Storms Shape Beaches For 2024 Shorebird Season

by Jamie Bogart, Lloyd Center Research Associate

male plover defensive posture

This past winter and early spring, storms and high tides ravaged our coastal region. For the highly rocky Buzzards Bay shoreline, this resulted in both gains and losses in shorebird habitat nesting. Pond channels and seaside roads filled with sand or even cobble, forcing sand to be placed in roadside piles, and dunes to be restored. Sites anywhere near cobble gained plenty of it, which if not habitat loss, caused subtle changes in distribution of pairs, from locations losing sand to those gaining it.

The famed nesting habitat in the parking lot of Bakers Beach, the longest standing “set back” nest in the region, stands out as important in the face of increasing shoreline erosion and ultimately sea level rise from climate change. The parking lot is sheltered from immediate storm impacts, allowing the pair to choose nearly the same exact nest bowl each year. Our other longstanding site, West Island, is our one beach that gained immense amounts of sand along the entire town beach perimeter, which depicts why historically most habitat has existed on the town beach side. Nearby Winsegansett Heights on Sconticut Neck, which incidentally is our longest continuously managed plover beach and is done in conjunction with West Island, is an anchored “sand spit” that received new overwash of sand, and therefore potential shorebird nesting locations.  

For our more recently acquired sites, both Cockeast and Richmond Ponds in Westport, received large inputs of sand and/or cobble into their respective ponds and along the beaches, with special management needed to prepare those beaches and restore estuary flow. Fortunately, natural plover habitat remained and was protected early at both sites with territorial pairs present and nesting. Closer to home Salters Point and Pond received additional cobble and a slight redistribution of habitat, but pairs are finding space for eggs. At both the DNRT (Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust) and Nonquit barrier beach properties, sand was replenished and habitat therefore enhanced for shorebird nesting.  

Baker’s Beach predator exclosure

At this stage nesting is underway with eggs at most sites. At Bakers Beach, the lot nest received its predator exclosure (one of the few nests exclosed in the region) with the pair next door soon to lay when the moon tide settles. DNRT, Nonquit, and Salters Point, have had four nests apiece, West Island Town Beach and Winsegansett Heights each have had an active nest, with Winsegansett also having an active American Oystercatcher nest. There are more nests to come and with some luck, with weather and predator avoidance, hatchlings will be out as soon as Memorial Day weekend.

As always, we ask for vigilance from the public on all plover beaches as warmer weather arrives and beach recreation season nears, and to remember that while we value our work, laws also protect the species from disturbance. Even accidental harm, if out of negligence, can result in liability under federal and/or state laws.

female plover resting

Please stay out of fenced areas which are installed, to allow these birds to incubate free of disturbance, and prevent balls and other toys from bouncing into nesting areas and potentially crushing eggs.  Kites should not be flown over nesting areas, as plovers perceive these as predators, and some beaches prohibit kites for this reason. Drones are more disturbing than kites, and should not be used anywhere near plover nesting areas. Beach bikes, an activity growing in popularity, should be driven slowly in the intertidal zone, especially when young chicks are around, which monitors will alert you of when they are present.

While dogs and birds can coexist, please follow local dog and leash ordinances or ensure your good dog doesn’t enter fencing, and potentially crush nests, or pursue birds. And finally, don’t leave trash behind, which attracts additional predators that in turn target plover eggs as a prey source, and potentially become a nuisance for other beachgoers.

We hope that most beachgoers see the refuges and birds as an educational opportunity and source of enjoyment, rather than an obstruction to their day, and come away with further appreciation of the sensitive coastal environments on which we share space. Stay tuned for an update on the hatch later in the season, and hope to see you on the sand!