by Jamie Bogart, Lloyd Center Research Associate
As Memorial Day weekend arrives, Piping Plover season is in full swing. Many nests are under incubation, hatching looms for a few pairs, and terns are showing up at some sites. Nesting began in late April, with a nest discovered on West Island Town Beach on April 25th, with our partnership with the Town of Fairhaven for the site entering its sixth season. A Christmas storm created extensive new habitat which was promptly used by this first pair.
At Bakers Beach, our other now familiar partner, the famed parking lot pair laid their first eggs on April 28th, one month sooner than last season; the hatch date only a week away. Both sites have succumbed to some mammalian predation, with a few nests predated by coyote and skunk on West Island (a site with ongoing predator issues), and the dune nesting pair on Bakers Beach by a fox. But these pairs are scraping away with renests already appearing on West Island, and more to come for a long season ahead.
New this season is the Lloyd Center returning to its roots, resuming management of some plover sites managed decades ago when protection efforts first started. These include a cluster of small sites west of the Westport River mouth (Elephant Rock, Richmond Pond, Acoaxet) and Salters Pond right next door to the Center. These sites, in addition to having mostly small numbers of breeding pairs of plovers annually, are sites with high avian diversity year-round, including in winter, when we conduct winter waterfowl counts of the ponds. A pair each has nested at Elephant Rock and Richmond Pond, the nests going strong last check. At Salters, seven pairs are being monitored, including six at “South Beach” and one at “Pier Beach”, the latter scheduled to hatch Memorial Day weekend. With only one nest lost and the rest of pairs on full clutches, this is a good start and a high density of birds for such a small site, a testament to the work done over the years to build up or maintain these subpopulations. As we embark on these new sites, we thank our predecessors for making plover management at them possible.
As summer beach season nears, we offer some helpful reminders to the public who may venture out, and not knowing what the fencing is for. It provides refuge for Piping Plovers, a rare species unique in requiring coastal beaches for nesting, birds which continue to suffer from habitat loss. In addition to their ecological importance, the birds are endangered and protected from disturbance of any kind under law. Their regional importance warranted federal protection, with states including Massachusetts following suit with their own regulations, primarily by way of endangered species “Acts.” We passionately protect the birds for what they are and represent, but there are severe penalties for disturbance of the nesting process, also part of the reason we install fencing. While the young hatchlings are especially vulnerable, they are usually visible, unlike the nests inside our refuges. People (or their dogs) sometimes enter the areas meaning no harm, but could crush nests, which can result in fines even without intent to harm.
So as we prepare to share the beach with the birds, we remind people to respect the space provided by species protected under the law, and which are on the brink from many factors, including climate change. Respect refuge areas, prevent pets from entering them or chasing birds, and look for plover monitors who are there to help educate about this important work and the birds with which you share the beach.
With resources stretched thin these days, we can always use “plover volunteers”, please refer to our website for details on this soon. See you on the sand!