Piping Plover Season 2023
Our 16th consecutive year with piping plovers on the Wasaga shoreline has proven to be one of the most unusual and challenging of all previous years. The following is a short recap of some of the happenings.
On April 23rd the first plover of the season, Pepa, a returning female, arrived at Beach Area 1. More arrivals came to the Wasaga area on May 1st. By April 30th Flash, a returning male had whisked Pepa away to Tiny Township, where Birds Canada co-ordinated the ongoing monitoring of the pair. In early May the pair had built a nest and were just beginning to incubate the eggs when unfortunately, on May 14th, Flash was nowhere to be found. Birds Canada staff continued to watch the nest, but when Flash did not return, they suspected that he had been taken by a predator – perhaps a merlin. Over the years Flash has successfully raised six fledglings, all while winning the hearts of many locals, and he will be missed. Birds Canada were able to collect the eggs, which were sent to the Captive Rearing Program in Michigan and we have since learned that at least one hatched and was later released onto a beach in New York State. He was named Woody (after Woodland Beach).
Meanwhile Patty and Ollie, who last year nested successfully in an area along Georgian Bay not accessible to the public, returned to the same location. After a false start, they had a full nest, but only two of the four eggs hatched and sadly both chicks were subsequently taken. A merlin that had been spotted in this area is presumed to have been the predator. Patty and Ollie eventually departed and we hope that they have better luck next year.
In mid May in Beach Area 1 Gotawsi was paired with Nancy and she laid the usual four eggs. However, soon into incubation things got interesting to say the least. Pepa returned from Tiny after losing Flash and Gotawsi became distracted by her presence. The result was that he lost interest in his nest, which led it to being abandoned. He then paired up with Pepa. Pepa proceeded to lay three eggs but Gotawsi was not attentive and therefore that nest also failed. The back and forth continued as Gotawsi paired with Nancy again and they went on to have a successful nest with four eggs in the Ploverland area of Beach Area 1. Although much later than our usual nests due to the false starts, both birds nevertheless stayed with it and hatching began on July 11th. One egg did not hatch but the parents jointly tended to the other three hatchlings, using the vegetation along the boardwalk stretch as protection. Sadly, less than a week later one chick vanished, after an American kestrel (a type of small hawk) had been spotted in the area. At this time (July 20th), the two chicks are now 9/10 days old and being tended to primarily by Gotawsi. Nancy has been increasingly distancing herself, which is to be expected, with such a late nest and given that quite often females leave the chicks earlier than the males.
We remain confident that we will have a greater number of successful nests in Ploverland in the future. We did have at least three other plovers visit the area but unfortunately all were females with no males available to partner with. Let’s hope we have a nice mix of both next year.
There was only one other successful nest in Ontario this year, with three chicks being fledged at Presqu’ile Provincial Park. The male of that nest was Saga, a bird that hatched in Wasaga in 2021.
We are hoping for some further news from the Captive Rearing Program as more of our abandoned eggs were sent there. We are hopeful some others will have hatched and can be released on one of the Great Lakes shorelines.
Ontario Parks staff and volunteers appreciate the support we have been receiving from Birds Canada over these weeks. They also provided onsite assistance during our three-day successful Ploverpalooza held July 14, 15, 16th. It was well attended and the weather cooperated this year.
We have also been pleased to see and talk to many bird enthusiasts and photographers over the past months who travelled great distances to come and see this very special endangered species.
For more information and updates about Ontario piping plovers, visit the Ontario Piping Plover Conservation Program.
For more information about the Great Lakes population in general (USA), visit Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort.