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  • Merri-Lee M.

10. "Hope is the thing with feathers...."

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all.

-Emily Dickinson


A friend reminded me of this poem last week, and I thought about how very suitable it was in the face of the many losses of previous weeks on the beach. No birds or nests have been lost this week, and at the present time 2 pairs of Plovers continue to sit on eggs. Flag Boy has not been seen for several days now, and it is thought that he has made his way to another beach, or has possibly begun his long journey south.

Whether it is "hope" or pure instinct for survival and perpetuation of their species, the remaining birds on Sauble Beach seem determined to succeed with their second nesting attempts. They incubate faithfully, and trade off regularly.

If you look closely, you can see a few of the eggs:

When I arrived on the beach on Friday, at around 5 p.m., there was a male on each nest and no sign of the females. A wicked storm rolled in off the lake at about 6:00, with lightning, sheets of rain, wind, and hail. I waited it out in the car, and hoped that the nests (and the birds on them) would be able to "weather" another crisis. The storm wore itself out by about 7:00, and I headed back down to the shore.

There were no adult birds around, and the eggs were visible. Water had surrounded the exclosure, but had not reached the nest. All of a sudden M1 appeared, and ran back to his nest to sit on the eggs. I walked a little further down the beach, and found both females feeding together along the shore. They were wet and bedraggled-looking, but feeding well.

After a short while, F1 ran back and relieved M1 on the nest.

The other female, Ms. Green Dots, was still feeding a long way from her nest to the north when I left at around 8:00. Poor Port Boy had been sitting on the nest for almost 3 hours, through the storm....

I returned in the morning to a windy, damp, foggy beach. Not a good day for beachgoers, but the birds were loving it! The storm had brought in all sorts of debris, and the drift line was replete with water plants and small delicacies perfectly suited to hungry Piping Plovers.

Even flying insects were plentiful....

It was wonderful to see the birds feeding voraciously, and switching with their mates every 20 to 30 minutes. They were finding everything that they needed along the shore right in front of their perimeter ropes, and did not feel the need to travel long distances from their nests.

It was obvious during the course of the morning that, on this day at least, Sauble was providing ideal habitat for the Piping Plovers. There were very few people to interrupt feeding, no predators bothering the birds, and plenty of food hiding in the wonderful "stuff" that had washed in along the drift line.

Raking of debris and all of the valuable things that wash ashore has been one of the topics of ongoing discussion at Sauble.

While some beachgoers prefer a clean, sandy, debris-free beach, others are happy to have the stones, sticks and water plants left on the sand. People are beginning to understand the importance of a healthy, natural beach. Erosion control, regeneration of habitat, and preservation of natural beauty are a few of the reasons for leaving a beach in its natural state. Camouflage, nesting materials, and food sources for Piping Plovers are also important reasons for not removing natural materials (especially) from the shoreline. The drift line seems to be a crucial feeding spot for the Plovers.

While some raking was done in the days following the storm, MNRF has assured us that no raking will be done within short distances of nests. Drift lines have been left intact for the time being, and it is hoped that the Plovers will have sufficient feeding areas and hiding places as the summer beach continues to be crowded and busy.

Now, if someone could please speak to this Herring Gull about his insistence upon removing debris from the shoreline, and placing it up in the reeds.....he must have missed the memo about leaving the beach alone. Life would be much easier for our Plovers without these big fellows on the beach!

As we move into the final days before hatching, the 2 pairs of Piping Plovers continue to incubate, and feed, and communicate in their own ways with each other about the best strategies for keeping eggs warm and safe. And perhaps they "hope" in their own bird-ways too.

At the same time, we as humans need to continue to strive to embrace best practices, as we attempt to respect and protect these little creatures that have been entrusted to our care. It will be essential for all of us who claim to have an interest in the recovery of this species to work together to ensure some measure of success in these important days ahead.

Hope is indeed "the thing with feathers."

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