Endangered Piping Plovers Return to Sauble Beach

Nature Canada supporter Kim Toews and her son, Brendan, have been providing us with updates on the return of Piping Plovers to Sauble Beach in Ontario for several years. Here is their first update for 2010:
Brendan and I are extremely happy to report that the Piping Plover have once again returned to Sauble Beach for the 2010 season! This is their fourth consecutive year (2007-10) in a row!
Below is a brief update on what’s been happening with the birds this year:
April 15, 2010 – Last year’s south nest male (M1) is the first plover to arrive back on the beach.
April 19, 2010 – Last year’s middle nest female (F1) arrives back.
April 21, 2010 – The plovers seem to be spending more time together feeding and checking out scrapes (nests). The male (M1) has constructed at least three scrapes but preferred one over the others. After feeding and resting, the male moved to his favourite scrape and called consistently. Three times today the female (F1) moved to the scrape and sat in it while the male mantled (flared his wings close to her). He soon gained an upright stature (looked very tall) and began to goose step.
April 26, 2010 – Courtship Behavior
This behavior, although specific to this 2010 Sauble Beach pair, has been observed similarly several times with other pairs from previous years.
At some point after resting and/or feeding the male moves across the beach to an area he chooses to make a scrape. The scrape is made by throwing sand in all directions, hollowing out a shallow nest-like structure.
The male then begins to ‘pipe’ constantly while sitting in the scrape or stands close by.
The female, after a suitable time, moves towards the male and sits in the scrape.
The male mantles by spreading or flaring his wings either over the female or close to her. He then moves to her side or rear and assumes an upright posture (stands tall) and begins to goose step rapidly – so fast in fact, that it is easy to miss if not watching closely. The male moves close to the female and often ‘kicks’ her side or tail feathers. If the female is receptive, the male mounts her back and may then attempt to copulate. We have observed this behavior several times when copulation doesnot seem to occur. Once the male tumbled forward off the female.
April 28, 2010 – Last year’s middle nest male (M2) arrived back on the beach. There was lots of magnificent territorial display between the two males. It was non-stop for nearly 10 hours. The birds ran side by side, ran around each other – taking turns, flew in loops up and down the beach sometimes chasing sometimes looping over the female (F1).
At the beginning (M1) was by far the aggressor. When the three birds came in close contact, the female joined in chasing the second male (M2) away. In fact, this same male (M2) had a successful nesting with female (F1) in 2009.
April 29, 2010 – This year’s first arriving male (M1) was clearly separated from the other two by at least 10 meters. Lots of courtship behaviour observed between second arriving male (M2) and first arriving female (F1).
May 1, 2010 – Confirmation of a fourth plover on the beach. A male (M3).
May 2, 2010 – Three plovers on the beach – no sign of our new-comer (M3).
May 5, 2010 – First egg! Confirmation of the first egg (F1 and M2).
May 6, 2010 – A second female (F2) arrived on the beach and has paired up with the first male (M1). Later on today, the perimeter fence was installed. The first female (F1) should be laying the second nest egg later today (every two days). So we have one nesting pair and a second pair. We will hope for a second nest soon. A Guardian information meeting was held with presentations from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Canadian Wildlife Service.
May 7, 2010 – Territorial flights mid morning and several stand-offs between the two males. Crows and foxes are in the area.
Two large Piping Plover signs were installed just inside the beach entrance. A class of Outdoor Education students arrived and they were shown the plovers through a scope. The students viewed the birds for 20 minutes. We talked about the plovers and what the students could do to help. We are focusing on Grade 6 students this year and have developed a learning unit about this rare, endangered species.
May 12, 2010 – We have one established nest this season (F1 and M2). We have a single male (M1) who had a mate (F2), but the female seems to have left or at least we have not seen her for several days.
The guardian program has been reintroduced with four shifts per day. There will be an announcement soon about a special guardian welcome and training session presented by MNR and CWS.
Thanks for sharing these on-the-ground observations with us, Kim! We look forward to hearing more about the Piping Plovers throughout the season.
Photos by Brendan Toews, btoewsphotos.zenfolio.com