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.

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