Sauble’s Piping Plovers: Thoughts and Reflections on the 2018 Season
On July 17th, our 2 surviving Piping Plover chicks were almost 5 weeks old, and were spending time inside the perimeter ropes at the North end of the beach. Dad (Blue Bands) had been seen piping, and heading out over the water, in the morning, and has not been seen since. *
It was extremely windy on Sauble on the 17th, and the chicks were seeking shelter from the wind behind driftwood, debris, and hillocks of sand.
It isn’t easy to find them with all this untouched vegetation and “washed-ashore” treasure! The young Plovers blend right in....
After a good half hour of napping, Red Dot and Blue Dot woke up to see what they could find to eat. Squinting into the wind and blowing sand, they decided on their next course of action.
Instead of heading down to the shore to forage, the 2 chicks moved back into the heavier vegetation together,
where they fed in a way in which I have not seen them feed before. They were reaching up into the low leaves, and seemed to be finding small insects in this dense vegetation.
Perhaps the strong winds discouraged them from hunting for food along the open shoreline. This feeding behaviour was new to me, and speaks once again to the necessity of allowing the growth of natural vegetation during our Piping Plovers’ time on Sauble.
Red Dot and Blue Dot were seen a few more times the week of July 16, and were then spotted on Chantry Island on August 4.** They seem to be doing a tour of the area before embarking on their long flight South.
A little further down the beach, in an area that had been frequented by the Plover family in previous weeks, raking has been done, and the area is barren and open. Sand was blowing up into the dunes, and out into the street through the walkways.
This spot had been used as a resting spot by Blue Bands and his chicks between their forays into the drainage ditch (July 7).
All of the debris has now been pushed to the edge of the ditch, and there is a new area of “clean” sand to the North.
There were no other birds to be seen on the beach on July 17, but it is possible that some were hunkering down out of the winds.
Unfortunately, it has been another challenging year for Piping Plover chicks on Sauble Beach. Predation is always a major issue as our Plovers attempt to nest and raise young:
Merlins, with their insatiable appetites for shorebirds, predate both juvenile and adult Piping Plovers.
Young chicks are under constant siege from Gulls and Crows. Ring-billed Gulls, seemingly relentless in their desire to kill and eat Plover chicks, are especially threatening during the first 10 days after hatching. They usually take their prey from open areas of the beach.
Larger Herring Gulls are less common on Sauble, but they are also aggressive predators.
The use of dead Gull decoys has not been successful as a deterrent!
Given the chance, Gulls and Crows will steal Plover eggs, but the placement of exclosures over new nests prevents (egg) losses to these larger birds. While they hunt during the daylight hours, other predators threaten the Plovers under the cover of night. Cats, Skunks, Rats and Mink have been sighted in and around the perimeters, and the latter 2 are able to climb between the wires of the exclosures to steal eggs.
Raccoons (cute as they are!), can pose a threat to eggs and chicks.
All predators have become increasingly prevalent on Sauble Beach, largely due to the presence of humans and the inevitable food/garbage that seems to follow in our wake.
Foxes are sometimes seen lurking in the dune grasses during the dawn and dusk hours, and they would be pleased to have a meal of Plover eggs or chicks. It is hard to believe that this lovely animal could be a threat, as it watches the sun set over Sauble Beach!
Dogs are also a threat to adult and young Plovers alike. I saw people with off-leash dogs on every evening that I visited Sauble Beach this season. Some of them were running after Frisbees and balls beside the perimeter ropes, and in and out of the dunes where the Plovers were feeding.
So many strikes against the little birds.....
The struggle to share the beach with Piping Plovers and other non-human forms of life continues. A few questions come to mind as we make decisions as to how to move forward in ways that will support all of the species that call Sauble Beach “home”:
1. How will we “manage” the beach? Will we honour the efforts of people like the late Geoff Peach (who has given us a beach management plan based on Science and knowledge)?
At the present time, MNRF has lifted their “Stop Work Order”, and is allowing raking of the beach, in spite of extensive erosion and loss of sand. The town is facing charges for tilling and bulldozing work that was done last year. Raking this season was done while the Plovers were still on the beach, but was supposedly restricted to areas not being used by the birds.
(Photo by Don Kennedy)
We continue to focus on the PIPLs as the reason for “managing" the beach. We have placed one species at the centre of the
“to rake or not to rake” (or bulldoze!) debate. However, the needs of many other species of flora and fauna, as well as the beach itself, need to be considered in our planning and managing.
It is August, and there will soon be other shorebirds stopping on Sauble Beach in search of food to sustain them on their long flights Southward....
the odd Ruddy Turnstone,
and Semi-palmated Plovers,
to name a few, are all migrants that can be seen on the beach in August. Foraging opportunities need to be considered for these visitors!
2. What is our plan for managing predators, and how will it change to prevent the huge losses suffered by the PIPL population every year?
3. Will we finally allow incubation and captive-rearing of eggs/chicks that are abandoned? Abandonment frequently occurs when nests are washed over and covered with sand; or when one parent is lost to predation, and the other parent leaves the eggs when he/she cannot incubate alone.
I have other questions, but this blog is long enough!
I would like to add these thoughts:
We have been hearing that the Piping Plovers like a “clean”, open beach, and that for this reason (among others), the beach should be raked bare. We have been told that the Plovers are nesting at the North end of the beach because of the work that was done in the Spring of 2017.
Here are some photos of the Plovers in the area of the North nest that is being cited as an example of success because of the cleaning that took place. While it may be true that the removal of some of the larger Willows created space for the birds to nest, it is also true that much was left behind, and it was in this “messy stuff” that the Plover chicks fed and took shelter and survived (4 last year and 2 this year).
The following 2 photos were taken last year not far from Huron Feathers in a vegetated, flooded area. 3 chicks survived to fledge in 2017 from this nest.
In contrast, these Plovers, nesting after the others had chosen sites with vegetation, tried to raise their young on open areas of the beach, with no plants or driftwood left for cover. All of the chicks in 2 nests (2017 and 2018) were depredated.
Piping Plovers seem to nest in both protected and unprotected areas of the beach, but for 2 years in a row, the first choices for nesting sites have included plant growth and debris. While the chicks are still safely enclosed in their eggshells inside a wire exclosure, they are well-protected. Once they hatch, they simply cannot survive on an “open, cleaned” beach.
As the 2018 Piping Plover season draws to a close on Sauble Beach, we wish our “Summer Birds” favourable weather conditions, and strength, and an abundance of food as they head out into the big, wide world. Their diminutive size certainly belies their persistence and tenacity in the face of increasing challenges....
May they return next Spring to a welcoming, safe haven!
* It seems fitting that Don Kennedy was the last person to see Blue Bands on the beach before his departure. One wonders if the little Plover might have been piping his thanks and farewells to his dedicated protector and guardian.
** Thanks to Pamela Creighton Katch for posting her lovely photos of the Plover chicks on Chantry Island on the Plover Lovers Facebook page!
Many thanks to all of the Volunteers and people who have worked behind the scenes as we struggle to help the PIPLs to survive their stay on Sauble Beach.