2015-04-16 / Nature

Plover Protection Taken Seriously

By Jack Kelly


Last year, 71 pairs of Piping Plovers were under USFWS management across the state complex. Shirley Lally and Sachuest volunteers kept a watch on those in Middletown. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Last year, 71 pairs of Piping Plovers were under USFWS management across the state complex. Shirley Lally and Sachuest volunteers kept a watch on those in Middletown. (Photo by Jack Kelly) With the arrival of spring, we see an uptick in natural activity and a return of many old friends. Recent observations have revealed that the pair of Piping Plovers at Sachuest Beach returned to the area in the past week, and both birds are busy selecting this year’s nesting site.

Piping Plovers and their chicks face predation from a number of animals but their deadliest challenge is from mankind. In the late 1940s, the species population began a steady decline due to habitat loss caused by shoreline development and human activities along barrier beaches. By the mid 1980s the breed was placed on the endangered species list. Management programs enacted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as state conservation agencies across the country, have witnessed an increase in population numbers.


A pair of endangered Piping Plovers, nested at the eastern end of Sachuest Beach. (Photo by Jack Kelly) A pair of endangered Piping Plovers, nested at the eastern end of Sachuest Beach. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Portsmouth resident Shirley Lally, known locally as “The Plover Lady,” is also preparing for another nesting season. Lally, an 11- year veteran volunteer with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, has been an active Piping Plover monitor for the past eight years. “Plover monitors are responsible for educating the general public about the behaviors, nesting priorities, and the feeding patterns of these birds. We also try to limit human-caused disturbances to the nesting areas, the adult birds, and the chicks after hatching,” Lally said.

Ryan Kleinert, wildlife biologist and the USFWS Piping Plover Coordinator for Rhode Island, explained, “We have had very successful nesting seasons for the past few years thanks in part to our dedicated volunteers like Shirley Lally. Last year we had 71 pairs of Piping Plovers under USFWS management across the state complex, and we saw an average of 1.38 chicks per pair. The Nature Conservancy managed another 20 pairs in the Tiverton and Little Compton regions of the state, and the success rates of those pairs raised the state’s average to 1.63 chicks per pair. These were the best results since 2010.”


Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Sarah Griffith, volunteer coordinator remarked, “Shirley Lally is a great champion for this at-risk species, and we are fortunate to have her as a part of our dedicated volunteer force. She was honored as the Volunteer of the Year for the R.I. National Wildlife Complex in 2013 because of her dedication and hard work.”


A male Glossy Ibis, in breeding colors, was spotted at the Gooseneck Cove marsh recently. (Photo by Pat Sawicki) A male Glossy Ibis, in breeding colors, was spotted at the Gooseneck Cove marsh recently. (Photo by Pat Sawicki) During a recent walk along the roped-off boundaries of the plover nesting area on Sachuest, Lally quietly commented on her role. “It’s wonderful to see the plovers return again this year and we will do our best to keep the disturbances to this area at a minimum. We ask people to be careful of the nesting area and not to go past the ropes. We ask dog walkers to keep dogs on their leashes and to avoid this end of the beach after the chicks hatch. But the biggest problem we have is the folks who want to see the chicks running on the beach or going to the water’s edge to forage. This is a time when we can literally love the chicks to death.” Almost, as if on cue, the pair appeared out of the dunes and made their way across the beach to the waterline and began feeding.

The USFWS is offering a Piping Plover monitoring seminar on Saturday, April 18, at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge Visitors’ Center, from 10:30-11:30 a.m. Those who wish to volunteer, or simply want to learn about the Piping Plover and its life cycle, are welcome. For more information, contact Kleinert at ryan_ kleinert@ fws.gov or call 401-364-9124 x16 or 401-847-5511.

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