Posted: Invisible birds afoot

The perfect cure for cabin fever yesterday morning was the chance to be out in the sunshine while doing some manual labor to help protect nesting habitat for endangered Piping Plovers and Least Terns at Sandy Hook. A small group of volunteers showed up early in the cold to install symbolic fencing around critical nesting areas in the dunes at Gunnison and North Beach.

Sandy Hook hosts one third of New Jersey’s nesting population of Piping Plovers, but nest success has been quite variable in the last few years; the main challenges having been nest predation by red foxes, flooding and human disturbance.

It’s human disturbance that the fencing seeks to control. We installed flagged string line and signage every 50 feet along the dunes – hundreds of feet of string tied with little orange flags. My job was to count out the 50 ft. distance between signs, while those with more nimble fingers tied the string and the flags. We were a pretty small group, but got lots done thanks to the use of an auger to dig the holes for the posts; in years past every hole was done with a post-hole digger. What a recipe for sore shoulders! I think Sandy Hook has 8 protected nesting areas for plovers and terns; we completed only 3 of the 8, but other groups and the park rangers are responsible for the others.

The fencing is an attempt to keep people out of the high dunes where the plovers build their nests – people with coolers on their way to the water, people with dogs, people flying kites – any of those things could cause a nest to be abandoned or crushed underfoot.

Later in the season, around Memorial Day when the chicks are hatching, volunteers will *guard* the intertidal zone which will also then be closed to the public. The plovers and their newly hatched chicks use the intertidal zone to feed and if there’s too much activity by beachgoers the plovers can be stepped on or starve. I’ve volunteered this year to be a warden on weekends and to monitor the edge of the closed area from a beach chair – to keep people out of the intertidal zone during that critical time – and to try and educate beachgoers about why the area is closed off and why the plovers and terns are worth their losing access to the beach. You might not think it, but people get pretty pissed off about losing access to the beach. A friend of mine who’s been a warden for a number of years has often been given a hard time by people and even had her tires slashed. Can you imagine being that angry at someone who’s just trying to do a good thing for birds?

I didn’t spot any plovers yesterday, but they are back. Ospreys are due in this week. Spring at the shore and its birds are coming! I’m not sure when it’ll hit me, but one day soon I’ll have to sneak away from the office to greet it at Sandy Hook. Have a look here at last year’s spring fever post – also there is a link to one of my favorite pics of piping plover chicks – aren’t they adorable? Who wouldn’t want to spend weekends getting a tan to protect them?

And please, take a minute to read Julie Zickefoose’s essay
Offseasons which she mentioned in the comments on last year’s post. It’s a beautifully-written and touching essay and part of what made me decide to actually do something this year for these birds that I treasure so much, rather than just sitting back and complaining that not enough is being done, as I did last year. Thanks for the kick in the butt… I mean… the inspiration, Julie!

I’m including this last pic mostly for Susan, but also to mention that the nude beach at Gunnison is one of the larger areas where plovers choose to nest. Not sure that I’d want to be assigned to be a warden there, but at the very least I’d have plenty of reasons (old wrinkled ones) to get some long overdue reading done this summer!


14 thoughts on “Posted: Invisible birds afoot”

  1. Thank you, Laura! When you are out there in your chair guarding the beach, I hope you have a companion nearby. Beachgoers can be arrogant, as you noted, and we wouldn’t want anything unpleasant happen to you. I’d sit with you if I could.

    You’re the best.

  2. Good for you, Laura! You will be a soldier on the front line of the culture war. I’m sure you will have much more luck educating surly, beer-guzzling beach blobs than most.

  3. Boy, a lot of good reading in that post! It is such a challenge to get enough volunteers for all the efforts needed. Your group looked energetic! Kudos and three cheers!

    We have seen the same plover situations on beaches in Michigan and also Oregon.

    Here in NW Wash. we are trying hard to save farmland and improve the water quality in our rivers, lakes and streams, for us and for salmon. Not to mention Puget Sound and the Orca whales. Same story … so much to do, so few to do it!

    May more people look, find a spot and DIG IN!

  4. Good luck “monitoring” the nude beach. I am sure you will get to guard the little peepers out there. No doubt they will be little peepers because the water is cold until July. I doubt that any nude bather would have the b-lls to confront you about walking on the dunes. No pun intended.
    Been out there once. Very disturbing. Had my suit on, BTW. Sand and naked have no business together…..

  5. Blessings on you, Laura, for caring and acting on that passion. Being a cop for people who didn’t know or sometimes even care was what eventually wore me down–that and miles of sandwalking. I couldn’t stop worrying about the terns and plovers with every high tide and every July 4 fireworks display. I hope you’ll be able to help without being consumed by the work and worry as I was. I have found that tern and plover protection and wildlife rehab are two things that can swallow me up. Be careful of your energies, do what you can, and be vigilant for burnout, OK?
    Nude beaches take on a whole new spin when you’re trying to protect terns and plovers. Blecccch! I find them populated with people you would never want to see in that state.
    I hope you have a good experience, that you will have to deal with only enlightened nature lovers, and that you’ll take care of yourself, too.

  6. Maybe you can recruit some nude birders to deal with the nudies? Or maybe some boneless chickens? (Glad you’re doing this!)

  7. Oh boy! Knew I should have left out that bit about the nude beach…

    Mary: Thanks… I think it will be fun!

    Mojoman: Um.. not sure about the surly bit, but I do have my moments!

    I’d expect that niceness will go a long way… we’ll see.

    Susan: Aren’t they the most adorable things?

    I almost don’t want to think of how blog-worthy a day spent at Gunnison might be.


    Dave: Yeah, thanks. Should be an experience, anyway.

    Rabbit’s Guy: I’m glad for the chance to be able to volunteer this way… maybe a little time will go a long way, right?

    Jayne: Patience? You think? I’ll hope so.

    Reluctant Chicken Farmer: Did you see that post of mine a while back about how me and my brothers have always been a little off? Here’s proof!

    “Sand and naked have no business together” …. (laugh) I wouldn’t know, Kev.

    I have a suggestion (see comment below) on an alternative to all those extra roosters you’re feeding. You game?

    Delia: No, me neither. The scope will be pointed in the opposite direction for sure.

    Bobbie: Aren’t they?

    DivaKitty: 😉

    Julie: Hi! The NPS ranger who runs the program there sounds like you – she is just tireless! It has to be that way though; someone has to be willing to look after them. I’m glad for the chance to help out in some small way.


    webtoad: (rolling eyes)

    Boneless chicken? Why does it need be boneless?

    (Probably I don’t want to know.)


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