Piping Plover Proliferation
Good weather and good timing have allowed me to photograph the rare and endangered piping plover chicks. These birds nest on a few beaches on the east coast. One very well known area is Plum Island in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, most of the areas on Plum Island are chained off to the public to protect the nesting plovers (the one area that is accessible is Sandy Point at the tip of the island, where less restrictive fences are used). A much better place that is more open is Crane Beach in Ipswich. However, it’s a 1-2 mile hike to the nesting areas (then back). Carrying a full load of camera gear, tripod and my 500mm lens can make for an exhausting morning – but the exhilaration of watching and photographing the plover chicks more than makes up for it.
The chicks are very cute. They look like a puff ball with legs and a beak. Bill Gette, director of the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport, described them as “looking like something that dropped out of your vacuum cleaner, except with spindly legs and a beak”.
The plovers make their nest in the dune grass, where they are hidden and protected by a symbolic fence. Within hours of hatching the chicks are on the run, and they can scurry about at speeds that make it a challenge to follow them by camera.
The parents teach them to forage for insects and small crustaceans. As a family group they will tentatively and (as it seems) randomly work their way across the beach to the wet sand where they dig for their meals.
When danger lurks-or just to keep warm-the chicks will crawl and huddle under mother plover.
How many chicks are there under mother plover?
Count the number of legs and divide by 2
Watch this video to see how many chicks fit under the tent.
Occasionally a chick will come out from under to allow room for a sibling.
Watch this video to see how persistence and determination can find you a room at the Inn:
I am happy to say that the plovers are doing well this season, with many nests and healthy looking families. They seem to be proliferating.
Some people go to the beach for sun and sand. I go for the plovers (and Least Terns – but that’s another blog post)
Photos of Rich by Beth Seeley