Owen Sound Sun Times: Piping Plovers defend chicks at Sauble

Leah Articles, Local News

Article originally posted June 24, 2013

By Rob McGowan, Owen Sound Sun Times

The piping plovers chicks have started hatching at Sauble Beach.

This year there are two pairs of the tiny shore birds nesting — one nest around 3rd St. and the other in the area of 8th St. On the weekend two eggs hatched in the most southerly nest at 3rd St. There are four eggs located at the more northerly nest that are expected to hatch in the next week.

“They are really little,” Matthias Purdon, volunteer coordinator of the Piping Plover Recovery Project, said Monday. “When they hatch they leave the nest in a couple of hours and they can run around and find food.”

Piping plovers were listed among endangered species in the United States in 1986 and soon after in Canada. They hadn’t been on this side of the Great Lakes in 25 years prior to 2007, when a pair nested at Sauble.

There were also two nests at Sauble Beach last year. One was located close to the volleyball courts near 1st St, while the other was at the north end of the beach.

“It is the same pair that is at the south end that came back to the area,” said Purdon, who added monitors are having trouble trying to figure out where the other pair is from. “We have theories of where they are from. One is probably from Michigan and the other could be from Sauble Beach, or it could be from another location in Ontario.”

The birds were first noticed at Sauble again this year in early May. A nest was built at 2nd St., but a storm washed it away and the birds relocated to the area of 3rd St. The north pair began nesting in late May.

“Everything is going quite well this year, other than the slow start with the storm,” said Purdon. “We have got the two cages over the nests which allow the birds to go through but prevents predation, and then we have the perimeter fences which gives them an area of beach unused by beach goers.”

Purdon said the storm that blew through in early May had a silver lining in that it washed in a lot of driftwood that the birds can use for hiding from predators like merlin, a small bird of prey. Last year three of the eight chicks that hatched at Sauble survived until they fledged.

“It is a more natural beach setting that we have right now at Sauble without it being raked,” said Purdon. “There is going to be some selective raking going on, I believe, later in the season, but for now those areas look the way we want them to look right now for the success of the birds.”

The chicks are expected to fledge around the beginning of August and the young birds may stick around for the entire month of August. The female adult plovers usually leave sometime in July, while the adult male will stick around until the young birds fledge, Purdon said.

The monitoring program by the Rankin Resource Group has taken on a more educational role this year, compared to years past where the volunteers served as guardians of the birds. Purdon expects to spend a lot of time at the beach during the upcoming Canada Day weekend, educating the public about the small birds.

“We are trying to time our volunteer presence when there is the most people on the beach,” Purdon said.

The only other known nesting sites in Ontario this year are at Wasaga Beach, where two pairs of birds are nesting, and on Manitoulin Island, Purdon said.

“They are still very much an endangered species and a species at risk, but they are in recovery,” he said. “It is great to see them coming back every year and that aspect is really positive.”