I chose Piping Plovers for my premier post. These little shorebirds breed on Plum Island (Massachusetts) where they are protected by Federal and state agencies. The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge occupies almost all of the southern half of the island with a small Massachusetts reservation on the southern tip. The entire beach on the ocean side of the refuge is off limits until the plovers are finished breeding later in the summer. The portion of the beach on the state reservation where the plovers and Least Terns nest is roped off to protect the birds. I photographed some Piping Plover chicks and adults on a recent visit.
Piping Plover chicks are precocious and are running around within a day of hatching. They are virtually impossible to see when they sit still and look like a bit of fluff or a cotton ball blowing around on the beach when they do move. Adults will sound an alarm if a predator, such as a gull, approaches and the chicks freeze and scrunch down on the sand. And gulls, especially Great Black-backed Gulls, are definitely on the lookout for any quick bite. Here’s a shot of a Least Tern chasing a much larger juvenile Great Black-backed Gull. The terns nest on the beach with the plovers and are just a bit bigger but still dwarfed by the largest gull species in the world. They certainly do not like gulls lingering in the area!
I also observed some interesting adult behavior. These three Piping Plovers were walking along the tide line, well away from the nesting area. There were no chicks with them. Thus there was no territory or offspring to defend. So why the ensuing interaction occurred is a mystery to me.
They stopped walking and started posturing towards each other. Then they tangled a bit, stared at each other again, and then started walking along. Maybe there was a plover insult or two and they decided to have it.
This year has been an exceptionally good year for breeding plovers and terns. The lack of people on the refuge and in the reservation allowed them to nest in good numbers. Hopefully humans will give them some space as we return to area.