The 2023 Ontario Piping Plover Season Recap: “Ploveisland”
By Harrison Spilar, Piping Plover and Outreach Technician
After a long 30-year absence, Piping Plover, a small and endangered shorebird, returned to breed in Ontario in 2007. In 2018, Birds Canada came onto the scene and began the Ontario Piping Plover Conservation Program to standardize conservation efforts across the province. While each season brings its fair share of surprises, the 2023 breeding season was unlike any other. Birds Canada staff, partner organizations, and volunteers joked that “this feels like a reality TV show…” And so, we present to you, a recap of “Ploveisland Ontario 2023.”
The season began just like any other plover season did. In late April/early May, the birds arrived on the beach and began establishing their territory. Our opening Piping Plover pairs were:
- Flash and Pepa at Woodland Beach in Tiny Township,
- Patty and Ollie returning to their spot on Georgian Bay,
- Gotawsi and Nancy pairing up together for the first time at Wasaga Beach Area 1, and
- Chewie and Saga choosing to stay private on a different lake from the other pairs.
Birds Canada staff, partners, and volunteers closely monitor active Piping Plover nests throughout the season to learn more about the species, their interactions with each other, their environment, and protect them with various conservation measures.
Around May 15, something started to seem suspicious.
Beloved Flash, a four-time nester at Woodland Beach, was nowhere to be found. A Merlin, a small falcon, was seen in the area a few days prior and is suspected of having taken Flash. His mate, Pepa, very experienced at 11 years old, was seen incubating her eggs alone, with no mate to switch off when she got hungry. Eventually, Pepa grew tired of incubating alone, and knew she’d be better off flying to another beach to look for a new mate.
And so, Pepa left, leaving four eggs alone on the beach.
With permits in order, Birds Canada staff quickly jumped into action, enacting a new conservation strategy for Ontario. The four eggs were collected from the beach and with the help of the Toronto Zoo, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and US Fish and Wildlife Service, were transported to the Detroit Zoo for captive rearing.
Birds Canada collecting Flash’s eggs for captive rearing. Photo: Birds Canada
While all of that was unfolding, Nancy, a 12-year veteran and Gotawsi, a first-time nester, were pairing up at Wasaga Beach. Things were going quite slow, but mating was regularly observed between the two. However, only 5km south of Woodland Beach, Pepa stopped in to checkout if there were any eligible plover bachelors she could pair up with. Now, Gotawsi, faced with two experienced female birds, was very confused. Monitors watched as Nancy laid eggs in the nest Gotawsi helped her establish, while Gotawsi was off not-so-secretly mating with Pepa.
Nancy, rightfully jealous, abandoned her first set of four eggs to try and win her man back. Pepa, establishing another nest of three more eggs (!!!), also abandoned these as she watched Gotawsi run back to Nancy. If you’re keeping track, that’s another seven eggs abandoned by these plover parents. These eggs were also collected and brought to the Detroit Zoo for captive rearing.
Gotawsi at Wasaga Beach. Photo: Hannah Stockford
Now, let’s shift focus to a few kilometers over at different beach on Georgian Bay. Patty and Ollie established a nest with four eggs. Pepa visited and was seen mating with Ollie as well, though Ollie continued to support Patty throughout incubation. However, Ollie was put to the test when not one, not two, but three other plovers stopped by with an identical band combination to Patty. Luckily, it seemed that Ollie wasn’t as confused as the staff and volunteers watching.
The last pair to be established was Chewie and Saga. Being so far away nesting near Presqu’ile Provincial Park on Lake Ontario, they were our most unproblematic couple, with no “cheating” done all season, that is until Chewie was seen leaving the beach with another male… but that’s a story for next season.
Despite all the drama, the season still saw its successes!
Chewie and Saga successfully raised three chicks to fledge, while Nancy and Gotawsi successfully raised two chicks to fledge, for a total of five wild fledged chicks. Plus, for the first time, Canadian chicks were hatched and raised in captivity, later being released back into the population! One chick, Woody from Flash and Pepa’s nest, was released in New York, and two chicks from Gotawsi and Nancy were released in Michigan.
Will the 2024 Piping Plover season be met filled with this much excitement and drama again? Tune into @ontarioplovers on Instagram, X (Twitter), and Facebook to find out.
Piping Plover chick chick at Presqu’ile Provincial Park Photo: Jake Nafziger
2023 Piping Plover Breeding Season in Nova Scotia
By Avery Nagy-MacArthur, Nova Scotia Shorebird Programs Biologist
This summer was an interesting and challenging one for everyone in Nova Scotia, with many folks experiencing the effects of the province’s largest wildfire in recent history, and later the flooding associated with an historic torrential rainfall event.
Despite the harsh weather and conditions, we were pleased to see that the plover population was largely unscathed and had positive breeding outcomes for the second year in a row. We are grateful for the continued support of our partners and volunteers who assist in conservation efforts on beaches across the province!
Breeding plovers surprised us by fledging young at several beaches where they hadn’t successfully nested in years due to various challenges, including human disturbance and limited availability of quality nesting habitat.
In Shelburne County, a pair of Piping Plovers established a late nest on Crescent Beach in Lockeport, where plovers have traditionally struggled to nest successfully on this narrow and heavily-visited beach. As soon as the nest was found, volunteers and the local community came together to raise awareness among beachgoers of the need to protect the nest, and later, the vulnerable and highly mobile chicks. Luckily, all four chicks fledged, a rare outcome even on beaches that host plovers regularly and a spectacular success at a beach that hasn’t successfully fledged young plovers in over 20 years!
Four plover fledglings rest under the watchful eye of their male parent at Crescent Beach, Lockeport Photo: Bill Crosby
Similarly, a pair of plovers nested on Hirtle’s Beach in Lunenburg County for only the third time since monitoring efforts began in 2006. This scenic beach leads to the area’s most popular hiking trail, and sees intense usage in the summer. The plovers nested in the only suitable habitat available on this otherwise stony beach, settling in a small sandy area also popular with sunbathers. Staff and volunteers spent many hours conducting outreach with beachgoers, asking folks to avoid the fenced nesting area and leash their dogs. Local beachgoers quickly began tracking me down to pass along plover sightings or ask for updates. We held a beach walk in late July that drew 14 enthusiastic participants who learned about plover biology, our work to protect this endangered species, and how they could participate.
In total, we estimate that there were about 60 breeding pairs of plovers in the province in 2023. This is the highest total in over 30 years and the first time the Nova Scotia plover population has approached the recovery target of 60 pairs since Birds Canada began monitoring efforts in the province in 2006. However, despite local successes, the regional recovery situation remains tenuous with the total plover population in eastern Canada well below the target of 310 pairs.