There were a record number of piping plovers nesting in Maine this year, which resulted in a record number of fledglings of the endangered shorebirds. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

For the third consecutive year, Maine saw a record number of nesting piping plovers and fledglings despite greater traffic at some beaches as people looked to get outside during the pandemic.

There were 98 nesting pairs and 199 fledglings at the 25 beaches where the birds are monitored, up from last year’s mark of 89 nesting pairs and 175 fledglings, said Laura Minich Zitske, the plover project director at Maine Audubon, which runs the program for the state. Zitske attributes the banner year to the work of hundreds of volunteers who helped educate the public – such as at Higgins Beach, where there were 40 patrolling, and in Wells, where 40 volunteers helped at three beaches.

“I do think the big year is unrelated to the pandemic. We expected to have a lot of birds back after last year’s record year,” Zitske said. “But we did have a lot of pandemic-related problems. Birds nested right next to paths when the beaches were closed. And some people struggled to follow rules. Some people left common sense behind. You definitely could see that to a degree.”

During the pandemic, more volunteers had to work harder to educate the public about piping plover nests. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

In the early spring, 14 of the 25 monitored beaches were closed either by the state or towns, Zitske said. That might sound like it offered the birds a reprieve from people, but it had the opposite effect. Many pairs of birds nested on or near walkways, so when the beaches reopened, the birds were right in the line of pedestrian traffic.

Zitske had to leave the eggs where they were, or the birds would abandon them. So volunteers had to discourage people from trampling the tiny nests.

On top of that, visitors returned en masse when the beaches reopened. In some cases, plover signs and protective netting were vandalized. In one instance at Old Orchard Beach, small children moved eggs, Zitke said. In general, more crowds meant more people had to be told why the birds needed space.

Sometimes that was a battle, said volunteer Missy Mans at Old Orchard Beach.

“I always find watching the birds therapeutic. This year, I was more stressed because of the problems that seemed to be happening,” Mans said. “Nature is cruel. Not all the chicks make it. But having a lot of people on the beach is hard. Not everyone is welcoming to the birds. This year it was tough.” 

Mans said most people love the birds, and those unfamiliar with the recovery effort typically want to help – but not all. 

“This year there were a lot of people on the beach who would not have typically come to the beach and would have gone somewhere else,” said Mans, who walked the beach everyday. 

At other beaches, a big boost in volunteer numbers made the education effort seamless. 

Glennis Chabot, a volunteer at Higgins Beach, recruited other volunteers and scheduled them in time slots every day from May to Labor Day. The plover patrol she organized even had a waiting list. 

Chabot knew their effort was successful when a young boy came up to her to ask where he and his friends should play ball – so they could avoid the birds.

“There was much more activity this year in May and June, because the kids were out of school. That was much different,” said Chabot.

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