Tuesday, July 25, 2017

crowded crazy beach

Friday, July 21, 2017
Bird of the Day: black tern
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Harrar
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: moon snail sand collar
Invisi-bird Status: Official: Refuge Beach: 27 Pairs, 3 Nests, 70 Chicks, 14 Fledglings. No report on town beach and Sandy Point. Number actually seen by me: 4 (3 chicks, 1 adult).

Plover Chick Looking for Food in the Sand
After a long streak of cloudy, rainy, cold, or otherwise non-beach-weather Fridays, this one was a typical hot beach day. I knew as soon as I got up that it was going to be a busy, strenuous, potentially stressful day. And indeed it was. Lots of people, lots of greenheads, lots of questions, confusion, radio difficulties, and heat made for an interesting day.
Another Cute Chick
The first half hour was actually fairly quiet visitor-wise and I spotted my favorite chicks right off the bat. I watched one of the chicks flexing its wings, not quite fledged yet, but getting close. It looked like it was trying to get used to having wings. I also saw, for the first time this season, a least tern parent feeding its chick.
Looking South
The beach got really crowded around mid-morning. There were lots of family groups, lots of swimmers, and a few fishermen. You know it's deep into July when the most common questions are about greenheads, not about the plovers. People wanted to know what kind of repellent I use (Dak's GreenHead) and when the greenheads will go away (early August). The oddest question was from a woman who asked whether I'd seen any needles on the beach, because she'd heard  that vast numbers of needles were washing up on beaches. The news has been full of needles in the Merrimack River, needles on the beaches, needles in playgrounds, and other places. I told her I had not seen or heard of any on the refuge beach.
Sand Collar
My favorite question was from a kid who spotted a sand collar upside down at the waterline. He asked what it was and his grandfather replied that it was a coffee cup from a sunken ocean liner. The kid was not buying that answer and exclaimed "But it's made of sand!"  He liked my explanation of how the female moon snail lays her eggs in a structure made out of sand and mucus and sometimes they wash up on the beach. The kid put it back right side up.
Least Terns on Nest
My most frightening moment of the day came when I spotted two people walking in the closed area very close to a least tern nest. I stopped them before either of them stepped on the tern nest. The least tern air defense command rose up and shrieked at them but for some reason did not poop on them. Anyway, I guided them over to the boundary away from the nest. They told me they were looking for Ranger McKenzie's program on piping plovers, for which they were late, and that Gatehouse had told them to try to catch up with the group from the Lot 1 beach.  My radio was getting no signal whatsoever where I was standing, and after moving around a little, I finally gave up and called Gatehouse on my phone (which oddly, did have somewhat of a signal). Gatehouse didn't know where McKenzie was and couldn't reach her. Nobody had told me about any program on the Lot 1 beach, and I'd been on the beach since 8:30 and had not seen any refuge staff or group, so I was very confused. I found a better spot for radio and called Gatehouse a couple more times, but by the time Gatehouse contacted McKenzie and determined that she was at Lot 7, the people had left the beach. The whole thing was weird, but fortunately I prevented them from harming the least tern nest. A couple of other visitors who saw/heard all this came over and said sympathetically "I wouldn't want your job."
Piping Plover between ATV Tracks
A couple of windblown beach balls and a guy landing a stand up paddle board on the closed beach were dealt with much more easily. Things calmed down.

There was a great flurry of tern activity offshore, mostly common terns, diving and coming up with fish. As I was watching them, I noticed a smaller dark tern in among them. Once it came in closer, I could see it was a black tern! Birders have been reporting a black tern on the refuge for a few weeks so I'm guessing this is probably the same one. First time I've seen one on Plum Island.
Meanwhile in the Milkweed Patch
By the time I left, I was wilting from the heat and feeling really dehydrated, but that didn't stop me from noticing the status of the milkweed patch. Some of them have already formed seed pods. Others are still flowering. I did not see any monarch butterflies but did see bumblebees.
Milkweed Flowers

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

plover chicks, pollinators, and a cold day on the beach

Friday July 14, 2017
Bird of the Day: piping plover
Coffee of the Day: French Roast
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: plastic thing that looks like a thumb drive or a cigarette lighter
Invisi-bird Status: Official: Refuge Beach: 28 Pairs, 13 Nests, 47 Chicks, 14 Fledglings. Sandy Point: 7 Pairs, 0 Nests, 22 Chicks, 0 Fledglings. Town Beach: 2 Pairs, 1 Nest, 4 Chicks. Number actually seen by me: 2 adults and 3 chicks for a total of 5 plovers.

Hello, I am a Plover Chick and I Can't Read
What can I say? A cold breeze kept the greenheads away.  The three chicks were very active, but not showing any signs of trying to fly yet. I tried to catch a photo of all three of them, but every time I'd see them near each other they were running like crazy. Those little guys run really fast. What few visitors there were in the cold overcast weather all commented on how fast the chicks run. They are just so darn cute.
Hmm, What's All This Trash in my Home, the Wrack Line?
The least terns were really quiet and hunkered down on their nests. I'm guessing some of them will be hatching next week. Meanwhile, having overheard the King of Plum Island, Tom Wetmore, discussing identification of a mystery tern with some other birders up on the Lot 1 platform, I started paying particular attention to the common terns. The mystery tern was supposedly either an Arctic tern or a Forster's tern.  I kept scanning for either species but kept on just seeing leasts and commons, not even any roseates.
Can You Find the Least Tern in this Picture?
My tern-watching was interrupted by my noticing a couple with an unleashed dog on the town beach heading toward the refuge along the waterline. It was low tide, so I practically had to jump off a cliff to get down to the waterline and then start walking toward the refuge boundary. Fortunately, my dog-staring-down technique still works. Just as the dog and its humans entered the refuge, I communicated to them that they had just crossed the boundary without my having to say a word. Low tide is often tough because the way the beach is configured right now, people at the waterline are below a steep berm of sand and really can't see the refuge sign so have no way of knowing where the boundary is. (Same deal with the boundary of the closed area, that's why we're always trying new methods of trying to mark off the closed area with sticks at low tide.) Anyway, the dog and the humans went back onto the town beach with no trouble.
I'm Outta Here
Meanwhile, all three chicks and one of the adults started foraging in the open area of  the beach. I kept an eye on them until they headed back into the closed area, just in case any visitors approached. I think the pickings were probably better further south anyway as there is way more wrack to harbor way more insects, etc. In fact a small cloud of tree swallows swooped down looking for bugs in the area of the least tern colony, so I suspect that's in fact where the insect life was.
On the Move
In my wanderings along the wrack line, I found a strange plastic thing that looked like it could have been part of a thumb drive or a cigarette lighter. It had electrical contacts on one end. Weird.

Weird Wrack Item of the Week
A pair of common terns landed on the beach and did a little dance involving neck stretching, fish presentation, and circling each other. Or maybe they were mystery terns. I started questioning my tern identification skills. Are those legs orange or red? How forked is that tail? How much does the tail extend beyond the wings? Who knows? They were extremely cool to watch.
Common Terns Looking Cool

When I stopped at the gatehouse to sign out and drop off my report, I was thrilled to spot my first monarch butterflies of the season landing on the milkweed. Yay, pollinators! Yay, milkweed! That little milkweed patch is an important part of the refuge.
Monarch on Milkweed
Monarch Taking off from Milkweed

Monday, July 17, 2017


Friday July 7, 2017
Bird of the Day: piping plover chick(s)
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Harrar
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: a hair roller?
Invisi-bird Status: Official: Refuge Beach: 31 Pairs, 19 Nests, 31 Chicks. Sandy Point: 9 Pairs, 0 Nests, 23 Chicks. Town Beach: 2 Pairs, 1 Nest, 4 Chicks. Number actually seen by me: 3 Chicks, 2 Adults for a total of 5 of those invisible little guys!
Somebody Found Something Good To Eat!
Chicks! Chicks! Chicks! Cutest thing on the planet! Yup, I finally saw the offspring of the northernmost pair today. Three of them. They hung around being cute for most of the morning, so when visitors asked me if/where they could see those piping plovers I could point at them. The absolute best thing to convince people the beach closure is worth it is to show them the chicks.  One visitor was sitting on a log next to the boundary recording video of them for quite some time. She was impressed that I got a still shot of a chick with an adult.
Plover Parenting
Can You Spot the Plover Chick?
There's Nobody Hiding Under Me, Don't You Believe Me?
All the visitors were well-behaved, so I didn't have to do much beyond answering a few questions and showing people what these babies look like.  There was a long stretch when there was hardly anyone on the beach, so I got a bit of chance to photograph some really weird trash in the wrack line: multiple pairs of sunglasses, something that looked like a hair roller, a plastic knob, pistachios ... just plain weird stuff.
More Sunglasses
Hair Roller, Plastic Knob, and Pistachios
The only reason I knew those things were pistachios and not some more local and more plausible plant matter was the heap of pistachio shells nearby.

Great Black Back Surveying the Scene