2014-05-15 / Front Page

Protecting the Piping Plovers

By Jack Kelly

Recent sightings of six Piping Plovers in the Sachuest Beach and Third Beach areas. Have given hope to local conservationists that a successful nesting season is possible for this endangered species. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff members and volunteer nest monitors have roped-off potential nesting sites on both beaches. According to Ryan Kleinert, USFWS Piping Plover Coordinator, “It is probable that one or more nests will be established in these areas. We are trying to avoid as many disturbances to the potential nests as possible. Incubating adults can be driven from the nests or have their nests damaged or destroyed by human interference, predators or free roaming dogs.”

Last year, a pair of Piping Plovers successfully nested at the eastern end of Sachuest Beach for the first time in over four years. The female laid four eggs, and three hatched. One of the chicks was lost, probably to a predator, but the remaining two grew, fledged and left on migration with the adults. Previous years' attempts by other pairs to nest in the region were stymied by human interference, predators and free-running dogs.

The average Piping Plover is 7.25 inches in length and has a wingspan of 19 inches. Breeding adults are pale gray above and white below, with a black-tipped orange bill, orange-yellow legs, a black “eyebrow” between the eyes and a black neck ring. It is almost invisible against its sandy and stony habitat when standing still.

Piping Plovers will “scratch out” a nesting depression in sandy and rocky areas. The female will incubate four eggs over a period of 28- 32 days. As with most shorebirds, the down-covered chicks will hatch precocial, capable of moving about and following the parents to the water’s edge. The young birds need to feed constantly in order to grow and reach fledgling status. This is a dangerous time for the chicks, which are about the size of a cotton ball and can be easily stepped on by beachgoers or running dogs. If the young birds are kept from feeding by humans or other causes, they will die due to starvation or dehydration.

“The nesting areas are clearly marked and we ask beachgoers to be aware of and sensitive to these crossing areas from the dunes to the water’s edge where the chicks forage,” Kleinert said.

As far as the dog threat is concerned, according to the Town of Middletown and the Middletown Police Department, ordinances state that “From May 1-September 30, dogs shall be allowed on town beaches only between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7:45 a.m., provided that they are on a leash.” The fine for dogs off leash or on the beach after designated hours is $100. Police officials stated that anyone witnessing or feeling harassed by an unleashed dog on the beach should contact Middletown Police at 401-847-1104.

Sarah Griffith, USFWS Volunteer Coordinator for the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge, is seeking weekend volunteers at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. “We are seeking volunteers for the spring and summer months to augment our current volunteer staff. With the potential for more visitors during this time we need extra volunteers to assist visitors with questions and directions as well as other visitor services.” For more information visit sarah_ lang@fws.gov or call 401-847-5511.

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