Survivors on the Beach
Our Sauble Piping Plovers have not had an easy summer on the beach. The hot, sunny weather has brought out large numbers of people on a daily basis, making it difficult for the Plovers to access feeding areas. It would be great if the birds would stay inside their roped-off nesting sites, but of course they never do, choosing instead to forage along the shoreline and in the drainage ditches. High water levels have reduced the amount of sandy beach, and the result has been a crowded, noisy environment in which to raise young.
There is some relief from the chaos in the early mornings and evenings, and the birds take full advantage of these quieter times to forage and feed in relative peace.
When I arrived on the beach at around 5 p.m. on July 9, there was only 1 3-1/2-week-old chick to be found. Little “Red Dots” from Nest 1 (looking a bit scruffy and bedraggled, I thought)
was pulling worms and other delicacies out of the stream north of the Variety Store
under the watchful eye of Dad, Mr. Blue Bands.
Every so often, Blue Bands would call loudly in a series of single peeps, and search the shoreline. I think he must have been calling his other chick....
because all of a sudden another little Plover appeared out of the vegetation north of the ditch,
and hurried down along the front of the grasses toward its parent. The chick stopped short when it saw a flock of Gulls lounging on the sand,
then quickly skirted the larger birds, staying hidden in the grasses until it was well past them. Joining its sibling, Blue Dots fed hungrily in the shallow water of the stream.
Blue Bands, satisfied to be able to see both chicks, retired to his spot on top of a hillock of sand. Content to watch quietly for the most part, he did sound an alarm a few times ( a 2-syllable high-low call that was very different from his “Come hither” call).
It was interesting to watch the chicks respond to this message from their Father. As soon as the 2-pitch warning was issued, both chicks ran from the water and flattened themselves against the sandy slope of the creek bank.
They stayed completely still for several minutes, then slowly made their way back into the water.
It was encouraging to see them responding so swiftly and appropriately to their parent’s warning message!
At this time, there are only 3 Piping Plovers left on the beach: Blue Bands and his 2 chicks from Nest 1 have been spending much of their time south of the nest site. Green Dots (Mom) left several days ago, as Mama Plovers will do, and may be on her way South. She was last seen on July 4.
There were originally 4 chicks in Nest 1. The first chick was found dead in the sand on June 22. Although tests have not been completed yet, it is possible that this little one ventured a bit too far from its parents and died from hypothermia. It was only a few days old. The second chick was likely depredated on July 6th or 7th, when it was approximately 2-1/2 weeks old. Here is “Little Green Dots” about a week before he/she disappeared:
Both chicks at Nest 2 were depredated as well. The first chick went missing on June 25, a day after it was banded. New Blue and Sunshine lost their second chick on July 4 at approximately 2 weeks of age. The other 2 eggs in the nest had not hatched, and in spite of hopes that they might re-nest, this pair soon left the beach (although they were sighted together briefly on July 13).
As of today, the 2 remaining chicks are 4 weeks old. They have been seen trying out their tiny wings, and should soon be flying short distances.
They are finding plenty of food in and around their drainage ditch, which seems to be fairly clean, and supports a large population of tadpoles--how on earth have they survived all the kids with nets and pails??
Red Admiral Butterflies puddle in the wet sand around the stream.
There is welcome relief from the noise and frantic activity of the day as evening falls on Sauble Beach, and 3 tiny birds feed gratefully along the quiet shoreline....
Edit August 20th:
July 20th was the final day that Blue Bands and Little Red Dots were seen on the beach.
Little Blue Dots was last spotted on August 2. We hope that they have made it safely to their wintering grounds.....