Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Least Terns and Piping Plovers

I spent yesterday morning up through noontime first at Allens pond on the beach loop where I went to photograph the piping plover chicks that hatched while I was in Churchill Manitoba. I have a special interest in this set of piping plover because last year these were the ones that nested where I said they would, which was closer to the beginning of the beach rather than out near the end of the beach where the piping plovers usually nest. Last year I followed the plovers and was able to get photographs of the chicks the day they hatched. This year I have to be content with photographing them as they move around on the beach. There was four eggs in the nest, but presently there are only three chicks. As I sat on the sand to photograph and observe them, they are as fast as a speeding bullet as they move from one section to another section of the beach. The adult plovers are around observing them, but they were not right upon them. One of the chicks caught an earwig and his expression said "look everyone I caught this myself".Piping Plover Chick w Bug _ROT8373 NIKON D3S June 28, 2011

b Piping Plover Chick_ROT8354 NIKON D3S June 28, 2011b Piping Plover_ROT8294 NIKON D3S June 28, 2011

On the way to the beach, and the path I came across Eastern cottontails eating and relaxing on the path. Eastern Cottontail _ROT8261 NIKON D3S June 28, 2011Eastern- Cottontail _ROT8268 NIKON D3S June 28, 2011Coming back from the beach and on the way to the field station, I photographed a Willet on a post and tree swallows at the nesting box.b Willet_ROT8281 NIKON D3S June 28, 2011Tree swall wing flapping on Nesting Box _ROT8398 NIKON D3S June 28, 2011Tree Swallow on Nesting Box _ROT8395 NIKON D3S June 28, 2011

At the field station I met up with Lauren who is the property manager and with Anne who is working this summer in the Massachusetts Audubon's Coastal Water Bird Program.

Here is a description of the program from the Massachusetts Audubon site: " Mass Audubon's Coastal Waterbird Program (CWP) is one of the most effective entities working to protect coastal birds and barrier beaches in New England. The CWP was launched in 1987 in response to declining populations of Piping Plovers and terns in Massachusetts, with the primary objective of protecting these species' nesting areas throughout the state. This is accomplished each year through cooperation with federal, state, and local governing bodies, private and public landowners, Mass Audubon members, and the public.
Since its first year, the program has successfully helped to recover the populations of Piping Plovers from 135 pairs in 1986 to at least 560 in 2008. Massachusetts is integral to the recovery of the federally threatened Atlantic Coast population of the Piping Plover, supporting roughly one-third of the breeding population. The program monitors at least 140 sites on the Massachusetts coastline, primarily on the South Shore, Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod, and the Islands.
CWP works to protect approximately:
·    50% of the state's federally threatened Piping Plovers,
·    60% of Massachusetts Least Terns,
·    20% of Massachusetts American Oystercatchers,
·    Several nesting sites for Common Terns, and the
·    Majority of critical sites for resting/staging pre-migratory Common and Roseate Terns.
Although the primary focus of the program is the protection of the most threatened species of nesting birds, its mission is much broader. Today, the program advocates for the protection of the entire coastal ecosystem in as natural a state as possible. The program, therefore, works to protect the natural quality of the state's coastal beaches, salt marshes, and tidelands, which serves as habitats to 49 species of breeding birds and 112 species of migratory or wintering birds. The populations of many of these once common species, such as Sanderlings, have been declining dramatically in recent years and must be included in these protection efforts.

The number one threat to coastal birds is and continues to be habitat loss due to development. The coastal environment is already heavily developed and continues to be sought after for future development. The associated threats to coastal habitats increase every day. For coastal birds some of the primary threats are:
1.    Habitat Loss
2.    Increases in predator populations: Main predators for coastal birds include small mammals and various avian species, whose populations have "exploded" in the suburban environment of developed areas. The unnaturally high numbers of these predators present significant conservation concerns each year to coastal waterbird eggs and chicks.
3.    Off-road vehicles on beaches: In Massachusetts a growing number of individuals and families purchase permits to drive and park on beaches. Driving vehicles on these fragile beaches and tidelands can destroy nests, make their habitat unusable, and increase erosion.
4.    Erosion-control practices: Armoring beaches with rock, installing geo-tubes, building artificial dunes, and planting vegetation alter the natural beach environment and result in significant impacts to species such as the Piping Plover and the Least Tern, which only nest on flat, sparsely vegetated areas of beach.
5.    Human disturbance: With more people accessing formerly remote areas in vehicles, boats, and jet-skis, fewer places remain where birds can nest, forage for food, or rest. Disturbance significantly decreases birds' abilities to produce young and can also prevent birds from gaining the fat necessary to make long migrations.
6.    Over-harvesting of Horseshoe Crabs: The eggs of horseshoe crabs have long been an important source of food for a variety of shorebirds. Since the mid-1990s the harvest of horseshoe crabs for use as bait in the conch and eel fisheries has caused severe declines in local populations of this ancient creature. Their once abundant populations on the South Shore and Cape Cod have been reduced to one major spawning area in Chatham.

We went and visited the Least Tern colony that is on East Beach and Barney's Joy. Least Terns are one of the threatened species that is protected by law and their breeding area is roped off so that humans will not disturb the nesting birds. There are approximately 120 breeding peers present on the two sites. The baby terns are a cute fuzz ball.mother and baby tern _ROT8521-Edit-Edit NIKON D3S June 28, 2011Least tern Flight _ROT8503 NIKON D3S June 28, 2011 Besides counting the nest with eggs and nuthatch chicks, the staff placed in strategic spots wooden tern shelters to offer the baby chicks a place to get out of the hot sun.setting shelter for terns _ROT8628 NIKON D3S June 28, 2011

Although the area was roped off and went multiple signs around telling people to keep out, Laura had to go and evict someone from behind the rope. The person's excuse was that her legs were tired and she needed to rest, even though to enter the area was forbidden. Perhaps this person could read.

Although I photographed from outside the rope area, the adult terns still came over and harassed us. We all were spotted with tern droppings and my large lens which I had pointed upwards had a large tern droppings on it which required careful cleaning.

There were also a number of piping plovers down on Barney's Joy and a couple of families of Common Eiders in the water.eider and duckling Female eider and ducklings_ROT8603 NIKON D3S June 28, 2011eider ducklings Eider ducklings on water_ROT8599 NIKON D3S June 28, 2011

So for you people in the area come down to Allens Pond Sanctuary and take a walk down the beach carefully for the piping plovers that are running around, the terns fishing and the many other birds that are present on the sanctuary. It is a great way to spend the day.