FALMOUTH — Spreading the word about how to better share beaches with a variety of coastal birds, including the endangered piping plover, is the goal behind a Maine Audubon event scheduled this weekend.

The inaugural Piping Plover Party from 4-8 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at the Ferry Beach Retreat & Conference Center in Saco, is also a fundraiser for Audubon’s Coastal Birds Project internship program, which provides a stipend to help offset expenses incurred by interns, whose work this summer will focus specifically on protecting coastal birds and their habitat.

Billed as a beach party, Audubon is planning outdoor and indoor activities and games, a beach cleanup, silent auction, music, food and beverages. Pre-registration is required at www.maineaudubon.org.

Piping plovers are endangered in Maine, with only 68 nesting pairs counted last summer. Laura Minich Zitske, director of the Coastal Birds Project at Maine Audubon, said the shorebird is “rare and in need of protection,” both from humans and other animals.

March is the time when plovers begin to return to the state’s beaches to nest, Zitske said this week. They can generally be seen on sandy beaches between Ogunquit and Georgetown through fall.

And even though human activity can easily disturb the birds, she said some piping plovers have successfully raised their young on popular and busy beaches in recent years, including Old Orchard and Popham.

Zitske said Audubon is throwing the Piping Plover Party because “we wanted the opportunity to celebrate Maine’s coastal birds … (and) we also wanted to support the next generation of conservationists.”

She said the event on Saturday is not only a chance for “die-hard plover lovers from around Maine to connect,” but also an opportunity “for families to get out and learn and play together.”

Zitske said since piping plovers can only nest on sandy beaches, things humans do that damage our beaches put the birds and their habitat at risk.

“We hope that people walk away having had a fun afternoon learning about our coastal birds, and understanding how we can all share the beach,” she said. “Hopefully, people will leave knowing some of the things they can do to help, like keeping pets on a leash and flying kites away from nesting areas.”

In all, Zitske said Maine Audubon manages about 20 beaches in the southern half of the state to support piping plovers, least terns, and other coastal birds.

Audubon partners with both Maine and federal wildlife services to put up protective fencing, work with landowners and municipalities, monitor the nests and chicks, educate the public and more, she said.

Easy things that people can do to share the beach include keeping a safe distance away from piping plovers, filling in holes or not digging holes in the sand, flying kites and playing other beach games away from fenced-off areas and keeping pets at home or leashed, Zitske said.

Piping plovers “are capable of raising chicks (even) on our busiest beaches when they get the space and respect they need,” she added. Other steps include removing any trash, especially food, from the beach when leaving for the day.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Laura Minich Zitske, director of the Coastal Birds Project at Maine Audubon, stakes a sign asking people to keep clear of protected piping plover areas on a local beach last spring.

Piping plovers can raise chicks even on the state’s busiest beaches.

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