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.