By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound
Sauble Beach’s so-called “Plover Lovers” believe three of the endangered shorebirds that hatched on the beach this year successfully fledged and are now en route to their winter home in the southern United States.
While the group of volunteers had hoped for a higher success rate, they note that this year was far better than last when no baby piping plovers made it off the beach.
“From that standpoint, three is good,” volunteer Norah Toth said Thursday in an interview.
“It’s always hard when you know that there is predation that goes on and it’s a natural cycle of life, but it’s always hard.
“Everybody is very optimistic and really positive that everything is going to happen just perfectly and then it doesn’t, but that’s just life. It happens that way for us and it happens that way for little birds on the beach as well.”
Fifteen piping plover eggs were laid by four adult nesting pairs at sites along Sauble Beach this year.
Chicks hatched from eight of those eggs.
Five chicks were killed by predators; most by ring-billed gulls.
All three of the chicks that fledged were banded by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for identification purposes.
A chick was last spotted at Sauble Beach Aug. 6. The adult birds are also gone, presumably to begin their own journeys south.
Faye Bender, co-ordinator of the volunteers, said it is “very rewarding” to know that three chicks fledged.
“I think what we did helped for those three to make it,” she said of the volunteers, who stood watch over the birds and educated the public about how to keep them safe from predators.
The nests were protected from predators by a wire exclosure, which was inside of a large roped-off area.
Toth said more Plover Lover volunteers will be needed at Sauble Beach for next year.
That was one of the lessons learned this year, she said, along with the importance of ongoing public education.
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.
Four pairs of the shorebirds, which are protected by both the federal Species at Risk Act and provincial Endangered Species Act, also nested at Sauble Beach last year, but none of their chicks survived.
Nine chicks fledged at Wasaga Beach this year.