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.

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