Cover of Piping Plover Summer.
The plight of the diminutive Piping Plover, and how people help the species survive is the topic for a colorful, new book for children.
Piping Plover Summer, a tale written for youngsters 5-10 years of age by Janet Riegle of Minnesota, tells about a pair which return to nest on the beach where they nested the previous year, and how they overcome threats to their safety and a dangerous environment to successfully raise a brood of chicks.
The story is presented from the perspective of the birds, and gently reminds "readers that human behavior affects the lives of other creatures in ways we often don't notice, and offers hope and encouragement that there are effective methods for helping endangered populations and that caring humans can make a difference."
Since biologists actively help the birds survive, the connection "between humans and birds adds interest and shows how individuals can make a difference," Riegle explained. The story conveys how the nesting pair adapts to a protective exclosure, placed around the nest by biologists, to keep predators from bothering the brooding birds.
Colorful and evocative art - the illustrations are drawn with colored pencil on colored pastel paper - "creates the mood of beach shorelines along the Great Lakes and North Atlantic coast that are the breeding grounds for this endangered species." The illustrations are drawn in a manner to keep children interested and to evoke the admiration of any adults reading to them.
"Piping Plovers are an attractive, appealing species because the adults are striking with their black headband and necklace showcased against their pale plumage," Riegle said. "And the chicks are just plain cute!"
Her interest in birds began in childhood, as she watched "the bird feeders outside her kitchen window. Growing up in Michigan, her family enjoyed frequent beach outings on the Great Lakes, where she was fascinated by the many sandpipers and plovers scurrying along the shore."
"As a young adult, Janet's interest turned toward music and she became a professional flutist and music tutor. When she moved to northern Minnesota, the amazing flute-like songs of woodland birds caught her attention. She began researching her favorite species until she could identify them by sight and sound."
Illustration of a Piping Plover brood by Janet Riegle.
"Although Piping Plovers formerly nested near Duluth, Minnesota many years ago, they do not nest here at the present time," Riegle said.
"However, they do pass through on migration and I have observed them several times on Minnesota Point on Lake Superior. On one particular occasion I recall seeing a Piping Plover with some other shorebirds on the beach. I politely asked a group of people walking the shoreline to take a slight detour so as not to disturb the birds. The people seemed interested when I mentioned that an endangered species was nearby and I pointed it out to them. They asked lots of questions and thanked me for the information. Later in the summer I again ran into the same group of people and they seemed to have positive memories of that particular experience.
"At about that time, I had recently read 'A Shadow and a Song: The Struggle to Save an Endangered Species' by Mark Jerome Walters (Chelsea Green Publishing Company), which looks back on the series of events that led to the extinction of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow. Also about that time, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service released a Draft Recovery Plan for the Great Lakes Piping Plover. I requested one and read through it, and the vulnerability of the Piping Plover really struck me. I thought about the Dusky Seaside Sparrow and how it seemed that so many people involved in that process didn't feel like their role in the game was that important, and that someone else would pick up the ball if they dropped it. Of course that didn't happen and the Dusky Seaside Sparrow is lost forever.
"I felt compelled to do something for the Piping Plover, and felt that perhaps my best contribution could be to introduce the species to a younger generation, thereby awakening their interest in the species and in birds and other wildlife in general.
"The predator exclosure in the book is based on the specifications set forth in the recovery plan for the Great Lakes Piping Plover. I also consulted other sources on exclosures, for example, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Atlantic Coast Piping Plover slide show."
Riegle, a legal assistant by day, has found "that the lives of birds and their songs are far more interesting than sitting in a room trying to improve" the sounds made with her flute. As an avid and respected birdwatcher, she participates in the bird counts and other research in northeastern Minnesota. This is the first children's book she has written.
"I am thrilled that the book is coming out," Riegle said. "I truly hope that children and their parents and grandparents enjoy the story and at the same time become aware of the struggles these and other birds face in their daily lives."
A non-fiction section at the end gives readers more information on Piping Plovers, and resources useful for learning more.
Published by Raven Productions Inc., "an independent publisher in Ely, Minn. Its mission is to encourage children and grown-ups to explore, enjoy, and protect the natural world and share experiences with one another through story-telling, writing, and art."