Down East 2013 ©
Overnight parking is usually frowned upon at Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth, but this time of year park rangers are making special arrangements for some welcome guests. Each spring for more than two decades, a pair of killdeer has made a home among the gravel and broken asphalt of the park’s parking lot for the few weeks it takes them to hatch out a new family, and both rangers and park visitors have gladly made room for them.
The killdeer are close cousins to the endangered piping plover, which nests on the soft sand of Crescent Beach itself. Each year rangers and Maine Audubon Society biologists locate the killdeer and plover nests and fence them off from encroaching people and cars.
“Some years the killdeer nest right in the middle of a driving lane,” says Ralph Wilkinson, who has worked at the park for twenty-three years. “They seem pretty oblivious to traffic. We cordon off about twenty feet around the nest.”
Wilkinson says park visitors are generally understanding of the situation, although sometimes they express concern when the killdeer perform their trademark “broken wing” act. “We explain that’s how they draw intruders away from the nest,” he says. Killdeer chicks don’t stay in the nest long after hatching, so the barriers generally come down by late June.
Park manager John Scott says the only problem has come from people who let their dogs run loose on the beach. “The dogs chase birds off their nests, break the eggs, and generally harass the birds,” he says. Strictly speaking, dogs aren’t allowed on any state park beaches, although the rule is relaxed in the off season. The rule will be more rigorously enforced this year at Crescent Beach if the problems recur.
Wilkinson doesn’t know if the same killdeer pair returns each year. He says the parking lot is attractive to the birds because its worn and broken asphalt helps camouflage the eggs. “If we ever repave here, I guess they’ll be out of luck,” he notes. Luckily, the park’s budget doesn’t include resurfacing the parking lot anytime soon.
(Published June 200)