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.