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High hopes for Piping Plover protections installed at Scituate’s Spit

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  April 17, 2013 01:32 PM

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Photos courtesy of Russell Clark

Volunteers help install piping plover fences around The Spit to protect the species.

The stakes have been set and the temporary fences put in place, all so the Piping Plover can have another successful mating season on the Spit.

A small stretch of land in Scituate harbor accessible only by boat or a long beach walk, The Spit has been monitored for decades, with environmentalists looking for how to better protect the federally protected small beach birds.

Like many other beaches in the South Shore, environmentalists have taken to putting up makeshift fences to protect the habitat, and steer unknowing beachgoers away from the camouflaged nests.

“[The protections are] something that’s encouraged,” said Sue McCallum, sanctuary director for the Mass Audubon South Shore Sanctuaries. “It’s not mandated at all beaches, but as a responsible town [beach] owner, the town of Scituate hires us to do this.”

Approximately 10 people went out to the Spit for a day in early April, putting stakes in the sand connected by twine to delineate where beachgoers should avoid.

In addition to a biologist from the Mass Audubon, Board of Health member Russell Clark and Harbormaster Mark Patterson helped bring out the supplies on boats. They were met with volunteers from the AmeriCorps foundation.

The goal, MacCallum said, is to share the beach, giving residents and visitors access to a beautiful area, while letting the birds maintain their species.

“The piping plover nests are very cryptic…it’s not a nest like you think,” MacCallum said. “There’s a little depression in the sand and they lay their eggs that looks like pebbles. They are easy to step on.”

In Massachusetts, similar tactics have been working, with plover populations increasing statewide.

On the Spit specifically, the success fluctuates. Two years ago, the birds didn’t accomplish much; however, last year seven birds total were raised and fledged from two separate mating couples.

“The population on third cliff has been stable. It fluctuates a lot from year to year, but overall it’s been stable,” MacCallum said.

Yet without these simple precautions, the success rate would be very low, MacCallum said, and people would most likely be up in the dunes where the birds are nesting.

A small group of people will go back out on April 22 to finish the job. In the meantime, the signs and posts will once again bring an awareness to a species that is doing all they can to survive.

“It’s a unique place, a gorgeous place, but [we need to] raise awareness that the birds are out there too, and need our help,” MacCallum said.

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