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 ...