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  • Merri-Lee M.

12. Last Birds on the Beach

2 adult Piping Plovers were left on the beach at Sauble last weekend (July 17). M1 and F1 were also the first birds to arrive on the beach, and lost their first nest with 4 eggs to a storm on June 8. They re-nested a little further north, but only had 2 eggs this time (likely due to the stresses of second nesting).



M1 and F1 had been taking turns incubating, waiting for their 2 eggs to hatch. This nest was our last hope for chicks this year. We have gone from 18 eggs to 2 eggs, and had high hopes for the success of these 2 little chicks.

On the morning of Monday, July 18, the first egg hatched, and a healthy, active chick emerged, ready to run and eat and brood within the first few hours. These photos were taken Wednesday, when the chick was about 2 1/2 days old. (There is a Gull feather in the background of the first picture that emphasizes the size and vulnerability of a young Piping Plover.)

Both parents were keeping a close eye on their little one, and taking turns brooding.....

and chasing Gulls that ventured a bit too close to their chick.

If a Gull flew overhead, the chick was being taught to flatten itself near a log or piece of driftwood.

Driftwood is an extremely important source of camouflage for the Plovers. Look closely!

The adult Piping Plovers were both watching over the chick, and the little family was staying close to one another. The chick was even doing some pre-flying exercises as its proud parents looked on.

At one point, the adults almost seemed to be engaging in some mating behaviours. Not sure what that was about....

During the early afternoon, the egg that remained in the nest was being left unattended, as it had been for the 2 previous days. MNRF was preparing to retrieve the egg, because it was thought that the egg would not hatch.

We were all surprised to see the male Plover suddenly run to the nest inside the exclosure, and park himself on the single egg. And we were even more surprised about 15 minutes later when Grace, our youngest volunteer, announced that she could see a chick in the nest. Sure enough, a wet little chick had emerged from the egg that had not been incubated for 2 1/2 days. (Perhaps the parents were incubating at night? Even so....) M1 ran out of the nest with part of an eggshell in his mouth, past the Mylar tape and decoys that are meant to discourage Gulls, and pushed the shell into the sand. (The Gulls watched, undeterred by our efforts to scare them off.)

There was a small crowd of people watching and marvelling at the miracle that was a tiny, damp Piping Plover, brand new to the

world---- against all odds.

Even the chick's older sibling couldn't believe it!

It was touching to see the older chick as it snuggled its baby brother or sister; it seemed to be trying to assist the parents as they brooded and kept watch.

It wasn't long before both parents were taking turns pushing the baby underneath themselves, and then encouraging it to walk short distances to brood.

The adults were in a hurry to move the new chick out of the exclosure as soon as possible. It is likely that they wanted it to begin moving around and feeding, but the chick seemed weak and unable to walk more than a few steps.

The adults (and often the sibling) would move away from the chick and encourage it to come and brood.They would wait a few moments, and if the little one couldn't make it to a parent, one of the parents would move to the chick and sit with it.

When we left the beach at about 7 p.m., the chick was staying very close to the adults, and was toppling over when it tried to walk. However, we were hoping for the best. It had 2 very attentive, protective parents and an older sibling cheering it along!

The next morning, we heard that the chick was still not moving around a great deal, but seemed to be holding its own. The parents had their work cut out for them fending off Gulls and Crows. Disappointingly, at about 9:30 in the morning, a Crow scooped up the tiny Plover. It was less than a full day old.

Both parents turned their complete attention to the older chick. It was doing all of the things that would be expected of a 5-day old Piping Plover on Saturday afternoon, when a hungry young Gull took this last chick, and with it our hopes of sending off a single fledgling from Sauble Beach for the 2016 season. F1 had left Saturday morning, and was seen wandering north of the nest for a day. Hopefully she has begun her journey south, as many of the female Plovers have done. M1 piped along the shoreline side of the perimeter, looking into the spot where his nest had been. He has stayed near the nest site for the past 2 days feeding and piping, wandering and wondering.

And we are left wondering too. How could we have changed the dismal outcome of the summer of 2016 at Sauble?

7 adult Piping Plovers set up residence on the beach in the spring. At least 3 were depredated, and 2 others left, or are unaccounted for.

18 eggs were laid. 4 were washed over in a storm, and 8 were abandoned when 2 of the adults were taken. 6 eggs hatched --- 1 of them, miraculously, after 2 1/2 days of non-incubation.

All 6 chicks were depredated.

It is time to think about some better ways of accomplishing our goal of bringing the Piping Plovers back from the brink of extinction.

It is time to examine our options, and to be open to one another as we engage in dialogue and express our views.

And it is time for MNRF to respectfully consider the ideas, advice, and opinions of knowledgeable, caring, experienced people who are serious about enabling the recovery of an endangered species.

The fate of the Great Lakes Piping Plovers will be determined by our ability and desire to work together toward the common goal of managing and protecting this at-risk population. Only if we are able to set aside politics, a need for control, and an unwillingness to change detrimental policies will we succeed in our efforts to assist the Plovers as they struggle to survive and increase their numbers.

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