Return of Piping Plovers

Days get longer 
The beach is alive 
Renewal of life 

As winter slowly progresses toward spring in late February and early March, I like to listen to the changes around me. The Eastern Phoebe, one of the earliest spring migrants, announces the season’s change. Soon after that, I keep my ears open for the wailing kill-deer call of Killdeer in the golf courses, lawns, or even parking lots. A quick visit to the Great Meadows wildlife refuse warms my heart when I hear the vibrant conk-ka-ree song belted out by a red-winged blackbird sitting on top of a cattail. I love watching the aerial acrobatics of swallows as they swoop down and veer from side to side over the lake, catching flying insects. 

By mid-March, I start visiting a local beach looking for one of my favorite migrants - the piping plover. I always hear their high-pitched piping call before seeing them. They are one of the first shorebirds to return to the beach to set up their nesting territory. Males, arriving first, aggressively defend their territories from each other. When not chasing each other,  males run alongside each other in a territorial display.

Sanderlings, Dunlins, and Sandpipers are common migrants and wintering birds in Massachusetts. Along with the piping plovers, many migratory shorebirds like Sanderlings, Sandpipers, and Dunlins stop on Massachusetts beaches on their way to their breeding grounds far north in the Arctic.

I like to visit my favorite beach early in the morning, even if it means waking up early and driving 90 minutes to get there before sunrise. It is always a pleasure to sit on the beach and watch these cute little plovers scurry along the beach and stop frequently to pull invertebrates from the sand to eat. 

So what’s next?

Willets will return to Massachusetts beaches to breed by the end of April, and Least Terns will follow to set up their nesting territories. I am looking forward to experiencing the beach buzzing with the Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and Willets.

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