Plovers Take Hit at Demarest Lloyd; Finish Strong at Horseneck and West Island (Shorebird Season Wrap-up)

click to enlarge

On Wednesday August 16, the waters of Horseneck Beach were closed due to an offshore hurricane creating choppy seas. With all shorebirds having fledged and departed fencing had been removed and any birds migrating through were forced to high ground along the foredune. The open beach, recently filled with large sections of shorebird habitat, was now filled with beachgoers free to roam with their eyes on the surf. Another shorebird season had by all indications come and gone.

The last Shorebird writing depicted a rather gloomy scene at Horseneck. There was unprecedented nesting and fencing on the public beach, predators were feasting on a higher abundance of nests, and road closures and driving restrictions to protect a few hatchlings paralyzed vehicle travel. Tern nests in more protected areas had been heavily predated, along with plover nests on the public beach. Fox and gull were predators not previously mentioned that surely were present, with gulls obviously abundant due to taking beachgoer “picnic items”, late tern nests and likely some young chicks.

However down the stretch some fledging occurred for both plover and terns. For the plover broods hatching from the restoration area some chicks vanished, presumably from predation, but some fledging occurred from each of the three pairs. Furthermore (and perhaps most importantly), no birds were crushed by motor vehicles. Although the productivity was relatively low from the restoration areas near the buildings, any plover success there is an achievement considering the myriad of obstacles the birds most overcome to reach the intertidal zone below. For Least Terns, ironically, the sub colony on the public beach that caused havoc early on was the most successful! No tern pairs in areas of reduced fencing abandoned nests, and the chicks from these areas managed to find safe refuges during crowded days. The central area of the public beach where terns converged in a refuge initially created for plovers ultimately had the most vibrant sub colony on the site, with many young chicks and fledges visible late in the season, and most of which successfully fledged.

click to enlarge

Thankfully, plovers were highly successful along the stretch of dunes at Horseneck’s west end which continued to offer optimal vegetative cover and close access to the intertidal zone, especially considering most hatched without predator exclosures. All together five nests there produced 16 fledges for 23 total fledges and 1.5 chicks fledged per pair at Horseneck overall. A decline from last year’s 2.4 productivity value, but considering the increase in nesting pairs to protect and challenges faced, this was a very respectable outcome for plovers at Horseneck.

Over at Demarest Lloyd the positive news was that three additional nests hatched. However, after early overwash and nest loss to predators, predation remained substantial with most hatchlings lost within a week after emergence. While the beach was covered with coyote tracks, we again suspected birds of prey as hatchling predators. Great Horned Owl surely took young birds early on. We’ll never know for sure what happened to the one unfledged chick that appeared after it was thought that all chicks were gone. The bird wasn’t seen after day 22 (fledge date is 25 days), but the confirmation of a Peregrine Falcon at the site August 23 doesn’t bode well. We assume the chick got predated by the falcon, which has passed through on my prior seasons in August. A rough season at beloved Demarest Lloyd, but the birds will rebound on a site with exemplary habitat for shorebirds, they always come back to nest again.

To end on a positive note, the final nest at West Island hatched, for productivity identical to last season (2.0 chicks per pair) and 10 fledged chicks, the most fledges in five years. Natural predators remain tuned in to the relatively small, densely clustered plover population, but after a few down years the birds are bouncing back. Our fencing allows the beach to naturally vegetate when it otherwise would get trampled, which allows the birds to grow and the public to still have space. Predators, people, and plovers are coexisting at West Island.

We thank Heidi Cortright for her hard work all season, and Connor Worden for his assistance later part of the season. Tune in next year for surely another crazy shorebird season!