2015-06-04 / Nature

New Arrivals at Sachuest Beach

By Jack Kelly

A chick seeking to brood under a parent's wing during heat of the day. (Photo by Jack Kelly) A chick seeking to brood under a parent's wing during heat of the day. (Photo by Jack Kelly) The four eggs belonging to the pair of nesting piping plovers at the east end of Sachuest Beach successfully hatched in recent days. Biologists and scientists monitoring the nest believe that this is the same pair of adults which successfully nested in the same general locale during the past two seasons.

The roped-off nesting area of this endangered species is clearly marked with signs explaining the life cycles, habitat and dangers posed by predators and human activity. The chicks, covered with down, are precocial, capable of moving about when hatched. After a few hours of life, they follow their parents to the water’s edge to forage for aquatic insects and other invertebrates. This is when the chicks are most vulnerable.

According to Sarah Griffith of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “The hatchlings are about the size of a cotton ball with toothpick-sized legs. They move in sudden spurts and are taught to freeze by their parents if there is activity nearby. Because of their diminutive size, they can easily be stepped on by walkers, runners and beachgoers. Any disturbances will send them to the safety of their nests and they will not feed. The chicks need to feed regularly or they might perish.”

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. Ryan Kleinert, USFWS biologist and piping plover coordinator for the R.I. National Wildlife Refuge Complex, commented, “We need to keep disturbances to a minimum if possible. The chicks know how to forage and the parents know how to care for them. We need to give them space to forage and allow the adults to brood the chicks, especially during the heat of the day and inclement weather.”

Brooding, when the young birds tuck themselves under the wings of the adults, is important to the health and growth of the chicks. “The Sachuest Beach chicks should fledge (learn to fly) by June 23, at which time they will be safe from predation on the ground,” Kleinert said.

Another nesting pair of piping plovers at Middletown’s Third Beach awaits the hatching of their eggs. This nesting site has been protected by an exclosure, which allows the birds to freely come and go during incubation, while keeping predators such as crows, gulls, and others at bay. It is believed that this is the same pair that nested there last year. When they lost their chicks to crows.

This nesting season has given biologists a unique opportunity to add both pairs of Middletown piping plovers to a scientific effort that began last year. The project, which uses leg banding and nano-transmitters, was developed to track the migratory routes and nesting regions of a number of species captured in Nantucket Sound and the Gulf of Maine. Radio receiving towers are spread along the coast from Maine south, with local towers at Sachuest Point NWR, and Napa Tree Point in southern Rhode Island. Various tern species, American oystercatchers, seabirds and songbirds were captured last year and provided invaluable scientific data to biologists. The ongoing program began a new chapter with this year's spring migration and nesting season. This spring, at least one adult from each pair of local piping plovers was captured, banded, and had a nano-transmitter affixed to its plumage.

Kleinert explained, “This is a collaborative project between the University of Rhode Island, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the USFWS. Through the use of the radio towers and handheld monitors, this gives us a better understanding of the offshore movements of the plovers as well as information on breeding and nesting ecology.” The transmitters are not harmful to the birds, nor do they impede normal movements. The device is designed to fall off after five or six months.

Kleinert offered advice to beachgoers. “Please, please do not walk, run or sit near the ropes that designate nesting areas, and give the plovers a wide berth to access the water's edge. Please leave your dogs at home. Please pick up your trash, as it may attract predators. Please do not use fireworks near the nesting areas, as this may cause the birds to stop foraging or cause the adults to abandon their young.”

For more information on locally nesting piping plovers, contact Kleinert at ryan_ kleinert@fws.gov or call 401-364-9124.

Nesting Notes:

The osprey pair nesting at Newport's Toppa Field have hatched their eggs and are currently feeding at least two hatchlings judging from the hungry cries of the young birds. It will be at least two to three weeks before an accurate count of young can be made due to the size of the hatchlings and the height of the nest. Both adult birds can be observed flying in with freshly caught fish which they shred to feed the young raptors.

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