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.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New England weather

It was supposed to rain buckets today. So much so that the front page of yesterday's Eagle Tribune featured a story about how people who live next to the Merrimack River, having been traumatized by the last two hundred year floods, are nervous. So much so that my little Weather Channel storm alert desktop widget was flashing red with a "Spring Storm Alert". So much so that Unit 3 left me a voice mail message basically saying "don't come". This was all fine with me since I have been feeling lousy for days and thought sleeping in might help. At 7:27 AM, I look out the window, see that is indeed raining and proceed to go back to sleep.

I must have needed the sleep. Just before noon I woke up, looked out the window and saw blue sky. Blue sky!?!? Did I sleep all day and miss Saturday altogether? The radio continues to tell me we are having showers all day today and part of tomorrow. It's still Saturday. The wind is out of the southwest. Migrants should be on the move. I didn't miss a day, just missing the migrants I guess.

I made a pot of coffee (Plum Island Coffee Roasters French Roast Colombian), which I am drinking out of my huge Lowell mug. I still feel weird. All this week the parking lot behind my unit has been alive with birds. Robins, red-winged blackbirds, house sparrows, starlings, blue jays, crows, and the local pigeon flock. Today there is not a single bird in my illegal maple tree nor in the Russian Parking Space Blocker's semi-illegal birch tree. Last year robins built and abandoned a nest in the maple. This year, until today, they've been hanging around both trees giving off nesting vibes, but not bringing any nesting materials. The juncos went from flocking in the shrubs in the front of the condo to chasing each other in pairs between the illegal maple and the birch to nowhere to be seen. That at least is right on schedule. They should be well north of this condo by now. And last, but not least, I have not yet seen my personal backyard turkey vulture yet this season. I have seen kettles of TVs in Lowell, Bedford, and Newburyport, but my personal North Andover one is a no show. Go figure.

I check the archive for today, expecting tons of reports from this morning. The Merrimack Valley is quiet except for a little gull in Newburyport Harbor. Alas, I have no time to go check it out. I'm so far behind in my chores that I will be lucky to ever be done, let alone done by the time I have to go pick up Nancy at the bus station and go visit her Mom.

Hmm, last year's birding blogging came to an abrupt end here because of Nancy's Dad and now is getting off to a slow start because of her Mom. It's overwhelmingly sad to watch how quickly Nancy's Mom has declined since Nancy's Dad died in December.

As I keep telling Nancy, the reason I am not birding and am tired and possibly sick at this point, has less to do with her parents than it does with the combination of that with how unbelievably bored and stressed out I am at Gray Cubicle World. Would that I were still retired, living off the Cosmodemonic Telecom stock and following my bliss. At least I discovered my bliss is a pale sand-colored shorebird. Maybe I can follow it next week.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

official mascot of Yankees elimination

The Lowell Spinners have announced an official mascot for their Yankees Elimination Program: a red-tailed hawk that attacked a girl at Fenway Park. Red-tailed hawks, or at least the one that nests at Fenway Park, must be way smarter than I thought. How did the hawk know the kid's name was Alexa Rodriguez? The actual pinstriped A-Rod had better watch out.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

rainy day and new binoculars

Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
The refuge beach is officially closed for the piping plover nesting season and I was scheduled to be south plover warden this morning. I woke up early in anticipation that the rain would actually stop. And a weird awakening it was -- never mind the rain -- I'd fallen asleep listening to The Voyage of the Beagle on my new iPod Touch. In one ear Charles Darwin was riding through Patagonia in the 19th century and simultaneously in the other ear (the one the ear bud fell out of) NPR was telling me all the bad news of the 21st century. It took me a couple of minutes to fully realize what I was hearing. By then, I was wide awake.

Being awake and all, I decided to drive up to Newburyport and have my coffee at Plum Island Coffee Roasters in the hopes that by that time the rain would have stopped. Coffee of the day is Capt. Red's blend. Still raining. Decide to go to the refuge anyway. There' s no one at the gatehouse and no Bob at the north end of the beach either -- he probably had the good sense to sleep in. Watch loads of pintails upending themselves at the salt pannes. Listen to red winged blackbirds. Drink coffee. Drive to south end of refuge.

A very cold mourning dove sits on the fence cooing. A few robins sing in the parking lot. It's wicked cold on the beach despite my many layers but it has stopped raining. I finish the coffee while sitting on a rock watching some oldsquaws, I mean longtailed ducks, bouncing on the waves. It starts raining again.

Frustrated with my binoculars, for like the zillionth time -- I just don't see the detail I should be seeing -- I decide it is time to buy new binoculars. Perfect day for it. I want binoculars that gather enough light to make it possible to id distant scoters on a rainy day.

At Birdwatcher's Supply and Gift I tell Steve my binoculars suck and I want to replace them. He points out that it's a perfect day to try out new binoculars. My thoughts exactly. I try three pairs, focusing across the Rt. 1 rotary on some pigeons and closeup under the bushes in front of the shop -- the darkest place I could find. I compare and contrast. I tell Steve I want the special Rick Heil binoculars that can see through fog. He knows what I mean. I finally settle on a relatively cheap Nikon pair.

OK, now that I've got the new binoculars I head back to the refuge to give them a workout. It stops raining briefly. I watch a whole mess of long tailed ducks and two common loons cavorting in the waves off of lot 1. I check out the redwinged blackbirds and the mourning doves and a lone song sparrow. I'm liking the new binoculars a lot.

Another day of stimulating the economy.