The closure at Cape Point for American oystercatchers exhibiting breeding behavior was expanded today – from two-tenths of a mile to four-tenths of a mile. That’s double the size it was last week at this time.
For now, folks can still wade below the mean low tide line to reach Cape Point, which is not closed. Or they can reach the Point by boat.
Park Service management is re-evaluating the situation and will make a decision in the next day or so whether continued access to Cape Point by walking in the ocean or by boat should be allowed.
The decision will most likely be based on safety concerns. Wading through two-tenths of a mile of ocean with wind, waves, and heavy current isn’t easy. A colleague’s husband, who is a strong guy in his 20s, did it last night and it took 30 minutes. Now it will presumably take twice as long, wading in water that could perhaps be up to your knees.
And landing a boat at Cape Point is also difficult with the wind and current.
The closure is about two-tenths of a mile south of Ramp 44 and is for American oystercatchers who are courting.
Since most oystercatchers on the seashore are banded, the park biologists can keep track of them.
The pair that closed access to the Point last week is a young pair, according to Britta Muiznieks, the park’s wildlife biologist. They tried to nest last year in the area and managed to establish one nest that was not successful.
Interestingly, one of that pair is the offspring of a pair that has nested in the area of Cape Point and South Beach in the past.
Their attempt to move into the neighborhood has irritated an older pair of oystercatchers that has been nesting in the area since at least 2005.
That older pair had been courting in the pre-nesting area that has been closed to vehicles since mid-March. (Good decision on their part.) The male has been most unhappy with the interlopers and has tried to drive them off.
So far, the older guy has not been successful. The youngsters are still there and now the older pair has moved closer to the ocean to continue their scraping in the sand – which is breeding behavior.
They are still within the pre-nesting area, but the 150 meter buffer required by the consent decree has resulted in a full beach closure.
“The older pair wants a larger territory,” Muiznieks says. “We don’t know why some birds need a larger territory.”
She also added that park biologists don’t know if the younger interlopers have drawn the older residents out of the territory they were originally establishing or if there are other dynamics at work.
Oystercatchers tend to return to nest in pairs, Muiznieks says. She adds that the park biologists have noticed a few changes in pairs, but it’s not typical of oystercatchers unless one of the couple is lost.
So stay tuned as this mini-drama at Cape Point plays out.
Will the older pair return to their previous area? Will they drive the younger pair out? Or will the younger pair become permanent residents of the nesting bird population?
It could be that access to Cape Point will open again – until more birds move into the area – and it could be that it will be closed until the birds nest and leave later this summer.