Beware the plover wardens!

12 06 2012

It’s Piping Plover breeding season, and the diminutive shorebirds are not alone on the beaches of the east coast; their companion species, the plover wardens, have also descended, bright orange fencing over their shoulders, variably attired in khaki vests, polo shirts bearing official logos and serious looking “just try and cross that line” expressions.

Having grown up in Massachusetts near Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island, where most of the beach is closed entirely most of the summer, I know the rage these birds can stir in the hearts of locals. Even as I kid though, I found it satisfying that the birds got almost a whole island to themselves, without dogs, pickup trucks, or staggering drunks to stomp them. But I always felt a bit left out, watching the plover wardens patrol the boundary between the peopled beach and the plovered beach.

As a Seanetter, it becomes even worse. After all, we’re out there on the beaches in all weather, all year round, and then suddenly, our access to our turf is curtailed by those orange fences and the crossed arms of the plover wardens. It can be tempting to slip past the fencing, rationalizing that SEANET is environmental science, so we should have special privileges. But today, I write urging you to resist the temptation. No one likes being left out, but Seanetters of all people should be first to appreciate the exclusion zones.

Last month, I got an email from a Massachusetts Audubon employee on Cape Cod. She told us that some beachgoer had found a seabird wing tagged with orange cable ties and had brought it to the Audubon center. It was, of course, one of ours. No information was left on where the wing was found, or when. I was frustrated that this beachgoer had interfered with our project, and that we’d lost a data point as a result. But more than that, as a teacher I was frustrated at my inability to reach his person, to explain the purpose of the project, and what to do if he or she ever finds another bird carcass bristling with orange tags. I suspect the same is true of the plover wardens. While they often do seem to derive understandable delight in sternly warning jerk-face frisbee players away from the tiny eggs, I know that they all volunteer because they love the birds and they wish more people would too.

So, Seanetters, respect the fencing, respect the beach closures, and be kind to the plover wardens. If you spot a beached bird in an exclusion zone, I warn you officially, don’t go in after it! It’s not worth the risk to the living birds. You may find that if you contact the folks responsible for the plovers on your beach, they may permit you to pull the bird out, or they may have someone fetch it for you. Tell them I sent you. If you are a new Seanetter and you find that most or all of your beach is closed for plover or tern nesting, let me know and we’ll determine if you need a different beach.

Humans naturally close ranks around their particular tribes. We have many Seanetters who keep one foot in the SEANET tribe and one among the Plover People. We do have a lot in common with them. So keep that in mind, and keep SEANET plover friendly!

p.s.–in response to a very shrewd observation by blog visitor David Clerk, “what is one to do with a SEANET carcass found on the beach?” The answer: leave it be, and send me an email to let me know where you spotted it, when, and what, if any, number it sported on its tag. Thanks for pointing out my failure to say that in the body of this post!




6 responses

12 06 2012
David Clerk

Even though I live many mile away (Montreal, Canada) I am and have been for many years a frequent visitor to Cape Cod and enjoy walking its beaches in all seasons. I discovered Seanet after comng across dead and dying eiders on Jeremy point in October 2010 and making inquiries at the National Seashore visitor center.
You state in your blog that « I was frustrated at my inability to reach his person, to explain the purpose of the project, and what to do if he or she ever finds another bird carcass bristling with orange tags ».

My question is « What DO I do if I find a « bird carcass bristling with orange tags » » ? Maybe I missed it but I did not find this information on your web site.

12 06 2012

Thank you David, for pointing out that omission! It’s critical enough that I added a little addendum to the post with the info.

12 06 2012
Jenette Kerr

As an erstwhile member of Mass Audubon’s coastal waterbird team, I recall one of “our” plover pairs in Truro who nested not far from a loon carcass(not tagged in orange) that, curiously, never seemed to decompose…. it was odd seeing bird life and death in such close proximity.

12 06 2012

It’s true, Jenette: bird corpses weather gracefully.

4 09 2012
Scott Solberg

I have been a CSA Plover Monitor for the Urban Park Rangers in Rockaway Beach, NY for two summers now, and I simply wanted to point out that I love what you are writing about and the way you write it. I have been interested in also starting a blog about my experiences and how to reach the people in the area about conservation, litter removal, respecting the symbolic bird fencing, and of course education about all of the wild life in the area (not just Piping Plovers). Being so close to New York City and all, it’s an amazing amalgam of so many different “tribes” as you put it with people coming from all over the world to enjoy that little stretch of beach. It is amazing how many mini soap opera/reality shows could be written about the goings on down here.
Anyway thanks for the inspiration.
Sincerely Scott Solberg

4 09 2012

Thank you Scott! I started the blog as a little frivolous side project, and it’s become one of the most important means of communicating news and hard science to our volunteers and the wider community. It’s so deeply rewarding to hear from a reader like you. If you ever do start up a blog, let me know, and I will get word out in this venue to our readership, who would indeed be interested in all those soap operas.

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