Last summer, I signed up to volunteer at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Each year, the endangered piping plover comes back to the shores of the Atlantic to nest and breed. Currently, it’s thought that there are only roughly 8,000 remaining. In. The. World. So it’s significant that nearly 25% of those come back to my home state to nest.
Parker River each year runs a Plover Warden program to help protect their nesting grounds. Largely, we are the hall monitors of the beach, reminding beachgoers (despite the GINORMOUS signs) that the beach is closed. The 6-mile stretch of pristine beach with its protected dunes is perfect nesting grounds, hence the beach is closed from the beginning of April each year through early August (even through greenhead season!), or when the last of the fledglings go. Only 1 of 4 eggs make it from nest to flight. In short, it’s our job to help them get there.
My first encounter on my first day last year included a pair of entitled locals and their dog who were indignant that they were not allowed to walk down the pristine beach. But you can’t even see the nests, local Karen said. Ken piped in and asked when the wardens’ hours were. Hand on my walkie-talkie, I persuaded them to cooperate, and they finally relented. It is Federal land after all. Nor are dogs allowed.
The guy with the drone was nicer, but still confused as to why endangered birds, whose primary predators come from the sky, would feel ruffled by an ominous robotic sky creature humming around and spying on them from the blue.
This year’s encounters have been more tame. In my official volunteer t-shirt and fluorescent hat, I’ve been able to ward off most would-be violators just by being a tad obvious, and most people I’ve encountered are genuinely curious – some even passionate – about the birds. Not so much the obnoxious college kids camped out in pop-up tents just beyond the (again GINORMOUS) signs, feigning ignorance when nabbed by the plover police, “we thought nobody was checking.”
So far, we have about 33 nesting pairs, with 16 or so active nests after some storms and predators took out a swath of nests. This weekend, the refuge noted that some hatchlings have emerged. Over the next weeks we’ll expect the little fuzzits to begin scooting around the beach. This little guy is from one of last year’s broods that, sadly, didn’t make it after a spate of coyote binges.
So if you encounter a sign, a volunteer, or even just a plover… please tread lightly, as nests are camouflaged and the little ones need as much help as possible. No kites, no dogs, no bikes, no feet… just for a few more weeks to give these guys a fighting chance at fledging!
Watch this space. I’m hoping to get some plover-ific pics as the little ones emerge.