“New since 2015 is the Clean Harbor Kids swim, a 500 meter swim along the shore of Niles Beach for 8-12 year olds. This is a wonderful way to introduce kids to the sport of Open Water Swimming.” And to talk about the history behind celebrating a clean water swim here in Gloucester harbor, the natural world ‘all about us’, stories of conservation, and work of naturalists like Sarah Fraser Robbins.
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I saw the BIRD SIGHTINGS call out in the Sunday Boston Globe and noted the Plum Island list. (Under ‘Miscellaneous’ there is one bird listed from Gloucester.) I have no idea if that is the MassAudubon customary geographic selection, randomly culled, or all that’s available at the time of publication. I suppose I was looking for a ‘Gloucester’, ‘North Shore’, or ‘Cape Ann’ heading. I am confident the region is represented because folks like Chris Leahy, Dave Rimmer, Essex Greenbelt, other experts, citizen scientists, and fans report from our communities.
*This just in update: Dave Rimmer reports that the piping plover fencing at Good Harbor came down today.
GMG features many bird photographs, from FOBs and contributors especially Kim Smith and Donna Ardizzoni. Here’s an unofficial appreciator’s list with a few Gloucester sightings: ‘sandpipers’ on Long Beach last week. Piping plover (heard/saw),’plovers’ and ‘sandpipers’ on Good Harbor beach on July 25. One (dead) horseshoe crab and 1 sand dollar (alive) off Wingaersheek on July 26. Piping Plover (heard/saw) on Good Harbor this morning. What have you seen?
Gloucester’s Coffins Beach is a long, long stretch of wide open sandy seashore framed by dunes, sea and sky. Growing up, we called it the private side of Wingaersheek. I could hear piping plovers and saw two ‘in the zone’– the intertidal bit that is still wet at low tide and well under water at high tide. I didn’t see birds in the safe retreats by the upper part of the beach, but heard the melodious chirps that inspired their nickname.
Listen to the piping plover
Piping plovers have quite a story. In Massachusetts, the vast majority are south, Cape Cod and the islands. By the close of the 19th century, these birds were near extinction. They rebounded successfully by the 1950’s.
I spoke with Dave Rimmer of Essex County Greenbelt, Marion Larson with Ma Wildlife, Deborah Cramer and Chris Leahy. All of them have updates for GMG which I’ll add next. First,
Chris Leahy, MA Audubon, explained that a second age of precipitous piping plover decline occurred in the 1960’s and 70’s. What do you think it was?
Thank you to the GMG reader who saw the news on TV, and wrote a comment on the Disney-Pixar post. Massachusetts may be the model for North America. The MA Wildlife report includes the conservation approach implemented in Cape Cod last year, home to 60+% of MA piping plover population. I don’t have the tv station’s coverage, but I included the WBUR wire pick, and piping plover reports from CT, NH, and ME. Kim Smith is covering the pair on Good Harbor Beach. Nesting Piping Plovers have been seen on Coffins Beach and Revere Beach.
Currently, the Atlantic coast population (North Carolina to Eastern Canada) of piping plovers continues to hold steady just under 2,000 pairs. The Massachusetts State Department of Fish and Wildlife targets maintaining 625 pairs with greater intervention should the population fall below 500 pairs.
Piping plovers were not rare enough to be described as a ‘wild’ species in 1895 in Daniel Giraud Elliot’s North American Shore Birds. He wrote that where the species had been formerly ‘most abundant’ the piping plover was “found chiefly on the more retired parts of the cost where it was free from molestation…its acquaintance with man has caused it to be at the present time, in most places where it is found, a rather wary bird.” The fattened birds were “palatable, yet sometimes sedgy in flavor.” Skunks and other predators, influx in summer population, and loss of habitat were concerns. Plastic trash is a striking difference now. At least we don’t eat them.
Three Piping Plovers were recently killed in their nesting habitat at Griswold Point in Old Lyme CT. It’s believed a fourth was intentionally stepped on in Bluff Point State Park in Groton, CT. “People ignore the signs.”
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Conservation monitors the piping plovers. The Connecticut Audubon Society doesn’t maintain piping plover information, however they do have an incredible osprey project to report. Tom Andersen told me that the CT Audubon Society has built up a network of more than 300 volunteers to find and monitor osprey. An intern has plotted the work of these citizen scientists on this Osprey Nation map. Nests have grown from 200 to 500. I think I’m inspired to do a map of the piping plovers if someone in MA or in the state office hasn’t done it already!
“In Orleans, after years of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in fees for stickers to drive on town beaches, local officials independently sought and obtained a federal waiver last year to allow a limited number of vehicles back on the beach.”
“For Russ Hopping, who oversees about 27 miles of beaches from Ipswich to Nantucket for the Trustees of Reservations, a federal waiver would mean more than getting rid of some fences on their beaches. It would mean fewer headaches. With some 60 plover pairs on their beaches last summer, Hopping hopes new flexibility would translate into fewer complaints and greater protection for the birds.
“That we’ve reached the point that this opportunity even exists represents a conservation success story for Massachusetts,” he said.
The town of Duxbury canceled their annual 4th of July beach bonfire because piping plover pairs returned and were nesting year after year. “Most Duxbury residents said they understand the need to cancel the bonfire for the bird. Since the birds return every year, the committee said next year they’ll consider a new tradition of having the beach bonfire at another time.”
The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and Maine Audubon report Piping Plovers first sightings in 2016 on beaches at Kennebunkport, Kennebunk and Old Orchard Beach. They’re sending an estimate about nests.
MASSACHUSETTS- CAPE ANN- Gloucester
search for Kim Smith’s exceptional documentation and photographs on Good Morning Gloucester about the one nesting pair on Good Harbor Beach
Deborah Cramer thanks Good Morning Gloucester for mentioning her book and asks for photographs and stories about horseshoe crabs, otherwise known as the nearly scene stealing co-stars from her inspiring book on red knots (sandpiper shorebirds), The Narrow Edge.
“I’m in the midst of a project right now trying to uncover the almost forgotten history of the whereabouts of horseshoe crabs in Gloucester. I’ve heard some fantastic stories, like one from a man who used to go down to Lobster Cove after school and find horseshoe crabs so plentiful he could fill a dory. Do you think there’s a value to putting up a few pictures on GMG and asking people to send in their recollections of beaches, coves where they used to see them in abundance?”
We do. Please send in photos or stories if you have them about horseshoe crabs in Gloucester or the North Shore for Deborah Cramer’s project. Write in comments below and/or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s one data point. Look closely at this 1869 Winslow Homer painting. Can you spot the horseshoe crabs? Can you identify the rocks and beach?
While reading The Narrow Edge, and looking at Kim Smith’s Piping Plover photographs, I thought about Raid on a Sand Swallow Colony (How Many Eggs?) 1873 by Homer and how some things change while much remains the same.When my sons were little, they were thrilled with the first 1/3 or so of Swiss Family Robinson. As taken as they were with the family’s ingenuity, adventure, and tree house–they recoiled as page after page described a gorgeous new bird, promptly shot. They wouldn’t go for disturbing eggs in a wild habitat. The title ascribed to this Homer, perhaps the eager query from the clambering youngest boy, feels timeless. Was the boys’ precarious gathering sport, study, or food? What was common practice with swallows’ eggs in the 1860s and 70s? Homer’s birds are diminutive and active, but imprecise. Homer sometimes combined place, figures, subject and themes. One thing is clear: the composition, line and shadow are primed and effective for an engraving.
Harper’s Weekly published the image on June 13, 1875. Artists often drew directly on the edge grain of boxwood and a master engraver (Lagrade in this case) removed the wood from pencil and wash lines.
2016. Wingaersheek dunes and nests 140+ years later.