plover egg

by Jamie Bogart, Lloyd Center Research Associate

On May 23, the first hot weekend day arrived, and with it crowds of people swarmed beaches, much to the dismay of any beach or salt marsh nesting bird species. These birds experienced a steady flow of human activity as people ventured out more than they did a year ago, when the pandemic had people more cautious, but not in the numbers seen today, comparable to when sustained hot weather arrives. So the timing is right for our update on our shorebird protection, management, and monitoring efforts, as the season nears the Memorial Day weekend, when more people will be back out in force.

Like last year, the predators (fox, crow, coyotes) have the upper hand as the season nears the midway point. On West Island Town Beach in Fairhaven, an estimated four pairs of piping plovers made six total nesting attempts, including at least two pairs renesting once thus far. On the state /DCR portion (for which the Lloyd Center is again providing some assistance), three of four pairs have also entered the renesting phase, with fox a confirmed predator also on that more pristine portion of the island. West Island overall has extensive woodland, salt marshes, and a residential community, which attracts additional potentially problematic wildlife, not to mention predators are “funneled” directly to the prey resource on the beach. Nine nests from an estimated eight total pairs on the island have been lost due to predators thus far.

Unlike last year, the two nests with predator exclosures were abandoned, with visitation by avian predators that may perch on the cages always suspected in these cases. However, we can never rule out some unintended human causes such as errant dogs, kites, or drones, each of which may cause disturbance to incubating birds, particularly those at exclosed nests which are more prone to abandonment than unexclosed nests.

Plovers will nest into July, so plenty of time exists for success, and Bakers Beach birds are already at it again, including recent scraping acti

osprey eggs

vity in the lot not far from the originally abandoned nest. Will the Bakers pair claim the parking lot again for another try? Will there be also be nesting on the beach edge in the dunes where activity is occurring? Time will tell as we continue to appreciate and admire the painstaking efforts and sacrifices made by the Bakers Beach family to assist us in protecting these endangered birds in their private parking lot each year. At West Island, we expect another attempt by the pair on the town spit as well. We’ll be deciding whether or not to exclose the renests. While we’ll have to wait longer to see hatchlings this year; that’s why any plover season runs April to August.

Also at work are our Osprey pairs on the salt marshes, which we manage less intensively, but keep tabs on productivity. Three platforms had three eggs each under incubation on May 12, two on the Slocum River, including the one near the pier on the Center’s property, and one on Little River. As usual, we expect hatchlings in some combination of these platforms next month.

This is one less Osprey pair than usual, which brings to light the “Osprey” story of the season. Our oldest platform, reinforced in April in preparation for the Osprey, was instead claimed by a pair of Canada Geese! Each season, a pair of geese bounces from platform to platform early on, but is ultimately evicted by the Ospreys. This season, possibly due to the late arrival of one of the adults, the geese claimed the platform. A pair was seen on the marsh, but departed to presumably a different platform. While we miss this osprey pair, the geese provide an opportunity for education as a species that has become extremely abundant as a breeder in the state, and is a focus of our winter waterfowl surveys as a migrant. We’ll take advantage of this opportunity to see how the goose pair does, while anticipating Osprey young in other platforms.

canada goose on nest

So as the summer season arrives and people venture out to the shore, take a peak at our osprey platforms if you’re on a paddle, to see these fish hawks (and the geese!) , and be vigilant on beaches where we must coexist with the beached birds protected under federal and state law. Stay clear of fenced areas, don’t fly drones over the beach, keep kites (including kite surfers) from drifting over or crashing into fenced areas, don’t leave trash on the beach, and secure the dog which can step on eggs if it enters a refuge area.

Stay tuned for the season summary in August, and enjoy the summer!