Contact: Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902
Spring brings piping plovers to nest sites on Delaware beaches
Training for beachnesting bird monitors to be held May 17 at Cape Henlopen State Park
LEWES (May 2, 2014) – The first few piping plovers of the season have been spotted on bay and ocean beaches along the Delaware coastline, with the first reports at Fowlers Beach on March 21, Delaware Seashore State Park on March 27 and Beach Plum Island Nature Preserve on April 8. With part of the nesting area already closed off at Cape Henlopen State Park, beachnesting monitors are conducting regular surveys and have seen the tiny endangered shorebirds at both the Point and at Gordons Pond.
In some especially exciting news, a plover and an American oystercatcher wearing leg bands have been observed at Gordons Pond. “We are trying to determine the details of the bands, but beachnesting monitors are being very careful not to get too close and disrupt their activities, since the birds are just beginning their breeding season. Once we can get a better look, we will report the band codes to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who will then be able to let us know where and how long ago these two birds had been banded,” said Wildlife Biologist Matthew Bailey.
This past week, the beachnester team observed some pairing of plovers and evidence of nesting territories being established on the Point and at Gordons Pond, including scrapes in the sand. Plover scrapes are simple teacup-sized depressions in the sand made by the male plover by pressing his chest into the sand and kicking sand out behind him. He makes many scrapes inside his territory and eventually a female chooses one in which to lay her eggs.
“In the meantime, we can detect scrapes as we search through potential nesting areas and begin to assemble a picture of where plovers are going to nest even if the birds themselves are not present during our observations,” Bailey said.
So far, scrapes at both of Cape Henlopen’s traditional nesting areas suggest two pairs of plovers have set up territories in each of the two sites, making a total of four plover pairs already in the park this season. Two pairs of oystercatchers have been observed working the area at the Point. Another pair of oystercatchers is making scrapes of their own on the ocean beach at Gordons Pond.
“It’s always hard to predict how quickly the scraping will progress to actual nesting, but it’s encouraging to see the scraping behavior beginning,” said Bailey. In addition to closely monitoring traditional nesting areas at Cape Henlopen, the team also is surveying all suitable nesting habitats in the state in the event that a pair of beachnesting birds should choose to nest at a non-traditional site, he added.
Training for volunteer piping plover, beachnesting bird monitors to be held May 17
Volunteers who want to learn more about Delaware’s endangered piping plovers and other beachnesting birds and find out how they can join DNREC’s monitoring team are invited to a free training session from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 17, at the Biden Center at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, Delaware.
The session will begin with refreshments and a slideshow, followed by a discussion on the monitoring program and how volunteers can help to ensure that beachnesting shorebirds are not disturbed so they can successfully rear their chicks.
Weather permitting, the group will finish the session by venturing out to the Point at Cape Henlopen to look for piping plovers and other shorebirds likely to be feeding on the tidal flats. Birding scopes and binoculars will be available for use, but volunteers are encouraged to bring their own optics if they have them.
Bailey hopes the session will draw both new and seasoned volunteers – and plenty of them – to help DNREC staff in their efforts to protect beach-nesters and educate the public.
“Volunteers are critical to our protection efforts. When posted at the boundaries of the nesting areas, they can help explain facts about breeding birds and the importance of keeping closed areas free of human disturbance. Without having volunteers to supplement the coverage our staff provides, many people might never have the chance to better understand how humans can make a difference in the breeding success of beach-nesting birds,” Bailey said.
Preregistration is encouraged, but attendees also will be accepted at the door. Park entrance fees will be waived for volunteers attending the training by notifying the fee booth attendant. For more information on the training, beachnesting birds or monitoring efforts, please contact Wildlife Biologist Matt Bailey at 302-382-4151 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the piping plover
The piping plover was listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1986, and the Division of Fish and Wildlife is responsible for its protection in Delaware, where Cape Henlopen is its only current nesting area. Under a binding agreement and subsequent species management plan that DNREC made in 1990 with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the federal agency with oversight of this ESA-protected species, piping plover nesting areas at Cape Henlopen State Park are closed annually to the public to protect the shorebirds from disturbance during their March to September nesting season, including the Point and smaller areas around Gordon’s Pond. The closure has been successful, increasing the number of piping plover nesting pairs from a low of two pairs to a high of nine pairs, and must include feeding habitat as well as nesting areas. Piping plovers feed on small invertebrates that inhabit the intertidal zone near their nesting territories. Chicks are not fed by their parents, but rather are led to the shoreline to forage while the adults keep watch for potential threats. Allowing pedestrian traffic in the intertidal zone adjoining nesting areas would disturb the vital link between nesting and foraging habitat and risk adverse stress or mortality to the chicks.
Vol. 44, No. 138