Plover/Tern/Oystercatcher Updates

From Maureen Durkin from the USF&WS:

Photo Credit: Grace Carew

Update from 2023:

End of season 2023: We are entering the last third of beach-nesting bird season here in Rhode Island. Typically after 4th of July we see re-nesting drop off rapidly, and at this point I don’t anticipate we will have any new plover nests laid. All the American oystercatcher nests have hatched, and they are done laying eggs. The least terns are still going steadily and we are seeing some late courtship behavior, so they could still try for a few last re-nests. 

Our numbers of adult nesting pairs in the state are looking great this year- stay tuned for more on that soon. However, it is worth mentioning that it does look like we might have a bit of a sub-par year productivity-wise. We’ve been experiencing a lot of chick losses the last couple weeks, probably a combination of the poor weather and torrential rains, plus the increase in activity over the 4th of July holiday. 

For American oystercatchers, we’ve already met our productivity goal of 0.5 chicks/pair even without the remaining unfledged chicks, which is a big relief after 2 years of very poor AMOY productivity. We’re very happy to see Sandy Point Island AMOY doing better, and Block Island is now up to 5 pairs. 

As birds finish up and leave the area on non-federal beaches, ropes will start to come down gradually. We already have taken some roping down and another few sites that are done for the season. However, please keep in mind that sites with least terns will likely have closures up longer, as they go later into the summer with their nesting. 

Have a wonderful weekend, 

Maureen 

Mid-season

We are at the peak and about midway through beach-nesting bird season, and it’s been a very busy few weeks for our field crew trying to keep up with all the birds out there! Overall, I think that we are going to have a banner year in terms of pair numbers of piping plovers in our area when all is said and done. It’s still too early to tell how we’ll land productivity-wise for piping plovers, but for American oystercatchers we are already outpacing last year in terms of chicks on the ground and fledges, so I’m cautiously optimistic we will have a better year for AMOY than the previous two. 

Other notable happenings: 

  • The Westerly area has become an even bigger piping plover stronghold this year, with East Beach Watch Hill up to 23 pairs, and both Sandy Point and Napatree at 10 pairs. Napatree in particular has had one of the biggest one-year site population jumps I have ever seen in the absence of a major storm, up to 10 pairs so far this year from 3 last year! Yay Napatree! 
  • We also have our first American oystercatcher fledges of the year out on the CT side Sandy Point, with another wave close behind them on SPI and Block Island. Notably, the chicks that fledged are from a brood of 3, and there is a second brood of 3 chicks about a week away from fledging on the RI side. We rarely get AMOY that manage to fledge all three of their chicks, so this great to see. 
  • After a gap of about 6 years, the mouth of the Narrow River again has a nesting pair of plovers on the spit. This is a tough site in terms of human activity, but we’ve received a lot of support from visitors so far. Special thanks to the Dunes Club staff for helping with access and being excellent plover partners. 
  • In not-so-great news, plover nests at Ninigret unfortunately got hit hard by crows last week, after what seemed like a more promising start to the season on that front. Hoping second nest attempts fare better. 
  • Second Beach at Sachuest, normally one of our higher productivity sites in terms of chicks per pair, is struggling with nest loss this year. On 3rd, several pairs have shown up to and left after scraping briefly, and we’ve only had one nest so far there, which washed out a high tide. Not sure what is causing the birds to leave Third Beach this year, but dogs are continual concern. 
  • The Roger Wheeler parking lot chicks made it to hatch and out to the beach, but were down to two chicks last week. This week those two have not been seen and are MIA, so they sadly may break their recent hot streak on fledging chicks. 

    The Trustom Pond NWR AMOY nest did hatch, which is exciting as mainland beach nests rarely, if ever, hatch in RI. Unfortunately the chicks disappeared quickly.
  • In an apparent response to the severe dune scarping at some parts of Ninigret and Quonnie, we’ve had 6 “cliff-nesters” so far this year, up from 2 last year. These are plovers that make strange nests in the side of the dune, often behind exposed roots (see photo below). Whatever works, I guess! 

As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. 

Cheers, Maureen 

a photo of our first nest of the year- at Quonnie. 

Beginning of season: This is the first update of 2023, as we now have first nests on the ground! Our season is officially underway, our crew has been busy since late March posting, roping, and signing nesting areas on a dozen beaches in South County and Aquidneck Island to ensure the birds have protected areas to set up territories as they arrive back from their wintering grounds. We also received help from some of our volunteers and from URI Wildlife students, which we’re very grateful for. 

The weather this year has been a bit better so far than last year’s intense storms and wind, and the heat wave a couple weeks ago definitely got many of the birds into nesting mode. We officially have both piping plovers and American oystercatcher nests on the scoreboard and anticipate many more nests in the next few weeks as we move towards peak nesting season. Least terns are not back yet, and we don’t expect to see them for a few weeks yet. It’s still early though, and we anticipate that most of our sites will see increases in pair numbers as birds continue to return into May and settle onto territories.

I’ll be in touch again later this month when all the birds are wrapped up! As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions and thank you for your continued support for our beach-nesters.