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Newly hatched plover chicks running along the sand at Sauble

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Lake Huron’s near record-breaking high water levels haven’t affected the two nesting sites of endangered piping plovers at Sauble Beach.

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All four eggs laid in late May in Nest 1 at the north end of the beach hatched over the weekend and the chicks are now scurrying on the sand, foraging for food.

Two chicks have also emerged from their eggs at Nest 2, while the other two are expected to hatch anytime now, according to Kirsten Snoek, outreach and education co-ordinator for the local Plover Lovers group.

“For sure we’ve definitely lost beach space because of the high water levels and there has been some erosion happening, but the two nests have been mostly OK so far,” she said Wednesday in an interview.

“We’ve had to move a little bit of our fenced-off perimetre back because the T-posts were starting to fall in a little bit. But as of today, the water has slightly receded, so maybe that turn will continue.”

The two adult pairs of plovers chose nesting sites high up on the beach, a good distance from the water’s edge, Snoek noted.

At the start of this week, the water levels in the Lake Huron-Michigan basin were just two centimetres below the 33-year-old high-water record for the beginning of July, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada. All of the other Great Lakes had hit high-water records at the start of June.

Last month, the piping plovers nicknamed Ms. Green Dots and Mr. Blue Bands paired up for a third straight season at Sauble and created the first nest of the year on the beach near 11th Street.

Ms. Green Dots laid four eggs from May 15 to 20 and both birds then took turns incubating them.

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Meanwhile, the plovers nicknamed Mr. New Blue and Ms. Sunshine created their nest near Huron Feathers Presbyterian Centre and the first eggs were noted by Plover Lover volunteers May 21. The first two eggs from Nest 2 hatched Wednesday.

Snoek said the new plover chicks have been very active on the beach.

“So far so good. We’ve got signs up telling people about what’s happening in the area, telling people that there are chicks running around in the area,” she said.

“The chicks are super, super cute. A lot of people have agreed so far – everyone is saying they’re so small, they’re so cute. They’re little fluff balls on sticks and everyone likes to see it.”

The birds have generated a lot of interest at the beach, she added, and “a lot of people are very positive.”

It takes about four weeks after hatching for chicks to be able to fly.

The period between when the chicks hatch and successfully fledge is when piping plovers are most vulnerable to being killed by predators, such as ring-billed gulls.

Ms. Green Dots and Mr. Blue Bands successfully fledged two chicks last year and four chicks in 2017.

Piping plovers, which are protected by both the federal Species at Risk Act and provincial Endangered Species Act, returned to Sauble Beach in 2007 after a 30-year absence. Only 67 nesting pairs resided on the Great Lakes in 2018.

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