Sanctuary of Sands

Piping Plover nest and eggs at the Sanctuary of Sands on Fishers Island April 2017

By Betty Ann Rubinow
Photos by Justine Kibbe, Fishers Island Conservancy Naturalist
Click any photo in the story to view a larger image.

Piping Plover & Sanderling

There is a stretch of sand parallel to the Elizabeth Field runway that remains a pristine sanctuary for the threatened Piping Plover. The waterline, beach, coves, tidal pools and dunes together form an exceptional example of Fishers Island as it has been for hundreds of years.

Named “Sanctuary of Sands” by Fishers Island Conservancy Naturalist Justine Kibbe, the area is marked at either end with bright informational signs about Plovers. These signs, from The Nature Conservancy/Long Island Sound, are paired with four smaller Town of Southold red and white signs near the dunes, notifying visitors of the presence of federally protected birds, nests, and eggs.

“The signs tell a little bit about the threatened Piping Plover, which lays its eggs within the dune grasses,” Ms. Kibbe said. “There are fewer than 2000 pairs of these birds left on the Atlantic Coast. That’s why we ask people to tread carefully, leash dogs and not disturb the plovers’ habitat.

“Recognizing and respecting this sanctuary is a way for all of us to learn to be stewards of Fishers Island. By truly understanding the natural gifts that we have here, we will want to do everything possible to preserve it for future generations.”

Piping Plover southside habitat on Fishers Island

The Sanctuary of Sands was a particular favorite of Fishers Island’s premier naturalist, the late Edwin Horning. Mr. Horning stopped there on nature walks to observe the separate world of shorebirds interacting with one another and feeding within salted kelp and eelgrass berms.

Justine Kibbe and her “Tribe”, Mrs. Burns’s 3-4 grade students at Fishers Island School.

“I use the Sanctuary of Sands as an outdoor classroom for Mrs. Burns’s third and fourth grade students at Fishers Island School and also for an afterschool program for fifth grade through high school,” Ms. Kibbe said. “The students are my ‘Tribe’, so-called from my years living among the Unungan tribe of the Bering Sea.

“The Aleuts taught me that an Island environment exemplifies the universal gift of knowing and seeing that we are all truly ONE with the natural world of sea and sand, the rhythm of sun and moon, wind and waves. That’s why I call the afternoon program “Atukan-Akun”, which is Aleut for “We Are One.”

“I always give my Tribe the same homework assignment after our time together: ‘Remember to tell your parents how grateful you are to have an Island.’ I am teaching the students about their unique opportunity to grow up, go to school, work and live within our small, vibrant, yet fragile, environment that is Fishers Island.”

Other birds also found in the Sanctuary of Sands

Editor’s Note: The Ferguson Museum has posted signs at other south side beaches asking that people and dogs stay away from nesting areas. The eggs are difficult to spot and easy to step on accidentally. Please obey the signs and do not go near, or allow dogs near, shore birds that are acting in an agitated manner during this critical nesting period. Please note additional signs at shoreline locations on the Island indicating delicate environments and active monitoring sites for horseshoe crabs and others. And, please drive carefully!

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