Piping plovers are nesting on Parsons Beach for the first time in recent years, and dogs are banned through July, when they take flight. This piping plover chick was photographed on a Scarborough beach in 2019. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNK – Dog owners who plan to visit Parsons Beach must wait to bring Fido because of some very special visitors taking up temporary quarters there.

Parsons Beach opened Friday afternoon, June 26.

Given that piping plovers are nesting on the sandy beach, hatching tiny eggs, and with infant plovers running about, the select board on Tuesday, June 22, voted unanimously to keep dogs off the beach, through the end of July, when the birds move on.

Piping plovers are classified as an endangered species by the state and a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is the first-time plovers have nested on Parsons Beach since 2017, and before then,  in  2011 and 2008, according to Kate O’Brien, a wildlife biologist at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

Although there is fencing around the area where the plovers nest, the tiny birds and their tinier offspring are still vulnerable to dogs, said Town Manager Michael Pardue.

The chicks hatch in June, and take flight in late July, he said.

The select board briefly considered requiring dogs to be leashed on Parsons Beach before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m., the traditional times dogs are allowed to be on Kennebunk’s beaches, but after considering the matter further, voted on the ban.

Board member Shiloh Schulte, a shorebird recovery coordinator, specifically for American oystercatchers, at the Manomet (Massachusetts) Center for Conservation Services, advised that dogs not be allowed on the beach until it is safe for the plovers.

Piping plovers have returned to Parsons Beach in Kennebunk for the first time in three years. This adult female piping plover was photographed on a Scarborough beach in 2019. Tammy Wells photo

He said temporarily banning dogs is the best practice to assure survival. He said one of the biggest threats to piping plovers are people and dogs.

“The best practice is no dogs,” Schulte said, and noted that if a dog does kill a plover, there are consequences.

A piping plover chick was killed by a dog on Pine Point Beach in Scarborough in July, 2013.

O’Brien said since 2000, there have been 14 pairs of plovers at Parsons Beach, though pairs were sparse in some years and in many years nonexistent. In some years when they were present, no fledglings resulted. The last time fledglings were produced at Parsons Beach was in 2011, when there were four, according to statistics provided by O’Brien in an email.

She said the staff and interns at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge work closely with the Parsons family to monitor the birds. and that the town of Kennebunk has offered support when the birds are present, making the public aware of them, and any special restrictions.

“It is very exciting for the plovers to be back at such a special spot,” O’Brien said.

And while the goal is for the birds to produce fledglings to stabilize the plover population, she struck a note of caution.

“With plovers, as with almost any wildlife, it is possible to do everything right, and work hard for success and Mother Nature has a different plan and chicks don’t survive” she said. “However, we are very hopeful – these birds have a lot of support.”

Because piping plovers are nesting at Parsons Beach in Kennebunk, dogs are prohibited through the end of July. Dan King photo

According to Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, there have been several instances where plover chicks or plover eggs have been harmed in Maine this season. In a news release, I F & W asked those who witness someone or something harming plovers or disturbing nesting areas to report the behavior to the Maine Warden Service by calling 1-800-452-4664.

Statewide, piping plovers seem to be making a comeback.

Maine Audubon, which monitors both piping plovers and least terns, reported that in 2019, there were a total of 89 pairs of piping plovers in the state that nested and produced 175 fledged young.

In 2018, there were 68 nesting pairs statewide, which resulted in 128 fledged birds. according to Maine Audubon reports.

Nine years ago, in 2011, there were just 33 nesting pairs statewide. No report on the number of fledglings produced was available.

Parsons Beach had been closed, as were all Kennebunk beaches, because of coronavirus restrictions. While the other beaches opened earlier this month, Parsons remained closed due to a tree re-planting project and road work that has been completed. Now, all Kennebunk beaches are open.

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