2017-07-06 / Outdoors

Protection pays off as piping plover nesting population soars

By Hannah Lentz
Enterprise intern

B.A.R.K. RANGER Harley, a Collie mix, on duty with his owner, Jen Miller. B.A.R.K. RANGER Harley, a Collie mix, on duty with his owner, Jen Miller. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has experienced a boom in visitors, but not just from people looking for the beach.

National Park Service staff members have counted 41 piping plover pairs that have initiated 45 nests within the Lakeshore boundary. The numbers of the endangered shorebird shatter the previous record population numbers by 17 nests and 13 pairs. Some 72 pairs have been reported in the Great Lakes breeding population, making the Lakeshore plover headquarters for the Midwest.

“These numbers mean that three-fifths of the currently known breeding pairs of Great Lakes piping plovers have territories within the Lakeshore,” said Sue Jennings, wildlife manager for the park.

Although the local population of piping plovers is having a record year, the overall population of Great Lakes plovers is static, Jennings said.

THE NUMBER of piping plovers nesting in the Lakeshore has set a record, while the population struggles to grow elselwhere.THE NUMBER of piping plovers nesting in the Lakeshore has set a record, while the population struggles to grow elselwhere.
Lakeshore biologists have started incubating eggs gathered from abandoned nests here rather than sending them to the University of Michigan’s biological field station, Jennings said. The captive-rearing center is raising seven chicks with four eggs yet to hatch.

“We’ve used it on a couple of occasions already this spring,” she said. “Our incubator is located in our natural resource lab and we’re able to incubate the eggs for a day or so.”

Team members have been searching for and locating nests, monitoring nests to detect threat and spending weekends along the shoreline or camping on North Manitou. The team also works closely with deputized park rangers to help with education, outreach and, if necessary enforcement, Jennings said.

With all the extra protection needed for a growing plover population, balancing workloads has been difficult, Jennings added.

“They are dedicated professionals and so passionate about our plovers,” Jennings said. “They’ve done an outstanding job.”

Volunteers — and their dogs — have also been busy through the recently begun BARK Rangers patrol. The acronym stands for “Bag dog waste, Always wear a leash, Respect wildlife, and Know where dogs can go in the park.”

BARK Rangers and their owners have been a big boon for piping plover populations. Loose dogs have been a major deterrent to plovers, who are ground nesters.

Jen Miller of Lake Ann and her dog Harley, a Setter mix, have been avid members of the BARK Ranger program since last year.

“I love the program. Harley and I loved it so much that we’re back again,” Miller said.

Miller helps to ensure that beach goers are following leash rules, which keep plovers on the beach and dogs safe.

“It’s not just about protecting the birds,” Miller said. “Dogs are naturally curious and it can be dangerous for them to get into things that they aren’t supposed to, they can get sick.”

Miller and Harley normally patrol the Good Harbor Beach area where dogs are allowed. So far, she has had no problem when she asks that beach visitors put their dogs on leashes.

“It’s all about how you approach it, how you explain why you’re there,” Miller said. “People have been very receptive, but there’s always going to be someone.”

Rangers keep a log when they go on beach walks to record who and what they see. It’s a fun part of the job because she gets to inform people about the program as well as introduce herself to people from all over, Miller said.

“I’ve met people from Wisconsin and other states as well as from Traverse City and Maple City,” Miller said.

Miller and Harley have loved the program so much that Miller’s second dog, Violet, a border collie mix, is finishing up her BARK training.

“Violet is starting this week,” Miller said. “We’re so excited.”

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