State park closing stretch of beach for nesting plovers

Two pairs of piping plovers, Delaware’s endangered beach nesters, are setting up housekeeping at Cape Henlopen State Park’s Gordon’s Pond beach.

According to Division of Fish and Wildlife biologist Marnie Pepper, two nests with two eggs each were spotted between the dunes at Gordon’s Pond on Sunday, April 24 by Joe Patson, the seasonal piping plover monitor.

A quarter-mile stretch of ocean beach will be closed off to protect the well-camouflaged nests from being inadvertently stepped on or driven over. When all the eggs have been laid — usually four per clutch — a predator exclosure will be erected around the nests to protect the eggs from foxes, raccoons, crows, grackles and feral cats.

The beach will be reopened as soon as the eggs hatch and the young birds can fly. That is usually in late July or August, however the exact date will depend on when other plovers begin nesting in the area. Typically, the eggs hatch in about 30 days and the chicks fledge about 35 days after hatching.

“It is critically important for people and their dogs to respect the restricted areas,” Pepper said. “Disrupting the birds while they are feeding or nesting can create problems that may have a serious impact on the survival of the adults and their ability to successfully raise young, ultimately hindering our efforts to keep them from completely disappearing from Delaware’s coastline.”

Several plovers have been spotted displaying mating behavior around Cape Henlopen’s Point, a historical nesting area that has been closed off since March 1 for the piping plovers and other beach nesters.

Piping plovers return to Delaware in March or early April and build their nests in the sand above the reach of high tides. Last year, 12 active nests produced eight fledglings.