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Scituate prepares for plover nests

Volunteers erected temporary fences on the Spit in Scituate in early April to protect the habitat of the piping plover.

Russell Clark

Volunteers erected temporary fences on the Spit in Scituate in early April to protect the habitat of the piping plover.

The stakes have been set and the temporary fences put in place, all so a small beach bird can have another successful mating season on the Spit.

The Spit, a small stretch of land in Scituate harbor accessible only by boat or a long beach walk, has been monitored for decades, with environmentalists looking for ways to help the federally protected piping plover.

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Like many other South Shore beaches, environmentalists have taken to putting up makeshift fences to protect the habitat and steer unknowing beachgoers away from the camouflaged nests.

The protections are “something that’s encouraged,” said Sue MacCallum, sanctuary director for the Mass Audubon South Shore Sanctuaries.

“It’s not mandated at all beaches, but as a responsible town [beach] owner, the town of Scituate hires us to do this.”

About 10 people went out to the Spit for a day, pounding stakes in the sand and connecting them with twine to delineate where beachgoers should avoid.

In addition to a biologist from the Mass Audubon, Board of Health member Russell Clark and Harbormaster Mark Patterson helped bring out the supplies on boats.

They were met with volunteers from the AmeriCorps foundation.

The goal, MacCallum said, is to share the beach, giving residents and visitors access to a beautiful area, while letting the birds maintain their species.

“The piping plover nests are very cryptic. . . . It’s not a nest like you think,” MacCallum said. “There’s a little depression in the sand and they lay their eggs that looks like pebbles. They are easy to step on.”

In Massachusetts, similar tactics have been working, with plover populations increasing statewide.

On the Spit, the success fluctuates. Two years ago, the birds didn’t accomplish much during the mating season. Last year, however, seven birds were raised and fledged from two mating couples.

“The population on Third Cliff has been stable. It fluctuates a lot from year to year, but overall it’s been stable,” MacCallum said.

Yet without these simple precautions, the success rate would be very low, MacCallum said, and people would most likely be walking in the dunes where the birds are nesting.

A small group of people is scheduled to return Monday to finish the job. In the meantime, the signs and posts are again bringing an awareness to a species that is doing all it can to survive.

“It’s a unique place, a gorgeous place, but [we need to] raise awareness that the birds are out there too, and need our help,” MacCallum said.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail .com.
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