One of the most common questions we field this time of year, depending on Off-Road Vehicle access is “Why isn’t the ORV Beach open all the way yet?” While many people are aware of the Piping Plovers, a federally protected species of shorebird, there are actually several shorebird species that nest and fledge at Sandy Neck Beach including the Least Tern, another protected species. Depending and where and when these birds nest, certain sections of the beach may remain open or closed for different periods of time.
Both the Piping Plover and Least Terns nest in sandy and gravelly habitats between the high tide line and the toe of the primary sand dune in areas with little to no vegetation. These areas are generally highly desired locations for human recreation and can lead to conflicts of shared use.
Least Tern colonies can vary in size and location, and locations may change throughout the season due to disturbance from humans and predators, high tide inundation and other environmental factors. When Least Tern chicks hatch, they remain in the nest bowl for a few days before wandering up to 500+ feet from their original nest sight. Chicks will seek shelter in vegetation or near debris, but will begin to wander towards the shoreline as they age. Least Tern eggs and chicks are well-camouflaged and are difficult discern from the sandy/rocky habitats they are found in. Without proper protection, Least Tern eggs can be crushed by Off-Road Vehicles. Tire ruts can also create problems as chicks may become trapped within the ruts which prevents normal movements and may further expose them to negative interactions with vehicles.
Sandy Neck Shorebird Monitors work daily throughout the season to monitor these species and ensure proper compliance with both State and Federal Guidelines. This allows these rare birds the proper protection they require while at the same time allowing for recreational opportunities throughout the park. Through careful observation, proper protection and diligent monitoring, staff works hard to ensure that areas may once again re-open as soon as possible; as shorebirds begin to move, hatch and fledge. We want to thank all of our patrons for their patience and support during the season in providing these birds with proper protection, nesting and fledging opportunities.
Stay tuned-in to our Sandy Neck App for the latest updates regarding beach openings and Off-Road Vehicle access!
If you have any questions, please contact the Sandy Neck Gatehouse or speak to a Natural Resource Officer or Wildlife Monitor out on the beach!”