Dartmouth non-profit helps protect piping plovers
When Jamie Bogart goes to the beach, it isn’t always for fun.
Bogart helps conserve piping plovers, a threatened species of shorebird that lives along the Atlantic coast and around the Great Lakes, in his role as research associate at the Lloyd Center for the Environment in Dartmouth.
Last week, he headed out to West Island in Fairhaven to check on the population of plovers coming back from the south to breed.
“The plovers have been endangered since the mid-80s, and since that time stewards have come out and put up fencing to help protect them,” he said. “They live in a harsh habitat where there is tidal overwash, storm overwash, and natural predators.”
Piping plovers nest in scrapes, or small hollows dug out of the sand.
Over time, as people encroached and built up structures closer to the shore, habitat loss and human recreational activity — along with the predators attracted by their trash — decimated the population of little birds.
Bogart — whose name comes from his movie star grandparents Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall — has worked to protect the species since 2000.
The West Island piping plovers have since bounced back from just one or two nesting pairs to around a dozen on both state and town beaches, he said.
Each season, Bogart puts up fencing and signs to prevent people, pets, and off-road vehicles from disturbing or trampling the nests.
On this particular trip, he put up signs to help mark protected areas, looked for scrapes, and made note of the locations of plover pairs, which will settle on mates and nesting sites in the next couple of weeks.
After this season’s eggs are laid, he said, he will note their number and will set up metal exclosures around some of the nests to guard against predators like crows, owls, fox, raccoons, and coyotes.
As an indicator species, piping plovers are protected by law, and can tell scientists about the health of the beach ecosystem.
The birds also help clean the beach of insects, worms, and small crustaceans, their favorite foods. And unlike terns, they don’t nest in colonies. “They’re into social distancing,” he joked.
Bogart said that he was drawn to the Lloyd Center project because of the plovers.
“Their behaviors are cool — they’re a comical bird,” he said, noting that since their nests are on the ground, they resort to trickery to lead predators and humans away from their eggs.
“It’s almost like they think they’re slick, and they kind of are,” he said with a smile. “They know where the nest is, and you’ve got to find it.”
As for what members of the public can do to help the effort, he noted, people should simply respect signs and fencing, and not let dogs run free near plover habitat.
“The single best thing you can do is become fascinated by the birds,” he said. “Because everything else comes naturally.”