Tuesday, July 21, 2015

rain keeps greenheads away

Saturday July 18
AM Shift North
Coffee of the Day: Tanzania Peaberry
Bird of the Day: herring gull
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: tie between plastic beach anchor and weird earthen mound with green plastic bit
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge: 9 pairs, 1 nest, 18 chicks, 26 fledglings; Sandy Point: 10 pairs, 3 nests, 17 chicks, zero fledglings; Town Beach: 3 pairs, zero nests, 8 chicks, zero fledglings. Number actually seen by me: zero.

Looking South
It was raining when I got up and I wondered if I should bother going to the refuge. After about an hour it stopped so I decided to go. Gatehouse was actually a little surprised any plover wardens showed up. Visitors showed up too, though not many.
Looking North
There were quite a few fishermen and no stand up paddle boarders. The fish are allegedly more likely to bite when it's raining, but apparently nobody told the fish that. Nobody got so much as a nibble while I was there.
An osprey flew over my head several times. It didn't catch any fish either. By far the most common bird was the herring gull. There were tons of them. I lost count at 132. They were mainly roosting on the sand in the closed area. Every once in awhile a few more herring gulls would fly in and the least tern air defense command would scramble to drive them away. The least terns were very active and, yes, they were catching fish.
Raindrops on Gull Feather in the Wrack
All of the visitor questions I answered were about the piping plover nesting. It is amazing how many people think the only species that nest on beaches are sea turtles. BTW, we don't have any sea turtles nesting here. People were genuinely interested in what I had to say about the plovers.
Strange Earthen Mound with Green Plastic Thingie
Minor rain showers came and went. The beach was free of greenheads. I think the rain and the cool temperatures kept them away.
Beach Anchor
I had loads of time to walk along the wrack line and observe different types of seaweed (I did not taste the dulse to see if it really tastes like bacon.) I found a plastic "beach anchor" left behind by some beach goer -- I don't think it washed up from somewhere else. There was a mound of sand and seaweed with a shard of plastic on top that clearly looked like somebody arranged it that way. for a second I thought the plastic matched that of the beach anchor, but on closer inspection it didn't.

Gull Who Stands On One Leg and Steals Bait
It started to rain again around 11:30 so I left the beach a tad early. On my way back to the boardwalk, I noticed the remains of a beach bonfire. Thankfully, it was not still smoldering.

Remains of Fire -- Please, People, No Fires on the Refuge

Monday, July 13, 2015

why are there greenheads?

Saturday July 11
AM Shift North
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Bird of the Day: ring-billed gull
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: none
Invisi-bird Status: haven't seen any official numbers this week. Number actually seen by me: zero.

Looking South
This was by far the most crowded I've seen the beach yet this year.  Also the most people I've seen actually in the water swimming. Summer is in full swing. Unlike last week, fishermen outnumbered standup paddle boarders 10 to 2. I did not see anybody catch a striper or a flounder or anything other than somebody else's line.

I had several people ask me about piping plovers, everything from what they look like to where they nest and whether gulls prey on them. Oddly, nobody asked me for a date when the closed part of the beach will reopen. Everybody seems to get it that we open when the last chick has fledged. I did have somebody ask if the beach closure was for sea turtles - which don't nest here.

The most interesting question I had all morning was "why are there greenheads?" I had trouble wrapping my mind around that question. Why are there greenheads? Why is there air? Why is there a planet Earth? I ended up just explaining that greenheads are a kind of horsefly, that they breed in the salt marsh, are eaten by fish and birds, and are only around in their adult form in July and part of August. Oh, and it really hurts when they bite.

The greenheads were indeed out in full force but left me alone 'cause I followed my own advice and wore light colored clothing and sprayed myself with Deep Woods Off. Light colors are key because greenheads are attracted to dark colors and will go right for your butt if you're wearing blue jeans. I ended up offering my Deep Woods Off to a group of people visiting Plum Island for the first time. They didn't bring any kind of bug repellant and one of the women was wearing black shorts. The whole group sprayed on the Off and were much more comfortable. I also advised them to move closer to the water, because there was more of a breeze there and greenheads are clumsy fliers. BTW, these weren't the people who asked "why are there greenheads?"

There was a great article in Yankee Magazine last year talking about the miserable creatures: 
Greenheads: The Beasts of the Northern Wild.

Looking North
I didn't see a single piping plover the whole shift, but I did see a least tern give another least tern a fish. They were both adults so maybe they are the pair that lost their nest to the coyote and they're attempting to renest.

Other interesting bird behavior included a lone redwinged blackbird attacking an osprey and a ring-billed gull successfully evading three herring gulls bent on stealing a morsel of bait that the ringbill had pilfered from a fisherman. The ringbill out maneuvered the herring gulls with fancy flying moves worthy of an air show.

Friday, July 10, 2015

and the days go by

Saturday July 4
AM Shift
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Harrar
Bird of the Day: Surf Scoter
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: some weird looking thing with a light on the end.
Invisibird-status: haven't seen an official report. Number seen by me: 1.

The weather was hazy to start off the morning. It was the kind of haze that causes looming. Boats that were actually below the horizon appeared to be flying above the horizon line.  It's kind of a fun thing to try to photograph.

July already? Is time speeding up? This is the key time for plover wardening because there are chicks on the beach who need to feed before they can fledge and this is prime beach time for humans. That said, it was a much quieter shift than I expected for the 4th of July. I answered the usual piping plover breeding cycle questions for a few visitors who were all very nice and genuinely interested.

Stand-up Paddle Boarders
Whether it was the tide, the wind conditions, or just the holiday weekend, the day drew stand-up paddle boarders in droves. They even outnumbered fishermen. At one point there were 10 stand-up paddle boarders and only 3 fishermen within my line of sight. One paddle boarder paddled south from the town beach and landed on the closed area of beach. It's OK if he stays in the water, but this guy walked on the beach.  I called Gatehouse and she got Unit 62. The guy did land again, but by the time 62 arrived on the boardwalk, the paddle boarder was gone.

The incoming tide was bringing in lots of interestingly shaped pieces of kelp. It was a good day for people who like to identify different types of seaweed.

Most of the bird action of the day was least terns chasing great black backs out of their territory. The terns were definitely winning. The most interesting bird sighting I had was two surf scoters just off shore. I usually see them more in the spring and early summer, not so much in July. They're really cool looking birds, but of course they were too far away for me to photograph.

Weird Wrack Item of the Week
The strangest thing I found in the wrack -- between two piles of absolutely normal-looking wrack -- was some kind of long articulated metal thing with what looked like a light on one end. I think it might have come off a boat -- maybe some kind of visibility thing -- but I really have no idea.

Joppa Penguins
The Joppa Flats penguins on their plastic ice floes are back in the Merrimack River just in time for peak kayaking. And yes, kayakers were doing selfies with the penguins.