Monday, June 16, 2008

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.

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