Piping Plovers & Critical Island Habitat

by Jane Ahrens
Piping Plover & Sanderling

By Fishers Island Naturalist Justine Kibbe
April 6, 2015

This week, as I count returning Osprey soar west and east over Fishers Island I am recalling the bird’s plight in the 1970’s when the use of DDT across eastern states had that species population plummeting down the eastern seaboard. Back then, occupied nests atop telephone poles were often few and far between. Thankfully, the “fish-hawk” made a comeback and indeed came back. Today, our Island continues to provide critical habitat that is essential to the Osprey’s survival and conservation.

Four decades later I find myself presently monitoring 12 precious coastal and interior sites on Island-and have been for the last three years. There are stacks of filled out data sheets being plugged into an evolving database, over a thousand photographs documented and even more than a few pairs of worn out sneakers…

So, now I feel I must pipe up for the Piping Plover.

Each spring bird migration always has me checking on familiar sites for returning breeding pairs. In two years I have only sighted one single Piping Plover up east at the Big Club Beach-last May. I have yet to document any west on Island.

This tiny shorebird is federally listed as “Threatened” and “Endangered” as the species appears to dwindle in numbers along the Atlantic coast with overall lack of quality foraging and nesting habitat.

I remain hopeful and expectant, continuing to cheer on the Piping Plover; encouraged especially having been able to witness a healthy recovery that even though spanned years, did indeed eventually bring the Osprey “home”.

This week James and Bob Rogers of FI Highway Dept. are generously custom fitting sturdy stakes to even sturdier updated federal signage declaring critical habitat for nesting shore birds visiting the Island. The red & white signs will be placed in historically familiar locations: south side in the sands parallel to the Airport runway and on Big Stony Beach facing the Sound and also Hay Harbor. Here, a sanctuary of sorts prohibits human activity from disturbing Piping Plovers, Oyster Catchers, and Least Terns during spring and early summer.

And perhaps it’s because instilled in my Naturalist thoughts I believe hope and expectancy have no boundaries; that I have just noted again, one tiny Piping Plover companioned with a Sanderling. Both birds scurrying along the wrack line the other afternoon at the Big Club Beach. A returning Pair of Oyster Catchers noted in coves north along the Golf course as well.

But there will be no signs posted this year to protect possible nesting areas east on Island.

While the human imposed notions of public and private, east and west matter not one jot or tittle to these delicate shore birds; the fact that our entire Island offers a wealth of critical habitat to many wildlife species DOES.

So everyone on Fishers Island can and should be supportive of educational outreach:

  • Be vigilant and watch where we step along sands and beach grasses.
  • Leash any dogs where shore bird nesting activity is present.
  • Observe at a respectful distance.

With lessons learned from the Osprey which we nearly didn’t have, we can work with what we do have – each other.

Piping Plover southside habitat on Fishers Island
6/3/17: Piping Plover nest eggs by Justine Kibbe

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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