2018-09-07 / Front Page

Record year for plover births

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

Maine Audubon reported a record number of nesting plovers and fledglings. (Courtesy photo) Maine Audubon reported a record number of nesting plovers and fledglings. (Courtesy photo) A record number of piping plover births on Maine shores, including at Western Beach in Scarborough, is being touted as welcome news for the struggling species.

According to an Aug. 29 release by Maine Audubon its “plover crew” has wrapped its 2018 season of monitoring the plover nests on 20 beaches from Ogunquit to Georgetown.

“In 2018, we had a record number of nesting pairs and a record number of fledglings for Maine,” said Laura Minich Zitske, who leads the Maine Coastal Birds project. “We tallied 68 total nesting pairs, with 128 fledged birds.”

That tally includes a record 15 fledglings counted on Western Beach on Prouts Neck.

This year’s plover crew, which includes Minich Zitske and fellow biologists Sam Albright and Zac Fait, along with Audubon interns Monica Johnson, Ashley Price, and Anthony Erwin, began their work in April.

Audubon also partners with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to educate towns and landowners on how to maintain safe nesting conditions for the endangered shorebird and to educate beachgoers on how best to share the sands.

“The success we’re seeing for plovers this year is really a testament to these partnerships,” Minich Zitske said. “Without engaged landowners, dedicated volunteers, and proactive public works folks in these seaside towns, we could never hope to have the sort of reach we’ve achieved together.

We have volunteers that are out at dawn walking the beaches, looking for birds, and talking to people,” Minich Zitske said, adding that, “A healthy dose of luck in terms of good weather always helps, too.”

This year, Ogunquit Beach saw the most fledglings, with 24. Along with Scarborough, Wells Beach also saw 15 new plover births.

“We had only 27 nesting pair when I first worked on this project in 2009,” Minich Zitske said. “For the past four years, we’ve had at least 60 nesting pairs. I feel good about this consistency we’ve had in recent years. Not only to have a record number of nesting pairs, but for those nests to do well, makes me feel more confident in the growing stability of Maine’s Piping Plover population.”

“Of course, at the end of the day we’re still talking about only 68 nesting pairs in the whole state,” Minich Zitske said. “These birds still have a long way to go.”

In 2013, the Scarborough town council voted 5-2 to accept an agreement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife that reduced a $12,000 fine assessed for the killing of a plover fledgling by a dog on Pine Point Beach down to $500. That deal came in return for adoption of new leash-law guidelines, leading to a long and contentious battle of wills with local dog owners.

At that time, there were just four nesting pairs of plovers found in Scarborough and those had a productivity rate — defined as the number of surviving chicks per mating pair — of just 0.7 percent. Fish and Wildlife officials say 1.5 is the minimum rate needed to sustain the species.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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