It feels so good to be able to say this: 7 Piping Plover chicks are nearly ready to fly from Sauble Beach and begin their long journey south!
The beach looks different than it did a week ago. There were no birds at the northern area of the beach on Monday evening or Tuesday morning (July 17-18). Blue Bands left a few days ago, and Ms. Green Dots took her leave the week before. Their 4 chicks (our "North Nesters”) have joined Flag Boy and his 3 little ones down around 3rd Street. They have found a shallow pond in front of Huron Feathers in which to feed
with a female Mallard (who put on quite a show for us!),
and a group of Sanderlings.
The young Plovers were doing some chasing of the Sanderlings....
and from time to time they would stop and check the sky for predators.
It was wonderful to see them learning to defend themselves against real (and imagined) dangers. A young Gull harassed the chicks a few times, swooping and chasing, and the chicks all flew short distances ahead of it. (Apparently this Gull didn’t realize that the chicks are past the 10-day-food-for-Gulls stage! Flag Boy chased the Gull out of the area, and the Gull was dead on the beach the next morning, so perhaps it was not healthy. Or maybe Flag Boy is more aggressive than we thought......)
Good old Flag Boy
takes the responsibility of caring for 7 busy little Piping Plovers very seriously. He stays close to the pond when they are there, and occasionally feeds with 1 or 2 chicks along the shore.
Of course he takes some time for himself too, and enjoys a cool bath in the pond with the chicks.
In the mornings, the birds have been making their way down to the shore to feed,
and spreading out in all directions. When people walk by, the Plover chicks are now able to move aside, and then return immediately to their feeding. Very different from a week ago when a parent would pipe them away from the shore if human feet were in the area!
For this week at least, all of the chicks and Flag Boy return to the pond at some point during the day to rest,
and try out their wings. They were not doing much flying on Monday evening -- a few short flights across the pond were the extent of the flying practice on that day. However, other observers have seen extended flights from all of the chicks, and it seems safe to say that all have officially attained “fledge status”.
The chicks from the 2 nests do not look all that different at this stage. Of course the North Nesters are more competent “flyers”, having had the advantage of 7 additional days of practice.
I have cropped these 2 photos so that we can see the heads of the young Plovers -- hard to tell them apart anymore! The older chicks look slightly larger/“fuller" when they are standing side by side.
North Nest Chick (31 days old)
Flag Boy’s Chick (24 days old)
I love the little “eyebrows”, and the soft baby fluff on the back of their necks:
Here are some portraits of each of the 7 chicks, beginning with the older North Nest chicks. Their tail feathers are more developed than their "week-younger” friends.
X , L (137) : O (Red Dots) , L/O/L (I still think we should call these our LOL Chicks!!)
X , L (203) : O (Green Dots) , L/O/L
X , L (123) : O (Yellow Dots) , L/O/L
X , L (125) : O (Blue Dots) , L/O/L
Sometimes it is almost impossible to read bands. Other times.....
Flag Boy’s Chicks:
X , B (136) : O (Green Dots) , O/B
X , B (121) : O (Red Dots) , O/B
X , B (119) : O (Yellow Dots) , O/B
And here are the 2 “Red Dots” together!
It was close to 9:00 p.m. when I left the beach on Monday evening. Flag Boy was trying to pipe everybody up into the dune grasses, and he had to be quite firm with a few of the uncooperative chicks. He chased them with his head down, and tried unsuccessfully to herd all 7 into one spot.
Eventually he gave up. A few of the chicks were ready to settle for the night,
and Flag Boy and the others wandered back down to the pond to wait for the sun to set over the lake.
It was a touching moment --- a small group of endangered birds and a few quiet people enjoying a peaceful sunset, on what may be one of the last evenings on Sauble Beach for our 2017 Piping Plovers.
Go safely, little ones!