Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
A Star-Crossed Plover Story

In today’s post, Marina Opitz, Discovery Leader at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, delights us with a shorebird drama of Shakespearean proportions. Thanks to Neal Mutiger for photographing our main avian actors.

First, let’s set the stage for our dramatic story.

Imagine an empty beach, an orange dawn shining over the waves, when two lone plovers lock eyes from across the line of destruction. It is love at first sight.

However, if we have learned anything from the immortal Bard, it is that not all romantic tales have a happy ending. And so we begin our path towards eventual heartbreak…

Introducing the players.

Our protagonist is Worsley, bred in captivity in Michigan in 2012. Worsley first appeared on Wasaga Beach in 2013 as a transient bird and has nested there every year since 2014, with the exception of 2017.

ploverWorsley de,L/OY: X,b

Next, we have our protagonist, Nancy. Like Worsley, Nancy first appeared at Wasaga Beach in 2012 (it is unknown if she was a breeding adult or chick at the time) and she has been a Wasaga Beach regular ever since.

ploverNancy X,Y: O,-

Enter our antagonists.

Our rival, Pepa, was born in Sauble Beach in 2012 and made her first appearance in Wasaga Beach in 2016.

running ploverPepa X,G: Of,b Y

Their son, Fudge, was born in Wasaga Beach in 2019. He is our promising young man.

Fudge X,O/B: O,B

Romance blooms

Although Worsley and Nancy were at Wasaga Beach for three years, our top plovers were not found until 2018.

It seemed that the stars had finally aligned for Worsley and Nancy, and over the next two years, together they would hatch seven chicks from their two nests.

Throughout 2018 and 2019, Worsley and Nancy proved to be fierce and loyal parents. His territory was well defended and his almost 90% success rate in raising his fledglings is evidence of his paternal devotion.

ploversWorsley and Nancy with their chicks in 2019

In 2019, the young and strapping Fudge appears on the scene. Born to Pepa and Doc, he is one of two of his birds that managed to fly successfully.

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However, Fudge is not ready to “fly off the coop” just yet, as he returns to Wasaga Beach in 2020 and is reunited with his mother Pepa.

plovers with eggsDoc and Pepa with their first chick born in 2019 (could it be Fudge???)

That brings us to the turbulent and worrying year of 2020.

Worsley returned to Wasaga Beach to discover that his former partner, Nancy, had not yet arrived.

Feeling the biological pressure to continue his genetic line, Worsley notices the lonely Pepa strolling along the coast. Never one to sit back and miss an opportunity, Worsley woos Pepa and begins his descent into betrayal and scandal.

Shortly afterward, Nancy appears on the beach and discovers that her partner of two seasons has hooked up with another woman. Worsley, now realizing his terrible mistake, takes Pepa away from the beach and over the boardwalk so as not to flaunt his new companion in Nancy’s face.

Well, hell hath no fury like a plover scorned. Enter our strapping young Fudge. At one year old, he seems like a really delicious snack to our eight-year-old Nancy, and their courtship begins.

plovers on the beachFudge courting Nancy on May 20, 2020

After a successful courtship, Fudge and Nancy settle into their new home in the middle of a parking lot, a stone’s throw from Worsley and Pepa’s nest. Worsley, clearly furious with his ex-wife, Nancy, for mating with his stepson, Fudge, forces them out of his territory and out of his sight so he doesn’t have to witness their torrid affair.

Realizing his big mistake, Worsley couldn’t bear to be separated from his one true love, Nancy.

It was not unusual to see them walking together along the coast, feeding and looking at each other longingly. Nancy, of course, still only had eyes for her Worsley and often left Fudge alone.

Breeding of the modern plover

It was noted that Fudge spent considerably more time in the nest than Nancy, and Nancy was often nowhere to be found. It seemed that poor Fudge had been tricked into tending the house fires while his new partner was in town.

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plover in the nestFudge watches over his nest while Nancy is away

Despite a rocky start, both sets of parents managed to hatch their nests.

Worsley and Pepa become proud parents to four chicks, hatched on June 12, while Fudge and Nancy followed shortly after with three chicks, hatched between June 26 and 29.

Worsley once again proved to be a fierce and devoted father, keeping his chicks constantly in sight and fearlessly attacking gulls and crows of all sizes when he felt they were getting too close.

plover on driftwoodWorsley watches from his favorite vantage point.

tragedy strikes

Unfortunately, Worsley’s fierce dedication would ultimately lead to his demise.

On June 29, Worsley was reported missing. After several days of searching, park staff concluded that Worsley had likely been the victim of a predator.

Worsley is believed to have emerged with the same vigor she showed throughout her life, bravely protecting her chicks against the threat of being eaten.

plover portraitWorsley, June 2012 – June 29, 2020

Worlsey will be fondly remembered at Wasaga Beach, having managed to raise seventeen chicks in his six years as a breeding male. Worsley’s chicks represent 23% of all chicks that fledged at Wasaga Beach, a tremendous contribution to the resurgence of the plover population.

Beside herself with grief, Nancy quickly left Wasaga Beach, never to return to her chicks.

However, the world still turns…

Pepa, being an exemplary mother, took her partner’s disappearance in stride and continued raising her chicks until her departure.

Unfortunately, Fudge once again had to fend for himself, but also for his three chicks. Despite his vigor, Fudge’s inexperience as a first-time parent, combined with the lack of guidance from his more experienced partner, led to the death of all three of his chicks.

Overcome with sadness, he continued where his stepfather had left off and took his half-brothers and sisters under his wing. Fudge was seen daily with Worsley and Pepa’s chicks until his departure south.

ploverThe last Worsley chick will leave Wasaga Beach on July 30

This brings us to the end of our story.

Worsley’s legacy lives on in the seventeen chicks he successfully raised. Her last chick left Wasaga Beach on July 30 and will hopefully return in future years to continue the Worsley line.

There was never a story of greater pity than that of Nancy and her love, Worsley.

Learn more about the Plover Recovery Program at Wasaga Beach here.