Good news! 7 Piping Plover chicks have officially made it through the Canada Day Weekend on Sauble Beach. Somehow, these 7 little birds have survived Gulls, Crows, a busy beach, fireworks, and all of the other threats which have, unfortunately, reduced the number of chicks from 12 to 7 over the past weeks.
Photos in this blog were taken on June 26....I will gather some together from the Canada Day Weekend for the next time. I took too many photos again (!), and will therefore separate them into 2 blogs. As always, photographs were taken from a good distance (except for those of Flag Boy, because he doesn’t seem to be bothered by close encounters, and actually seems to approach us when we are on the beach).
The 4 chicks at the north nest have fared well. There is plenty of vegetation for cover, and an absence of crowds at this end of the beach. Of course Merlins, Dogs, Cats, Foxes, bikes, etc. could still be of danger to our “North Four”, but we celebrate approximately 18 days of survival with these wee birds!
The chicks were about 10 days old in these pictures. They hatched on June 16-17. There is a relaxed feel to this whole northern nesting site which is not present at other nests on the beach. The chicks are able to feed readily at the shore without a great deal of interruption.
One of the chicks is very independent, and often goes about its business alone. A light breeze blew a feather across the dunes on Monday evening, and the chick gave chase, eventually catching the feather and carting it around in its beak for a few minutes. It is almost as if this Piping Plover family has the luxury of being able to play!
The other 3 chicks seem to spend most of their time together, or at least within sight of one another.
Ms. Green Dots and Blue Bands are very diligent parents, and remain close to their young charges. They pipe if someone walks along the shore, and try to make sure that everyone stays a good distance away from the babies.
At 10 days, there is some “wing stuff” happening!
Moving south, we come to the summer residence of Flag Boy and Ms. Sunshine. Their 4 chicks were less than a week old on the 26th (hatched on June 23), and look a great deal smaller than the ones at the north nest. As I walked around the perimeter on the west side, Flag Boy greeted me with a few soft pipes. I thought I was just looking at Flag Boy, but realize now that there is a chick underneath him.
I stepped back about 10 feet, just in time to see chicks making their way out of the dunes, and heading for the shelter of Ms. Sunshine!
It was easy to see the 4 at this time, as they dove under their mom one by one.
“Chicks? Nope, haven’t seen any."
And just when Mom thought she had them all tucked in safely, out popped a chick!
Almost without exception, the chicks climb out from a brooding session, stretch their wings once, and then take off running.
Like their relatives to the north, this Piping Plover family has plenty of vegetation for camouflage. They also have some wet areas around the edges of their nesting area (outside the perimeter) where they like to forage. The area between the rope and the shore is quite wide, and there is a great deal of “people traffic"; as a result, it is challenging for the “Mid-Nest” birds to feed along the shore. As long as the sand stays wet, perhaps they can find enough to eat in the swampy areas.
The south nest is located near the Volleyball Courts, in an extremely busy area of the beach. On Monday afternoon (June 26), the chicks (which had hatched on June 21) seemed stressed and agitated, as did the parents. 1 chick had been predated the day before, and by the time I left on Monday night, there were only 2 chicks left. There were no Gulls or Crows in the perimeter, but there were a few outside to the south, and it may be that they were responsible for these predations.
Peggy was feeling some discomfort from her injury (no foot), and hopped on one leg for most of the afternoon. She tried to keep her 2 chicks on the north side of the perimeter, but she looked tired and a bit bedraggled, I thought.
There is very little cover on the south part of the beach, and this fact may have contributed to predation as well. The chicks were completely “out in the open” in most areas of the site.
When it was Mr. No Bangles’ turn to look after the chicks, he took them down near the shore, where the 3 birds tried to dodge people in order to feed. The chicks were continually being “piped” back to their father near the safety of a log.
Unfortunately, this little family could not survive the pressures of inadequate habitat (lack of cover), crowds of people, and predation (likely by Crows and/or Gulls), and the chicks disappeared over the course of their first week of life. Peggy was seen several times to the north of the nest, but there has been no sign of either adult bird now for several days.
It is disappointing to watch these valiant little birds as they choose a nest site, incubate eggs for nearly a month, and then try desperately to raise their young in an inhospitable location...
By Thursday, June 29, Nest 2 had lost all 4 chicks, and Nest 3 had lost 1 of its 4 (on June 28 to a Ring-billed Gull), leaving 7 chicks at 2 nests to face the busy weekend. All 7 chicks were banded on June 29. (Apparently the last chick from Nest 2 was banded as well.)
The Sauble Beach Piping Plover chicks have, amazingly, made it through the holiday weekend. We wish them well as they forge ahead into their “learning-to-fly” days. If you haven’t had a chance to visit yet, the next week would be a great time to see some wonderful Piping Plover action!
*I would like to extend special thanks to Julian, a “Volunteer Extraordinaire”. Julian is a Secondary School student who has very generously offered his time to be present on the beach with the Piping Plovers. He spends every morning monitoring the nests, checking on the Plovers, and speaking with beachgoers. Thank you, Julian, from all of us (humans), and from the Sauble Beach Piping Plovers! We really appreciate your commitment.