Piping plovers alight at Good Harbor

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff file photo/None of the four piping plovers hatched last year at Good Harbor Beach survived, but officials hope new rules will give any hatchlings this year a better chance at survival.

Four weeks after Gloucester tightened its annual seasonal ban against dogs on Good Harbor Beach, the season's first piping plovers seem intent on making the most of their newfound protection.

The first pair of the threatened shorebirds have been sighted on Good Harbor in recent days, said David Rimmer, director of land stewardship for the nonprofit Essex County Greenbelt. The birds, he said Tuesday, have landed, are feeding and exhibiting other signs that they may be settling in for nesting and an extended stay.

The sighting of the plovers comes after City Council took steps at the end of February to extend a ban on dogs at Good Harbor Beach. The ban begins April 1 — Monday — instead of May 1 as in the past. The ban, which runs through Oct. 1, bars owners from taking any dogs, whether leashed or not, onto the sands at Good Harbor, city general counsel Chip Payson clarified Tuesday.

“We wanted to remind everyone of this ordinance change set to begin next week," said Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken. “We’ve been working with all interested parties to put together a comprehensive plan to help the piping plover population here in Gloucester."

The city's plan incorporates proposed education, signage, electronic communications, on-site monitoring, government and institutional coordination, protective barriers, and better fencing to minimize human-related disturbance to promote piping plover nesting success and chick survival.

Rimmer said he and others from Greenbelt plan to visit Good Harbor on Wednesday to begin putting up protective wiring and fencing its donating for the plovers, which are classified as threatened by the U.S. and state fish and wildlife services.

Greenbelt plans to place the wiring in the area of Boardwalk 3, the same location where piping plover couples have chosen to nest  since the first pairs settled down in the sand in 2016, Rimmer said. None of the four chicks that hatched that year or last year managed to survive and "fledge" — fly off on their own — but one chick hatched in 2017 made it safely through summer on the beach and took flight apart from its parents.

The city Public Works Department will provide personnel to build or maintain beach structures and, or adjust its beach cleanup processes and schedules to support the plovers.

The city is also recruiting volunteers to monitor the plovers from nesting through fledging. Volunteers will be provided with on-site training on bird behavior, camouflage, as well as public interaction and conflict reporting procedures. Anyone wishing to volunteer should reach out to this year's volunteer coordinator, Alicia Pensarosa, at GloucesterAAC@gmail.com.  

The latest arrival of the first pair of plovers is in sync with the arrivals of the tiny birds in the past, Rimmer said. Greenbelt, he added, will be working with city conservation officials and with federal and state wildlife services to help protect them.

"This is certainly typical. The bids arrive in late March," said Rimmer, expressing optimism that the city's amended ordinance will give the plovers the added boost of help they may need.

The new April 1 dog ban applies only to Good Harbor Beach,  since plovers have not been sighted on other city beaches in recent years. Rimmer said Greenbelt officials also will check if a piping plover couple has landed elsewhere — the private Coffin's Beach has hosted plovers in the past — but he said he was not aware of any settlements this year to date.

Rimmer said the extended dog ban may, among other things, help avoid a situation that evolved last spring. Threatened by dogs and other wildlife such as crows and gulls on the beach, the first pair of plovers to set up a nest last year chose to do it away from the sands and in the Good Harbor parking lot.

"We would prefer that they nest on the beach — and I suspect they probably, too — so we'll do this with the same type of fencing and watch and react," he said. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or rlamont@gloucestertimes.com