Creation Care: The Piping Plover

Article by the Rev. Shelly Banner, priest at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Pulaski and member of the diocesan Creation Care Initiatives team.

“All God’s creatures have a place in the choir,” my farmer father would often say as he headed back to our house for breakfast, as the cacophony of the birds and insects began their journey into the new day. Although I was completely unawares, I grew up in an environment of “Creation Care.” Leaving the least impact upon creature, crop and environment in an unending cycle of growth, harvest and recovery is the most sustainable model that supports Creation Care on all levels.

There are many components to consider by the people of the Diocese of Central New York as we commence a yearlong focus on Creation Care. We will do so through reading, through learning, through doing. As one person in the Creation Care Initiatives advocacy group, I bring to your attention an immediate example within the borders of our Diocese. This will be followed by many others. For some, this one concern may seem unimportant, and to others who are like-minded, it will be seen as significant.

Along the sand-drifted shores and dunes of the eastern crescent of Lake Ontario lies a small body of water which through dredging outflows into Lake Ontario named Sandy Pond. It is aptly named. The freezing and thawing of the winter weather draw the shore sands into the flow from the mouth of the channel which was created through dredging in order to allow access by motorized boats into the pond from Lake Ontario and access from the pond into Lake Ontario. Through the natural order, over centuries, this region has been and still remains a critical breeding habitat of plovers, especially the species known as piping plovers. A shy and wary bird, they inhabit inland and coastal waterways, of which Sandy Pond is an historic breeding ground. They nest there, running in a fascinating uneven hop and skitter, settling down into their sandy ground nest, as near to the water as they consider to be safe. The breeding season runs from April through July. Piping plovers are small, weigh 1.5 – 2.25 ounces and measure 5.5 – 7 inches long. They have bright orange legs, a pale tan back, white underside, and a stubby black beak. During breeding season, a black band appears on their neck and forehead and their beak becomes orange with a black tip. Prior to 1918, plovers were hunted for their meat and feathers. With the passing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, the population increased by the 1940s, but declined again due to coastal development and recreation. The main causes of death for piping plovers are predation, habitat damage and destruction, and human disturbance.

In the unending collision of nature and human interaction, Sandy Pond, north of Pulaski and south of Henderson Harbor, is a concern for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that has authority to dredge on a predictable schedule from September through March. They are responsible for maintaining a balance between the health and breeding of the wild life of the area, including the plovers, and the desires for human recreation in the area. At the request of business owners and around Sandy Pond, U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney has asked two federal agencies to hold an emergency meeting to consider easing the in-place protection of the nesting plovers and other shore birds at Sandy Pond /Lake Ontario beach community. She is asking authorities to allow dredging to immediately resume at a channel to Sandy Pond, a popular spot for boaters along the eastern shore of Lake Ontario in Oswego County.

Truly there is a required balance that must be measured. Dredging happens every year. The water level is lower in the channel this year and there are only 72 remaining pair of breeding plovers some who have already abandoned their pebble lined sand nest out in a fight/flight struggle for survival.

The question remains: What are we being called to do in the matters of Creation Care? For more information: Wild Life services: (866) 4887-327 and the offices of Rep. Tenney: (607) 242-0200 or (315) 732-0713.

Featured image: “Piping Plover” by Jim Hudgins/USFWS on Flickr, Public Domain.

Showing 2 comments
  • Kate Marquardt
    Reply

    For the plovers, the time of dredging can make a life-or-death difference. It is difficult to imagine any equivalent life-or-death consequence for humans of waiting a month or two to dredge instead of starting immediately. God would want us to be considerate of the plovers.

  • Christian M. Clough
    Reply

    I’m so grateful for your piece about the plight of the plovers. I live in Chicago, though home is still Hamilton, NY, and here, there has been a great deal of press and support for the ONE breeding pair on the Chicago lakefront, after their first nesting last year, and this, their second successful year (to date) raising a brood. This year’s first eggs were eaten by a skunk, but the female laid another clutch, and there are 4 chicks. Recreation is a lovely luxury for humans, but all too often, it happens at the expense of the very outdoor spaces and creatures that “recreators” claim to value. If you can’t boat gently, don’t boat at all. This is not about survival for humans, but it is for the plovers… and all the other species negatively impacted by our self-centered, energy-intensive exploitation of the environment. I have no voice in Claudia Tenney’s office, but I heartily encourage sympathetic constituents to contact her and ask her to consider someone and something other than selfishness and destruction, which seem to be the foci of her political mission. Blessings on the plovers, and on you for bringing this to our attention.

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