Owen Sound Sun Times: Tourists make way for plovers

Leah Articles, Local News

Article originally posted May 21, 2012

By Rob McGowan, Owen Sound Sun Times

Sauble Beach went to the birds this weekend — at least a couple of patches of it did.

A second pair of plovers laid their first egg at the beach just as the long weekend was kicking off, this time picking a spot that was much further south than where the birds have traditionally nested. Another pair of plovers is nesting further north on the beach.

Ministry of Natural Resources and Town of South Bruce Peninsula officials had just finished up roping off the area near Chesley Lane, just a few blocks north of Sauble’s main street near the volleyball courts, at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Signs were posted and a cage was placed over the nest to keep predators, such as seagulls, away from the egg.

The piping plovers were visible inside the roped off area Saturday afternoon as large crowds of beachgoers, brought out by the sunny and hot weather, lounged in the sun metres away.

Erin Purdon, the local coordinator with the Bruce Resource Stewardship Network’s Piping Plover volunteer monitor program was at the scene on Saturday watching over the birds and educating the public about the situation. Purdon said the vast majority of people were positive about the birds being there.

“People have been really curious and it has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Purdon. “We had our first group of volunteers out this morning and they were saying afterwards that they couldn’t believe everybody was so nice and people were happy that we were there.”

Purdon said the plovers had been hanging out in the area of the volleyball courts for awhile so they expected that perhaps they would pick a nearby site for their nest. Purdon said it was actually one of the volunteer monitors that first discovered the egg.

“We have volunteers that invest a lot of their time and energy into this and it is really great because that egg didn’t get stepped on,” said Purdon. “It is so easy not to see. It is like a pebble.”

Piping plovers were listed among endangered species in the United States in 1986 and soon after in Canada. They hadn’t been seen this side of the Great Lakes in 25 years until a nesting pair arrived at Sauble in 2007. As many as three pairs have nested in years since then at Sauble.

It is one of three Ontario nesting sites — the others are at Wasaga Beach and Lake of The Woods — monitored by MNR species at risk biologists with the help of the volunteer monitors.

The volunteer monitors have had training about how to monitor the birds and may also educate beachgoers about why they shouldn’t get too close to the nests, and later the chicks.

“Obviously people are going to be curious about this sort of thing,” said Purdon. “You put a fence right in the middle of the beach and they will be curious. It is sort of an educational outreach and awareness program.”

Purdon said the volunteers have observation sheets where they write down the behaviour of the plovers.

“Today we would write down that both plovers entered the cage, which is a positive sign that they have accepted that,” said Purdon.