Tisbury lifts Tashmoo Beach shorebird closure in time for Fourth

Lifeguards Celena Maciolek (left), Larissa Cacique and Willy Nevin cleaned up Friday morning following the decision to reopen Tashmoo Beach. — Photo by Janet Hefler

Tisbury town officials declared Tashmoo Beach, closed for the past five weeks to protect nesting shorebirds, open to the public on Friday, July 1. The beach at the end of Herring Creek Road, where Lake Tashmoo opens to Vineyard Sound, is popular with swimmers and shellfishermen, and the opening was timed smartly, though serendipitously, on the eve of the July Fourth weekend holiday.

None of the six chicks that hatched from eggs in two separate nests survived. As a result, town officials reopened the road and beach.

The closure began on May 23, when a shorebird monitor spotted a pair of nesting piping plovers on the roadside and notified a state environmental official who recommended the town take immediate action to protect the birds. The town closed the beach, parking lot, and a portion of the road leading to it that day.

A second plover nest was later discovered on private property, near the town beach on the lake side, according to Susan Bellincampi, director of the Mass Audubon Society’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown and a member of the Tisbury conservation commission.

Last week, the plovers and a tern that had also lingered in the area were gone. Both species are protected under the state and federal versions of the Endangered Species Act. Penalties for disturbing the nesting birds, or a failure to adequately protect them, are severe, and there is little wiggle room for beachfront communities that must often restrict the activities of visitors and residents on prime beach areas.

A total of six chicks hatched between June 15-17, Ms. Bellincampi told The Times in a phone conversation on Tuesday. Two were from the roadside nest and four from the nest on private property. Despite the beach closure, intended to safeguard the eggs, no chicks survived beyond June 19.

Two of the chicks were gone one day after they hatched, and the other four within another two days. Ms. Bellincampi attributed the cause to “unseen predators.” Crows, skunks, and gulls all pose a significant threat to shorebird chicks.

Although the chicks were gone, Ms. Bellincampi said the beach area was kept closed because the adult plovers remained in the beach area, including the road location, and there was a possibility they would re-nest.

Since plovers typically do not re-nest after July 1, Ms. Bellincampi said she remained in contact with Fred LaPiana, chief of the town department of public works, in the interim. Once they determined there were no new nests and saw that the adult plovers were not displaying nest-defending behavior, Ms. Bellincampi said they agreed they July 1 would be a safe date to reopen the beach. “We are still monitoring but haven’t seen any activity in that area,” she added.

Last week there was barely a peep from Tisbury that the town might reopen the beach prior to the long Independence Day weekend.

Reached at his office on Wednesday, June 29, about the status of the closure, town administrator John Bugbee said he did not have any information and referred The Times to Hillary Conklin, administrative secretary to the Tisbury shellfish constable and selectmen.

Ms. Conklin said she had word that day from department of public works director that the plovers had gone. He had reopened Herring Creek Road, the pond side of the beach, and half of the parking lot. A portion of the beach, she said, remained closed to protect a nesting tern.

In a conversation with The Times June 30, Mr. LaPiana said it appeared the tern had gone. Mr. LaPiana told The Times he had also conferred with Susan Bellincampi, director of the Mass Audubon Society’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and decided to reopen the entire beach.

On Friday morning, Mr. LaPiana removed rope fencing and barriers erected to protect the nesting site while lifeguards cleaned the beach area in anticipation of a busy holiday weekend. Mr. LaPiana said they would also repaint the lifeguard stand, since it could not be done while the beach area was closed.

“We’re always environmentally concerned,” Mr. LaPiana said.

But, he added, “We’re glad the birds cooperated, and that we were able to accommodate both the environmental aspects of our business and the public aspect of our business.”

Tashmoo Beach is popular with families because there is a lifeguard, and swimming conditions are generally calm. The beach fronts on Vineyard Sound, and affords access to shallow pond flats.