2011 was a very good year if you were a piping plover or a least tern.
According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), there was an increase in the number of piping plovers who nested along the Connecticut coastline during the 2011 breeding season and a virtual explosion of nesting least terns.
According to DEEP, 52 pairs of piping plovers nested along the coast in 2011, nine more than last year. However, the number of young that fledged (reached flying stage) was 71, 11 fewer than 2010.
“2011 was a very good year for piping plovers, with an increase in nesting pairs,” said Rick Jacobson, Director of the DEEP Wildlife Division. “The consistent number of piping plover chicks fledged every nesting season since 1986 is encouraging and reflects the cooperation of coastal users.”
Least terns, small shorebirds usually found near or among piping plover nests, had a banner year, with 359 pairs nesting in 2011 versus the 119 pairs that nested in 2010. More than 120 young least terms fledged in 2011, nearly quadruple the 2010 number of 36.
The piping plover and least tern are classified as threatened in Connecticut; the piping plover also has been listed as federally threatened since 1986. Both shorebirds prefer to nest on sandy beaches, but only a limited number of sites are available due to current shoreline development and recreational use.
DEEP wildlife biologists protect piping plovers by fencing off their breeding grounds on some beaches to discourage people or other animals from disturbing the birds. Least terns’ flight patterns, though, inhibit the use of individual fencing, and walkers, anglers, and dogs more often disturb them.
Piping plovers return to Connecticut from their wintering grounds in March and begin nesting in April. Least terns return to Connecticut by May and begin nesting in late May/early June. Both species are affected when beach areas receive heavy recreational use.
So … what was the catalyst in the fledging success of piping plovers and least terns this year
You, according to DEEP.
Although two storm events during high tides, one in May and one in June, and the high winds associated with each, were damaging, the cooperation of beachgoers and dog owners who respected the fenced and posted areas during the summer nesting season.
The Division encourages volunteer assistance and hopes to continue public education next season. Volunteers are being sought for next summer to assist with public education efforts at several nesting beaches in the West Haven, Stratford, and Milford areas.
For more information, contact Jenny Dickson at the Wildlife Division’s Sessions Woods Wildlife Management Area, P. O. Box 1550, Burlington, CT 06013, or send an email to email@example.com.