If you’ve been paying any attention to the calendar, spring is here — snow and cold not withstanding — and what makes it particularly evident the season has changed are piping plovers in our midst.
Laurie Dobson saw one at the point at Wades Beach in the past week and she and Jean Lawless, who have dubbed themselves local protectors of the species, want residents and visitors to know their responsibilities when it comes to protecting this endangered species.
Both Mashomack Preserve and Shelter Island beaches provide sanctuary for the piping plovers, who traditionally are known to revisit the same areas where they have previously found a welcome.
But eggs and young birds are camouflaged on our beaches, putting them at risk of being stepped on or disturbed, Ms. Lawless said. Accordingly, areas are fenced to indicate where the eggs and birds are most likely to be found.
Eggs are laid in shallow depressions in the sand above high tide, so driving on beaches must be prohibited. Town code provides that off-road vehicles are never allowed on the beaches . But other vehicles are restricted to certain times of the year and certain areas.
No vehicles are allowed on Shell Beach from April 1 through September 15, except on the unpaved road. There’s no parking beyond the paved portion of Club Drive without a valid beach vehicle permit and no parking or driving on Crescent Beach or Wade’s Beach e. And no vehicle can be operated on any dunes, beach grasses, berms, wetlands vegetation or similar barrier.
Those seeking to protect the piping plovers take it a step further, asking that only emergency vehicles responding to life-threatening situations be allowed in areas where the birds are apt to be nesting and other essential vehicles traveling through such areas should do so during daylight hours with a qualified guide.
Eggs are typically present from mid-April through late July and they hatch approximately 27 days after being laid. The young chicks feed on marine worms, fly larvae and beetles, Ms. Lawless said. It takes 25 to 35 days before they’re able to take flight.
The danger of stepping on the eggs or young chicks isn’t the only threat. People walking on the beach who get too close to them, can cause incubating plovers off their nests, resulting in overheating or cooling of the eggs. Repeated exposure can kill the developing embryos.
While Ms. Lawless and Ms. Dobsonare stewards of the piping plovers, they are always on the hunt for volunteers willing to help post the areas where the birds are most likely to be and to warn others against disturbing them. They also need volunteers to help track the birds, gathering data on where the piping plovers are found and providing general observations about site conditions.
Interact with beach goers and encourage them to keep dogs leashed and to generally protect the “fenced” areas, but don’t get confrontational, Ms. Lawless warns.
If you’re interested in assisting the women with their efforts to protect the piping plovers, call Ms. Lawless at 749-1377.