Friday, April 6, 2007
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?