Novelist | Singer
I search out the plover mom and the chicks in the creek, just south of Good Harbor Beach, where tidal water fills and empties twice daily from the marsh. I almost step on them in my quest. They are huddled in a shallow trench that someone dug into the wet sand. The mom breaks and pipes at the disturbance. I withdraw several feet and allow them to reconvene. The chicks look strong and healthy. They are now 14 days old—well on their way to successful adulthood. They are most vulnerable in the first 10 days of life, and thankfully they have made it over that hurdle. I settle myself down in my chair and pull out my notebook, welcoming the reprieve from the human noise of the beach.
She fluffs herself like an old-time feather pillow and snuggles down over the chicks—like children hiding under the petticoats of a Western movie matron. The way a piping plover adult fluffs its feathers is remarkable; stripes appear from a rear view, and when she stops moving, she disappears. When I look away, the only reason I can find her again is because I know where she is. Contour feathers, which create the body shape of the bird are the exact color of Good Harbor Beach sand. Those stripes blend her into the environment just like the spots of a jungle ocelot. A perfect design.
I love plover shifts in the creek. The lime-green June marsh provides a startling contrast with the blue sky and tan sand. Bird song recital emerges from the marsh grass and floats over the creek to my chair which has sunk into the wet sand. Memorizing.
The female suddenly breaks and flies, and while I look after her for the disturbance, I see her suitor awaits—dad is here to lead the brood back to the enclosure on the face of the dunes for the night. The hand-off of children couldn’t be more intentional. Adults actually touch beaks in a kind of bird kiss, and they pause for a second in greeting before mom scampers away down to the water in search of big fat seaworms. Dad pipes his “come hither” command, and makes a wide circle (on foot, no less) and the chicks fall into step behind him. The twice daily migration—from the beach and back to the beach–is at least 300 yards, and they do it almost non-stop, along the edge of the dune grass, safe from beachgoers. He pipes like a backing service truck the entire distance.
One chick—the most adventurous one–is quite far behind. He has been feeding off on his own farther up the creek for a while. I had lost sight of him, but here he comes, little legs pumping, gaining on the others as they leave the creek, cross the path from the parking lot and approach the corner of the dunes, where they will take a left and scurry to the enclosure. By the time they reach the corner, the lagging chick has caught up. They are a small battalion of baby seabirds, somewhat oblivious to the outside world, focused only on food and the warmth of their parents’ bodies.
After the mad dash from creek to beach, they settle down and the chicks bury themselves again under dad’s ruffled feathers. Mom is nowhere to be seen, undoubtedly taking advantage of her short-lived freedom from responsibility and time to stuff her beak with bugs and arthropods which abound at the water’s edge. I smile when I think about that fact—if only people knew how many insects live in the sand, they would never go to the beach.
The remainder of my shift requires no additional movement. They thermoregulate and feed at turns, and when my time is up, I make my way back to my car waiting patiently in the emptying parking lot.