It’s hard to believe, but the shorebird nesting season on Nantucket is winding down, and we are already starting to see large groups of fall migrating birds stopping by the Foundation’s beaches and marshes to fuel up before pushing their way southward to wintering grounds. All in all, 2013 was a productive year for American oystercatchers and piping plovers nesting on Foundation properties at Coatue, the Haulover, Eel Point, and Polpis Harbor. Mara Plato, our seasonal shorebird monitor, and Jonathan Shuster, our Coatue Ranger, did an excellent job monitoring and protecting the many pairs of birds that used the Foundation’s beaches to nest and raise their young. We undertake this work each year to perpetuate populations of these rare shorebirds and comply with endangered species regulations.
At Eel Point, 9 pairs of piping plovers produced a total of 14 fledged chicks this year, an average of 1.5 chicks per pair! Piping plovers began nesting on Eel Point back in the early 1990’s, and their numbers have been steadily increasing at this site since then. Population modeling conducted by researchers from Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and Yale University has demonstrated that a mean annual productivity of 1.25 chicks per pair is necessary to maintain a stable population of this species. The relatively high productivity at Eel Point this year will likely lead to an increase in plovers at this site in future years, as this species shows high rates of site fidelity where nesting attempts are successful.
Plovers were not as successful on Coatue this year, where all 4 nesting pairs failed to raise any chicks to fledging. Coatue hosts a large population of nesting greater black-backed and herring gulls, and predation by these species, as well as American crows, were documented as causes of nest failure. However, one pair of plovers nested at the Haulover this year for the first time in recent history. This nest was located near Haulover Pond on the harbor side beach. Soon after the chicks hatched, they disappeared, but were later discovered near Coskata Pond – a location that required them to traverse about one mile and cross two tidal creek inlets! This pair successfully fledged 1 chick.
American oystercatchers did well at all sites this year. Three pairs at Eel Point fledged a total of 3 chicks; 2 pairs at Polpis Harbor fledged a total of 3 chicks, 1 pair at the Haulover produced 3 chicks, and 18 pairs on Coatue produced 18 chicks. The area around our island hosts the largest breeding population of oystercatchers in Massachusetts – this year, a total of 51 pairs nested on Nantucket, Tuckernuck and Muskeget.
For the past six years, we have been collaborating with the American Oystercatcher Working Group, which includes researchers along the Atlantic coast that are participating in a coordinated, widespread effort to band and re-sight oystercatchers to gain insight into their complex patterns of movement and dispersal. The color-bands used contain a unique 2 or 3 character code with a color combination specific to the state where the bird was banded (Massachusetts bands are yellow with black codes). Researchers are thus able to identify and track individual birds in the field without re-capturing them. Our staff has worked collaboratively for the past several years with local bird bander Edie Ray to band adults and chicks nesting on our properties. Having a high percentage of the population banded increases our opportunities to better understand nest site fidelity of oystercatcher pairs and movement patterns between wintering, staging and breeding ranges. Check out the American Oystercatcher Working Group’s excellent website page (http://amoywg.org/), which contains all kinds of information about this species. And if you see a color banded oystercatcher, please be sure to report it at: http://amoywg.org/banding-re-sighting/how-to-identify-banded-birds/, where you can find a detailed explanation about how to identify banded birds.
Our sincere thanks to everyone who visited the Foundation’s beaches this summer and respected the fencing and signage installed and vehicle closures established to protect the nesting areas of these rare shorebirds!