Cape Gazette
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Piping plovers weather wild weekend at Cape Henlopen State Park

Jul 10, 2014

Despite an emergency landing by a small plane inside a closed nesting area, a hurricane passing offshore and hordes of holiday beachgoers, all of Delaware’s known piping plover parents and their chicks survived the long weekend at Cape Henlopen State Park, beachnesting bird monitors were pleased to report.

The eventful extended Fourth of July weekend started the evening of July 2, when a Cessna 152 headed for Georgetown from Ocean City, Md., experienced engine trouble and set down undamaged inside an area south of Herring Point closed for the protection of nesting plovers.

“The plane’s occupants were not injured, and the aircraft was removed from the area early Thursday morning,” said Wildlife Biologist Matt Bailey. “Beachnesting bird monitors who searched the area later found all plover adults and chicks were safe and sound, too.”

On July 4, the remnants of Hurricane Arthur rolled in to Delaware’s beaches, causing the temporary closure of drive-on beaches in the park.  Although the waves reached fairly high up on the beach, no beachnesting birds lost their nests and no loss of chicks occurred, Bailey said. Beaches opened up by the afternoon and beachnesting bird monitors spent the night at Gordons Pond, keeping an eye on the closed area as throngs of park visitors came to see Rehoboth Beach’s fireworks show.

July 5 and 6 brought great beach weather and crowds of beachgoers as expected. The park closed and opened numerous times as it filled up with visitors. “Thanks to the beachnesting bird monitors and the efforts of dedicated plover watch volunteers, incidents of trespass into closed areas were minimal,” Bailey said.

On July 5, an injured sea duck was reported about 100 feet inside the closed area on the ocean side of the Point. Beachnesting bird monitors were able to capture the female black scoter, and then coordinate with Tri-State Bird Rescue to transfer the scoter to their facility in Newark for rehabilitation.

On July 6, a distraught parent told a plover watch volunteer that her two teenage sons were stranded on the breakwater offshore from the bayside of the Point. The volunteer called beachnesting bird monitors who put the teens’ mother through to a park ranger on duty. The volunteer stayed with the mother until rangers arrived and transported her sons back to the mainland by boat without further incident.

In between all these exciting events, beachnesting bird monitors found time to complete their observations. On the Point, three sets of piping plover parents were seen: one pair with two fledglings feeding along the bayside tidal flats, one pair with two chicks in the same area and the third pair on the northern tip of the Point with two chicks. One other plover pair on the Point is continuing to incubate their eggs. At Gordons Pond, a pair of plovers with four chicks was seen feeding on the pond side of the dunes.

In other beachnesting bird news, the least tern colony on the Point also made it through the hurricane, and a pair of American oystercatchers was observed incubating a nest at the tip of the Point.

For more information about beachnesting birds or monitoring efforts, contact Bailey at 302-382-4151 or matthew.bailey@state.de.us.

About the piping plover

The piping plover was listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1986, and the Division of Fish and Wildlife is responsible for its protection in Delaware, where Cape Henlopen is its only current nesting area. Under a binding agreement and subsequent species management plan that DNREC made in 1990 with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the federal agency with oversight of this ESA-protected species, piping plover nesting areas at Cape Henlopen State Park are closed annually to the public to protect the shorebirds from disturbance during their March to September nesting season, including the Point and smaller areas around Gordon’s Pond. The closure, which must include feeding habitat as well as nesting areas, has been successful, increasing the number of piping plover nesting pairs from a low of two pairs to a high of nine pairs. Piping plovers feed on small invertebrates that inhabit the intertidal zone near their nesting territories. Chicks are not fed by their parents, but rather are led to the shoreline to forage while the adults keep watch for potential threats. Allowing pedestrian traffic in the intertidal zone adjoining nesting areas would disturb the vital link between nesting and foraging habitat and risk adverse stress or mortality to the chicks.

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