A new season of Piping Plover activity has begun on Sauble Beach!
As of today, there are 6 birds on the shoreline in various states of courting and nesting. Others have come and gone, but it looks as though these 6 are hoping to be our resident birds for the next few months.
The couple at the North end was the first to pair off and start a nest. These 2 Plovers were mates in the Summer of 2017, and have chosen to nest in a spot that is a short distance from last year’s very successful location.
The Female is “Ms. Green Dots”. Having hatched at Sleeping Bear Point, Lower Peninsula, Michigan in 2015, Ms. Green Dots has returned to Sauble this Spring for the third year in a row. In 2016, she lost 2 mates (Mr. Lonely and Port Boy) to predation, and was forced to abandon 2 clutches of eggs. In 2017, she and her partner raised 4 chicks, one of which was sighted in Florida during the Winter. This season, her left leg looks to have been damaged, and the foot turns inward. She does not seem to be bothered much by her disability. Her bands are O(Green Dots), O/Y : X, --.
The Male is “ Mr. Blue Bands” (left), and his band combination is read as X, B/O: O, B(025). He hatched at Sauble Beach in 2014.
A few weeks ago, it looked as though the North pair was going to nest right near the point. They were goose-stepping and mating along the shore,
and scraping in the sand at the bottom of the hill near the path.
Much discussion went into the selection of the scrape that would be the Plover pair’s home for the season.
Blue Bands and Green Dots eventually settled on a spot slightly South of the Geoff Peach Walkway. It is now roped off,
and a mini exclosure has been placed over the eggs. The Plovers have been observed taking turns incubating for several days, and their hatch date is estimated at June 15.
Their neighbour slightly to the North, along the rocky tip, is a Spotted Sandpiper.
The second pair of Piping Plovers on the beach has chosen to nest near Fire # 321, not far from Huron Feathers.
The Male is “Mr. ObbO”, and his bands are O, b : X, b/O. He hatched on North Manitou Island at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in 2012, and is our oldest bird. It is wonderful to see a Piping Plover that has survived for 6 years! Mr. ObbO was on the beach last season (2017) for about 10 days, from July 4-14, but left again when there was no mate to be found.
He is checking the sky in this photo, just in case a Merlin is thinking about a Plover meal.
The Female of this pair is “Ms. Sunshine”, and she was a Wasaga Beach chick, hatched in 2014. In 2015, she spent a short time on Toronto Island without a mate, then came to Sauble later in the season. She paired up with a Male at Sauble, and they had a nest on private land, where permission was denied to protect the nest, and the eggs were predated shortly after being laid. Ms. Sunshine teamed up with Flag Boy (a "Papa Plover extraordinaire", who has not been seen this year, unfortunately) in 2017 to raise 3 chicks. They nested not far from 321 last year.
Ms. Sunshine’s bands are X, Y/O:, O, Y(025).
On Sunday evening (May 20), this little pair had just started to incubate, and we hope that 4 eggs are hidden away in their scrape behind the debris. Estimated hatch date is June 18.
For several minutes, Mr. ObbO and Ms. Sunshine snuggled together in their Coltsfoot garden,
before Ms. Sunshine left her mate to tend to the eggs, and headed down to the shore to feed.
She dives right in, and really gets into her foraging...
Heading South along the beach, we find the third pair of Piping Plovers. They arrived much later on the beach, and have not yet established a nest.
The Male is a young bird that hatched in 2016 at Wasaga Beach. His bands are X, B (094) : --, O.
The Female is another Wasaga bird, hatched in 2015.
Her bands are X, Y (062) : O, O/Y.
The 2 little birds relaxed in the sunshine for about 45 minutes before they moved enough that I could see their bands.
It was pretty cold on Sauble Beach on Sunday evening, and there was some cuddling going on .....but that’s all. Maybe these 2 are “just friends”?
When the birds finally decided to move around a bit, they stretched,
and did some scraping and piping.
The Male even moved a few stones and bits of debris around, hoping to impress his lady with some well-honed decorating skills.
Although this pair of Piping Plovers seems to think that their chosen location is suitable, the people trying to watch over them aren’t so sure! Their "maybe-site" is in the middle of the Volleyball courts, and is close to the main entrance of Sauble. There is no vegetation for camouflage. Let us hope that they change their little Plover minds about setting up housekeeping in this very busy section of the beach.
And so it begins again. For the 12th consecutive year, Piping Plovers have decided to grace us with their presence on Sauble Beach. We humans have been granted an awesome privilege, and a huge responsibility, as we decide how best to assist the tiny creatures that have been entrusted to our care.
* As I have spent time with the Piping Plovers, I have been extremely careful not to agitate the birds, or interfere with their natural behaviours. Care is always taken to maintain a respectful distance from the Plovers, and I use a 400 or 500 mm lens to photograph the birds, then crop the shots. I would encourage all photographers and observers to respect the Piping Plovers as we share the beach with them!
*Thanks to Don Kennedy for the charts and updates -- I have used your information in this blog, Don. Thanks to Hayley as well for sharing her observations and those of the volunteers.