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I heard the Piping Plovers are taking over the beach. How much area is specifically for Plovers and why are access to these areas restricted?
Piping Plover habitat is protected under the Ontario Endangered Species Act (2007), the Migratory Birds Convention Act (Canada), and the Species at Risk Act (Canada). This legislation helps protect the species, especially nesting pairs. On our beaches, there is a high amount of human use, and therefore a high possibility of disturbing nesting Piping Plovers, or even accidental destruction of a nest. To reduce the chances of this happening, net-covered metal exclosures are erected immediately surrounding nest sites chosen by the birds, called a predator exclosure. Shortly after, there will be a roped off area of approximately fifty metres in radius placed around the nest. This is called a perimeter fence and it is in place to alert the public that entry into the fenced in area is legally prohibited. There will be signs and modifications to allow for human travel around the fences in certain circumstances. With an average of two Piping Plover pairs in the last couple of years, a maximum of 200 m(square) can be restricted at any given time. The Great Lakes Piping Plover recovery strategy dictates the size of the area of protected habitat surrounding the Plover nesting areas. It should be noted that as more pairs of Piping Plovers use the beach we learn more about their needs and how best to protect habitat for their nesting and chick rearing behaviours. Modifications for the current program are likely over time and as situations change. These areas are free to be used by beachgoers, and are maintained in a natural state to allow for the newly hatched chicks to find food, stay safe from predators and take cover during inclement weather once they hatch from the nest. Be aware in these areas that young Plovers may be nearby and avoid high energy activities such as ball games, flying kites and running in areas adjacent to Plover families.
Where are the roped off / fenced areas? Are the Plovers always in these areas?
Roped off or perimeter fences are only maintained around an active (or recently active) nest site. During the months of May and June, an adult Plover will always be incubating on the nest. Adults take turns incubating the nest, and can move in and out of the predator exclosures or perimeter fences freely. Adult Plovers use large sections of the beach, and it is not uncommon to see these birds foraging along the shoreline far from fenced areas. Once the chicks hatch, families may or may not remain within the fenced areas. By monitoring these areas and the Plovers’ behaviour, fences are removed when they no longer provide substantial protection from disturbance. Because of this, fences may be up longer during one season than during another. While fences are up, please respect this boundary, even if it does not appear as though there are Plovers inside of it. These birds can be extremely camouflaged, especially in the right habitat.
The fenced areas appear to move; why is this?
Predator exclosures and perimeter fences have been moved in cases where there is a failed nest and the adult Plovers have moved on to re-nest elsewhere on the beach. Changes may also seem to occur due to the changing water levels of Lake Huron. Depending on the wind and waves, fences may appear closer to the water than on a previous day. For the most part, corridors in front of fenced areas are maintained to allow the passage of people along the shoreline. However, in some cases, Plover nests are very close to the water. While corridors are intended, sometimes the lake levels rise to within the fenced areas. In these cases, efforts are made to reduce the width of the fencing to allow for easy travel behind the fenced off area. Please do not cut through the fenced off areas when waves flood the front corridors. This brings traffic even closer to incubating adults, and increases the potential for disturbing the nest. It can also increase the risk of nest abandonment — if adult Plovers leave an established nest, they may re-nest in a slightly different area on the beach. Re-nesting increases the amount of time a pair needs to raise chicks, and fences end up staying up for a longer period of time than for pairs who do not re-nest.
When will the beach be cleaned up?
Cleaning the beach of human garbage occurs on a regular basis. Garbage is picked up from garbage cans regularly as part of the beach maintenance program. Beginning in July, on-foot garbage monitors walk the beach to keep it clean. Driftwood on the beach in the naturally maintained areas adjacent to Piping Plover nests is a natural feature of the beach ecosystem. This is essential to the survival of the Piping Plovers on the beach. They use the driftwood to remain hidden from predators, protect themselves from wind or stormy weather, and search within the driftwood for food. A natural beach looks attractive for some beachgoers, not so much for others who prefer to see it manicured. Many visitors use the driftwood to create some very interesting artwork on the beach, or use it to decorate their elaborate sand castles. Please respect that driftwood is an important part of a young Plover’s survival and leave it in place on the beach.
Why are beachgoers encouraged to “maintain a distance” from the Plovers? The birds seem to enjoy the company of people, and let me get close to them without running away.
While the Piping Plover may appear to be accustomed to human presence on the beach, close contact can be troublesome for a few reasons:
Sometimes Plover behaviour is misinterpreted as “comfortable.” For instance, adult Plovers with chicks will place themselves close to a potential threat, and even approach it. If a Plover walks/runs towards you, and then stands there looking at you, it is trying to protect its chicks. Please give it some space.
Predators may take advantage of distracted adult Plovers. By giving space to Plover families, you allow the adults to concentrate on keeping a look-out for fast aerial predators like Merlins, crows, and gulls.
While you don’t feel like you are distracting a Plover, studies show that plovers are distracted by people’s nearby presence. This may be as simple as foraging more slowly (two pecks at the insects, a few seconds to look at a person — compared to continuous pecks at insects). These small changes aren’t much on their own, but considering the high use of the beach by people, the impacts can add up! This is especially true when young chicks are trying to build up enough energy to make the 2000+ km flight south about four weeks after hatching. It is advisable to refrain from setting up beach equipment in front of the fences as this interferes with the Plovers’ access to the shoreline, where much of their vital food supplies and foraging occurs.
If you are walking along the beach and see a Piping Plover, please keep moving through the area and stop some distance away to observe them if you wish. Avoid walking between adults and chicks. This space also allows adult Plovers with chicks to spend their energy scouting for predators. A nearby gull thinks chicks are a tasty snack, and an attack from a merlin requires some fancy aerial maneuvering on the Plover’s part to stay alive. By not distracting them with your presence, you will give them a better chance for survival. You will also be able to observe more natural behaviours.
I want to become more involved in Piping Plover conservation. What does a volunteer monitor do?
Generally, volunteers spend their time on the beach observing the Plovers, and answering questions of beachgoers. The intent is to gather information on the Plovers, as well as foster stewardship for their conservation. Volunteering can be done on a regular basis, or just when you have a free day or even just a couple of hours. Check out our section about volunteering for more specifics. You don’t have to be a birder or Plover expert to come out! All you need is a desire to learn and some spare time.
Who is responsible for Piping Plover conservation actions on Sauble Beach?
Everyone is! Whether you are highly involved or just visit the beach, every resident and visitor is responsible for the conservation of the Piping Plover. Everyday beachgoers are instrumental in reducing disturbance to nesting birds by respecting their space, staying out of the fenced areas, and by learning more about endangered species in Ontario.
Major work is done by agencies and community groups. The Piping Plover Recovery Team (made up of Birds Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service and Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks staff) assists with protocol and actions including nest protection and banding young chicks. They receive input from an on-site OMECP species at risk biologist who maintains a scientific record. The Town of South Bruce Peninsula’s cooperation with the program is very important in protecting the endangered species habitat; this is most evident in the work of the by-law enforcement officers that are active on the beach area each day and evening. Community volunteers assist in monitoring Plovers and providing information for interested beachgoers. These volunteers are supported by an Ontario Species at Risk Stewardship Fund grant. A Piping Plover volunteer committee working in cooperation with the OMECP administers this grant on behalf of Stewardship Grey Bruce.
Enforcement of the legislation is done by provincial conservation officers, and federal enforcement officers (Canadian Wildlife Service).
The cooperative efforts are key to the success of Piping Plover nesting on Sauble Beach.
I would like to photograph the Plovers, how can I do this?
Getting a photo of an endangered species is a great experience, but remember that we are trying to reduce disturbances to these birds while they are nesting or raising young. We encourage photographers to ideally maintain a fifty metre distance from the birds, and to use high zoom lenses when photographing. Most point and shoot cameras will not zoom far enough to get a good shot, and approaching Plovers on purpose should be avoided. Photographers are also encouraged to respect the Plovers, and avoid setting up for long periods of time in an area where they will alter the behaviour of the Plovers. This includes waiting on the shoreline in the direct path of the Plovers or forcing them to walk around you to get where they need to be. Try to be aware of your surroundings as well as the bird’s behaviour and move out of the bird’s way if it looks like they are trying to get around you or are moving towards you.
I saw someone in the fenced off area/with a dog on the beach/running towards a Plover… What should I do?
If you witness any incidence of people chasing Plovers, or entering fenced areas, please call the Town of South Bruce Peninsula’s By-law Enforcement Officers. These officers patrol the beach daily and can be of immediate benefit to the birds. You can also call the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks Owen Sound District office at 1-800-265-3783.
Everyone is encouraged to maintain positive attitudes on the beach with respect to the Plovers — realize that not everyone may know as much about the subject as you might. If you wish to let someone know about how their actions may disturb Piping Plovers, please do so with respect and patience. For town by-law infractions, including dogs on the beach, setting off fireworks, and campfires, please report these to the Town of South Bruce Peninsula by-law office.
If you saw a Plover on the beach, and wish to report that observation (or saw something that might be important — such as a natural predator attacking a Plover), please send an email with as much detail as possible to .
The Piping Plover is an “open beach bird.” Won’t the vegetation growing in on some areas of Sauble Beach make it harder for the birds to survive?
Ultimately yes, but this is only in cases where a beach is completely vegetated. Piping Plovers rely on some of the vegetated areas of the beach to hide, rest and brood their young. In some cases, a breeding pair will hide their nest near vegetation, such as small shrubs and grasses. On Sauble Beach, the consistently low lake levels in the last couple of years is creating a shift that is probably very noticeable to many residents or long-time visitors to Sauble Beach. Essentially, the beach is shifting towards the lake. This has happened before, as is evident by the historic dunes further inland left over from the glacial lakes. Piping Plovers actually use the semi-vegetated areas of the beach heavily while they are raising their chicks. The function would be similar to the driftwood — a place that they can take shelter in. The presence of lots of people along the shoreline force Piping Plovers to use this vegetative habitat as camouflage.
Will the beach be raked after the birds migrate south in August?
The exact timing of the Piping Plovers heading south for a winter in Florida or Texas is unpredictable. Because of this, plans cannot be made in advance of that date. Actual beach maintenance schedules will depend heavily on many factors, including the Plover’s final departure. Due to the uncertainty, each season will be different.
In some situations, beach raking may be limited or prohibited during some or all of the year in order to ensure the habitat for the species is protected and available in the future. The general rule is that beach management activities cannot damage or destroy the habitat or harm the Plovers. In addition to habitat specific for Plover survival, the maintenance of a natural beach is beneficial for the long-term health of the entire ecosystem. Driftwood and vegetation clumps create “sand traps” that help keep sand on the beach, in the same manner as the dunes do. By raking the beach regularly, many of the natural measures for keeping beach sand where it belongs are removed. This is one reason why dune formation is encouraged at Sauble Beach, and the installation of snow fences helps recreate some of those natural features (driftwood and vegetation clumps) that are removed.