Return of the Piping Plover
June 4, 2016
WASAGA BEACH — The piping plovers have returned to Wasaga Beach with a record of five nesting pairs.
“We’ve never had five nests at Beach Area One before. It’s usually two or three nests,” said Patricia Davidson, a biologist and piping plover co-ordinator for Wasaga Beach Provincial Park and Friends of Nancy Island.
Piping plovers were locally extinct (extirpated), so every egg laid is important.
“Prior to 2007 there hadn’t been a nest in Ontario in 70 years,” said Davidson.
The entire Great Lakes region only had 60 breeding pairs of birds in the 1980s. That number has improved to 75 breeding pairs, but the species is still endangered.
“There are more elephants in the wild than there are piping plovers,” she said.
Efforts to bring back the species started at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park in 2008 with a single pair.
Last year 13 chicks hatched and nine survived. Nine chicks also survived in 2014.
There are two primary protected nesting sites; Wasaga Beach and Sauble Beach.
And to the delight of Davidson, there is now a single pair nesting at Darlington Provincial Park with one of the adults coming from Wasaga Beach.
“I think it’s really neat that the chicks hatch, fledge and fly off and they are establishing new nest sites,” said Davidson, who is in her fifth year on the project.
The fencing off of the east section of Beach Area One makes all the difference to the survival of the birds because the habitat they require is a long beach (between the water line and dunes) which happens to be Beach Area One.
Additionally, they lay their eggs out in the open.
“Their nests are smack dab where you would lay your beach towel. With a busy beach like Wasaga where they lay their eggs would be stepped on by everybody, which is why we have to close off the section.
“If we didn’t have the program and the volunteer coverage and help from staff, piping plovers would not be able to nest at this beach through the sheer numbers of people at Wasaga Beach.”
“It’s our duty to step in and share the beach with them,” said Davidson.
Human encroachment extends beyond pedestrian traffic to the raking of the beach and destruction of dunes. Beyond that eggs and chicks are food for predators including weasels, foxes and gulls and they are vulnerable to storms and high water washing away the nests.
Fencing was erected May 10 and will remain up until the end of August. Birds have paired up and are now laying clutches of eggs, typically four. Hatching takes place in mid June and birds fledge and leave the area in August.
About 40 people are volunteering to watch the bird’s behaviour and educate the public, but more volunteers are welcome.
Anyone interested including high school students needing volunteer hours, should contact Davidson through email email@example.com or at 705-429-2516.
Read more about piping plovers in The Dynamic Great Lakes