Owen Sound Sun Times
By Denis Langlois
Monday June 22, 2015
Sauble Beach’s first brood of endangered piping plover chicks of the season hatched Sunday afternoon and were soon seen scampering on the sandy Lake Huron shoreline.
The four tiny birds — which look like cotton balls on toothpicks — survived their first 24 hours under the careful watch of their parents.
These are treacherous days for the chicks, which will remain especially vulnerable to attacks by predators, like gulls, crows, foxes, cats and unleashed dogs, until they fledge in about four weeks.
Until then, volunteers will stand guard, whenever possible, over the chicks near their protected nesting site.
The so-called Plover Lovers will also be educating the public on how they can help in little ways to keep the birds safe.
“If we all do a little bit, we can give these guys a fighting chance,” volunteer co-ordinator Faye Bender said in an interview at Sauble Beach.
That can include not eating near the roped-off area around the plover nest — which can attract predators — as well as keeping dogs off the beach and not obstructing the birds’ access to the water.
Everyone is welcome to look at the chicks, but the volunteers want all bird watchers to stand to the sides of the protection zone.
People can also help out by volunteering, even for one or two shifts this summer, to keep an eye on the birds.
Three pairs of piping plovers have nested at Sauble Beach this year.
The next clutch of four eggs is to hatch between June 26 and 28.
The final brood is expected around Canada Day.
Four pairs of the shorebirds, which are protected by both the federal Species at Risk Act and provincial Endangered Species Act, nested at Sauble Beach last year, but none of their chicks survived.
High water levels and cold, stormy weather was to blame for some of the casualties, while a handful of baby plovers were killed by predators.
This year, the first chicks were born in a nest near 4th St.
On Monday morning, the two adult piping plovers were chasing away gulls that flew near their nest and the chicks as well as another male plover that wandered too close.
Piping plovers were near extinction on the Great Lakes in the mid-1980s.
Their population has since rebounded to about 70 pairs thanks to government-led conservation efforts and the help of numerous volunteers.
The birds returned to Sauble Beach in 2007 after a 30-year absence.
Female piping plovers typically lay four eggs and incubation begins after the last one is laid so they can all hatch at the same time.
Both the female and male take turns sitting on the nest, which in places like Sauble Beach is protected from predators by a wire exclosure as well as a rope-and-stake perimetre fence.
Bender noted that it’s neat that the first brood of the season was born on Father’s Day, since it’s the male piping plover that stays behind to watch over and teach the young until they are ready to fly off on their own.
The female heads south a few weeks earlier.
Volunteers, under the directive of the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry and Stewardship Grey Bruce, monitor and protect the sand-coloured birds.
Bender said 21 new volunteers signed up this year. About a dozen are returning.
People can sign up to volunteer at any time, she said.
More information can be found at www.ploverlovers.com.