Saturday, November 22, 2008

news round up

The folks in Ontario are still talking about their piping plover success this past nesting season. Breeding success two years in a row after an absence of nearly 50 years is pretty darn good news. Sticking with the Great Lakes population, some news from Michigan of the failure of the nests at Aronson Island.

Meanwhile on the Atlantic coast, I got a kick out of this column by Paul Mayer of New Smyrna Beach, Florida on birding, migration, and human snowbirds. I like to think of piping plovers as part of the reason for human migration to Florida in the winter to stimulate the economy. Piping plovers as economic stimulus. Yeah! Oh, and piping plovers are one of the attractions at the Great Wass Island Nature Conservancy Preserve in Maine too. And piping plovers were on the agenda a the Georgia’s Colonial Coast Birding & Nature Festival back in October, too. I'm sensing a definite emergence of the "piping plovers are the cutest things on the planet" meme here. I'm lovin' the idea of the cutest things on the planet as economic stimulus too. Get out your binoculars and scopes and go forth and stimulate the economy!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Autumn in the Dunes

Autumn in the Dunes
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
A couple of times this week I made short birding trips to Plum Island in hope of seeing snow buntings or a snowy owl or one of the other regular winter visitors.

On Sunday, mainly what I saw besides Canada geese was plenty of yellow-rumped warblers and dark-eyed juncos. It was breezy and cold, temperature in the high 40s. An artist was painting en plein air at the North Pool Overlook. I commented that it was far too nice a day to be inside. She smiled and agreed. Later, I thought only in New England is a day this cold "too nice to be indoors".

I've been reading "Walking the Wrack Line" by Barbara Hurd and noticing stuff on the beach even more than usual. On Sunday, the wind had been blowing steadily and most of the wrack was covered in ridges of windblown sand. The sand ridges looked like an illustration on waves from a high school physics text. There was a lobster trap so full of sand it was impossible to lift it. It had plastic soda bottles trapped inside along with some bladder wrack and mussel shells. A bottle trap?

Further up the beach I found a tangle of wire with a pine cone attached to the end. It's wound around some salt marsh straw, fairly neatly coiled. At first I thought it was nylon fishing line shining in the sun but it was aluminum wire. It was probably rolled into that coil before it picked up the straw. Not sure about the pine cone though. It looked like it had been tied on deliberately. OK, who fishes with aluminum wire and what fish take pine cone bait?

The next lobster trap was not buried in sand at all, probably a more recent wash-up, encrusted with barnacles and with mussels who are themselves encrusted with barnacles. Must've been on the bottom awhile. It's not as mangled as some of the wire traps I usually find though. Sometimes after a storm the lobster traps come ashore all twisted and broken and tangled with each other and their lines. When we were at the New Bedford Working Waterfront Festival n September I commented on a manufacturer's display of brand new, modern, high tech, wire lobster traps that "Gee, they don't look like that when they wash up on Plum Island."

The light on the autumn leaves and the rose hips and winterberries and invasive bittersweet was awesome on Sunday when I took this photo.

On Tuesday, after voting and getting a flu shot, my PI trip was a little shorter. The most memorable thing on the beach was hordes and hordes upon hordes of black-bellied plovers. This must be the peak of their migration. I can't remember the last time I saw this many black-bellied plovers. Two sanderlings weaving in and out among them look ridiculously small and hyper compared to the black-bellieds.

The light on Tuesday was softer and hazier making the huge raft of scoters off Emerson Rocks impossible to identify, but I intuited that they were all black scoters. It's a logical guess.

Took not a single picture on Tuesday.

Stayed up late Tuesday night to listen to President-elect Obama's acceptance speech. I am happy to be an American.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Maine had a better year than they thought

Meant to post this last week but very busy with non-bird-related activities.

Maine Audubon is reporting a good year for piping plovers. Maine Audubon is reporting a bittersweet year for piping plovers. Same numbers. Different headlines. It's the age old problem of number of nesting pairs versus number of chicks fledged. The press often fixates on the number of nesting pairs. The number that counts is chicks fledged. Anyway, Maine had more chicks fledged than they anticipated and that is very good news.

The news from the Great Lakes piping plover population is good too.

That's all for now. Must go birding while I have the chance.

Friday, September 12, 2008

coastsweep tomorrow

Come help clean up the beach at Plum Island tomorrow from 9:00 to 5:00. Come any time. Meet at parking lot 1 near the VCS. See this Daily News article for details.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

for your viewing pleasure: piping plover slide show

Scott Hecker sent a link to this fantastic piping plover slide show from the Cape Cod National Seashore. Enjoy the beauty of the cutest thing on the planet.

And don't forget to check out The Goldenrod Foundation web site.

Monday, September 8, 2008

2B2 Flight Simulator

This has nothing to do with birds, but heck, airplanes can fly too. My fascination with aircraft, large vehicles of all kinds, polar regions, boats and birds all started around the same time (I guess I'm an 8-year old boy trapped in the body of a middle-aged woman :-)). Anyway, I just came across a new add-on for Flight Simulator X that features Plum Island airport (2B2). I don't see a simulated hot dog cart or any simulated birders looking for migrating shorebirds in the sample shot, but it looks very realistic otherwise. I'm tempted to buy it just to look at the aerial photos of the refuge, but I guess I'd have to buy Flight Simulator X too.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

power of the plover

Tropical Storm Hanna held off long enough for me to drive down to Plymouth Beach for Scott Hecker's get together at Goldenrod Cottage. I had high hopes for seeing mass quantities of terns, especially roseates, assembling for further migration. As instructed, I parked at the end of the Plymouth Beach parking lot and stood outside my car looking like I needed a ride from someone in a four wheel drive vehicle. As I was getting acquainted with my carpool buddies on the drive down the bumpy road to the cottage, I mentioned my thing about east-facing beaches being a tough place to nest and Diane, who was driving, immediately brought up the effects of global sea level rise. Talk about being around people on my wavelength.

Diane parked a short distance from the cottage so there would be more room for other vehicles to park and we walked the rest of the way. A small flock of common terns flew over my head as I stepped in a puddle. Keer! Keer! Keer! Nice of the terns to greet us.

The point of the festivities (what you thought this was just your average beach side hurricane party?) was for Scott to talk with us about the work of the Goldenrod Foundation and give people a chance to mix and meet with others with an interest in the conservation of Plymouth beach and coastal birds. What absolutely knocked my socks off was hearing him talk about leveraging the power of the piping plover to conserve the barrier beach ecosystem. Yes folks, the cute tiny invisi-birds have the power: the power to keep vehicles off the beach. This makes a big difference not just for the piping plover but for other beach nesting species, for plants, for dunes, for the barrier beach itself. Of course, the power of the plover is backed up by the power of the Endangered Species Act not just by its innate cuteness. Massachusetts has done an outstanding job of protecting the piping plover during the nesting season. What's needed now for the piping plover is protection of the wintering areas and the migration staging areas. And we need to take advantage of their awesome power and cuteness to protect staging areas for other birds like the red knot and the roseate tern.

Despite the numerous forecasts claiming that Hanna would pass well to the west and not dump buckets of rain on us until later in the evening, the heavens opened up just as we were about to walk to the point to see how many of what kind of terns we could see. Scott canceled the walk and I hitched a ride back to my car with a couple of other guests. I hit several bands of heavy rain on the way home but nothing really dangerous. I just heard the rain pick up outside now that I'm home and snug listening to Tim Wakefield's 500th start in a Red Sox uniform on the radio while I try to write something coherent.

I talked up the blog a bit today for those who aren't already readers. Welcome new readers.
Of course, on the way home I was thinking "Yikes, here I am drumming up readers when the piping plovers are gone for the season and the blog will be less interesting." I'd better think of some ways to keep it interesting.

Power to the plovers!

Friday, August 29, 2008

common yellowthroat by the dumpster

I heard a common yellowthroat when I took my trash out. Looked for it but didn't see it. What a great addition to the dumpster list that would be. The area around the dumpster is a great place for strange sightings for a suburban condo complex: a peregrine chowing down on a pigeon on the grass right in front of the dumpster, a merlin perched on a wire, a coyote (actually that was kind of scary), the usual skunks and bunny rabbits, my personal turkey vulture, mass quantities of blue jays in a flock ... Anyway, I thought it was cool to have a common yellowthroat stop by.

In other news:

Now that birdorable has done her part in advancing the "piping plovers are the cutest thing on the planet" meme, we'll have the proper attire for a march on Washington to save the Endangered Species Act if necessary. Think we can get Barack Obama to wear a "piping plovers are the cutest thing on the planet" t-shirt on the campaign trail?

I Think I Love You Michigan has finished up her season as piping plover steward. Once again I love that her pairs have names. Ours are named after mile markers. Sam and Diane just sounds so much cooler than 0.45 or 3.2, but I get just as attached.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

so that's where the seagoing sharpies go!

From time to time over the past few years of plover wardening at Plum Island I've blogged about seeing sharp-shinned hawks turn and fly directly out to sea during the spring and fall migrations. I can't immediately put my fingers on the entries, but I know I've noticed it several times and written about it more than once. One time as I watched this determined little sharpie fly out over the Atlantic and disappear from view I speculated that it must find land in the Isles of Shoals. I was thinking of Star Island, and lo and behold, fabled Mass Audubon blogger and poster John Galluzzo has found the answer: Appledore. His Mass Audubon trip saw three sharpies caught at the banding station. Funny, three is about the number I always see leaving Plum Island. I wonder if they're the same ones or they're just representative of the seagoing sharpie population. Anyway now I know that at least some of the sharpies that I see heading straight for the Isles of Shoals from Plum Island actually make it there.

BTW, too bad his group had such an uninspiring visit to PI. He mentions it was midday but does not mention whether it was high tide. Hope the visitors from the south shore make it up here again at low tide and in a summer when we haven't seen so much expletive rain inundating the mud flats. Uh, not that I'm ungrateful for the rain oh ye deities in charge of weather...

Edited to Add: You can hear John taling about this trip on Ray Brown's Talkin Birds show from Sunday: show # 177.

Monday, August 18, 2008

cutest thing on the planet

There may yet be hope that the "piping plovers are the cutest thing on the planet" meme will overtake the "piping plovers taste like chicken" meme. All hail Swarovski for taking all those bloggers to South Beach. I know the intent was to get them to blog about Swarovski optics but the side effect of getting that many well-known bloggers to write about the plight of the piping plover is awesome.

Julie Zickefoose has posted some wonderful photos of piping plovers on South Beach in addition to her fabulous painting. And she's positively inciting piping plover mania!

I already mentioned birdchick's piping plover entries and birdorable's line of piping plover wardrobe items.

Finally, piping plovers are trendy! Yay cuteness!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

oh my

Apparently Birdchick has inspired Birdorable to add a piping plover thong to their clothing line. I could never pull off wearing a thong, but I'm not averse to sending one to Dirk Kempthorne. The proposed changes to the endangered species act are absurd. Let every guvmint agency decide for itself what impacts its projects would have on wildlife? Can you say fox guarding the hen house, boys and girls? I knew you could.

Unrelated odd realization: I had more readers when I was posting stuff about piping plovers on my own website than I do since I moved over to blogger. At least my three remaining readers (not counting Unit 3 or Unit 61) still get a kick out of it. Of course, it doesn't help that I'm still trying to catch up with my life after the year of the dying in-laws.

So did I go birding today between thunderstorms? No. I went to Lowe's in Haverhill and bought two new air conditioners and a new storm door for the back of my condo. Today was Massachusetts sales tax holiday. Supposedly not charging sales tax for a day stimulates the local economy. I guess that would be true if my local hardware store had the stuff I need or Lowe's were local or something. Anyway, I am frantically preparing to have tons of work done on my condo on Monday to make up for the neglect over the past few years. If you think I've neglected birding, you should see the condition my storm door and airconditioners are in, never mind the back yard and the gate (which are not on Monday's agenda). I've been neglecting clothes shopping too. You should see the jeans I have on (well maybe not). I'm sure piping plover boxers would fit the bill until I get some unholy jeans.

Depressed? Who me?

Back to searching vainly for a glimpse of Xiangshan in the Olympic coverage.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

mini PIPL news roundup

I continue to be impressed with the folks in Ontario. They really appreciate the return of the piping plover and they appreciate their volunteer Plover Guardians. Check out the Wasaga Sun from yesterday. and this one too.

Sandbars and banding were on the agenda in Vermillion, South Dakota.

And I like this quote from the Duxbury Beach Preservation Society about their upcoming family beach day: “A more educated public will treat the beach and wildlife better.”

Monday, August 11, 2008

100_1002.JPG, Story of

Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
Why am I blogging this photo almost a year after I took it? Because the esteemed Julie Zickefoose, Science Chimp Extraordinaire and (I think) inventor of symbolic fencing , mentions a young birder on South Beach carrying around a cast horseshoe crab that can only be the work of my former co-worker, Jeff.

Back in the distant mists of time, I know I've written that my employment at It Doesn't Suck (not its real name) was a profound experience and I am still in touch with many, many, many of the folks I worked with there. I count many of them among my closest friends to this day. And Massachusetts being only slightly less village-like than Rhode Island, you never know when or where you'll run into someone from It Doesn't Suck. So here's the story of how I came to acquire a beautiful cast pewter horseshoe crab and relive old memories back in the fall of 2007, as written to a group of my It Doesn't Suck friends:

"I was at the Working Waterfront Festival in New Bedford this weekend [Sept. 22, 2007] and spotted Jeff. As soon as I called out his name and said my name, we started reminiscing about the first hardware reference manual -- a magnum opus if ever there was one -- and the agonies I went through with the contract writer who wrote it. We both said about [It Doesn't Suck] that it was a good time in our lives.

Jeff is retired from high tech and lives on the Cape making wonderful metal castings of beach/sea creatures and he had a booth at the festival (in the section for maritime related crafts/art). I bought a fabulous horseshoe crab from him and took his picture with it to show you all (below and added to the Photos area of this group). We told his son we worked together in 1883. He doesn't look so bad for 124 years old. :-)

You can check out his designs at"

Dunno why I never blogged about it at the time, except for it being the "year of losing Nancy's parents". I'm sure there's more I could say. Oh, here's excerpts from my answer to email from Jeff following up on the horseshoe crab:

"The horseshoe crab looks great in the pass-thru between my kitchen and dining room. He's sitting next to an antique Buddha and some scungili shells (that's what my Italian neighbors called them when I was growing up -- I think they're whelks) from Third Beach in Newport, RI. I must say a well-behaved and substantial horseshoe crab is an asset to my decor.

As for the MC-500 manual, I checked my pile of souvenirs, and that is not among them. I'll bet somebody out there in [It Doesn't Suck]-land has one. I suggest posting an RFQ to the forum. Sorry your X did not know what a great "masterpiece" that manual was ;-)

Yeah, the writer's name was M.... I think his last name was B.... I sometimes tell that story to new writers as an example of how easy it is to get so fascinated by the technology that one forgets the user. It was certainly one of those memorable [It Doesn't Suck] moments.

I hope you sold lots of stuff at New Bedford. The festival seemed to be well-attended."

There are a million stories on the working waterfront. This is one of them.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

news round up

As the season winds down and fledglings and adults gather to migrate I start to get "empty nest syndrome" not to mention lack of interesting stories about not seeing piping plovers. Anyway, it's time for another news roundup, so here goes:

From New Brunswick: Nelson Poirier at the Times & Transcript has a nice article about the "ghost birds" and their habitat. I especially like the photo of the carved piping plover. It really captures the ghostliness.

From Michigan: The Bay Mills News describes the roles of multi-agency
partnerships and private landowners in saving the Midwest population. They also do captive-rearing out there, something we don't do here.

From New Jersey: This Star Ledger article about black skimmers mentions that they have the same sandy beach nesting habits as piping plovers and least terns but they at least have adapted to nesting on offshore islands away from the human beach traffic.

From Ontario: The folks in Ontario continue to be very excited and happy about their piping plovers at Sauble Beach. Check out this article from The Record. Sweet chick photo accompanies article.

That's it from the Land of Gulls and Radios for today. Stay tuned for birding adventures in other parts of New England during fall and winter -- and maybe some reminiscences of birding adventures or non-adventures past just to keep myself motivated.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

cute is where it's at

I've always said that the major thing piping plovers have going for them is cuteness. Now that Birdchick has posted the definitive cuteness of the piping plover entry there is no reason for me to go on with this blog let alone write my darn book. I've been wasting my days explaining their lifecycle and habitat choice to endless beach visitors. I should've just convinced one to yawn for the camera. :-)

The location on which Birdchick and the legendary Julie Zickefoose encountered these little bundles of cuteness, South Beach in Chatham, usually has the largest or one of the largest piping plover population in Massachusetts. It also doesn't usually have as much of a problem with washovers from storm tides as some of the other Cape Cod beaches . It's interesting to me that the South Beach population had such late nesters. We had two late nests (as you may have gleaned from my last entry). I've heard tales of other late nests along east/north facing beaches this year too even though this year has not had the terrible storms we had a couple of years ago. I'm guessing the re-nesters on South Beach lost their first nest to predation rather than washover, but I wasn't there. Just guessing.

Also, another cool thing in Birdchick's video is that you can hear least terns in the background. Piping plovers that nest close to least tern colonies generally succeed at fledging young at a far better rate than those that don't nest near least terns. Now of course Birdchick and company will tell me I need my hearing checked and that those are common terns I'm hearing. Maybe it's a sound compression artefact.

Anyway, the piping plover is the cutest bird on the planet and if anything can get people to care it will be the cuteness factor.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

what color is your parachute?

I'm not at the beach today -- tired, burned out, and expecting severe thunderstorms -- but at least that gives me time to catch up with last week's tales from the land of gulls and radios.

The first thing I noticed when I got to the beach was the steep drop-off where the storms (plural for sure) had taken a huge bite out of the sand. It looked like a late autumn beach instead of a July beach. I debated whether to setup on the wet part of the beach for better interception of joggers and walkers but realized it would be easy to slide down the sand toward the waterline but harder to climb up to deal with people between there and the dunes. So I setup above the drop-off, berm, slope, whatever you want to call it. I wore quite a path in the sand running down to the water line to intercept clueless out of town visitors who walked blithely past the buoys marked "area closed".

There were more out of town visitors than usual. I attribute it partly to the New York Times article ranking Newburyport and in particular the Parker River Refuge as number 2 on their top 25 Northeast getaways. Also, Yankee Homecoming attracted people to downtown and some of them probably spilled over onto the beach. And then there was the parachute jumping thing going on (more about which later in this same post). Anyway, by like 10:30 I had worn quite a path and reduced my speech to "beach closed, new chicks, very tiny". Some of the out-of-towners did want to know about piping plovers and least terns so I was able to oblige them with more information than "very tiny". Also, a few people wanted to know about the jellyfish all over the beach -- like do they sting? No. The storms at sea cause the jellyfish to end up closer to shore and on the beach, and these aren't the dreaded stinging Portuguese man-of-war ones. I kept quite busy all morning.

At some point I noticed an airplane dropping two huge yellow streamers into the water close to shore. A small boat went out to pick up the streamers. They were to test the wind direction for the parachute jumpers. A target area for the jumpers was set up on the Newbury town beach roped off and marked with flags to show the wind direction. Well, it wasn't entirely on the town beach. The target area was partly on the refuge. This is a no-no. Unit 61 was already on the case and got them to move the target area completely to the town beach before the jumpers started. There were tons of them. I stopped counting them. Their parachutes were all different colors: rainbow stripes, hot pink, patriotic red white and blue, pale blue ... The pale blue one blended in with the sky and looked remarkably like a jellyfish. Come to think of it the moon looked like a jellyfish too. At first I thought the moon was a white parachute until I realized it wasn't moving.

Unit 61 was taking photos of the parachutists but I didn't get any because every time I got my camera out, I had to slide down the sand to intercept another clueless walker. As we were watching a parachuter landed in the dunes on the refuge. Oops. He won't be allowed to jump again today. Then the radio crackled. "A parachuter just landed in Lot 1!" Apparently Gatehouse and 62 were unaware of this parachute event until then. Unit 62 came to help out 61 with managing whatever. I went back to intercepting walkers and explaining "new chicks very tiny".

As I left, people om the boardwalk were asking 61 and 62 where the parachutes were coming from -- they couldn't see the plane because of the angle -- and the guys had them convinced they were materializing out of thin air. I assured them that they were beaming here ...

Thursday, July 31, 2008

don't touch them

Tried to post this using Twitter but it didn't shorten the URL to one of those tinyurl thingies.

A well-meaning beachgoer in Wells, Maine contributed to the death of a piping plover chick.

Many people think piping plovers live and feed in the dunes. They don't. The feed on the beach. They eat bugs in the wrack or feed on marine invertebrates along the water line. People are all the time telling me that the plovers nest in the dunes. I am all the time telling them, no they nest on the beach between the wrack line and the dunes. Big difference.

Please, please, please don't touch the chicks. Do not pick them up and move them. This is not like picking up a baby bird fallen from the nest and putting it back in, which won't hurt anything. Piping plover chicks are precocial. Their parents do not bring them food. They have to get their own food. In the wrack. Not the dunes. A newly hatched chick needs to eat fairly soon after hatching too. Hours in the dunes far away from its food source is doom.

Stories like this are among the reasons I believe symbolic fencing is not enough. There needs to be live human education and possibly beach closure.

Hands off the chicks!!!

P.S. I know I owe brilliant narrative from Saturday. It's coming.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

quick update

There was no new biologist's report in the lockbox this morning so I don't know if the one remaining nest that was due to hatch today has hatched. I don't have new numbers. I do have new stories but that will have to wait 'til tomorrow.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

ships music pirates

Fish Tale too crowded for breakfast before shift. A flashing sign near the bridge reads "Beerfest Saturday 7/19". This weekend is some kind of maritime festival in Salisbury.

Journey unimpeded by drawbridge.

Coffee of the day Mexican (hints of chocolate -- very tasty -- and yes, despite 95 degrees and climbing temperatures, I drank it hot.). I even had someone in line at the coffee shop ask me how the plovers are doing. The t-shirt with the plover family and "Life's a Beach for the Piping Plover" caption on the back kind of make me conspicuous...

The numbers from Friday's census:
Piping Plover: Adult Pairs: Refuge 4, Sandy Point 2, Total 6; Nests Incubated: Refuge 1, Sandy Point 0, Total 1; Nests Hatched: Refuge 3, Sandy Point 2, Total 5; Chicks <25>: Refuge: 3, Sandy Point 3, Total 6; Chicks => 25 days: Refuge 6, Sandy Point 4, Total 10.
Least Terns: Adult Pairs: ~30; Colonies 2; Chicks 8.

The big news is that the piping plover nest at 0.45 has hatched. There was a prominent notice taped inside the door of the lockbox telling plover wardens to be especially vigilant for chicks from 0.45 getting within 2/10 of a mile of the north boundary. Though I was extra vigilant, I didn't see any chicks or any invisibirds at all. There were so many gulls roosting on the beach between there and the boundary that any plover chick venturing anywhere near would have become breakfast pretty quickly.

We're talking major gull hangout. I stopped counting them because more and more kept arriving and none were leaving for hours. All 4 usual suspects were there: great black back, herring, ring-billed, and Bonaparte's. The Bonaparte's actually arrived late to the party and fed at the water's edge instead of loafing like everybody else. Except for the Bonaparte's everybody was facing into the wind at the best angle for maximum cooling. Nobody was chasing greenheads even though they were plentiful.

And one point during the shift as I was facing the water and talking to someone I saw (using my unusually well developed peripheral vision) someone walking purposefully toward the boundary behind me. A woman walked right up to the boundary and dumped a package of crackers -- Saltines I think -- into the closed area to feed the gulls. Hordes of ringbills rose up from the loafing area and descended onto the crackers. Meanwhile, the woman disappeared into a crowd of people so I didn't get a chance to say anything. Gulls kept joining the feeding frenzy until nary a cracker crumb was visible.

It's bad enough when people don't clean up after themselves and leave food scraps on the beach to attract predators. It's a whole 'nother thing to deliberately dump food on the beach to attract predators. One of the major things all you readers can do to help save the piping plover is to not leave food on the beach, whether it's here on the Atlantic coast beaches or in the piping plover's other nesting areas in the Great Lakes. Please don't feed the gulls. Please clean up after your picnics. It's a small thing to ask and it can make a difference.

Beyond the gull-feeding, the shift was pretty uneventful. Visitors were very cooperative except for one teeange boy. The greenheads were not able to fly into the wind so I only got one bite and a couple of nibbles during lulls. I'm not sure if the wind was from Bertha or Cristobal, who are both out there in the Atlantic making trouble. The waves were getting big. Oh, and I actually did see somebody catch a flounder -- too bad nobody asked me that this week. A group of Chinese guys were all fishing together and when the guy in the middle caught the flounder there were many excited Chinese sentences in which the only word I understood was "flounder". It was just like being at work except with "flounder" replacing something like "SS7" or "H.323".

I stopped off at the Fish Tale for lunch figuring it would be much less crowded nearer to closing time. It was. Also, on the way into the parking lot I noticed a flashing sign I hadn't seen on the way up this morning:


Didn't see any of the above.

Friday, July 18, 2008

piping plover news round up

The Boston Globe has a nice article about urban piping plovers in Revere and Winthrop. The chick photo is from last year. Cute though.

I thought I was the only one who wrote about not seeing piping plovers. Not so. The Traveling Turtle Girl has a blog entry about not seeing piping plovers. I sympathize. It's hard to do a census of invisibirds.

Kitty Mowmow's Animal Expo talks about review of critical habitat areas for piping plovers along the Texas coast.

martytdx has a beautiful piping plover photo up on Flickr.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

meanwhile in new hampshire

Both Maine and New Hampshire are experiencing low piping plover numbers this year. The latest from New Hampshire is that numbers are still low.

first greenhead bite of the season, weird questions, flycatching behavior

Now for the narrative of Saturday's shift:

The greenheads are out in force right on schedule. I came prepared with light-colored clothing and bug repellent. I still managed to get my first bite of the season on my right calf. The darn bug crawled inside my pants leg despite the repellent and the fact they were the lightest khakis I have. Sigh.

There weren't as many people on the beach as I would have expected on a perfect July day. The greenheads may have something to do with that. I talked with about 12 people, saw 1 Coast Guard asset -- a helicopter, and saw 1 piping plover. Not my finest writing skills here. Sometimes it's hard to write about the same types of events over and over again and make it interesting. Oh, almost forgot the all important Coffee of the Day. That was French Roast Colombian. In other news, I skipped breakfast at the Fish Tale because it was jampacked at 7:30 in the morning. The place was crammed with tourists inside and out so I wouldn't have heard any good fish stories or flying stories anyway.

So, the visitors:

A couple, clearly not from here, walked up to me and asked why on earth the beach was closed with signs AND a guard, were there land mines? Seriously. They thought the only possible reason for beach closure was some sort of danger to the beach-goers and the first thing that came to mind was land mines. So who is going to start their invasion of the USA at Plum Island? Canada? Unless maybe terrorists were confusing us with other, more sinister, Plum Island. I told them it was a nesting area for piping plovers and least terns and started to launch into my spiel but they interrupted me and asked "Do they eat flies?" When I said yes, they said "Good" and walked away.

Somebody else asked me where the whale was. The long dead one. It's still buried on the beach right where it was. The sand covered it back up again. Sand moves out to sea in the winter and comes back in the summer... I started on my sand circulation speech... They were far more interested in the buried remains of the long dead whale than in the piping plovers or least terns.

Then of course there was the ritual "Have you seen anybody catching flounder today?" "No. I saw one guy catch a little skate. No flounder." "Are the people on the boats out there catching flounder?" "I'll check with my superpowered binoculars. Nope. Nobody except that blue lobster boat over there seems to be pulling in anything at all. Everybody's just standing there on the decks with their fishing rods."

About the most exciting thing I did was ask Unit 62 what happened with the sailboat that ran aground during my last shift (Friday, July 4). He said the boat was pretty beat up. As I predicted, both the Coast Guard and the tow boat were required to get the thing off the beach. I gathered from 62 that it took quite an effort. Guess, those folks' summer is a bummer. I'll bet some rich people are unhappy right now.

With all the greenheads and other kinds of flies around there was plenty of food for swallows and gulls. The swallows carpet the beach flying about a foot off the ground and just gobble up flies as they go. Ring-billed gulls hawk the flies like kingbirds do. The herring gulls and great black backs did not seem interested in the flies. A great black back landed on the beach with a fish near some herring gulls. They tried to rob him. Not a good idea. The great black back swallowed the fish and then chomped down on the nearest herring gull -- twice. Once on the tail and then on the wing. They struggled for awhile with the great black back hanging onto the herring gull's wing until it lost interest and let go. I half expected to see it eat the herring gull. Ugly scene.

Stay tuned for more musings on gulls catching flies sometime between now and Saturday.

Meanwhile, if you want to know what I did with the rest of last Saturday, you can read Musings of Captain_Peleg, my mostly non-bird-related blog.

statistics from last weekend

Boy am I ever behind in blogging. Too much to do to have time to blog about it.

So, the statistics from 7/11 (Friday):

Piping Plovers: Adult Pairs: Refuge 5, Sandy Point: 4, Total: 9;
Nests Incubated: Refuge: 2, Sandy Point: 0, Total: 2;
Nests Hatched: Refuge: 2, Sandy Point: 2, Total: 4;
Chicks <25>: Refuge: 0, Sandy Point: 7, Total: 7;
Chicks => 25 Days:
Refuge: 6, Sandy Point: 0, Total 6;
Least Terns:
Pairs: 25, Colonies: 2, Chicks: 7, Fledglings: 0; The LETE colonies are all on the refuge, not at Sandy Point.

In case you wondered why 25 days is a magic age for the chick census, they fledge between 25 and 30 days.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow

We do have other birds besides piping plovers on the refuge at PRNWR. One of special interest is the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow. Check out this article from the Boston Globe about studying rising levels of mercury contamination.

Friday, July 4, 2008

meanwhile in the rain

I kept waiting for it to stop raining this morning in hopes of putting in a full plover warden shift but the rain kept up most of the morning. I went over to the Fish Tale Diner for breakfast -- veggie omelet and English muffin, yum -- and watched it rain. A pair of goldfinches landed in the Bridge Marina boatyard to check out a puddle. Do goldfinches eat at the Fish Tale too? A great black back sat on top of a light pole. A herring gull sat on the roof of Striper's Grille. A flock of mallards swam between boats in the Merrimack. It continued to rain.

On to Plum Island Coffee Roasters to fetch my dose of Ethiopian Yrgacheff (however you spell that), still waiting for the rain to stop. More mallards paddling around on this side of the river. Herring gulls too, but no goldfinches. I guess they don't drink micro-roasted coffee. Oh, and needless to say the drawbridge did not impede my path between The Fish Tale and PI Coffee Roasters today.

Finally, the rain changes to a light drizzle. I head out to the boardwalk at Lot 1 for a bit and regale two visitors with the life cycle of the piping plover. They ask good questions about mammalian predators. Three gull species roost on the beach all together: great black back, herring gull, ring-billed gull. A few cormorants roost among them too, doing their prehistoric ecclesiastical-looking wing-drying pose (imagine a dinosaur blessing the congregation
with arms outstretched). A Bonaparte's gull flies over the group but doesn't join them. Least terns make countless trips back and forth between the LETE colony and the water. They're too far away for me to identify what kind of fish they're catching to feed their loved ones. The few human fishermen are not catching anything.

Just as I am leaving, the sun comes out. That figures. Too bad I didn't plan on doing the midday shift today. I gotta go pick up Nancy at the bus station and with the 4th of July festivities in Boston and the visit of Dick Cheney to the USS Constitution, the trip could be long and arduous.

I stop at the VCS (Visitor Contact Station) to use the rest room and talk to the volunteer there, who is usually at the gatehouse. Unit 3 comes by to help with the VCS set-up. I chat with them until a genuine visitor arrives. The volunteer shows him around enthusiastically and he's taking it all in enthusiastically. I laugh and ask if he wants to know about piping plovers too. Turns out he does! I launch into my enthusiastic and animated description of how cool they are and how vulnerable they are and outline their lifecycle and why that means we need to close parts of the beach. He's lovin' it. While I'm talking to visitor, volunteer and Unit 3 vanish out back and I'm alone in the VCS. A birder (you can tell by the scope) asks if I can contact law enforcement because there' s a sailboat aground on the beach near Lot 5 (or was it 3, I'm forgetting already). Nope. I don't have the radio with me. Unit 3 is right here... no wait... you'd better go to the gatehouse and tell them to get law enforcement. When Unit 3 and VCS volunteer come back I tell them about it. Unit 3 calls Unit 61 and gets him on the case. And I really have to leave.

I did not see the report from yesterday's survey so I don't have updated chick numbers.

I don't know what happened with the sailboat, but I would imagine that the Coast Guard would be somewhat more useful in this situation than refuge law enforcement.

Now I really really really gotta go pick up Nancy.

wonderful piping plover photos on Flickr

Check out the piping plover series by William Dalton. They're awesome.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

decline in piping plover numbers in Maine

Check out this news story from in Maine. Apparently piping plover numbers are way down in Maine this year. It doesn't go into enough depth on potential causes like habitat loss and global sea level rise. Oh wait, Maine shouldn't be affected by global sea level rise because it's still bouncing back from the glacier -- Maine is rising along with the sea level. I should look into that. More research stuff for my non-existent book. Anyway, watch the video closely toward the end because the plover actually gets one of those worms. I have always wanted to see this in real life. Still haven't.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

do goldfinches eat barnacles?

Coffee of the day: Ethiopian Yrgacheffe.
Stuck on drawbridge: No
Late: yes
Weather: fog, mist, fierce east wind

Piping Plover stats
Adult Pairs
Refuge 7
Sandy Point 5
Total 12

Nests Incubated
Refuge 3
Sandy Point 2
Total 5

Nests Hatched
Refuge 2
Sandy Point 2
Total 4

Chicks <25 days
Refuge 2
Sandy Point 8
Total 10

Chicks >25 days
Refuge 4
Sandy Point None
Total 4

New piping plover nest too.

Least Tern stats
Pairs 35
Colonies 2
Chicks 1

Interesting bird behaviors of the day:
  1. Great blue heron standing at the water line for almost two hours, stock still, while the tide began to come in around him. I don't remember ever seeing a great blue on the beach before.
  2. A pair of American goldfinches flew in over the dunes, landed on some rocks and began to peck at barnacles. They hung around doing this for about 10 minutes, then flew back toward the dunes. Do goldfinches eat barnacles?
  3. Bonaparte's gulls act like shorebirds. Actually this isn't the first time I've seen this but it's still worth remarking on. A small flock of 3 to 4 Bonaparte's gulls was working the waterline probing the wet send with their bills. They walked along, sometimes even doing the foot trembling thing, and paused to probe. Whatever they were eating was small and dark and hard to identify in the fog.
  4. Tree swallows landing en masse and resting on the beach.
Visitors: 4, two of whom walked right past me into the closed area. One just wasn't paying attention. The other was actively trying to avoid me.

Bird list for today includes only those birds seen on the beach:

Bonaparte's gull
great black back gull
ringbilled gull
herring gull
double crested cormorant
least tern
American goldfinch
great blue heron
common loon
common eider
tree swallow

No witty narrative today. We have tix to see Richard Thompson tonight. Must get going.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Piping Plover chick: On the Edge

Piping Plover chick
Originally uploaded by DaveinMaine
Just saw this on Flickr and HAD to blog it. Somehow the edge seems symbolic. Looks like DaveinMaine got some great photos at the beach today. Wish I were on the beach instead of Gray Cubicle World (well, except for the thunder and lightning in my neck of the woods today).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

educational and inspiring story about kids and piping plovers (and other cool stuff)

Check out this wonderful article in Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine about kids in Wisconsin helping piping plovers.

And i think i love you michigan has up to the minute chick photos.

Boy, the Midwest piping plover population seems to get more press and more blog references than the Atlantic Coast population lately. Must recruit some bloggers up here on the edge...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Piping Plover Chick -- The Epitome of Cuteness

Piping Plover Chick
Originally uploaded by J Gilbert
The best thing the piping plover has going for it is extreme cuteness. The little fuzzy puffball on toothpicks is the cutest baby on the beach or in the whole animal kingdom (OK, I am kinda partial, so maybe not the whole animal kingdom).

Piping Plover Broken Wing Display

Defending Parent
Originally uploaded by stevesama
Saw this shot on Flickr and just had to post it. Piping plovers freeze at the slightest hint of danger and if they have chicks they go into the distraction display shown here. The idea is the predator (or photographer) will go after the parent and miss the chicks.

more piping plover blogging

shplovergirl has an entry about a piping plover nest predated by a fox. She has links to a couple of nice piping plover pix too -- one with some chicks next to a least tern, 2 endangered species in one photo.

And yeah, she's right about the emotional stress of it. Even after 13 or however many years I've been doing it I feel powerless against mighty forces way beyond my control: the weather, foxes, crows ...

i think i love you michigan: Plover babies!

Just came across this...
i think i love you michigan: Plover babies!

I love the names. I wish we named ours. On the other hand it would make us seem less serious and federal and all.

I'm upset that 0.28 was predated by a crow regardless of whether they had names or not. I love these little guys.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

seagoing sparrow, talkative visitor, new lock, nice weather, oh my

The status report from yesterday says there are 11 piping plover chicks: 7 on the refuge and 4 at Sandy Point. There are two new nests also. Yay!

Coffee of the day at Plum Island Coffee Roasters is Bolivian.

Oddest sight of the day: a song sparrow flew in over the dunes, landed on a rock in front of me, hung out for about 10 minutes and then took off straight out to sea. Seagoing song sparrow? At least it wasn't as much of a tongue twister to say as seagoing seaside sparrow.

A small flock of Bonaparte's gulls, minus their Little gull buddy, flew back and forth along the shore fishing together. A least tern fished alone right in front of me. It caught and ate several fish. I did not see it carry any back to the LETE colony. A birder came around looking for the gull-billed tern. He hadn't seen it nor talked to anyone who had today. On the way back to the gatehouse I birded the birders at Stage Island Pool but since none of them were looking through their scopes and some were sitting listlessly on rocks, I intuited that the gull-billed tern was not present.

I talked to 13 visitors today. They were all manageable. Two teenage boys walked briskly into the closed area at the water line. I caught up with them quickly, without even crossing the line myself, and got them out of there. One woman went into the closed area to pick up a sand dollar. She knew better but HAD to have the sand dollar. She talked my ear off for over half an hour about making gift baskets with sand dollars for holidays and birthdays and stuff. She also mentioned least terns pecking at her head -- turns out this was years ago at Sandy Point -- and wanted to know why the piping plovers at Crane Beach nest way up in the dunes and ours nest on the beach. I basically said "I don't know." I keep hearing from people how Crane Beach has much better nesting success than the refuge without closing the beach. She brought that up too. I pointed out that the mission of a National Wildlife Refuge is wildlife protection first and foremost. That is not the primary mission of the Trustees of Reservations. They can make tradeoffs we can't. I did not go into how they have way more beach and the beach mainly does not face straight east. I do wonder sometimes how the chicks make it through the wall to wall beachgoers to feed though. They may hatch in the dunes but they need to eat amidst the wrack and at the water line. That's a long walk for an invisible puff ball. Gotta find out more about this before I write my book (what book? the one I've been threatening to write for 10 years? think I'll ever get to it?)

Back at the gatehouse I noticed a brand new lock on the new lock box. It appeared since this morning. Turned out Unit 3 bought it today. It's very smooth, not nearly the struggle the old one was getting to be. Such luxury. Nice smooth lock on a nice roomy -- and dry! -- box.

Got stuck on the drawbridge again today only this time it was on the way home.

That's all for now from the land of gulls and radios.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


In Dennis good fences make good neighbors.

In Ontario, people continue to be excited about their piping plovers. Chicks have hatched. Bird lovers flock to Wasaga to see them.

In Plymouth, the town is limiting auto access to the beach. Yay! Meanwhile, in New York, a blogger/former plover steward voices thoughts on people who complain about not being allowed to drive on the beach.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Maybe I could learn to take pictures

This photo safari sounds like it could be fun. At least by August all the chicks will have fledged. Maybe I should sign up. I could learn to take better pictures of PRNWR/Plum Island and I could be an embedded covert agent making sure the photographers don't interrupt the feeding behavior of migratory shorebirds. Not that all photographers do that, just that when I see it, it bothers me.

Cute piping plover video from Canada

Birds of Maine blogged a cool piping plover video today.

Nice chick footage.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Piping Plover on Revere Beach from Avian Daily

Piping Plover 2
Originally uploaded by The Avian Daily
I love this shot from Avian Daily's photo stream on Flickr. Their blog entry recounts the sighting.

This critter looks like it's definitely about to poke that bill into the sand after a tasty morsel that it's stirred up with its foot.

pepperweed pullers

Invasive Species East mentions the pepperweed pullers of Plum Island/Parker River National Wildlife Refuge this week. I keep forgetting to blog the observation that in the last two years the buzz around the refuge and the volunteer recruitment effort is much more focused on the pepperweed eradication project than on protecting piping plovers and least terns. This shows you how far the piping plover recovery program has come. It's time for invasive plant removal to have its 15 minutes of fame. I stopped in at the Visitor Center during the pepperweed training two weeks ago -- not to attend the training but to umm use the facilities -- and happened to get a chance to see another anti-invasive plant measure, the purple loosestrife eating beetle. Somehow I expected it to look more dramatic or something. It's just a little beetle.

Monday, June 16, 2008

speaking of the airport

In my search to find out what the pancake breakfast at the PI airport was about I found a PI airport blogger: 2b2 Flyby.

The pancakes turned out to be associated with a boy scout rocket launching event.

Now if I could just find my misplaced 2B2 t-shirt...

north for a change

So here's how Saturday's shift went:

My plan to arrive at the beach at the stroke of 9:00 AM was foiled by two factors: the drawbridge was up and there was a line for coffee. Whoa! Full blown tourist season arrived while I wasn't looking. Coffee of the day was Timor. I liked it a lot. It had nice layers of flavor. I liked it so much I went back for another cup after my shift, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

At the gatehouse, Unit 3 asks "Where are you headed?" "North." "Do you want the whole back pack?" "Yes." She provides curbside delivery of the radio and back pack and reads me the all important update from Friday's survey: 8 chicks, 5 pairs, 2 nests. I soooo want to see a chick this year... Oh, here would be a good place to mention that there's a new roomier lockbox for the radios, back packs, etc. I had forgotten to mention that a couple of weeks ago. And the lock box has actually contained radios consistently since that one time with no radio (I came too early that day -- hence my plan to arrive at 9:00 instead of 8:00 henceforth.) End of digression about lock box and radio, but hey, this IS the diary of gulls and radios, right? On to the gulls...

I was busy from the time I hit the boardwalk -- before I even got to the beach -- until my relief arrived at noon. The first guy I talked to was very interested in the piping plovers: where they nest, what they eat, where they migrate to, and so on. I'm lovin' it. A rotating cast of fishermen (and fisherwomen) kept changing places in hopes of finally landing a nice big striper. Unlike the kids of last week, these folks did not tangle other people's lines. Like the kids though, they weren't catching much. I saw one guy catch a fairly small striper. A woman told me she'd caught a small one too. A guy from Merrimac told me he'd caught a small fish that looked like a stingray (little skate) and wanted to know if they sting. They don't.

Several fishing people asked me about the plovers. I've noticed over the years that even the fishing people who miss being able to drive their vehicles onto the beach to fish at night are genuinely concerned about the survival of the piping plover. One woman I talked to on Saturday mentioned that years and years ago when she used to drive on to fish at night she often saw dead plover chicks in the tire tracks and she was very glad the beach is closed. A couple of people even thanked me for doing this. Hey, I'm just a human sign -- granted one who loves to talk about piping plovers. Any time I get to do more than just grunt "beach closed" I'm happy.

I got to talking with one of the fishing guys who lives in Lowell and likes science fiction. He was interested in the different species of gulls (you knew I'd get to gulls, right?) and how they're a more reliable indicator of where the fish are than common terns. There were great black backs, herring gulls, ringbilled gulls, and Bonaparte's gulls around. The great black backs and the herring gulls were mainly resting on the sand. It was VERY windy -- coming in off the water. A small flock of Bonaparte's gulls was extremely active along the edge of the water. I couldn't see which particular bait fish they were devouring but it looked like a regular gull fiesta. They fished together as a flock and all changed to the next good fishing spot at the same time. Finally a Little gull appeared! I've been scanning groups of Bonaparte's gulls for Little gulls for weeks. Got one. Cool.

Science Fiction Fishing Guy pointed out to me that a boat motoring along just offshore had suddenly gotten a lot closer to the beach to the south of us. The wind had whipped around and it looked like it was blowing the boat in. I watched it for awhile as Science Fiction Fishing Guy told me a story of seeing a boat run aground on Emerson Rocks one time and watching the Coast Guard rescue a guy. He managed to make both himself and me worried about this boat we were watching. He borrowed my binoculars and watched it for awhile trying to estimate how close it really was to shore. Distance estimation gets all weird when it's hazy though. He suggested maybe I should call law enforcement for help. I actually took the radio out of its holster but then thought better of it. I had no idea Unit 61 was up on the boardwalk and had seen me pick up the radio. He came down to ask if I was trying to call him. I told him about the boat, which by then was very far away and didn't look like it was in trouble. Unit 61 pointed out that even if it were in trouble the most we could do from shore would be call the Coast Guard anyway.

Many visitor contacts, gulls, fish stories, and book discussions later, my relief arrived. I was way too tired and hungry to go look for the gull billed tern that massbird has been abuzz about this week. I guess I'm not really a birder if I prefer a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of dark roast coffee to a search for a life bird at the end of a busy shift.

Didn't hear any news reports of a boat running aground at Emerson Rocks.

Found out there was a pancake breakfast at the airport. Had I stuck to my original schedule and come early I could've had pancakes at the airport! Oh well.

Nice Piping Plover Photo from Ontario

Piping Plove
Originally uploaded by I-P-S
I had posted previously about reading about folks in Ontario being really excited to have piping plovers nesting this year. Now I just came across this wonderful photo of one of those Ontario-resident piping plovers on Flickr. Oh so cute. I love these guys. Just love 'em.

Yes, I know I still haven't written a stirring entry about not seeing piping plovers while guarding them on Saturday. I'll get to it tonight, but I just had to blog this photo.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

news round up

Neither heat waves nor coastal storms stop those feisty Delaware piping plovers from re-nesting.

Saw this adorable photo by Rhode2Boston of a piping plover hunkered down in the wrack at Duxbury Beach on Flickr. Rhode2Boston has some other neat bird pix from Duxbury too.

That's it for now. I suppose I could have tweeted both of those on Twitter. Oh well.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

kid's fishing day in the mist

Today is Kid's Fishing Day on the refuge. Loads of kids, with parents of course, casting their lines in search of stripers or whatever. I didn't see anybody catch anything except other people's lines. It's also apparently boundary moving day, so there was some confusion as to where the south plover warden should be and what was open to whom, but it all eventually settled down. I had lots of people asking questions other than "when will the beach be open". Somebody came around looking for starfish, so I pointed them to the tide pools at Sandy Point. I actually got to talk about piping plovers. That's the best part of the job: telling the story of the cutest birds on the beach! There were even questions about dune vegetation. The beach peas are in full bloom.

The weather was extremely humid and misty. A line of cormorants walking on the sand just north of Emerson Rocks, looked like some kind of religious procession when seen thru the mist. Other times the mist was so thick, I couldn't see them at all.

Flying ants were everywhere. Oddly they did not attract ringbilled gulls, who are the premiere flycatchers among gull kind. In fact in the comparative flycatching department, the only interesting participant was a willet. This is definitely the first time I have seen a willet chase flying insects.

A black-bellied plover hung around Emerson Rocks for most of the morning, feeding along the tide line and moving up the beach as the tide came in. A small flock of Bonaparte's gulls did a flyover. Alas, I saw no Little gulls among them. Maybe if I had the special fog-penetrating binoculars :-) All the usual gull suspects put in appearances, as did sanderlings, semipalmated sandpipers, more willets, and tons and tons of cormorants. Along the road I spotted lots of cedar waxwings in addition to the usual eastern kingbirds, redwinged blackbirds, brown thrashers, and gray catbirds.

Oh, and for those people who are always asking for my sweatshirt, the gift shop at the Visitor Center has them. The shop wasn't open when I stopped in to use the restroom, but I'm sure it will be open when you go there -- whoever you are.

No more blogging this afternoon. Must attend to laundry and then fetch Nancy from the bus station. BTW, evidently Nancy and I have achieved full merger. Unit 3 called me Nancy this morning. :-)

update on the numbers

Here are the piping plover and least tern numbers from the refuge and Sandy Point as of yesterday's survey (June 6):

Piping Plovers
Adult Singles
Refuge: 2
Sandy Point: 2
Total: 4

Adult Pairs
Refuge: 5
Sandy Point: 5
Total: 10

Nests incubated
Refuge: 1
Sandy Point: 2
Total: 3

Nests hatched
Refuge: 1
Sandy Point: 0
Total: 1

Chicks <25 days old
Refuge: 4
Sandy Point: 0
Total: 4

There were no chicks 25 days or older.

Least Terns
Refuge: 8
Sandy Point: 0
Total: 8

According to the notes 3 nests on the refuge and 2 at Sandy Point were washed over at the last high tide cycle. Survey from June 2 noted the 3 new nests on the refuge beach that were right at the high tide line and may be expected to get washed over. Also, one nest at Sandy Point was predated by a fox.

Friday, June 6, 2008

news round up

The current issue of the Martha's Vineyard Gazette has a nice article on the Vineyard's piping plover population.

There's more from Rich Eldred in Truro.

That's about it for today.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Common Tern

Common Tern
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
We got in a good fix of watching the common tern colony at Bold Point in Providence on Sunday. Lots of bringing of fish, a little tern sex, some mobbing of gulls and no sign of the evil black crowned night herons who usually wait underneath the thing formerly known as a barge. Even with the 12x zoom I can't really get good pix of these guys. The one shown perched on a piling very close to shore so was captureable with the magic of digital zoom on top of the 12x optical zoom.

Insert smooth segue to piping plovers.

Here's this season's first report of chicks on Cape Cod. They're always way ahead of us up here in the north.

And here's a short bit from Rich Eldred at The Cape Codder. It says to check back for more on plovers from Eldred.

And don't forget those plucky plover pairs in Ontario.

Check back here for more on the invisible birds of Plum Island.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

the updated numbers

Hat and Binoculars
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
Here's the update for last week. I did not see the report on yesterday's survey yet.

5/23 survey
Refuge beach: 2 singles, 6 pairs, 3 nests
Sandy Point beach: 4 singles, 4 pairs, 2 nests.

That's up from the previous week, which I did not post due to oral surgery. We will not speak of painful teeth again this summer.

Here's the previous week:
5/19 survey
Refuge beach: 3 singles, 4 pairs, 2 nests
Sandy Point beach: 0 singles, ~3 pairs, 0 nests

big lightning

Cool Shirt
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
Woke up to bright sunny gorgeous day and headed to the beach for my AM plover warden shift. Stopped off at The Fish Tale Diner for breakfast surrounded by old guys talking about gliding through the salt marsh in sneak boats in the old days, old lobster boats, nostalgia. Another guy joined them and the conversation changed to piloting gliders. He gave a good explanation of aerodynamics in his old guy swamp yankee accent. I could picture him flying silently over the island in his glider above the other guys in their sneak boats.

Coffee of the day at PI Coffee Roasters is Papua New Guinea -- a medium roast. Tasty.

I started the shift watching a semipalmated plover methodically feeding in the wet sand, moving from north to south. The wind was blowing fiercely from the southwest. Next thing I knew my hat was in the water, not on my head. Since this is the replacement hat for the previous one whose stupid plastic adjustable thingy wore out, I figured I'd better make haste after it. Fortunately, I caught it before it washed out to sea. I let it dry off a bit before I put it back on.

There were very few visitors. Everybody was scared off by the weather forecast. Except for trying to keep my hat on, I was having a pretty easy time of it. That was right up until I started to hear thunder to the west. Clear skies over the ocean. Slate gray skies over the marsh. Quite the contrast. A photographer showed up to capture the scene. I hung out for awhile wondering whether I should leave. Big purple lightning split the sky fairly close by. We're talking the jagged kind you always see in kids' drawings and scary movies. That was enough for me.

I made it to my car seconds before the thunderstorm made it to the Sandy Point parking lot. The rain pelted down, thunder crashed, more big lightning flashed. Huge puddles appeared by the side of the road. By the time I got back to the gatehouse it was over although I could still hear thunder. Gatehouse said Bob (north today -- I was south) left too.

Naturally, I did not see any of the invisi-birds today. The one semipalmated plover I watched on the beach was the only one of those I saw. Lots of least sandpipers and other peeps swirled around all over the place. On my way back to the gatehouse, I had the strangest sighting of the day. Among the gray catbirds, of which there seem to be an infinite number today, was a really tiny bird walking down the middle of the road. We're talking the paved road here, not the dirt road. Thinking it was some kind of sparrow I should check out, I pulled over for a look. It walked boldly down the road away from the catbirds. A least sandpiper. Since when do least sandpipers walk on roads? By themselves? I couldn't help laughing. I hope it found the rest of its peeps.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

i was just thinking about this

La Familia Loca was talking about sea-level rise at the family gathering for Andrea's birthday yesterday -- in relation to the Beach Boys' house and building codes, not to my favorite invisible bird. But it got me thinking. On the way home from work tonight I was thinking, possibly even worrying, about the impact of sea-level rise on piping plover nesting. What will happen to beach nesting species like my invisi-birds?

Evidently scientists are thinking about this too, because my compulsive searching of Google news turned up this article from Science Daily on the impact of sea-level rise on Chesapeake Bay's coastal habitats. It mentions piping plovers, red knots, and sea turtles as beach nesters threatened by global warming. The article has a link to the full technical report too.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

more coffee musings

Today's piping plover adventure takes place in the dusty archives of early Canadiana rather than on the beach due to the oral surgery yesterday. I was overly optimistic in my belief that I would be able to do much of anything today. Coffee of the day is French Roast Colombian from Plum Island Coffee Roasters. Mug of the day is from The Farmer's Diner. Bird of the day is mourning dove cooing/moaning so loud outside the back door that I thought it was inside my house.

OK, so the archives are not literally dusty because they're online. I discovered Early Canadiana Online over the winter while researching Newfoundland whaling history, of which there wasn't much in the archive. Oddly there were more references in the database to alcoholism than to whaling. Anyway, the other night when I couldn't sleep for all the adrenaline generated by anxiety over having teeth out, I thought I'd search the Early Canadiana database for "piping plover". Besides the numerous scholarly journal articles from days long gone by, I found Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Arctic Ocean in 1833, 1834, and 1835 under the Command of Capt. Back, R.N. by Richard King and Narrative of the Arctic Land Expedition to the Mouth of the Great Fish River, and along the Shores of the Arctic Ocean in the Years 1833, 1834, and 1835 by Sir George Back. Both King and Back describe collecting a specimen of Charadrius melodus on Lake Winnipeg.

King goes into way more about how before it was named Charadrius melodus by George Ord there was much confusion in the ornithology literature over whether it was a separate species from the common ringed plover. I've never seen so many famous names in ornithology mentioned in one paragraph before. He's got Lucien B0naparte, Temminck, Wilson, Ord, and a few I've never heard of like Wagler, who apparently also named the piping plover Charadrius Okenii. My favorite sentence is this: "The Prince of Musignano has clearly pointed out the specific difference of this pretty plover from either Charadrius semipalmatus or hiaticula, to both of which species it has been referred by existing authors, and has thus rescued from unjust censure the ever-to-be-lamented Wilson." He mentions "censurers of Wilson" again too. Apparently it really bothered him that Wilson wasn't given his due on this. And who the heck was Musignano?

Back on the other hand emphasizes the fact that Lake Winnipeg may be the northern limit of the piping plover's range. He concludes that because neither Sir John Franklin nor Capt. James Ross observed any in their expeditions at higher latitudes, where they did see semipalmated plovers. Back also gives a detailed physical description, which King does not. The whole Wilson thing gets one sentence and he doesn't mention the censurers or the myriad other ornithologists. Not even Bonaparte. And I love Back's description of the color I always describe as "dry sand". He describes it as "intermediate between yellowish-gray and light broccoli-brown of Werner." Broccoli-brown? What does that even look like? Charles Darwin used Werner's Nomenclature of Colors but the only mention of "broccoli-brown" in Voyage of the Beagle is in a description of some kind of planaria. I guess back in the day when everybody used Werner for their color names, anybody reading that would be able to picture it. I think I'll stick with "dry sand".

Oh, and the Prince of Musignano? That's Lucien Bonaparte. Learn something new every day.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Combing the news for references to piping plovers, I found a Canadian article that describes it as full of character. I guess if you can't have charisma, character is the next best thing. :-) Seriously, I liked the article because it's so vivid and enthusiastic. They're actually excited about piping plovers nesting in Ontario.

This article from the Plymouth Bulletin has a great photo of an adult piping plover with a chick, taken by Jim Fenton, whose Flight Path exhibit is featured at Plimoth Plantation this summer. Th article also highlights Scott Hecker, formerly of National Audubon and now of the Goldenrod Foundation. I chatted with Scott a couple of weeks ago and became all fired up to visit Plymouth Beach and spend some time among the nesting piping plovers and even Arctic terns. That was before I was laid low by the tooth of evil plus norovirus plus amoxicillin reaction. Now all I think about is getting the tooth out on Friday. There's still time left to do the piping plover nesting site tour of Massachusetts this summer assuming that I bounce back from the tooth of evil quickly.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey a northeast storm destroyed two-thirds of the known piping plover nests at the Jersey Shore last week. Some nests in Delaware got washed over by the same storm. We're darn lucky we didn't get it up here -- for once.

And I'll leave you with one more article in which Canadians are excited about the little shorebird with lots of character.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

ok, here's one for you

Late yesterday afternoon I did finally make it to the refuge for a little birding. The wind was fierce. Anyway, I was sitting on a tree stump that had washed up on the Sandy Point Beach when I spotted something pale moving on the wet sand. Aha! I got the binoculars on it and watched the lone piping plover foraging. I keep hoping to witness one eating one of those big worms, but this guy was getting only small stuff.

As I watched, two photographers approached it. It moved down the beach and stopped. They followed it. It moved down the beach and stopped. They followed it. This went on for several iterations. I even started to feel anxious on its behalf. I couldn't really judge how close they were to the plover. From where I was it looked like about 6 feet. They had HUGE lenses, so I'm not sure why they needed to be so close. Anyway, they eventually walked off down the beach in search of other photo ops and the plover resumed feeding.

I watched it for a long time. Every once in awhile it made the peep-lo call. As always, unlike Thoreau, I did not find the sound dreary.

I took this picture from really far away with 12x optical zoom and then used the 10x digital zoom to, well, zoom in, on the tiny bright spot in the middle of the frame. Considering how far away I was, it's not bad.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

another rainy day not at the beach

Rain this morning. Once again I am not at the beach. I feel like I'm letting down my remaining three readers with my lack of riveting stories about not seeing piping plovers not to mention the coffee of the day. Well, I am drinking coffee from Plum Island Coffee Roasters, but here at home brewed from beans I bought there a couple of weeks ago. The mug I'm drinking from is a souvenir of the Farmer's Diner in Quechee, Vermont. We stopped there on our way to visit VINS in 2006. That was on our fabled fall snow geese vacation. Fall in Vermont is special and it was WAY special with this up close look at a Harris' hawk.


I know it doesn't count as "life list" bird, but it was still pretty cool because I'd never seen one in the flesh before. I'm not big on listing anyway. I just like to experience the birds. Even common birds can be special, like this great blue heron at the Dead Creek Management Area in Vermont appearing out of the mist looking like he's part of the water, not just in it:


The high point of that trip was, of course, the snow geese at Dead Creek. What, you thought I was going to say the locally grown food at The Farmer's Diner or the pancake breakfast at the Addison Fire Department? Sometimes a New England vacation can rival falling off a cliff in Hungary looking at ferruginous ducks or maybe even the Ushuia dump.


And sometimes a coffee mug can spark a semi-decent blog entry even if I'm not at the beach.

Monday, May 12, 2008

no fun whatsoever

I know readers are longing for riveting stories about not seeing piping plovers, interacting with visitors, identifying scoters between the waves, and of course radios and gull behavior. However, I have no such stories to tell about this past weekend because I was miserably sick either due to a reaction to amoxicillin that I took for an infected tooth or due to some other mysterious stomach bug that just happened to appear two days after I went to the dentist to get the evil thing taking over my mouth looked at. In any case, I was miserable Friday and Saturday, but managed to rally enough to drag myself to the Beach Boys' house for the annual Mother's Day family gathering and stairs rescuing event (darn can't find the entry where the Ex-Pat rescued the Beach Boy's staircase - will keep looking and add archival link later). The east/northeast wind made it cold but we were able to dine al fresco at least for the appetizers on the leeward side of the house -- the house makes a great windbreak.

Bird action at Salisbury Beach was limited to a few herring gulls, one great black back, and a mourning dove that tried to take shelter on the porch. Oddly, when I got home there were mourning doves hunkered down on the Russian Parking Space Blockers' back steps and on my fence. As I write this today, the wind is howling and a pair of mourning doves is swaying wildly perched on a wire and hanging on for dear life. I doubt they followed me from Salisbury. :-)

Of course at the family gathering some of the non-beach family members had to tease me about piping plover recipes and such. Similarly, when I was talking with the Hermit Potter (who is nothing like either a Harry Potter or a Hermit Crab) during our afternoon of art on Thursday about my frustration that I haven't written my piping plover book yet, he joked that I didn't have enough recipes for a cookbook. That's the sound bite reporters want to hear too, no matter what else I may have to say. In case you missed the Globe story quoting me last season you can check it out in the USFWS Refuge Reporter article on volunteer experiences. At least once a season, I get a visitor who talks about eating them. I do have to say that as the years have gone by, more and more people do actually care and want to know how the plovers are doing.

That brings me to one other thought train sparked by the wind at the Beach Boys' house. Has anybody looked at how piping plover nesting productivity correlates with how exposed the beach is? The refuge beach on Plum Island faces almost directly east. It's totally exposed to the full fury of the Atlantic Ocean. It's a barrier beach. The sand is moving all the time, and there's not a lot of sheltered beach except at Sandy Point. Crane Beach just across the Ipswich River has a lot more nice Sandy Beach that does not face directly east. Could that be why it attracts more piping plover pairs and hatches more chick? They're protected from the fury of mother Atlantic?

I could probably do better with this theorizing -- and maybe even research it some -- but I'm still somewhat messed up by the weird ailment or cure worse than the disease.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

an interesting sight

Saw my first eastern kingbird of the season on Sunday at Colt State Park in Bristol, RI. The little tyrant was terrorizing 5 starlings and clearly getting the upper hand. Kind of the inverse of mobbing. I knew kingbirds were bossy, but this guy was INTENSE. I'm sure if there had been more starlings, he would have gone after them too. I had a good laugh.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

invisi-birds remain invisible

There were about 2 1/2 hours in which it was not raining today so I spent them guarding the south boundary for the invisi-birds. I met 5 visitors, all of whom were nice and were not trespassers (unlike the previous couple of weeks). And yes, there really is a radio in the lock box this week.

The wind is blowing from the east, making it very cold. First coffee of the day is Kenya AA, which I drink on the beach as is my wont. The only birds in sight are double-crested cormorants, herring gulls, and some scoter-shaped beings too far away to identify as they bob up and down in the surf. What people come around either stare out to sea with scopes or photograph each other and the rocks. My highlight bird of the day is a distant northern gannet.

Second cup of coffee is Boatyard Brew. Also in the boatyard in search of coffee are Unit 3 and Big Steve. Whoa! Cool beans. They join me briefly before heading off to Hudson Marine for stuff to anchor the buoys. Great to see Unit 3 after the long dark cold winter. She reports that there are in fact 2 nests on the refuge beach. Cool. There are also the usual nests at Sandy Point . The invisi-birds are getting about their invisible business

I dropped the new binoculars in the sand today, so now everything I own is full of sand. I think the inside of my head is full of sand. It's full of stuff I keep meaning to write about, but I must get going on the rest of the day's errands.

Note new enhancement to blog added last night: Twitter updates. Now you can follow my adventures on and off the beach in short, pithy, bursts.

As always, if anybody has a sure fire system for differentiating the three scoter species when they're far away and under water, let me know.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

everybody wants my sweatshirt

It's Saturday, 4/26. So here I am in the land of gulls and radios with no radio and darn few gulls. The wind is blowing hard from the east and it's about 10 degrees colder on the beach than on the other side of the dunes. A lone cormorant skims over the waves. I wave at a jogger who is well into the closed area but she ignores me. I realize that without the radio, let alone without gatehouse or law enforcement, there's not a darn thing I can do about it. There are probably no piping plovers out there anyway.

I'm still in a state of burned out numbness from the bedside vigil for Nancy's Mom, who died on Wednesday. We had gotten the call last Sunday that pneumonia would take her soon (better than lingering with Alzheimer's I guess) -- hence no write -up of last week's plover warden shift, which actually did happen -- and we spent as much time as possible with her until the end. I need to be here even if the plovers and any authority I may have to protect them may not be.

I finally decide to head down to Sandy Point to see if I can find the 2 piping plover pairs that are said to be hanging out there. Well, that and bird the length of the refuge in a way that I haven't since last August.

A killdeer calls vociferously from the salt pannes. In the trees opposite the salt pannes, some yellow-rumped warblers, palm warblers, and common yellowthroats flit around manically. I locate the yellow-rumps and the palms, but though I can hear the yellowthroats I never manage to get binoculars on them. At the north pool overlook I spend a long time just listening to a white-throated sparrow holding forth from a shrub. Redwinged blackbirds are everywhere. So are American robins and -- suddenly -- tree swallows. I stop at Hellcat to use the outhouse. A busload of college students are bunched up waiting to use the outhouses. They're talking about gender differences in how long they can hold it. I decide I can hold it and walk up toward the dike.

A flock of tree swallows has taken over the tree near the Hellcat observation tower. At any given time about 20 of the swallows are perched in the tree and another 30 or so are swirling around over the dike and the pools and the marsh. A pair of brown-headed cowbirds are courting. This amuses me and I can't even muster up enough judgementalness to condemn them as nest parasites. The college students are now yelling "A turtle, a turtle!" They photograph it with their cellphones and put it down. Then they wander off into the marsh. I watch a guy clamming in the marsh. The tide is out and his boat is aground. He'll be there raking that mud until the tide comes in again. It looks like hard work.

An older guy from Boston asks if I've seen any good birds and where I got my sweatshirt. His younger companion (daughter?) asks why there are so few birds around. "It's the east wind," I tell her, "you should come when the wind is from the southwest if you want to see spring migrants." She wants to know where I got my sweatshirt and whether I'm with the Friends of Parker River. I explain that I'm a volunteer plover warden but I'm not guarding plovers today because of lack of gatehouse coverage. While I'm talking to these two, a woman comes over and asks where I got my sweatshirt. I tell her it's a volunteer special and even the staff don't have them. The old man wants to know if the gift shop is open. I don't know and you can't buy these sweatshirts anyway.

I spend a long time watching a white-throated sparrow poking around in the bushes outside the outhouse. No college students in sight. Much more comfortable now, I continue south.

Many red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, savannah sparrows, and grackles later, I finally get to Sandy Point. Walking on the path to the beach I trip on a piece of driftwood hidden in the sand and land flat on my face. It's amazing how much sand one can get in one's clothing and how long it can take to shake it out (if ever). There's sand in my camera too but it appears to still work.

I never do see any piping plovers.