Refuge Asks Visitors to ‘Walk around the Flocks’
NEWBURY — As of August 5, beach parking lots 2 and 7, in addition to Lot 1, at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island are open to the public as piping plovers and least terns have concluded nesting in these areas. On April 1 each year, nearly all refuge beaches, with the exception of a small stretch at Lot 1, close to public use to protect nesting shorebirds. The rest of the beach parking lots (i.e., 3 and 6) remain closed due to ongoing nesting activity.
“We very much appreciate the public’s support in adhering to the beach closures and aiding in the recovery of these iconic threatened species”, said refuge manager Matt Hillman. Piping plovers have taken advantage of the closed beach, from 5 pairs in 1991 to 50 pairs in 2021. At least 37 pairs are nesting on the refuge this year, but that preliminary number may increase as staff analyze the field data.
The refuge is asking the public to be vigilant when spending time on the beaches. Just as beaches open to visitors, Arctic-nesting migratory birds like semipalmated sandpipers, dunlin, and black bellied plovers are arriving. “These birds spend 2 to 3 weeks at Parker River, fattening up for their next long flight to South America”, said Nancy Pau, Wildlife Biologist. “They still have thousands of miles to fly when they depart, usually headed for Suriname and French Guiana. On the refuge beach, birds can be disturbed 10-12 times an hour by visitors. While unintentional, birds expending energy to move away from people, or time not eating, means they won’t gain enough fat reserves for the next leg of their flight.”
Therefore, the refuge is asking beach visitors to ‘Walk Around the Flock.’ By giving foraging and resting birds a wide berth, you will help to make sure these long-distance migrants make it to their wintering grounds in South America. Look for these indicators that you may be too close: (1) birds fly away upon approach, (2) birds stop feeding and walk away or look at you. When approaching birds on the beach, please round your path around the flock.
To learn more about birds and other wildlife on the beach, come to the Beach Discovery program at Lot 1 Deck, on Thursdays from 10am to 12pm, through August 18. In addition to learning about beach habitat and beach birds, Mass Audubon staff will share their traveling touch tank with live tide pool animals. More information about the Walk Around Flock campaign can be found at: https://bit.ly/3tOtnJC.