observe two nests with a total of six one-day-old chicks zooming around beaches. We’re so blessed that our Good Harbor Beach pair are also on a relatively early track, which greatly increases the chicks chance of surviving.
Mama and Papa spent the weekend on the crowded beach incubating their eggs and foraging. Ironically, I think they benefitted from beach goers picnics (minus the gulls and crows). Papa spent a busy Monday morning pecking at the sand and devouring mouthfuls of large tasty black ants.
The most joyous story about Cape Ann wildlife during the summer months of 2018 is the story of the high number of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and meadows, seen not only in strong numbers along the Massachusetts coastline, but throughout the butterfly’s breeding range–all around New England, the Great Lakes region, Midwest, and Southern Canada.
Three days after celebrating the two week milestone of our one remaining Piping Plover chick, Little Pip, he disappeared from Good Harbor Beach. It was clear there had been a bonfire in the Plover’s nesting area, and the area was overrun with dog and human tracks. The chick’s death was heartbreaking to all who had cared so tenderly, and so vigilantly, for all those many weeks.
Our Mama and Papa were driven off the beach and forced to build a nest in the parking lot because of dogs running through the nesting area. Despite these terrible odds, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair hatched four adorable, healthy chicks, in the parking lot. Without the help of Gloucester’s DPW, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, Ken Whittaker, Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, and the AAC, the parking lot nest would have been destroyed.
These brave little birds are incredibly resilient, but as we have learned over the past three years, they need our help to survive. It has been shown time and time again throughout the Commonwealth (and wherever chicks are fledging), that when communities come together to monitor the Piping Plovers, educate beach goers, put in effect common sense pet ordinances, and reduce trash, the PiPl have at least a fighting chance to survive.
Little Pip at twelve- through seventeen-days-old
All four chicks were killed either by crows, gulls, dogs, or uneducated beach goers, and in each instance, these human-created issues can be remedied. Ignoring, disregarding, dismissing, or diminishing the following Piping Plover volunteer monitor recommendations for the upcoming 2019 shorebird season at Good Harbor Beach will most assuredly result in the deaths of more Piping Plover chicks.
Not one, but at least two, healthy and very hungry North American River Otters families are dwelling at local ponds, with a total of seven kits spotted. We can thank the fact that our waterways are much cleaner, which has led to the re-establishment of Beavers, and they in turn have created ideal habitat in which these beautiful, social mammals can thrive.
Several species of herons are breeding on our fresh water ponds and the smaller islands off the Cape Ann coastline. By midsummer, the adults and juveniles are seen wading and feeding heartily at nearly every body of water of the main island.
In order to better understand and learn how and why other Massachusetts coastal communities are so much more successful at fledging chicks than is Gloucester, I spent many hours studying and following Piping Plover families with chicks at several north of Boston beaches.
In my travels, I watched Least Terns (also a threatened species) mating and courting, then a week later, discovered a singular nest with two Least Tern eggs and began following this little family, too.
Least Tern Family Life Cycle
Maine had a banner year fledging chicks, as did Cranes Beach, locally. Most exciting of all, we learned at the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird meeting that Massachusetts is at the fore of Piping Plover recovery, and our state has had the greatest success of all in fledging chicks! This is a wonderful testament to Massachusetts Piping Plover conservation programs and the partnerships between volunteers, DCR, Mass Wildlife, the Trustees, Greenbelt, Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.
Cape Ann Museum
Friends Jan Crandall and Patti Papows allowed me to raid their gardens for caterpillars for our Cape Ann Museum Kids Saturday. The Museum staff was tremendously helpful and we had a wonderfully interested audience of both kids and adults!
In August I was contacted by the BBC and asked to help write the story about Monarchs in New England for the TV show “Autumnwatch: New England,. Through the course of writing, the producers asked if I would like to be interviewed and if footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing, could be borrowed for the show. We filmed the episode at my friend Patti’s beautiful habitat garden in East Gloucester on the drizzliest of days, which was also the last day of summer.
Mama (left) and Papa (right) return to Good Harbor Beach on a bitterly cold day, April 3, 2018.
Part Two: Spring
By Kim Smith
The return of Mama and Papa Piping Plover to Good Harbor Beach filled our hearts with hope and heartache. Although not tagged with a definitive id, we can be fairly certain they are the same because the pair attempt to build their nest each year within feet of the previous year’s nest. Not only did our returning pair try to nest on Good Harbor Beach, there were two additional pairs of Piping Plovers, and several free-wheeling bachelors.
The GHB Bachelors
Papa guarding all-things-Mama
Papa and Mama courting, building a nest scrape, and establishing their territory on the beach.
The PiPls are forced off the beach by dogs running through the nesting area. They begin building a second nest in the Good Harbor Beach parking lot.
Each spring the Good Harbor PiPl have returned earlier than the previous, which show us that the pair is gaining in maturity, and in familiarity with the area. Tragically, at the time of their arrival in April, dogs are permitted on the beach. Dog traffic running through the Piping Plover nesting area was unrelenting, despite signs and roping. The Plover family never caught a break, and were soon making overtures at nesting in the parking lot.
Even with desperate calls for help and repeated warnings from the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, owners continued to allow off leash and on leash dogs to run freely through the PiPl’s nesting area, daily forcing the PiPl off the beach. They were at first torn between maintaining the territory they had established on the beach or establishing a new territory on the white lines in the parking lot. After one particularly warm sunny Sunday in April, they gave up completely on their beach nest scrape.
We learned that during the month of April, dogs at Massachusetts barrier beaches, such as Good Harbor Beach, not only endangers the lives of threatened Piping Plovers, but many species of migrating and nesting shorebirds.
On May 5th, the first egg was laid in the parking lot. Thanks to Gloucester’s amazing DPW crew, a barricade around the nest was installed within hours of the first egg laid. Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer soon followed to install a wire exclosure around the parking lot nest.
No shortage of vandals.
Garbage left on the beach brings predatory gulls and crows and they, too, became a serious threat to our Piping Plover family after the chicks hatched. The lack of a common sense ordinance to keep dogs off Good Harbor Beach during the month of April, the unaware dog owners, the garbage scavenging gulls and crows, and the vicious vandals are absolutely our responsibility to better manage and to control. For these reasons, and despite the kindness and care of dozens of PiPl volunteer monitors, as well as good people from around the community (and beyond), the Piping Plovers face terrible odds nesting at Good Harbor.
Scroll down to the end of the post to find links to some of the dozens of stories that I have written about the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plovers. Many communities throughout Massachusetts and coastal New England have in place common sense management rules and are successfully fledging chicks. I wrote about that extensively during the summer months and you will find a list of the posts regarding that topic in Part Three: Summer
Most of the Snowies from the great Snowy Owl irruption of 2017-2018 had departed for their Arctic breeding grounds by the time the Piping Plovers arrived to Cape Ann beaches. This was a relief as I imagined that the Piping Plovers might make a tasty meal in the mind of a Snowy Owl. Thinking we’d seen the last of Hedwig and all Snowies, Bob Ryan called to let us know there was a Snowy Owl hanging around the distillery. I jumped in my car and raced right over. She appeared in good health and stayed for a day.
We did learn weeks later that during July and August there were still a few Snowies remaining on Massachusetts beaches and, from examining their pellets, it was clear they had been eating Piping Plover adults.
I was deeply, deeply honored to receive Salem State University’s Friend of the Earth Award.
and to give my conservation program about the Monarch Butterflies as their keynote speaker.
In May, three Wilson’s Plovers were spotted briefly on Good Harbor Beach. This was a very, very rare northern sighting, especially so as there were three.
The Young Swan of Niles Pond was released by Lyn and Dan, only to lose his life later in the spring.
Amelie Severance sent us a lovely and detailed drawing of the Young Swan
A fabulous Green Heron was photographed and filmed on an area pond–signs of a great summer season for all species of herons, yet to come.
For the past several years, at least, Killdeers, which is another species of plover (although not endangered) have been nesting in the dunes at Good Harbor Beach. This year we had, at a minimum, two successful nests!
All four chicks hatched and, at only one-day-old, made the epic journey to the beach. Miraculously, four teeny tiny mini marshmallow-sized baby birds, led by Papa and Mama, zigzagged across the parking lot, trekked through the dunes, and landed within feet of the parent’s original nest scrape.
Only one chic, the one PiPl volunteer monitor Heather names Little Pip, survives into summer.
The question should really be what don’t they eat in the world of insects and diminutive sea creatures. Over the past two summers I have filmed PiPl eating every kind of beach dwelling crawly insect and marine life imaginable.
Piping Plovers eat freshwater, land, and marine invertebrates. Their general fashion of foraging is to run, stop, peck, repeat, all the day long, and during the night as well.
Run, Stop, Peck
When foraging along the wrack line and up to the dune edge Piping Plovers eat insects, both alive and dead, including ants, spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles, along with insect larvae such as fly larvae. Foraging at the intertidal zone, Piping Plovers find sea worms, tiny mollusks, and crustaceans, as well as crustacean eggs.
When the chicks get a little older they will learn how to do a sort of foot tamping technique where they rapidly shake their feet in the sand to stir up crustaceans. I have yet to see our chicks do this, but soon enough.
The purpose of discontinuing to rake the beach to help the Piping Plovers is twofold. Not raking in the nesting site creates a habitat rich in dry seaweed and dry grasses, which attracts insects, the PiPl food on dry land. Secondly, raking in the vicinity of the Plovers after they hatch can be deadly dangerous to the chicks. Not only is there danger of being squished, but also, they can easily become stuck in the impression in the sand made by the tires of heavy machinery.
This morning I had a disagreeable conversation with a woman about her unleashed puppy. She feigned lack of knowledge about the dog ordinances, but aside from that, she informed me that her large puppy would be “afraid” of a chick. And there seems to be a frustrating lack of understanding about where the chicks forage. We can only share again that the Piping Plovers, both adults and chicks, feed from the dunes’s edge to the water’s edge, and everywhere in between. Sunrise and sunset are not safe times to walk dogs on the beach because Piping Plovers forage at all times of the day, and into the night. Adult birds can fly away from a person or dog walking and running on the beach, but a shorebird chick cannot.
Big Beach, Tiny Chick ~ Sixteen-day-old Piping Plover Chick Foraging at the Ocean Edge