Piping plovers are dimly colored plovers that lay eggs in small shavings of sand and are often overlooked when flying around the beach. Chris Arieli is often overlooked.
This spring, Alieri launched the NYC Plover Project, an organization dedicated to protecting endangered birds on the beaches of Rockaways in Queens. He recruited more than 50 volunteers and spent most of the spring and summer on beach patrols to protect plovers from dogs and unnoticed beach fans.
Some interactions can be unpleasant, such as when Arieri intercepted a young woman carrying a small dog from a boat to the shores of Breezy Point Chip on a hot Saturday. Not far away, a handful of fledgling plovers ran over the waves, while at least three chicks ran around on the sand.
Alieri explained that dogs are forbidden. The woman understood and said she returned to the boat. But then the man stomped on the water from the boat to the waist and asked Mr. Alieri, “Are you working for the government?”
Alieri said he didn’t call law enforcement when the dog set foot on the beach. The man said he didn’t like being told what to do. Before the man returned to the boat, Mr. Alieri called the park police.
Such an argument is unusual, Alieri said, but the days on the beach haven’t been exactly relaxed since he started watching Prover.
Arieri, 47, lives in Brooklyn and runs a public relations firm specializing in clean energy and climate technology. He saw his first plover as a kid on the Jersey Shore with his enthusiastic birder father. He said it was like watching a “unicorn.”
Last year, Alieri was at Fort Tilden Beach in the Gateway National Recreation Area of Queens, where Chidori appeared next to him. Then he saw another, and another.
He also saw the dog unlaced and chasing a fragile bird.
“Who is protecting them?” Said Alieri.
He spent much of the first summer of the coronavirus pandemic taking photographs of Prover and communicating with the National Park Service, which oversees the gateway.
This spring, Alieri launched the Chidori project to educate beach-goers about birds and, if necessary, call on authorities to protect them.
Plovers have seen coastal habitats being destroyed by human development and erosion. At one point, there were few breeding pairs of more than 720 Atlantic plovers left.
Birds are protected by the federal government under the Endangered Species and Migratory Bird Treaty Act. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there were a total of 5,983 cases investigated under both laws in 2020, of which plover investigations accounted for only a small proportion.
Plover chicks run and feed on their own from the time they are born. In most cases, it is vulnerable to predators such as ghost crabs, seagulls and raccoons. Human approach can prevent chicks from feeding, which can result in a death sentence.
As they grow, petite birds travel the world, moving south from the Atlantic beaches, Great Lakes, and Great Plains rivers each year. This is where most of these birds are born.Arieri said he formed a band in New Jersey and gave him a nickname. Clark KentSeen in the Bahamas, a journey of over 1,000 miles.
In the New York area, clovers tend to nest on the Jersey Shore of Long Island, Rockaway Beach, Fort Tilden Beach, and Breezy Point Beach in Queens. They arrive in March and humans can stay until the end of August through the hot season when they flock to the sea.
The timing is disappointing, and some beachfront communities have been resentful of birds for decades, as protecting birds often means limiting the beach.
You can block the entire beach. Walking dogs, flying kites, lighting fireworks, and off-roading to remote areas for fishing are prohibited. Even if you harm a plover, you can face severe fines and imprisonment.
Protecting birds also means catching and killing bird-eating animals, such as New Jersey foxes and long island stray cats, which offends the population. In the Hamptons, some candid critics published a recipe for skewered plover in a local newspaper as some homeowners opposed birds.
The village of West Hampton Dunes on Long Island encloses about half of the beach, builds protective structures around its nests, and hires a “plover monitor” that patrols the sand and keeps cars moving to crawl nearby roads. I was furious with the demanding plover regulation. Mayor Gary Begliante said.
“We were isolated from the beach,” said Begliante.
But over the years, the population has almost accepted the restrictions, Mr. Begliante said. “Birds are cute, no one wants to see them abandoned or lost,” he said.
US Park Police has enacted legislation to protect Queen’s Beach clover and other endangered species that Alieri is monitoring. However, not many park rangers are available. Arieli’s group is of great help in monitoring miles of beaches, said Tony Road, Lieutenant of Park Police.
“It’s extra eyes and ears, that’s what we really need,” Lieutenant Lord Tilden said at Fort Tilden Beach.
Park Services has partnered with Alieri to help him and his volunteers teach him and his volunteers the best way to escalate conflicts and approach beach people.
Many people want to know about the undeniably cute plover. Their chicks look like kindergarten children’s art projects, with cotton balls glued to the legs of the pipe cleaner.
Alieri diverted a booth on the beach promenade of Jacob Riis Park and printed Chidori stickers and temporary tattoos to provide to passers-by.
Samantha Philbert, 30, said she participated in the Chidori project because she felt the birds were “adorable.”
A Brooklyn-based illustrator, she said she had to take two buses for an hour and a half to get to the beach, usually for hours. She approaches people with sculptures of plover eggs and photographs of various plovers, trying to teach rather than scold them.
As an introverted black woman, Philbert said in 2020 when black birdwatching asked white women not to tie their dogs to walk in Central Park, all they had to do was call the police. He said he pondered what happened.
“It’s a little scary when you’re like the only black man, mostly in white areas,” Philbert said.
But apart from the rare encounters with people who are visibly drunk, she said, “Everyone was really kind to me and smiled everywhere.”
The number of Rockaway plovers has increased in recent years, with 46 reported in 2020. Alieri said he would continue to work as long as the birds returned to the city.
“They are also New Yorkers,” said Alieri. “They are living their lives in the same way we are trying to live our lives.”