Working with the Plovers: Creation of Replicated Nesting Habitat on Duxbury Beach
“Small shorebird causes a ruckus on South Shore beaches” - it’s a tale as old as time, or at least since 1986. Piping Plovers and people have similar taste in where they like to spend the summer and that can lead to a turf war. This is especially true on Duxbury Beach where over-sand driving is a long-standing tradition and beachgoers flock over the Powder Point Bridge in droves as the weather gets nice.
Historically, less than 20 Piping Plover pairs have nested on Duxbury Beach. However, beginning in 2014, the number of nesting pairs has ranged from 23 to 28. This increase in nesting pairs puts more pressure on the finite stretch of beach, but the Duxbury Beach Reservation has been experimenting with alleviating some of this pressure for almost two decades.
Based on discussions with Dr. Scott Melvin (Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program), DBR began creating artificial nesting habitat areas in 1999. We know that plovers tend to prefer open, sandy areas with sparse vegetation for nesting so trustees of the Reservation used that knowledge to design and implement a plan to recreate ideal nesting spaces. A key part of the plan was to attract plovers to areas that do not overlap with heaviest recreational use and also give them access to prime chick foraging areas – without having to cross the road.
In 1999, DBR placed 1,300 cubic meters of quarry sand on the bayside beach between High Pines and third crossover to form a large rectangular area of open beach. Part of this area was veneered with natural beach sand to help determine if nesting pairs prefer natural beach sand to quarry sand. One pair of Piping Plover nested in this area in 1999, suggesting preference for natural beach sand and helping to determine territory size on Duxbury Beach. This success started DBR trustees on a mission to determine the best method of construction and maintenance and habitat area features.
Over the next 19 years the Reservation would attempt a number of methods of creation and maintenance, including rototilling, burning, and burying the vegetation. By working with the Mass Audubon Coastal Waterbird Program, DBR began creating habitat areas aimed to mimic natural washover areas (an example of ideal nesting habitat) by altering the size and shape. Over the years, success in the replicated habitats has varied, with one to three pairs typically nesting in these areas.
In 2018 habitat work came full circle when the Scott Melvin Memorial Grant provided funding to initiate a more thorough assessment of the replicated habitats. Thanks to the grant funding, we are examining how effective habitat maintenance methods are over multiple seasons and what characteristics may best attract nesting plovers. Duxbury Beach Reservation strives to be forward-thinking in management and protection so that we can all “Preserve. Protect. Enjoy.”