Warm sand, cool waves, and some considerably rare seasonal visitors have recently been spotted on Nantasket Beach.
The seasonal visitors are piping plovers, and, for the eighth year in a row, they have decided to make Nantasket Beach their temporary home. Similar to past years, Mass Audubon provides guidance and support in monitoring and protecting the plovers. Starting in March, Mass Audubon made regular visits to the beach and set up signage. This year, our Mass Audubon monitor has identified nine potential nesting areas along Nantasket Beach and marked them with signage called symbolic fencing. Symbolic fencing is extremely important because, even though plovers move along the beach to feed, the fencing provides a safe haven around the well- camouflaged nest. If and when Mass Audubon discovers nests, the fencing may change.
Why are piping plovers protected? Piping plovers are federally protected because they are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the federal government has recognized that endangered and threatened species of wildlife and plants “are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.”
Being listed as threatened means that the population will continue to decline, to possible extinction, if it is not protected. There are significant penalties (which can include jail time and/or fines of up to $25,000) for disturbing them.
Part of the reason plovers are especially vulnerable is because the chicks begin foraging for food, day and night, as soon as they hatch. They are extremely well camouflaged and are constantly at risk of being crushed by people or killed by dogs, cats, and other predators. Fortunately, once the chicks fledge (fly) roughly 28 days after hatching, they are much less at risk.
Please respect plover fencing, and obey the dog regulations. Beginning in June, dogs are not allowed on the beach. Unleashed and leashed dogs are a particular danger to piping plover chicks. Four- legged friends may be wonderful, but it is incredibly easy for them to snatch up a much smaller, defenseless animal. Additionally, please be wary about letting cats roam the area; in the past, we’ve lost an entire nest this way.
As it continues to warm up, the beach will continue to get busier. Relatively small sections of beach will remain temporarily closed, but it is possible to share the rest of the beach with the birds. Simply by being attentive and respecting the symbolic fencing, it is easy to enjoy the beach in close proximity to the birds. Also, keep in mind that if plovers are disturbed and/or the chicks/nest is compromised, a new nest may be established and the time that our feathered friends need enhanced protection will extend further into the summer.
Hull has a higher survival rate when compared to the rest of Massachusetts, and we hope to continue our success with the plovers. Part of why Hull has had such a high survival rate can be attributed to our plover ambassadors, who generously donate their time to keep an eye on the plovers during their relatively short stay on the beach and provide information to beach visitors.
If you would like to learn more about the plovers and becoming a plover ambassador, Mass Audubon will be holding a piping plover informational session on Wednesday, June 2, at 7 p.m. This session will be held virtually on GoToMeeting via the following link: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/913532213
Sarah Clarren is assistant conservation administrator.