2018 Whitefish Point Piping Plover Season Report

August 18, 2018
Molly Keenan
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2018 Whitefish Point Piping Plover Season Report

Monitor: Danielle Dershem (May 7-August 10)

Summary

The Whitefish Point 2018 Piping Plover nesting season was successful and resulted in two fledged chicks. The chicks belonged to the only pair that attempted to nest at the Point. The female was hatched from Cat Island, Wisc., in 2017 while the male hatched from Grand Marais (Sucker River) also in 2017. Both the male and female were first spotted at the Point on May 19 and began exhibiting breeding behavior over the next several days. Their nest was found on May 29. The pair began incubation after the second egg was laid on May 31.

Three eggs hatched between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. on July 1. The fourth egg was not observed hatching, but did hatch sometime before the morning of July 2. Four chicks were confirmed on July 4. On July 7, only three chicks were observed. The fourth chick was not seen again, and gulls or ravens were the suspected predators. A second chick was not observed again after July 11. On this day, the chicks fed outside the protected area for the first time, making them vulnerable to people and dogs. Once again, gulls and ravens were also observed potential predators. The remaining two chicks survived until fledging on July 25. They were last observed together on August 2. The parent birds had already migrated: the female was last seen on July 17, and the male was last seen on July 30.

Band combinations:

Male: X,O/R:Obdot, R124 (original) → X,R:Of,Rb (banded)

Female: X,G311:–,Obdot (original) → X,G:Of,GY (banded)

* Adults were banded on June 12

Chicks:

            #1: X,B145:-,ORdot

            #2: X,B144:-,Oydot

*Chicks were banded on July 13

Additional Plover sightings:

X,B:Of,Yb

X,B:Of,Ob

X,R:O

*These three birds were spotted at Vermillion and attempted to nest there

Plover Notes

Predators: Predator issues at Whitefish Point this season were minimal. There were very few sightings of Merlins, or other raptor species on the beach. The greatest predator concern was Snowy Owls which are a normal occurrence at Whitefish Point throughout mid-May. This season, however, there were two Snowy Owls present at the Point until June 7. Duck carcasses were found near where the owls were roosting. Additional predators of concern were ravens and gulls. The parents spent a significant amount of time chasing them away, and it became increasingly difficult as the chicks gained confidence and spread out from their parents.

Dogs: Both on- and off-leash dogs posed a significant threat to plovers this season. Overall, I encountered over 30 off-leash dogs while monitoring. While people were willing to leash their dogs when told, they would frequently remove the leash again once I had walked away. Another common issue was dogs being on a leash, but owners not holding onto the leash. If approached by me, they would pick up the leash, but drop it once I walked away. Leashes were often longer than 6 feet, giving dogs the opportunity to approach wildlife before their owners could correct them.

There were two incidents of off-leash dogs chasing shorebirds, and one incident of a dog running into the protected area close to the nest while the plovers were incubating. Future Whitefish Point monitors should document incidents with dogs to further determine the risk that dogs pose to plovers and other shorebirds at the Point.

Drones: There were three documented incidents involving drone use at Whitefish Point this season. The first was a report from a birder in May that someone utilized a drone from inside the protected plover area during the early hours of the morning. The second incident occurred near the shipwreck deck. The operator cooperated when asked to take it down, and had not seen either of the “No drone zone” signs. One sign is to the left of the shipwreck deck, and the other is in the gravel “overflow” parking lot. The operator did not park in the overflow lot, and accessed the beach from the “cut” by the boardwalk kiosk therefore bypassing both of the signs. Another noticeable sign by the “cut”/kiosk area would perhaps be beneficial.

The remaining drone incident occurred when the Shipwreck Society was interested in using a drone to film a documentary involving paddleboarders coming off of Lake Superior. While the drone was not actually utilized for this, practice flights with the drone did occur in May. At the joint committee meeting on June 13, members decided to allow the use of drones by joint committee owners if all were notified.

Drones remain a forefront concern in plover monitoring, and several incidents with drones causing distress and possible abandonment of nests/chicks were reported at other nesting locations during the season. 

Kites: One incident with kite boarders caused a temporary nest abandonment in June. Two kiteboarders entered the water near the shipwreck deck, then proceeded to kiteboard up and down the shoreline between the deck and the Point. Communicating with them wasn’t possible, and they remained in the water for over an hour. The parents eventually returned to the nest.

An additional kite related incident occurred when a family flew a kite near the waterbird shack in July. When asked to take it down, they were at first angry but understood the significance of the threat when they were allowed to observe the plover chicks through a scope.

Education: Several formal and informal educational programs took place throughout the season. Advertising formal education programs was only mildly successful, and fewer than five people attended each one. Programs consisted of sharing Piping Plover life history and conservation information, answering questions, and showing participants the plovers through the spotting scope. Informal education occurred when people on the beach expressed interest in sighting the plovers. Reception to both forms of education was positive.

An idea to increase public awareness for Piping Plovers is to put a whiteboard up with up to date information on the birds out at the Point. Information could include what birds have been sighted (band combos), where the parents are from/age, expected hatch date, number of chicks, expected fledge date, age of chicks, etc. This tactic has been used at plover beaches in Canada, and has been well received by the public. This could be especially useful at Whitefish Point due to there only being one monitor who isn’t always in the right place at the right time to give people more information about the nesting plovers.

Helicopter: A private helicopter landed at the end of the boardwalk on July 24. No one was monitoring at the time. All plovers were accounted for after the incident, and further investigation was completed by the refuge staff.