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Piping plovers returning for new nesting season: Shelburne County volunteers encouraged to keep an eye out for the birds

The endangered Piping Plovers have started returning to Nova Scotia for their summer breeding season. Beaches in Shelburne County provide habitat for almost half the provincial population. KATHY JOHNSON FILE PHOTO
The endangered Piping Plovers have started returning to Nova Scotia for their summer breeding season. Beaches in Shelburne County provide habitat for almost half the provincial population. KATHY JOHNSON FILE PHOTO - Kathy Johnson

SHELBURNE COUNTY, N.S. – The piping plovers have started returning to their summer breeding grounds in Nova Scotia and Shelburne County beaches, where almost half of the provincial total of the endangered species’ population calls home for the summer months.

Spotted on Daniel’s Head beach on Cape Sable Island on April 10 were U9 and X3, two piping plovers that were banded on the same beach on June 1 last year as part of a Bird Studies Canada banding study that has been ongoing since 2014.

The purpose of the banding study in part is to “get a sense of where they are during migration,” said Chris Curry, southwest Nova Scotia volunteer and stewardship co-ordinator for Bird Studies Canada. “We are trying to find out why the population isn’t recovering. We know what happens to them here but we really don’t know as much about their migration.”

As a result of being banded, researchers know that U9 was seen in Georgia during migration in April, and X3 was seen in Turks and Caicos this winter. Two chicks that were also banded the same day have not been spotted yet.

The plovers will be returning to the beaches from now into May, said Curry, with Bird Studies summer staff starting in early May to begin monitoring beaches and nests, collecting data and setting up signs. Curry said she will soon be contacting volunteers, encouraging them “to get out on the beach and see what they can see so we can get a sense of where the birds are.”

Curry said there are some “really fantastic” and “dedicated volunteers” in Shelburne County, who help monitor the piping plovers, such as Aileen Smith, Cape Sable Island, who was the first recipient of the new Nova Scotia Piping Plover Stewardship Award in 2017. The annual award is organized by the N.S. Piping Plover Working Group. Smith’s daughter Julie Smith was also recognized for her work as a plover volunteer last year, by getting a bronze stone on the Kejimkujik National Park’s Volunteer Walk of Honour for her significant contribution.

WANT TO HELP?

Anyone interested in volunteering with Bird Studies Canada can contact nsplovers@gmail.com, via the Facebook page Piping Plover Conservation in Nova Scotia, or call 902-656-2513.

Last year piping plovers nested or were spotted on at least 12 Shelburne County beaches.

“In Shelburne County the beaches are very unique,” said Curry. “The beaches here are still pretty wild and natural. It’s so interesting to see how the beaches change so much.”

She said the plovers like beaches that move and change. “We have no idea where birds are going to nest. Because of winter storms the habitat changes dramatically every year,” she said, adding a beach that may not have been suitable habitat one year could be this year and vice versa.

The endangered Piping Plovers have started returning to Nova Scotia for their summer breeding season. Beaches in Shelburne County provide habitat for almost half the provincial population. KATHY JOHNSON FILE PHOTO
The endangered Piping Plovers have started returning to Nova Scotia for their summer breeding season. Beaches in Shelburne County provide habitat for almost half the provincial population. KATHY JOHNSON FILE PHOTO

In 2017, 21 piping plover pairs nested on Shelburne County beaches, 49 per cent of the provincial total, producing 35 fledglings. Curry said one highlight from last summer is the three pairs that nested at Roseway/Round Bay beach, “between them they produced 10 fledglings, quite an accomplishment at a busy beach.”

While Bird Studies Canada co-ordinates and carries the piping plover conservation program in Nova Scotia for the federal and provincial governments, “Separate from that we have the Shelburne County Beach Stewardship Group,” said Curry, which includes representation from the Municipality of Shelburne, the Municipality of Barrington, the Town of Lockeport, Shelburne County Tourism, as well as interested individuals, Bird Studies Canada, and support from the provincial departments of environment and natural resources.

The group was started in 2014 because “we felt there was a role for municipalities and tourism to play” in the education and promotion of good beach stewardship, said Curry. Guided by its vision – Healthy Beaches for People and Wildlife in Shelburne County – the Shelburne County Beach Stewardship Group’s focus has been effective communication of beach best practices to residents and visitors.

The group has embarked on several recent projects, including signage at Louis Head and Roseway Beach in partnership with the Municipality of Shelburne that delivers key stewardship messages, and the “mailbox project” at the same two beaches. The mailboxes housed visitor log books, which gathered hundreds of comments and stories from local residents and visitors. “It was an amazing thing,” said Curry. “So many people wrote in it and shared their stories of the beaches. That’s something we hope to expand to other beaches this year.”

The stewardship group has also produced a Shelburne County Beaches Brochure, which includes information about piping plovers and beach stewardship. “The group has been taking on small projects, but we are also encouraging municipalities to take on projects of their own,” said Curry.

Where almost half the Nova Scotia population of piping plovers nest on Shelburne County beaches, “We have this responsibility and opportunity to steward our beaches that makes it a good experience for people and the plover,” said Curry. “I think education is helping but ATVs are still an issue on some beaches.”

This spring and summer, Curry said Bird Studies Canada staff hope to do some community engagement projects, such as getting some students out for field trips or helping to make signs. “It’s always a busy time. There’s a lot going on.”

Anyone interested in volunteering with Bird Studies Canada can contact nsplovers@gmail.com, via the Facebook page Piping Plover Conservation in Nova Scotia, or call 902-656-2513.

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