Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Cute first graders make cute piping plover models. First-graders at May Howard Elementary in Savannah, Georgia made model piping plovers for science class. That's like cute-squared. I love that their plovers come with facts attached ribbons or strings. Now if only actual piping plovers could tell us about themselves and why they matter, we'd be all set.

Yes, I know I haven't updated in ages. Have hardly seen a bird in months. Too much stuff with Nancy's parents. No time for birds or blogging. We did take a weekend off from the outlaws so we could attend the Volunteer Appreciation Day, which is always fun. The best part for me was getting to sit and chat with Bob -- we rarely see each other during actual plover wardening shifts and I don't volunteer at the cat shelter anymore so Bob is like this disembodied voice on the radio to me most of the time. Anyway, we had a whole little clique of plover-lover/cat-lover overlap with Karen and Nyna also there. I'm sure the refuge staff got to wondering why they were overhearing discussion of spay-neuter clinics ... The whole Volunteer Appreciation Day thing was much more focused on pepperweed pullers and visitor center/gatehouse volunteers this year anyway.

The other night I dreamed that Unit 11 was organizing volunteers to remove tiny invasive fir trees that were taking over the refuge. They were very small but looked sort of like Douglas firs and there were tons of them. If tiny fir trees could fly they would have looked like a flock of starlings or maybe a swarm of midges.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Low Tide

Size comparison
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
Continuing where I left off... Last Saturday's coffee of the day was Ethiopian Harar mixed with New Guinea because I didn't want to wait for them to brew another pot. Also, this picture is from last week when there were plenty of piping plovers in the land of gulls photo ops.

Today (that would be Saturday August 4) the coffee of the day is Ethiopian Yrgacheffe, which is rapidly becoming my favorite. There are not nearly as many gulls hanging out at the south end of the beach and no piping plovers present themselves to me. It's low tide. Very low tide. Astronomically low tide for the month (obviously the high tide will be the astronomically high tide for the month, but that's not germane to our story), I've got a lot of ground, err sand, to cover.

As soon as I set up my chair and get the binoculars out of the backpack I spot someone in the closed area of beach. He's already too far away for me to get his attention and he's headed away from me. i radio the gatehouse and pretty soon Unit 61 is on his way and I'm giving him updates. I realize I set up way too far from the water when I lose sight of the guy behind a berm of sand.

After 61 walks the guy, a birder of course, out of the closed area, we're chatting about the number of chicks (8) and the craziness of visitors when a group of 4 kids appear without adult supervision. Deja vu. 61 handles the kids while I go talk to a jogger who is barreling down the beach in one of those jogger trances. All I have to say to him is "Hi" and he turns around before he gets to the boundary.

I move my chair closer to the water with some help from 61 then he returns to his truck. I keep busy answering questions on everything from when is high tide to how to keep greenheads away and oh by the way how are the plovers doing and reminding people of the beach closure and begin to feel as run on as this sentence (way of indicating I meant to write a run on sentence for effect).

I do have a brief interlude of time for some serious gull behavior observation. Two great black backs are chowing down on a little skate (that's the name not the size) when a third great black back tries to horn in. They thrust their necks forward and call loudly in unison making kind of threatening head gestures until the third gull backs off. It's really impressive. While they're arguing over the skate I notice another dead fish washed up on the beach -- not sure what it is, not flat like a flounder or a skate and not big enough or striped enough to be a striper. As I'm wondering why the other great black back hasn't noticed this prize, a ringbilled gull discovers it and starts tearing strips of flesh off it, eating fast. It's making progress when the great black back walks over -- doesn't even fly over and swoop down -- grabs the fish away from the ringbill, flips it so it's lengthwise and swallows it whole. There's no way a ringbill could have done that. The fish was too big. It really hit me that size matters and the big predator gets the big prey.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Saturday July 28 -- Stairs and the Usual Suspects

Life's a Beach
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
There are stairs from the boardwalk at lot 1 down to the beach. Wait a sec... there are stairs? Wonder how long they've been here.There haven't been stairs since the great flood of '07 (they did get replaced after the great flood of '06 only to return to the sea during the great flood of '07). This makes it a much easier walk to the beach.

Bird and visitor action is slow for most of the morning. A huge mixed flock of the usual gull suspects -- herring, great black back, and ringbilled -- is resting on the sand en masse a little to south. I hear the peep-lo call announcing the arrival of one of my invisible charges. It hangs around for about an hour, foraging in the thin line of wrack left by the incoming tide. It works north to south methodically, turning back north when it gets to close to the roosting gulls. The gulls stare at it but don't move. It just walks away instead of invoking the cloak of invisibility (or the less common but fascinating wicked aggressive act). Later on a couple of gulls move away from the flock and hang out closer to the plover's feeding area. It pretty much ignores the gulls as long as they ignore it.

A few people who were fishing when I arrived have left.

Part of the north end of the refuge beach and part of the town beach are roped off for a skydiving event. There's nary a plane in sight and there are plenty of thunderheads looming in the distance in all directions. One of the striper fishing regulars sets up near me and I ask him about the skydivers. He says he doesn't think they're going to do it today. He's pretty sure of it because they're all sitting on the beach under the tent and not in airplanes.

As I'm staring out at the sport fishing boats through the haze, a line of four large brownish shorebirds with decurved bills flies by. Whimbrels! I get the binocs on 'em and watch until they vanish in the distance to the south. The shorebird migration is underway.

The piping plover took off for some other area of beach, the striper fishing guy didn't catch anything, and the skydivers never dove. On the way home thunder and lightning crashed, the heavens opened up, and 495 flooded. Guess those skydivers knew the weather was coming.


The Associated Press has a syndicated story about piping plovers in Rhode Island. The version on Discovery has the best chick photos. It is very good news that the PIPL population has increased 141%. Worth celebrating. However, I think the conclusions are a little overly optimistic. So far as I know the population hasn't met the goal in the USFWS Atlantic Piping Plover Recovery Plan. It's not quite time to relax protection measures.

I know I haven't posted an entry about last week's shift. The press of events is making it hard for me to do the shift and then blog about it the same day and then things just sort of cascade on down. Guess I don't qualify for the discount at the Bird Blogger Conference . Sigh.

Friday, July 27, 2007

piping plover news roundup

Lately the media has been noticing piping plovers. Here's a roundup:

Late nesters on Cape Cod. With storms and the subsequent changes to the beaches, the Cape Cod plovers haven't all been having a banner year.

Check out the video of the Crane's Beach piping plovers on the TV news. The day after this was on the channel 5 news, folks at Gray Cubicle World kept coming up to me telling me "hey, those birds you guard were on the news last night" and so on.

Hampton Beach even had a nest hatch this year. Meant to post this earlier. There is a very cute chick photo.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Herring Gull on Float

Herring Gull on Float
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
It took me a long time to figure out what's wrong with this gull. It's got a fish hook, some fishing line, and a sinker stuck on/in its bill. When it flew off I could see the line and the sinker hanging down from it. The poor gull was miserable. It kept trying to flip the line and sinker up into its mouth and swallow it. I didn't see it again after it flew away. I hope it gets the hook out somehow.

There's not much bird action or visitor action this morning. The usual gull suspects, a small flock of sanderlings, a lone piping plover, and some tree swallows are just about it. The piping plover was hanging around with a pair of sanderlings for some time, feeding along the water line. Then one of the sanderlings got too close and the plover attacked it. The piping plover charged it like a bulldog with much fluttering of wings and pecking. They are very aggressive and bossy when not using their cloak of invisibility as their primary defense mechanism. The two sanderlings flew down the beach to join a flock of about half a dozen of their own kind. The piping plover kept on feeding alone for an hour or more until it flew off somewhere.

A couple of ring-billed gulls were feeding along the water line as well, probing like sanderlings. Ring-billed gulls have a very flexible feeding strategy -- catch flies, catch fish, dig huge marine worms out of their holes in the sand, you name it. Actually one of the gulls did pull a big worm out of a hole in the sand right in front of me. The other gull got a much smaller worm from a nearby hole. More impressive gull behavior.

A vintage biplane flew over a couple of times. Its engine sounded loud and deeply retro mechanical. Lots of other small planes, some old, some new, also flew over but the only engine nearly as loud as the biplane was the tour boat out of Newburyport harbor. The boat went back and forth several times as well as anchoring for awhile. Definitely not whale watching as they were far too close to shore. It looked like some people had fishing rods. Must've been a fishing trip. Anyway, it was louder than all the planes and stayed around longer.

It's not every day I get to see a piping plover AND a vintage biplane as I'm drinking my morning coffee. Plover wardening has its rewards.

Coffee of the day: Ethiopian Harrar. Oh, and I forgot to post last Saturday's coffee of the day. It was Brazilian Cerado for those keeping track.

Friday, July 20, 2007

boundary moved to lot 6

Belated entry for July 14 (been a heckuva busy week).

The boundary moved to Lot 6. Gatehouse told me that Frank and the refuge manager had moved the buoys and rope to the new boundary but he didn't know if they had actually set it up. I drove down there expecting that I might have to run the rope and buoys down to the water but everything was in place when I got there.

It was an easy day. If I'd had one less visitor or one more piping plover things would have been equal. Four visitors and three piping plovers. One of said plovers is pictured here. Note the lack of head stripe, incomplete neck ring, and abundance of white on this guy. A first year bird. So what do you suppose it thinks is on the other side of that rope? Eventually all three piping plovers converge on the open area of beach and fly off together calling peep-lo. What a treat.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


Here's the Boston Globe article about plover wardening.I didn't get a chance to talk to this guy from the Globe because of the emergency trip to Manchester (aka weekend from hell) on account of Nancy's Dad, so I told him he could use anything I wrote in the blog. Fortunately, I only get one or two visitors a year who threaten to eat them.

As usual, Unit 3 gives good sound bite.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

human signpost

Birding with Moleskine
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
Tuesday was a glorious beach day -- plenty of sun, cool breeze, not too crowded. Despite the fact that there were lots of visitors on the beach I only spoke with two people. I mostly functioned as a human signpost. Joggers along the water line would look up, see me, and turn around. Parents would point at the sign then at me and get their kids to turn around. Hmm, is a plover warden symbolic fencing? :-) Actually, it seemed like I was acting as evidence that "they really mean it" -- not only are there signs and rope but a real person to enforce it.

Bird action was very quiet. The four usual gull species hung out on the sand: Bonaparte's, ringbilled, herring, and great black back. A few cormorants bobbed on the waves, diving intermittently. A seal swam by. I got my first greenhead bite of the season but was not otherwise plagued by the winged jaws of July.

Gatehouse Donald says the three remaining active nests should hatch soon. I did not see any chicks or adults on Tuesday. Although the nests are closer to the north boundary, I tend to see more piping plovers at the south. The nests, including the least tern colony, are concentrated in the general vicinity of lots 2 and 3.

As you can see from the photo, my list of bird sightings for the day was very short. I am next scheduled for the 14th.

Monday, July 2, 2007

the shell seekers

Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
Observe the invisibird being invisible. I took this about 9:30 this morning before the beach filled up with visitors. It hung around for awhile and then took off calling peep-lo as soon as the first group of shell seekers arrived. Everybody's looking for shells today. They remind me of the fictional painting in that tear jerker of a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie based on the novel by Rosamunde Pilcher.

The shell seekers carried bags and buckets and walked along the shore looking down, hence failing to see the signs or me so I spent a lot of time shepherding them out of the closed area or intercepting them before they got there. Different people seemed to have different goals in their shell seeking, but sand dollars seemed to be the most popular. One woman said she'd never found one before and it made her day. A couple from Vermont, a family with a bunch of kids, a toddler who babbled delightedly in long totally incomprehensible sentences (at least I think they were sentences and they seemed to be addressed to me), and the usual lone walkers all seemed to be finding what they were looking for.

The bird action was pretty slow. A pair of the scruffiest white winged scoters I've ever seen floated for hours just off Emerson Rocks. A couple of Bonaparte's gulls flew by. Ring billed gulls and herring gulls mostly sat in the sand. Every once in awhile one of the herring gulls would attack one of the ringbills and drive it to a different spot on the beach. None of them appeared to have any prey to be arguing over. I think they just needed space. A mockingbird sang from the top of the 5.9 mile marker. A small flock of tree swallows caught flies in the wrack. All the usual beach stuff of a usual early July day unfolded.

The crew came to move the fencing and signs so they could reopen Lot 7. They dug up the big sign and the real fencing but left the rope and buoys for another team to move later. I packed up my stuff and walked back to the car to drive to Lot 7 even so I could free up a space in the Sandy Point lot by using the official plover warden parking spot. It's not that long a walk from where I was to the new boundary but moving the car saved me a long walk back at the end of the shift.

As soon as the Lot 7 beach opened, the shell seekers extended their foraging.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

amazing purple martin tricks

Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
This is not a kayak. Just clearing up any possible confusion before proceeding to any actual content of this entry. That is a Moo mini card of a piping plover on top of the report form on the clipboard that is not a kayak.

So, yes, I made it to the beach on Saturday for my shift. I saw no piping plovers but Unit 61 updated me as best he could: two active nests with chicks on the refuge beach plus three more nests that haven't hatched yet and he's seen one or two chicks running around at Sandy Point. The interesting thing about the late nests that have yet to hatch is that they are near or within the least tern colony. This is good news because the least terns are much more aggressive (and talented) at repelling avian predators. They get together as a colony and dive bomb the alien invader and poop on him. Piping plovers rely more on the broken wing display or sometimes one on one attacks on gulls. Plus the least tern colony has an electric fence that repels those pesky mammalian predators. I imagine that once upon a time when there were way more of both species, their nesting in proximity to each other was an effective strategy.

Although the beach was crowded, I didn't speak with many visitors. Only a few people had the usual question "when will the beach be open?" Nobody asked how the plovers were doing or what a piping plover or least tern is or any of the things I love to talk about. Mostly I talked with one of the guys fishing for stripers about various beach/striper/bird related things. A flock of Bonaparte's gulls started all diving together in one spot, which usually indicates bait fish boiling up out of the water in flight from the stripers, so the fisherman cast accordingly but had no luck. There wasn't a whole lot of other bird activity on the water.

There was however one remarkable bird activity: an amazing purple martin trick. The purple martin flew over the dunes and out over the water. It disappeared into a trough between waves and then made a beeline back out directly over my head carrying a fish in its beak. A purple martin caught a fish! I have never seen that in my life. Neither had striper fishing guy. I guess it's not all that different from catching insects in the air but it certainly amazed me.

After the shift I headed up to Manchester, NH to rendezvous with Nancy and her parents again as her Dad is still in the hospital although no longer in immediate danger of leaving the planet. We drove her Mom back to their place and then by the time we got back to my place we were both totally wiped out. We went back up to Manchester today to take her Mom out to lunch and then to visit her Dad. So now that I'm home I'm catching up on stuff like blogging and email and chores and whatever. I'm taking next week off so I can have some time to myself --- on the beach with the plovers of course. I signed up for shifts on both Monday and Tuesday mornings. Maybe I'll even get to see one of the invisi-birds.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

brief hiatus

Had to cancel last Saturday's shift due to a family (the out-laws, not La Familia Loca) situation. I plan to be out on the beach this coming Saturday if at all possible but it's touch and go. I'm negotiating to take next week off from work at Gray Cubicle World so I can catch up with my life -- cleaning, shopping, laundry, and I sincerely hope birding. Meanwhile, I have to be satisfied with watching redwinged blackbirds harassing the leucistic redtailed hawk in the parking lot at Gray Cubicle World, great blue herons flying to and from the rookery at I-93 and I-495, and the seemingly enormous numbers of brown headed cowbirds that have appeared alongside Rt. 62 in Bedford.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

news from the cape

Three piping plover chicks were found dead. It's amazing the plover monitors found the bodies so they can do a necropsy. They couldn't have been there long without being eaten by a gull or a crow or other scavenger. It will be interesting to see what they died of.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

piping plover with float

piping plover with float
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
I took this picture last Saturday (6/9) during my rain-shortened plover warden shift. It was raining at the time, which adds a certain atmosphere to the shot of the giant float and the tiny lone plover. This lone adult plover hung around the same general area for about 2 hours. Other shorebirds came and went in pairs or small groups: sanderlings, dunlin, black-bellied plovers. The black-bellieds were very vociferous for some reason but the piping plover never uttered a peep. There's some puns in there some place. And no there were no killdeer.

The most interesting sound I heard was a cricket.. At least I thought it was a cricket. It was awfully loud and nearby -- not exactly snowy tree cricket habitat. Then I spotted a catbird perched on the 6.0 mile marker. The sound was coming from the catbird! I've heard catbirds do willet, least tern, common tern, yellow warbler, and purple finch and I've heard mockingbirds do car alarms but I've never heard any mimic do an insect. Curioser and curioser. I must be in Wonderland with Alice.

A visitor came along with a huge wheeled cart full of diving gear and wanted to know if he could walk on the beach to get to Emerson Rocks. Hmm, I knew what to say to fishermen but I had to double check with Gatehouse on divers. Gatehouse didn't know but 61 overheard and answered that the guy would have to go into the water outside the closed area and swim over (or walk in the water) to Emerson rocks. The diver told me the next piping plover he sees is going on his plate. I told him there's not enough meat on them for a meal. I didn't mention that according to those who study such matters they don't taste like chicken.

The next visitor more than made up for the dive guy. A visiting birder from Tennessee thanked me for what I do and told me it's important. This is only the third time in recorded history of my 10 years on the beach that anyone who was not a USFWS employee thanked me. I was able to answer his questions about Sandy Point and he told me he's just gotten a great photo of a great black back catching a little skate.

All the while the fog turned to mist turned to rain so slowly I didn't realize I was soaked to the skin until I started to shiver. I called it a day.

The status on our little stretch of beach as far as I know it from the report that was in the plover warden backpack on 6/9 was 3 nests on the refuge out of 7 or 8 pairs. The others have been running around making scrapes but there were no other known nests. There' s still one nest at Sandy Point -- three were lost to flooding earlier. There are also two nests on the Newbury town beach. I have no update for today (6/16) because I'm not at the beach -- prior commitment to girlfriend and family.

bird list from my shift on 6/9

All birds were seen from beach. Did not record any birds I saw on the way too from the south end. Sorry they're not in ornithological order. I wrote them down in the order in which I saw them.

cedar waxwing 2
American goldfinch 6
song sparrow 1
black-bellied plover 3
piping plover 1
dunlin 2
Bonaparte's gull 3
sanderling 2
ringbilled gull 1
great black back gull 4
common grackle 2
American robin 1
gray catbird 2
double crested cormorant 24
eastern kingbird 1
mallard 3
herring gull 3
bank swallow 2
tree swallow 4

Friday, June 15, 2007

draw your own conclusion but i'm hopping mad

I just read this article about a Ralph Lauren fragrance launch in East Hampton and I am seeing red. Range Rovers on the beach? Driving 30 mph past piping plover nests? Without the requisite permits? Ignoring the plover stewards? You won't catch me buying, wearing, or even going near a single Ralph Lauren item of clothing, home goods, fragrances, or anything else. Ever. What the hell is so important about a "fragrance launch" that they can't respect the law? And what's so urgent about a fragrance launch that they have to drive 30 mph on the beach? The Hamptons sound like a truly frightening place.

BTW, dear readers, I know I owe you an entry for last Saturday's rain-soaked plover warden shift. The press of affairs both in and out of gray cubicles has gotten in the way of my true calling. Fear not, there will be an entry for last weekend tomorrow. Then we'll see about this weekend, since I'm not actually on the schedule and have a lot on my plate (metaphorically).

Friday, June 8, 2007

define luck

Thanks to Scott Hecker for this Boston Globe article about the beach closure at Sandy Neck Park in Barnstable on Cape Cod. Interestingly, the preview of this story that was up on last night had a gorgeous photo of an adult piping plover and two chicks. The version in the link doesn't have the photo. Somehow I think a Globe editor realized that the extreme cuteness of the two PIPL chicks would undercut the angle that the hatching of piping plover chicks is unlucky break for Barnstable. From my point of view, it's a lucky break for the piping plovers that the Endangered Species Act still has enough teeth to get the beach closed to protect the chicks. 1700 off-road vehicles versus 4 piping plover chicks is pretty long odds. The chicks need all the help they can get.

The Cape Cod Times has a few photos with their story on the beach closure. Oh, and check out the comments section too. The plover haters are already out in force.

Meanwhile, I'm hoping my plover warden shift does not get rained out tomorrow because I could use a dose of wearing myself out talking to people about piping plovers. At least then I feel like I'm making a difference. There are those of us who truly would notice if the piping plover vanished from Atlantic coast beaches and would be saddened by it. Extinction is forever.

Parting thought, what is Sandy Neck beach like when all 1700 offroad vehicles are on the beach at once?

Saturday, June 2, 2007

virtual birding

I'm not on the plover warden schedule for today because I had originally planned that this would be the weekend I'd be just back from Texas and tired. Hah! That was last weekend and somehow I made it to the beach and made it to the family gathering for Andrea's Sweet 16th. How can Andrea be 16? Wasn't I just picking her up at preschool yesterday? Aiiiieeee! Anyway, I'm taking it easy today.

So, as per usual, I searched for "piping plover" on Google News. I found a Canadian article that referenced the 2006 International Piping Plover Breeding Census, which I didn't realize had been published yet. I know it was supposed to be out in "the spring" but spring passed me by here -- funny how the weather makes me lose track of calendar time. For some reason I can't find it on the USFWS piping plover site. However, there is a copy of the preliminary 2006 population estimate. I think my Google skills need some improvement. I'm sure the legendary Tom Wetmore can put his cursor on the published version within seconds.

Hey, Unit 11, if you are reading this, do you know where I can find the 2006 census online?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

no jacket required

Today is the first plover warden shift of the season in which I do not have to wear my winter jacket. Not only that, it's downright summer-hot and the parking lots on the refuge are full. Fishermen line the beach. Nobody seems to catch anything and they all leave at 9:30 for some reason.

In typical heat-befuddled fashion both Bob and I showed up at the north boundary. I don't think I've actually laid eyes on Bob in 2 years. We are always at opposite ends of the beach 6 1/2 miles apart. We hear each other on the radio all the time but never get to chat. So we had a mini-reunion catching up on cat shelter news as well as plover warden news then he agreed to head south.

It's hazy on top of being hot so birds offshore look like silhouettes. A huge flock of scoter shaped beings flies by and I can't see any distinguishing marks on them at all. I don't think I'll ever learn to tell the three scoters apart based on giss (pronounced jizz for some reason). They all have the same giss to me. That's how I can tell they're scoters. Anyway, other than the scoters and lines of cormorants the exciting birds of the day are common terns calling keer keer and diving all over the place. It's nice to see them back.

In piping plover news, 3 nests on the refuge and 1 at Sandy Point are still intact and being incubated after the latest storm (not the big one, the littler one that caused littler flooding). The rest of the plovers are sort of at loose ends, running around making scrapes. There's still time -- it's still only May (for a few more days anyway).

In longshore current news, the last reported whereabouts of the teddy bear was the general vicinity of Camp Seahaven (well, in New England naming fashion it's actually where Camp Seahaven used to be). Unit 3 promised to email me a picture of it at the 3.8 mile marker. At this rate it will be at Sandy Point by August.

In coffee news, today's Plum Island Coffee Roasters dark roast is Ethiopian Harar. I'm lovin' it.

In book news, I just finished (on the plane on the way back from visiting the world's cutest nieces in Texas) Soaring with Fidel by David Gessner. Darn I wish I could have become obsessed with a charismatic bird like the osprey instead of a wraith the color of dry sand. Seriously, Gessner takes his osprey obsession to new heights (or new distances) following their migration path to Cuba and South America. On the plane to Texas, I read The Gentle Subversive: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, and the Rise of the Environmental Movement by Mark Hamilton Lytle, which I also enjoyed very much. It was recommended to me by Unit 3. Lytle did a book signing at the refuge headquarters during the Newburyport Literary Festival.

I am tired and if it's possible to have jet lag with only a 1 hour time difference I have that too. But the nieces are darn cute. As cute as plover chicks. Seriously. I wish they were not moving to Qatar for 3 years. I'd better check out flights and birding opportunities in Qatar...

And now back to your Memorial Day weekend already in progress...

Monday, May 21, 2007

stupid birder tricks

This past weekend Nancy and I were in Newport to attend a wedding. So who can resist a little birding after a wedding? So what if it's raining? So what if we're all dressed up in clothes suitable for church not marsh?

We crossed the bridge to Jamestown and headed for Beavertail Light, which is a great winter birding spot but this isn't winter. The waves were huge and awesome to watch with or without birds. We tooled around the entire island of Jamestown and as we were passing a marshy meadow or meadowy marsh I spotted a flock of glossy ibises. All flocks of glossy ibises must be checked for white-faced ibises. It's the law. Whose law, I'm not sure, but I had to stop.

To avoid getting rear ended I thought I'd just pull off the road a little in a suitable spot. The shoulder of the road was very wet and covered in puddles but I figured "oh, it's just a little muddy". Hah! Shoulder? What shoulder? Puddle? How about gaping bottomless abyss?!? As soon as the right front wheel went off the road I knew we were in trouble.

Crunch, scrape. The bottom of my car bonded with the pavement. I tried to drive out but the wheels on the right side of the car were not touching anything but water. Deep water. No mud. No land. Water. I kicked up quite a splash every time I hit the gas pedal.

A guy stopped to offer assistance but he had no rope or tow chain. Another guy stopped, asked the first guy if he had a tow chain, then said "I'll be right back." Guy #1 waited with us for 15 minutes for Guy #2 to return. He didn't. A police car arrived and I swear the officer was about Lizzy's age she looked so young. We told her all about Guy #2's alleged return with the tow chain so she said she'd wait with us with the lights on to keep us from getting hit. Guy #1 left.

I scanned the ibis flock for white-faced ones but they were all glossies. Gloriously beautiful glossies poking around in the marsh -- a worthy sight in themselves. Then I noticed movement near the osprey platform. An osprey landed on the sign identifying this place as Marsh Meadow -- hmm, very descriptive name. Very close to us. He sat on the sign preening for awhile then flew up to the nest where the other one was sitting, presumably incubating some eggs. I could only see the top of her head (presumably a her). Osprey #1 flew up to the pole conveniently placed next to the nest platform and perched for awhile.

Ospreys 1 and 2 did osprey behaviors. I did birder behaviors. Guy #2 still hadn't shown. I decided to call AAA. Our friendly officer agreed that Guy #2 was probably not coming back. "Jamestown is a small island" she said. True. It could not possibly take half an hour to go get a tow chain and come back unless he had to cross both bridges and go to the mainland to get it. No tow chains on Jamestown? No tow chains on Aquidneck? Probably had to go to Providence. I've had the four-way flashers on the whole time.

The officer decides AAA will come faster if she calls them. She calls them. Many osprey behaviors and glossy ibis scans later, the tow truck arrives. Barn swallows and tree swallows descend in clouds over the marsh/meadow. The tow truck eventually gets my car out of the bottomless ditch and unstuck from the road surface. I turn the key.

The car won't start. I open the hood and check to see if hanging over the edge of the abyss has damaged something not immediately apparent. Tow truck guy looks under the vehicle. There is nothing amiss. It dawns on me. The flashers have been on for an hour by now. The battery is probably dead. I mention same to tow truck guy who agrees that could be it. He hooks up his battery jumping thing and presto the car starts.

I thank tow truck guy and impossibly young officer of the law profusely. None of the glossy ibises turn into white-faced ones. We circumnavigate Jamestown, cross the bridge to Aquidneck Island and laugh all the way home.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

invisi-birds, sharpies, and scoters, oh my!

I'm standing there examining decomposing whale remains when I hear the distinct pee-lo call. I whip around and get the binoculars up in a single motion. Four piping plovers -- four of the invisi-birds -- are landing on the beach in front of me at the Lot 1 beach. They're so loud you could probably hear them on Mount Agamenticus (which is visible today too). Cries of excited birders, a whole mob of them, on the boardwalk shouting "piping plover! over there! right there!" mix with the peep-lo call and the spring song of the front end loader repairing storm damage somewhere on the town beach. I'm so excited to have 4 of the invisi-birds suddenly made visible that I pump my fist like Curt Schilling after a strikeout.

They don't stay around long running on the beach keeping their distance from each other. In a few minutes they're in flight, whistling, and headed sort of southwest over the dunes. The next flash mob of birders on the boardwalk doesn't know they've missed them unless they met the previous flash mob on the way back to Lot 1.

I have this sudden moment of realizing that not everybody can start a blog entry with both rotting whale flesh AND piping plovers. Maybe my life is more interesting than I generally think it is.

Where the stairs used to be. Boardwalk empty between birder flash mobs.

While sorting out the scoter-shaped beings -- always a challenge at a distance without a scope -- I notice a hawk-shaped being flying low over the ocean, over the scoters. Not an osprey, not any kind of raptor type bird I'd normally expect to see offshore. It's a sharp-shinned hawk! The birder flash mob on the boardwalk calls it out -- and they have scopes, so I feel my id is validated. It finally leaves the scoters and flies over the beach and between the dunes along the path to Lot 1 (open to people as well as sharpies on account of the missing stairs). Three more sharpies appear over the beach moving almost straight north. Another cool sighting for the day.Not rocks. Nope. Whale remains. Yup.

Somebody asks me about the whale -- actually they ask me whether that is some weird rock formation uncovered by the storm or is it the whale of whom they've heard tell. I tell 'em it is indeed the whale. You can tell because in the rare moments when the wind dies down you can smell it. Sure enough the wind drops as if on cue and the familiar smell of whale surrounds us. It does look like rocks though.

Later, I'm talking to a couple of birders who have come down onto the beach -- not part of a flash mob, there are only two of them -- when four more sharp-shinned hawks come into view barreling north low over the dunes (or what's left of the dunes). It's definitely "mass movement of sharpies" day. Tree swallows are on the move too. Loads of them. I stopped counting once I realized I was surrounded by them like they're part of the air. A couple of barn swallows are with them too. A mass movement of swallows. Cool.

A bunch of people have asked me how many piping plover nests we have so far. Apparently there are 8 adult piping plovers here with 2 nests on the refuge and 2 at Sandy Point. I have no idea if those 4 I saw are part of the 8, new arrivals, or just passing through.

For those who like lists, here are the sightings from the beach at Lot 1 during my shift:

common loon 1
double crested cormorant 12
black scoter, surf scoter, white-winged scoter -- all three scoter
species were in a flock of about 60 or 70;
sharp-shinned hawk 8
ring-billed gull 2
herring gull 10
great black back gull 4
tree swallow 27
barn swallow 2

Oh, and the coffee of the day is Kenya. Very, very good.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Fawn Lake

Fawn Lake
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg.
As I mentioned in the previous post, I enjoyed a picnic lunch at Fawn Lake with Kathleen. Too bad I had to go back to work at Gray Cubicle World. I would have loved to have spent more time there. I heard lots of bird song -- the usual midday types: robins, redwinged blackbirds, nuthatches, chickadees -- but didn't see too many of the birds themselves. They seemed well hidden and I didn't have my binoculars with me. I was surprised not to see any waterfowl, not even Canada geese or mallards. I did startle a bullfrog and a chipmunk along the trail. The frog jumped in the lake immediately. The chipmunk skittered away, stopped and looked back at me, dove into a hole in an old stump and then poked its head out and watched us. Mundane wildlife observations from a stunningly beautiful place on one of those spring days that people move here for.

not about birds -- about pottery

New Vases
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg.
After a workday nicely broken up by a picnic at Fawn Lake Conservation Area in Bedford with my friend Kathleen, I headed out to Worcester for the spring sale at The Fireworks. My friend The Hermit Potter has some new work for sale. I love the curvy vases. His stuff is artier (is that a word?) than some of the other potters who do plates and cups and practical stuff. I did buy a mug from one of the other potters, but it's an arty mug :-)

Dinner beforehand at Da Lat was delicious as usual, despite their being out of jack fruit for my favorite "exotic" shake. I had a sapota shake instead and tofu fried rice -- very tasty. The place was absolutely packed with college students.

With work and traffic and dinner I didn't get to the studio early enough to do my usual prowling around The Sprinkler Factory (the building where The Fireworks is) to take pictures with the great afternoon light streaming through the big industrial windows. Next time ...

Monday, April 30, 2007

Where the dunes used to be

Where the dunes used to be
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg.
I didn't get an "after" picture of the boardwalk at Lot 1 but I did get this picture of the "dunes" at the south end of the refuge. I think I found part of the Lot 1 boardwalk at Sandy Point. There are no stairs from the boardwalk to the beach at Lot 1 and there is a whole lot of lumber at Sandy Point. I thought one of of the planks I found might be part of my brother's house but he didn't recognize it in the picture.

I spent a lot of time answering questions about the storm damage rather than the piping plovers today. I tried to explain a little about the longshore current and how it carries the sand, but mostly I just told people the piping plovers hadn't nested yet so didn't lose their nests to the storm. As per usual, a few people are already asking for an exact date when the beach will be open. Being busy chasing people who didn't see the sign, trying to build a stick fence from the sign to the water line as the tide went out, and greeting a total of 21 visitors, I didn't end up with a whole long list of birds. So this isn't a very birdy entry.

And speaking of the longshore current, Unit 3 reported that the Teddy I photographed on the beach at Lot 1 has made it to mile marker 3.8. Stay tuned for further updates on how long it takes Teddy to reach Sandy Point.

Friday, April 27, 2007

monk parakeets and daffodils in rhode island (belatedly)

The monk parakeets of Narragansett Terrace in East Providence, RI are rebuilding their stick nest on the same electric pole that power company removed it from. We stopped by to check out the rebuilding on our way to Blithewold (Bristol, RI) to see the daffodils last Sunday. I can't figure out how to post the video here so you'll have to make do with a still photo. And yes, we did see daffodils.

It's about time we had something resembling spring. Of course, now several days later when I get around to posting this, it's pouring rain again.

Still hoping to get in a full shift of watching the invisibirds tomorrow.

Friday, April 20, 2007

way beyond symbolic fencing

This article from Atlantic City describes a Corps of Engineers project to create piping plover habitat in New Jersey. Clam shells and a pool... sounds like life's a beach. Sounds like some good ideas. This is the first I've heard that they don't like to get their feet wet though. They do feed more along the wrack line than in the water, but they most definitely get their feet wet when they do that foot trembling thing, which is even called "plovering" it's so characteristic of their behavior.

high water

The good news is the sun came out. The bad news is there's not a lot of beach left. Had a message on my voice mail this afternoon that tomorrow's shift is canceled -- lack of beach and lack of signs. No word on exactly how much of the contents of the Goffstown dump has made it down the Merrimack to Plum Island yet. Yep, that was some storm. Not quite up to last year's epic flood disaster, but pretty darn close. What with road closures and detours and fact that my neighbors' kids vandalized my downspout I feel like I've got water on the brain. That could explain that exploding feeling in my head. Hmm...

And it has nothing to do with birds or beaches or protection thereof, but just in time for tonight's Red Sox/Yankees game, a Red Sox Mr. Potato Head arrived on my back steps courtesy of Charla.

The Promised Symbolic Fencing Pix

As promised, here are the pictures of the rope fence with floats as it appeared last weekend during my shift.

The long view and a closeup. And yes, I do know that nobody else blogs about symbolic fencing this much. :-)

And while I'm at it, here is how the boardwalk at Lot 1, loaded with birders, looked last weekend -- before the storm. Those steps to the beach? Not there anymore. So here's the Before picture. I'll try to provide an After picture on Saturday.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Teddy Bear on the Beach

Teddy Bear on the Beach
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg.
Poor teddy has lain on the beach for a week and there's a big nor'easter coming tomorrow. I wonder where teddy will end up?

Before the Storm

Radio and TV have been hyping tomorrow's alleged northeast storm heavily, predicting 20 foot waves. The waves are not that high today, but boy is it ever windy. I lost count of the number of times my hat blew off. Fortunately it didn't land in the ocean. The gulls, all three usual species (ringbilled gull, herring gull, and great black back), keep flying into the wind and getting blown back. They must enjoy it.

I'm at the north boundary this week (I did south last week). I got here at 8:30 because I had to wait for Plum Island Coffee Roasters to brew the coffee -- they opened late. The French roast Sumatra was worth it.

A big flock of long-tailed ducks floats way offshore. A few of them come in close enough to get a look at. Every once in awhile when the wind dies down for a second I can hear them calling. Several long lines of migrating cormorants stream by straight north. Two birders with big scopes tell me they've seen a red necked grebe, but try as I might I can't locate between the waves. The increasingly large waves -- the tide is going out but the waves are getting bigger as the wind shifts around. An organized group of birders shows up and as if on cue two northern gannets come in really close to shore.

The symbolic fencing fairy (actually Unit 3 and the new guy) has gifted us with not only rope and signs to mark the boundary but floats and an anchor so the rope stays in place at low tide. I tell Unit 3 it must be working because every single set of footprints I saw when I got here ends at the rope. Nobody sneaked in early in the morning. Of course none of this will stand up to the expected storm if it really does have 20 foot waves. We talk circulation of sand -- one of my favorite topics -- and how the beach changes subtly from week to week and dramatically after major storms. Unit 3 says the forlorn-looking teddy bear that washed up last week is still in almost the same spot it was last weekend. We agree that will change tomorrow.

Running out of time before the laundromat closes... must summarize:
Only spoke to 6 visitors (not counting the large group of birders to whom I said hello). Didn't see any piping plovers. Wasn't unbearably cold until the last 45 minutes. Teddy pic posted separately. Flickr being temperamental so unable to upload pix of cool new symbolic fencing. Will try again later.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Travelin' Shoes

Unit 3 has nailed it with her rendering of the arriving piping plover still wearing its travelin' shoes. And despite the cold and wind, I picked the exact right day for my first plover warden shift of the season. A little less than an hour after I arrived at the south refuge boundary and did the obligatory radio check a flock of 13 pale shorebirds landed on the beach just south of Emerson Rocks and began feeding along the waterline -- working their way south from there.

It took them about 25 minutes to get close enough for a positive ID with my binoculars. Yes, they were PIPING PLOVERs -- well 11 of them were, the other two were sanderlings. The flock stayed close together until about 11:30 then spread out. All in all I watched them feed almost nonstop for 2 1/2 hours.

I saw 11 invisi-birds! 11 of them at one time. I was grinning like an idiot while watching them. They even got close enough for a photo op.

They could be a migrating flock just passing through on their way to some other beach or they could be the ones who are going to stay and nest here. When I told Gatehouse about them, he thought they might be still migrating. As I mentioned they ate nonstop for over 2 hours, so they could have been refueling for the next leg of the trip. Anyway, I couldn't get enough of watching them do that foot trembling thing and then stabbing the bill into the sand to catch what they stirred up. Not that I could see a single prey item that they caught. I think they swallow them right in the sand. Maybe along with the sand. I don't know.

I only had 5 visitors -- other nutcases out on the beach in the freezing cold. Two of them asked how many pairs we have nesting on the refuge this year. I explained that they were still arriving and hadn't paired off yet, let alone nested. They mate for a season and don't arrive already partnered. I did not see any mating or territorial behavior at all. Just eating. Lots and lots and lots of eating. Bad day to be a tiny sand-dwelling marine invertebrate or whatever.

At one point I was all alone on the beach with the piping plovers and a flock of snow geese flew over. They were magnificent! So gorgeous. A flock of brant hung out for most of the morning too, moving back and forth from Bar Head to Emerson Rocks and back. A few common eiders hung around Emerson Rocks the whole time too. A lone bank swallow put in an appearance for awhile and then went back to the drumlin to the south. Considering the wind, this was a very birdy shift.

When I finally tore myself away and drove back to the Gatehouse to turn in my radio and report, I had to keep stopping for wondrous sightings of kestrels and a merlin. Merlins are so darn small it's amazing. Can raptors be considered cute?

The coolest sighting of the drive back was after I'd turned in the radio and the report and was sitting in my car talking to Ned on my cell phone about the 11 invisi-birds. An adult male northern harrier -- the "gray ghost" form -- flew right in front of my car and over the dune across from the gatehouse. I interrupted Ned to tell him what I'd just seen and he said he had the 1947 Peterson's that I gave him (back when his Mom died several years ago) in his hand. He asked what page it was on. He found it and completely understood why I thought it was soooooo gorgeous.

Great birds preceded by French Roast Colombian and followed by Ethiopian Yrgacheffe at Plum Island Coffee Roasters. What better way to spend a vacation day?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

as the plover world turns

Wish I'd thought of that as a title about 10 years ago!

The news as the plover world turns:

From the Great Lakes: Alice Van Zoeren has the best job in the world. Color me jealous. I haven't figured out a way to make a living off of piping plovers yet.

From the Hamptons: Residents expect a whole flock of problems again. There's just not enough room on the beach for driving, fishing, private property, and oh yeah, piping plover nests.

And on Cape Cod: They're putting up symbolic fencing today. With lots of pictures. Looks like they have better rope and better posts than we do. Is it possible to have symbolic fencing envy? I also like the ads that Google thinks are relevant to "symbolic fencing" and "piping plover".

Meanwhile, here on the edge of the universe it's cold and rainy with occasional sleet.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

they're back

Right on schedule, the piping plovers are back on Plum Island. Well, at least two of them are. Tom Wetmore reported them to the massbird list on Tuesday. I haven't been to the beach yet -- plover warden coverage starts April 1 and my first shift isn't until April 6 because I've just got too much on my plate right now. That hasn't stopped me from obsessing about predation by crows, which is a major problem across river at Crane's Beach.

The link to the Salem News article about the plans for dealing with the crows at Crane's seems to be unreachable so here is a link to the same story as picked up by a Texas newspaper. Basically, the Trustees of Reservations are going to have sharpshooters shoot the crows. They're also doing away with predator exclosures, which crows have learned to associate with plover chicks available for eating. They're going to poison the gulls (let's hope they use a better poison than the infamous Monomoy gull-poisoning project). No word on what they're going to do about the mammalian predators like skunks and foxes, which used to be foiled by the predator exclosures.

I haven't heard yet whether the refuge is also going to abandon predator exclosures. I didn't go to the orientation this year (it's optional for returning volunteers) so if that was mentioned I didn't hear it. I will find out when the biological staff finds the first nests, I guess.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

beach nesting species in decline in Massachusetts

Times are tough for beach nesting bird species. This article from today's Boston Globe lays it all out for you. The Globe article doesn't mention predation by crows, a growing problem for piping plover chicks. I don't know if crows are also a problem for least terns.

The article also mentions Mass Audubon's labor intensive piping plover monitoring program, which reminds me I wanted to write about how what I do, which is basically talk to people about piping plovers and enforce the refuge's regulations protecting them, differs from what the Mass Audubon volunteers do, which is actually monitor the nests. I'll get to it. I'm still trying to get back into the swing of writing about things other than digital telephony.

I know folks are seeing piping plovers on the Cape but I haven't heard of anybody seeing them up here on the Noth Shaw (that's North Shore in the local accent) yet. I wish they'd get here soon. I almost can't wait.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

speaking of new identities

Blogger made me pick a new screen name when I converted to the new (no longer Beta) version. So if Hammer Chick starts showing up in your comments, it's really me, plain old lowercase janet with a spiffy new identity. People from the gray cubicle high tech sector of my life will get the Hammer reference. It was the first thing that leaped to mind after Plover Chick ... :-)

starting over

Believe it or not, I filled up all the disk space on my account at Software Tool and Die -- oldest ISP on the planet -- and since I can't use fancy blog tools there anyway, I'm transitioning the all important Plover Warden Diaries to blogspot. The archives will remain at my old site until they turn to dust, an EMP takes out all magnetic media in the USA, or I think of a cool domain name other than (which I so stupidly sold and then changed to and start all over again on a new ISP with the new name and new content and maybe even a new identity.