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.