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Watch Your Step: Shoreline Birding Nears Its Peak

Animals have noticed a change of pace from humans practicing social distancing. Places once bustling with people are pretty quiet. 

But on the coasts of Long Island and Connecticut, that’s just not the case. Groups of people heading to the shore pose a threat to some of the region’s most vulnerable bird species. 

Aaron Virgin says he’s noticed some serious crowds at parks and beaches in eastern Long Island.

“When you’ve got mom and dad who are not working, and kids not in schools, it’s like this perpetual vacation.” 

Virgin is the vice president of Group for the East End, a community and environmental advocacy group. 

“You have a lot of people out from New York City, either in their second homes, or renting homes to get out of the madness in the city,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of our preserves, parks, really filled to the max.” 

Plus, they’re bringing their dogs, both on and off leash. Virgin says that can be a problem for shorebirds that have started to nest for this season. He monitors endangered birds each year. 

“The beach nesting birds, the coastal birds — they are going to see more people, and they are going to have a little more heightened stress if you will.” 

Shorebirds will be in peak numbers from late April to early May. 

Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, director of bird conservation at Audubon Connecticut, says there could be 5,000 shorebirds on the beach at a given time. 

“These birds are literally nesting right on the ground, right on the sand. So when people are on the beaches, if they’re not sticking to guidelines, they can actually step on nests, or get too close to a nest where the adult bird is sort of flushed from the nest.”

She says the piping plover and American oystercatcher are most at risk — they are just starting the nesting stage. 

“Any time that they are disturbed is time that they will be off their nest.” 

And that leaves eggs unprotected. Amanda Pachomski, bird conservation program manager at Audubon New York, says people need to be better aware of their surroundings. 

“It’s really important that people give these birds space, that way they can do their job, and be good parents, and take care of their nest and their babies like they’re trying to.” 

Group for the East End on Long Island has started to put up fencing. Virgin expects for there to be way more birds coming soon.

“Our team was out today pre-fencing,” he said. “The plovers are back and looking for places to nest. So, there is a race to make sure the good quality places to nest are protected.”

Hey, birdwatchers out there — you don’t have to go further than their own yard. 

Connecticut State Ornithologist Margaret Rubega says people can find, close to home, all kinds of birds, traveling from their wintering grounds.

“One of the advantages of this situation is folks have time, and also they can’t go very far, so settling into a lawn chair in your yard, and just watching the birds that are there, you might see more than you usually do.” 

And your observations of the birds can help the birds. There’s an online database of observations known as eBird. Birdwatchers can log what they find on the web or through the app.

Rubega says that information can help biologists study bird activity and practice social distancing, too.

“That provides a much more powerful set of data for scientists to subsequently be able to look at all those data and say, ‘huh look at that,’ these birds arrived much earlier than they usually do, or ‘these birds are breeding in places where they don’t normally.’” 

So, enjoy bird watching, but at a distance.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the name of Audubon Connecticut. 

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