Small Victories Define the 2021 Shorebird Nesting Season

banded Osprey fledge

by Jamie Bogart, Lloyd Center Research Associate

As many birders turn their attention to the beaches, from which birds that nested are departing but to which other shorebirds are arriving and flocking as they prepare to migrate south, we reach that time of summarizing how the season went on our sites.

As of last writing, we had witnessed some hard losses, including nest abandonment of the renown Bakers Beach parking lot pair of piping plovers, which had enjoyed multiple successful seasons, and the loss of our oldest pair of ospreys whose platform had been stolen by a Canada Goose pair that lingers around the platforms each season but didn’t actually nest in them until this year.

On West Island, the predators, particularly fox, didn’t relent, and no nests hatched on the island for the first time ever. A whopping 15 nests between 8 pairs (4 town beach, 4 DCR) were taken, including one renest that was due to hatch and had escaped the high tides of Tropical Storm Elsa, but succumbed to the jaws of a roaming canine on July 10. The pair on the spit near the town lot, while making a valiant third attempt after abandoning its exclosed nest, also lost its nest to a canine predator. While the outcome was unfortunate, this is truly a natural cycle, where a sustained subpopulation of plovers has the thorough attention of some forest dwelling predator(s) which are currently targeting the nests. We take our losses now knowing the birds will bounce back.

Back in Westport, a happier ending occurred at Bakers Beach, where a second pair ultimately produced two fledges that reached the 25-day fledge date on July 24. After losing the first nest to crow on the open sandy berm in mid-May (but allowing us to secure space for quite a large Ghost Crab colony within the plover fencing), the pair renested in early June further west in a dense patch of beach grass. Predation rates tend to be high on the sandy beaches west of Horseneck to the Westport River, so just reaching the hatching stage is quite a feat in this location with the dense vegetation protecting from the high numbers of both crow and

Plover chick with adult

coyote that dwell there. This is also the first time since we’ve worked the site that a pair other than the parking lot pair of Bakers Beach has produced young. While spending initial time in fencing near the nest, as often happens, the birds ultimately settled in the dunes of Horseneck, which offers good cover and an intertidal food source in close proximity. Next season, while our attention will be on the return and resurgence of the parking lot pair, we expect this other pair to return to its site as many pairs that succeed often do, and we’ll protect and monitor the site again.

For ospreys, we were able to partner with Mass Audubon’s Osprey Program to get bands attached to some of our young. We banded two fledges from our platform down near the dock, and for the first time, we banded a fledge from the pair on Little River. Where will these fledges land when they depart the region? Banding the birds makes long term tracking and research possible.

Tune in next year when we’ll be back on the avian battlefield ready to protect the birds!