Thousands of shorebirds dropped out of the skies last Thursday and Friday (May 21-22) onto Presqu?ile Beach, triggering the park?s ?grounding? protocol for the first time. This protocol is part of the wider Beach and Dune Implementation Resource Management Plan that was adopted by the park last March, following public consultation. A grounding is said to occur whenever there are 500+ shorebirds on the beach. Thursday?s 1300 birds and Friday?s 3000+ birds certainly qualified, and beach access was restricted to minimize disturbance to the birds.
Some of the 3000+ birds that landed on Presqu'ile Beach Photo David Bree
Beach access restrictions are variable depending on the number and distribution of the birds on the beach. In general the beach parking lots are closed, signs explaining the closure are erected and staff/volunteers patrol the edge of the beach explaining to visitors what is going on and why. Walking may be allowed on portions of the beach or access may be restricted entirely. On Thursday visitors could walk the high, dry beach ridge back from the shoreline, but on Friday there were so many birds on the beach that all access was restricted until noon, when most of the birds left for parts further north.
Shorebirds are particularly targeted in this protocol for a number of reasons. These birds, which most people call sandpipers, are extreme distance flyers. Most species winter in southern South America and migrate north every spring to nest in Canada?s arctic. They need tremendous amounts of energy to make this trip and they get that energy by stopping and feeding frantically at a few spots along their route. Disturbing the birds from their feeding just makes it that much more difficult for the birds to make their journey, and in extreme cases may cause fatalities. Presqu?ile is well known as one of the most important stopping points in southern Ontario for shorebirds. Over 40 different species have been known to take part in Presqu?ile?s beach smorgasbord, and flocks into the thousands have been recorded here through the years. Such large flocks usually set down in Presqu?ile in late May- early June going north, and occasionally in the fall between late August and October as they come south. Rather fortuitously this timing means they are using the beach when there are few humans on the beach and disturbance has been reasonably low. For several years now Presqu?ile has been managing the beach such that the south end is more attractive to shorebirds and the north end more attractive for people so that both groups may enjoy the beach.
Dunlins on Presquile Beach Photo David Bree
Unfortunately shorebird numbers have been dropping over the last few decades and one species, Red Knot, was added to the Endangered Species list in 2008. Our new protocol just gives shorebirds that little extra protection during a very vulnerable period of their life cycle.
If you would like more information on the park, shorebirds or our Beach and Dune Management Plan please contact the park at 613 475 4324.