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Words on Birds: Beach cleaning vs. shorebirds

Dec 10, 2023Dec 10, 2023

I would like to share with you a Massbird post from Soheil Zendeh who lives just north of Boston and actively monitors birds around Winthrop and Revere:

“Long-distance migratory shorebirds are beginning their south bound journeys right now. Many females, after laying eggs, leave the business of incubating eggs and tending the very young to males, so we get a first wave of mostly adult female shorebirds arriving from the arctic and near-arctic, heading to the southern US, Caribbean, Central America and South America.

“The shorebird refueling stopovers for the remainder of these epic journeys

are our coastal (and some inland) wetlands and beaches.

“The good news over the past weekend, from Tim E. who monitors Winthrop Beach:

“On a positive note, we had the following counts at Winthrop Beach.

500-550 Semipalmated Sandpipers

100-150 Semipalmated Plovers

12 Black-bellied Plovers

2 Ruddy Turnstones

4 Sanderling

20 Piping Plovers (3chicks)

5 Killdeer

Also our Oystercatcher population will make appearances from time to time.”

“Winthrop Beach is easily accessible by car or public transportation, and parking is very easy. There are even public showers and restroom facilities!

“Now the bad news: migratory shorebirds returning from the arctic are running into our beaches which are extra people-crowded due to the extra hot weather. When these migratory flocks try to land and replenish their fuel for the rest of their journeys, they run into crowds of people, dogs and marauding Peregrines; those are certainly problems for these birds. and now, more than ever, DCR crews are also out with huge machines “cleaning” the beach of wrack, the very food resource these birds need.

“Here is what Linda Pivacek, who has been monitoring Nahant beaches for decades, wrote recently: ‘I noticed that Nahant/Lynn Beach has had the seaweed wrack lines cleared every day. I was hoping that DCR would stop this, at least in part... say half the beach. The many shorebirds that I see fly by daily do not land as there is none of the food they need after thousands of miles of migration. DCR realized that the Piping Plovers needed the wrack and thus stopped beach clearing earlier in the season. Now that the plover chicks have fledged, it’s back to ‘normal beach cleaning.’”

“I have similar stories from Lauretta Woods; she watched the beach-cleaning equipment scrape the beach right up and through a flock of feeding sandpipers.

“‘Tim E., the gent with the Winthrop Beach counts above, wrote: ‘They were raking the beach at Winthrop this morning before 6 am with the machine. I was hoping to catch an overnight rare visitor at dusk. A group of Piping Plovers from other beaches have been congregating in that spot.’”

“The problem is that the conservation staff in DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation) does not have much sway with the recreation folks. Yes, DCR has to toe the line with federal and state laws regarding Piping Plovers, but once they’re gone, the beach-cleaning crowd wins out.

“What we can do is begin to put public pressure on the agency to reverse this. Write! Please address your email to the Community Relations contact at [email protected]. Go ahead and use Linda’s words from the letter above, or relate your own experience. Let them know that migratory shorebirds have a constituency. This is a way we can strengthen the hand of our conservation allies within the agency.

“Also mention that the wrack being taken does not appear to pose any public safety hazard or risk to human health so you are confused about why the natural build-up of organic debris is being regularly removed.

“If you have friends who could be persuaded to write on behalf of migratory shorebirds, forward this request to them…

“Shorebirds, like many other groups of organisms on the planet, are under intense pressure right now; their numbers have been declining sharply for several decades. We need to take action to prevent additional massive population declines…

“We have August, September and October shorebirds to look forward to. I hope there are shorebirds to count!”

Thank you, Soheil. Though Salisbury State Beach does clean their beach, it does remind us how lucky we are to have the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island to keep its beach natural. and though the DCR manages the state end of the island at Sandy Point, it doesn’t clean the wrack line but leaves the wrack line to feed the migrating shorebirds.

Steve Grinley is the owner of Bird Watcher’s Supply and Gift at the Route 1 traffic circle in Newburyport. Email him at [email protected]. On the web:

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