The piping plover population on Nantasket Beach has doubled since last year, from six to 13 pairs, and the time seems right for the Plover Ambassadors – a volunteer group formed several years ago to protect and preserve these seasonal feathered residents – to reach out to fellow Hullonians and ask them to join their efforts.
The town has partnered with the Massachusetts Audubon Society for a number of years to keep a close watch over the plovers to ensure that their rights are respected by beachgoers and to help educate the public. (See related sidebar.)
MassAudubon monitors share this important work with the Plover Ambassadors, assisted by Hull Police Department seasonal officers who patrol the beach and keep an eye on the plovers when they can, according to Beach Management Committee member David MacDougall.
He, along with fellow BMC members Rhoda Kanet and Susan Mann, is a Plover Ambassador. The group was formed in 2014, when the plovers made their first appearance in Hull.
“It’s a very exciting program, focused on finding ways for people and plovers to share the beach. I’ve never had a bad day,” MacDougall said this week during an informational session about piping plovers and the Nantasket Beach Plover Ambassadors, hosted by the Hull Conservation Department and MassAudubon.
“It’s satisfying to watch the plovers fledge, take off, and come back the next year. We look forward to adding more volunteers,” he continued. “I appreciate living in a town that is so interested in plovers. The plovers are lucky to live here, and so are we!”
MacDougall noted that once beachgoers are aware of the plovers, they often become protective of them, particularly as they parade up and down between the dunes and the shoreline, where they forage for insects, mollusks, and other food at low tide.
The piping plover season runs from April 1 through Sept. 30, with nesting normally occurring around mid-May.
The fewer the number of people who are aware of where the chicks are, the better it is for them.
Plovers don’t have an easy life between dogs (which are a major problem), predators, beachgoers inadvertently entering the protective fenced-in areas, and other challenges.
MassAudubon’s Gina Purtell called the plovers “an interesting population. There are only 7,000 of this species in the world, and Hull has 26 of them!” she said. There are 1,610 in Massachusetts.
“We’ve been able to move piping plovers from the ‘endangered’ to the ‘threatened’ category, and our goal is to get them off of that,” Purtell continued.
She noted that because of their color, it’s easy to miss piping plovers. “That’s how they are protected,” Purtell said. “They are experts at hiding.”
As an added protection of nature, the color of their eggs blends in with the beach stones.
Conservation Administrator Chris Krahforst was enthusiastic about the information-sharing opportunity the meeting afforded.
“Dave and I will explore other avenues of engagement, and MassAudubon will continue to monitor Nantasket Beach. The guidance they have given to the town is an extremely valuable resource,” he said.
This is a banner year due to the number of pairs of plovers in Hull, according to Krahforst. “I think that will generate an interest in the role of humans on the beach,” he said.
MacDougall reiterated how much enjoyment filling the role of a Plover Ambassador provides. “It’s one of the most fun things a human being can engage in on a sunny beach, with the salt air and happy people all around you,” he said. “The plovers are very entertaining and logical, and they have doting parents. There’s nothing that serves better as an ice breaker than to have a plover walk near your beach blanket on its way to forage.”
Residents interested in signing up may contact MacDougall at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Conservation Department at 781-925-8102. Training will be provided, including learning about the plovers, the purpose of the fencing, and general information about how to interact with people on the beach and provide interesting and helpful information about the plovers.