It has happened every year since 2009. The dogs are off the beach and the birds and the nests are back. To the chagrin of beachgoers, Winthrop Beach is for the birds.
There’s a bumper sticker that says so.
But that is not the case. Although large tracts of the beach are cordoned off in a protected area by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), and it seems to get bigger every year, there are still areas for swimming and sunbathing. But the “conservation” area is indeed large and the rocks don’t help.
The nesting area is fenced off to protect the Least Tern, Piping Plover, and Common Tern, not nesting at this time, and off-limit to humans, dogs, and vehicles. Considering the seawall and the terrain, the latter would be an interesting feat. And I’m surprised they haven't included cats who are not leashed and free to roam.
But alas, cats do not obey signs.
The Tern is a member of the gull family. Of note is that the Least Tern is a two-family home with both parents tending to and feed their young for up to two to three months, i.e., the summer. But there is only one “brood” per season.
The Piping Plovers nest with the Least Tern and next in small depressions in the sand called “scrapes” when possible. Their young are similar looking to Easter chicks, though not the same color.
If you happen to disregard the “No Entry” sign, you are not only disregarding the DCR directive but the state and federal law as well. And don’t forget that bird watchers are also watching you. The state’s foremost authority on birds, the Coastal Waterbird Program at the Audubon Society, has a keen interest in seeing the population grow.
The birds are rare, and their nests and eggs are protected from killing, harassing, or “in any way” disturbing the birds or their nests. Disturbing them constitutes a violation of this mandate as the parents may leave the nest, putting their eggs and future generations at risk.
Although the signs are far warning, I have experienced first-hand what it is like to stray too close to the fence. A Least Tern shrieking a warning in your ear and dive-bombing you are much more of a threat or deterrent than any sign.
The Plover and Least Tern colonies on Winthrop Beach and Yirrell beaches are heralded as a “sanctuary” for these endangered species whose numbers are rapidly increasing. The Least Tern was hunted for its feathers in the 1800s, which were used to decorate ladies’ hats, and were near extinction by the late 1900s.
Increased numbers of these birds are actually good news for swimmers and anyone else seeking to enjoy the Winthrop waterfront this summer. The return of these birds is a testament to the fact that beaches are cleaner, thanks to Boston Harbor Now who oversaw the Boston Harbor cleanup project.
As the days grow warmer and the Terns grow louder, let’s be thankful for our access to the ocean, beaches, and all the life it supports. They were there first and most likely displaced by humans.
And without the dogs, we won’t be stepping in dog poop which many dog owners tend to leave behind.