CONTACT:
Brendan Clifford: 603) 271-0463
Samantha Niziolek: (603) 419-9728
Jane Vachon: (603) 271-3211
May 20, 2009

Endangered Piping Plover Nesting Season Underway on N.H. Beaches

CONCORD, N.H. -- Four pairs of piping plovers have returned to the New Hampshire seacoast this spring to nest and raise their young. These state-endangered and federally threatened migratory shorebirds have been nesting each year at locations on Hampton and Seabrook beaches since 1997, when they were first discovered by a jogger running on the beach.

"We have three nests established so far; two are at Seabrook Beach and one is at Hampton Beach State Park," said Samantha Niziolek, the 2009 piping plover monitor for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. Each of the nests has a protective fence around it, and is covered with netting to keep predators away and protect the birds and their eggs during incubation. "The fourth pair has mostly been seen in Seabrook, although nesting scrapes in the sand have also been found in Hampton," Niziolek said. "We're not sure where this pair will decide to nest; they are our mystery couple right now."

So far, things are going quite well; good weather and early nesting means the chicks will hatch early and be able to fly before the Fourth of July holiday. According to Niziolek, the nest at Hampton Beach State Park should be the first to hatch, with chicks expected right around Memorial Day weekend. The two nests in Seabrook are both expected to hatch soon after, during the week of June 4-13.

Once the chicks hatch, their first 30 days are crucial to their survival. The chicks have feathers when they hatch, but they are unable to fly until they reach about 30 days of age. The tiny hatchlings are able to walk and feed themselves just hours after birth, and may be seen scurrying between the dunes and water, feeding.

"Watch where you step," Niziolek cautioned, "There will be little chicks around, and their defense mechanism is to freeze when people get close, which makes them difficult to see." The chicks are about the size of a cottonball when first born, and both the chicks and adults are light colored and blend in with the sand very well.

"Another concern is that after Memorial Day, people should start leashing their dogs," Niziolek said. "Dogs are one of the biggest threats to endangered piping plovers."  Free-running dogs can accidentally step on and crush eggs and chicks.  They also may chase the birds, which can lead to many problems, including causing stress for the birds and separating adults from their chicks; dogs have even been known to kill the tiny birds.  Hampton Beach State Park and the Town of Seabrook both have restrictions regarding dogs on beaches during the summer. People should check before bringing their dog on any public beach.

Once the plover chicks begin to hatch around Memorial Day, Niziolek will be in need of volunteers to help monitor the plovers. "When the chicks in Seabrook hatch the chicks in Hampton will still be unable to fly, so an extra set of eyes would be helpful.  One person could monitor at Seabrook, while the other keeps watch in Hampton," Niziolek explained. Anyone interested in volunteering with plover monitoring duties can contact Niziolek at 603-419-9728.

While things are going smoothly so far for the plovers nesting in New Hampshire, this spring has not been free of incident.  During the night of Monday, May 4, vandalism took place at Hampton Beach State Park near the nesting birds. "Someone broke into the fence protecting the plover nest, bent the metal poles, tore the netting on top and stole one of the piping plover eggs," said Niziolek. Footprints in and around the nest site were evidence of what had taken place. Niziolek notified officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who are investigating the incident. Since piping plovers are listed as endangered in New Hampshire and threatened throughout their range in the United States, they are protected by both state and federal endangered species laws. "Both the male and female adult piping plovers are continuing to incubate the remaining three eggs at the Hampton location," said Niziolek. "The eggs appear to be unharmed, but we still don't know whether or not they will hatch."

On a more positive note, volunteer Don Felix from Seabrook has taken on a new documentary role this summer. Felix, who first discovered the plovers nesting in Seabrook in 1997 while jogging, has been involved with the plover project ever since. He has been instrumental in monitoring the birds and helping to set up fencing every year. This year, Felix has decided to video the breeding plovers and create a piping plover documentary. Using a video camera he purchased himself, he has been filming biologists and volunteers setting up fencing and recording the birds' behavior and activities. "It is quite exciting to be creating this kind of record," said Niziolek. "Felix has gotten some really great footage already!" Felix plans on providing N.H. Fish and Game with a copy of his piping plover documentary, once complete.

N.H. Fish and Game will again work closely this summer with beach managers to temporarily halt beach raking in nesting areas to protect the birds and leave some seaweed that washes ashore, since it harbors insects and other invertebrates that provide vital food sources for the plovers. Fencing and signs will remain in place until all chicks are able to fly. These measures help provide the birds with space free from disturbance by humans during the summer breeding season.  "We appreciate the public's patience, cooperation and understanding of the need to respect nesting areas and avoid beach raking during a critical time for the plovers," said John Kanter, Coordinator of Fish and Game's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. "Together, we're helping to give an endangered species a chance for survival." 

Since protection efforts began in 1997, a total of 81 piping plover chicks have fledged from New Hampshire's seacoast.  New Hampshire's efforts are part of a region-wide protection program; overall, the Atlantic coast population of piping plovers continues to hold steady.

Protection of this endangered species is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, N.H. Fish and Game Department, N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation, the Town of Seabrook, the Town of Hampton, volunteers, local residents and beach visitors. 

For more information on piping plovers, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website at plover.fws.gov.

For more on the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, visit www.wildnh.com/nongame.

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