Friday, August 29, 2008

common yellowthroat by the dumpster

I heard a common yellowthroat when I took my trash out. Looked for it but didn't see it. What a great addition to the dumpster list that would be. The area around the dumpster is a great place for strange sightings for a suburban condo complex: a peregrine chowing down on a pigeon on the grass right in front of the dumpster, a merlin perched on a wire, a coyote (actually that was kind of scary), the usual skunks and bunny rabbits, my personal turkey vulture, mass quantities of blue jays in a flock ... Anyway, I thought it was cool to have a common yellowthroat stop by.

In other news:

Now that birdorable has done her part in advancing the "piping plovers are the cutest thing on the planet" meme, we'll have the proper attire for a march on Washington to save the Endangered Species Act if necessary. Think we can get Barack Obama to wear a "piping plovers are the cutest thing on the planet" t-shirt on the campaign trail?

I Think I Love You Michigan has finished up her season as piping plover steward. Once again I love that her pairs have names. Ours are named after mile markers. Sam and Diane just sounds so much cooler than 0.45 or 3.2, but I get just as attached.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

so that's where the seagoing sharpies go!

From time to time over the past few years of plover wardening at Plum Island I've blogged about seeing sharp-shinned hawks turn and fly directly out to sea during the spring and fall migrations. I can't immediately put my fingers on the entries, but I know I've noticed it several times and written about it more than once. One time as I watched this determined little sharpie fly out over the Atlantic and disappear from view I speculated that it must find land in the Isles of Shoals. I was thinking of Star Island, and lo and behold, fabled Mass Audubon blogger and poster John Galluzzo has found the answer: Appledore. His Mass Audubon trip saw three sharpies caught at the banding station. Funny, three is about the number I always see leaving Plum Island. I wonder if they're the same ones or they're just representative of the seagoing sharpie population. Anyway now I know that at least some of the sharpies that I see heading straight for the Isles of Shoals from Plum Island actually make it there.

BTW, too bad his group had such an uninspiring visit to PI. He mentions it was midday but does not mention whether it was high tide. Hope the visitors from the south shore make it up here again at low tide and in a summer when we haven't seen so much expletive rain inundating the mud flats. Uh, not that I'm ungrateful for the rain oh ye deities in charge of weather...

Edited to Add: You can hear John taling about this trip on Ray Brown's Talkin Birds show from Sunday: show # 177.

Monday, August 18, 2008

cutest thing on the planet

There may yet be hope that the "piping plovers are the cutest thing on the planet" meme will overtake the "piping plovers taste like chicken" meme. All hail Swarovski for taking all those bloggers to South Beach. I know the intent was to get them to blog about Swarovski optics but the side effect of getting that many well-known bloggers to write about the plight of the piping plover is awesome.

Julie Zickefoose has posted some wonderful photos of piping plovers on South Beach in addition to her fabulous painting. And she's positively inciting piping plover mania!

I already mentioned birdchick's piping plover entries and birdorable's line of piping plover wardrobe items.

Finally, piping plovers are trendy! Yay cuteness!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

oh my

Apparently Birdchick has inspired Birdorable to add a piping plover thong to their clothing line. I could never pull off wearing a thong, but I'm not averse to sending one to Dirk Kempthorne. The proposed changes to the endangered species act are absurd. Let every guvmint agency decide for itself what impacts its projects would have on wildlife? Can you say fox guarding the hen house, boys and girls? I knew you could.

Unrelated odd realization: I had more readers when I was posting stuff about piping plovers on my own website than I do since I moved over to blogger. At least my three remaining readers (not counting Unit 3 or Unit 61) still get a kick out of it. Of course, it doesn't help that I'm still trying to catch up with my life after the year of the dying in-laws.

So did I go birding today between thunderstorms? No. I went to Lowe's in Haverhill and bought two new air conditioners and a new storm door for the back of my condo. Today was Massachusetts sales tax holiday. Supposedly not charging sales tax for a day stimulates the local economy. I guess that would be true if my local hardware store had the stuff I need or Lowe's were local or something. Anyway, I am frantically preparing to have tons of work done on my condo on Monday to make up for the neglect over the past few years. If you think I've neglected birding, you should see the condition my storm door and airconditioners are in, never mind the back yard and the gate (which are not on Monday's agenda). I've been neglecting clothes shopping too. You should see the jeans I have on (well maybe not). I'm sure piping plover boxers would fit the bill until I get some unholy jeans.

Depressed? Who me?

Back to searching vainly for a glimpse of Xiangshan in the Olympic coverage.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

mini PIPL news roundup

I continue to be impressed with the folks in Ontario. They really appreciate the return of the piping plover and they appreciate their volunteer Plover Guardians. Check out the Wasaga Sun from yesterday. and this one too.

Sandbars and banding were on the agenda in Vermillion, South Dakota.

And I like this quote from the Duxbury Beach Preservation Society about their upcoming family beach day: “A more educated public will treat the beach and wildlife better.”

Monday, August 11, 2008

100_1002.JPG, Story of

Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
Why am I blogging this photo almost a year after I took it? Because the esteemed Julie Zickefoose, Science Chimp Extraordinaire and (I think) inventor of symbolic fencing , mentions a young birder on South Beach carrying around a cast horseshoe crab that can only be the work of my former co-worker, Jeff.

Back in the distant mists of time, I know I've written that my employment at It Doesn't Suck (not its real name) was a profound experience and I am still in touch with many, many, many of the folks I worked with there. I count many of them among my closest friends to this day. And Massachusetts being only slightly less village-like than Rhode Island, you never know when or where you'll run into someone from It Doesn't Suck. So here's the story of how I came to acquire a beautiful cast pewter horseshoe crab and relive old memories back in the fall of 2007, as written to a group of my It Doesn't Suck friends:

"I was at the Working Waterfront Festival in New Bedford this weekend [Sept. 22, 2007] and spotted Jeff. As soon as I called out his name and said my name, we started reminiscing about the first hardware reference manual -- a magnum opus if ever there was one -- and the agonies I went through with the contract writer who wrote it. We both said about [It Doesn't Suck] that it was a good time in our lives.

Jeff is retired from high tech and lives on the Cape making wonderful metal castings of beach/sea creatures and he had a booth at the festival (in the section for maritime related crafts/art). I bought a fabulous horseshoe crab from him and took his picture with it to show you all (below and added to the Photos area of this group). We told his son we worked together in 1883. He doesn't look so bad for 124 years old. :-)

You can check out his designs at"

Dunno why I never blogged about it at the time, except for it being the "year of losing Nancy's parents". I'm sure there's more I could say. Oh, here's excerpts from my answer to email from Jeff following up on the horseshoe crab:

"The horseshoe crab looks great in the pass-thru between my kitchen and dining room. He's sitting next to an antique Buddha and some scungili shells (that's what my Italian neighbors called them when I was growing up -- I think they're whelks) from Third Beach in Newport, RI. I must say a well-behaved and substantial horseshoe crab is an asset to my decor.

As for the MC-500 manual, I checked my pile of souvenirs, and that is not among them. I'll bet somebody out there in [It Doesn't Suck]-land has one. I suggest posting an RFQ to the forum. Sorry your X did not know what a great "masterpiece" that manual was ;-)

Yeah, the writer's name was M.... I think his last name was B.... I sometimes tell that story to new writers as an example of how easy it is to get so fascinated by the technology that one forgets the user. It was certainly one of those memorable [It Doesn't Suck] moments.

I hope you sold lots of stuff at New Bedford. The festival seemed to be well-attended."

There are a million stories on the working waterfront. This is one of them.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

news round up

As the season winds down and fledglings and adults gather to migrate I start to get "empty nest syndrome" not to mention lack of interesting stories about not seeing piping plovers. Anyway, it's time for another news roundup, so here goes:

From New Brunswick: Nelson Poirier at the Times & Transcript has a nice article about the "ghost birds" and their habitat. I especially like the photo of the carved piping plover. It really captures the ghostliness.

From Michigan: The Bay Mills News describes the roles of multi-agency
partnerships and private landowners in saving the Midwest population. They also do captive-rearing out there, something we don't do here.

From New Jersey: This Star Ledger article about black skimmers mentions that they have the same sandy beach nesting habits as piping plovers and least terns but they at least have adapted to nesting on offshore islands away from the human beach traffic.

From Ontario: The folks in Ontario continue to be very excited and happy about their piping plovers at Sauble Beach. Check out this article from The Record. Sweet chick photo accompanies article.

That's it from the Land of Gulls and Radios for today. Stay tuned for birding adventures in other parts of New England during fall and winter -- and maybe some reminiscences of birding adventures or non-adventures past just to keep myself motivated.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

cute is where it's at

I've always said that the major thing piping plovers have going for them is cuteness. Now that Birdchick has posted the definitive cuteness of the piping plover entry there is no reason for me to go on with this blog let alone write my darn book. I've been wasting my days explaining their lifecycle and habitat choice to endless beach visitors. I should've just convinced one to yawn for the camera. :-)

The location on which Birdchick and the legendary Julie Zickefoose encountered these little bundles of cuteness, South Beach in Chatham, usually has the largest or one of the largest piping plover population in Massachusetts. It also doesn't usually have as much of a problem with washovers from storm tides as some of the other Cape Cod beaches . It's interesting to me that the South Beach population had such late nesters. We had two late nests (as you may have gleaned from my last entry). I've heard tales of other late nests along east/north facing beaches this year too even though this year has not had the terrible storms we had a couple of years ago. I'm guessing the re-nesters on South Beach lost their first nest to predation rather than washover, but I wasn't there. Just guessing.

Also, another cool thing in Birdchick's video is that you can hear least terns in the background. Piping plovers that nest close to least tern colonies generally succeed at fledging young at a far better rate than those that don't nest near least terns. Now of course Birdchick and company will tell me I need my hearing checked and that those are common terns I'm hearing. Maybe it's a sound compression artefact.

Anyway, the piping plover is the cutest bird on the planet and if anything can get people to care it will be the cuteness factor.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

what color is your parachute?

I'm not at the beach today -- tired, burned out, and expecting severe thunderstorms -- but at least that gives me time to catch up with last week's tales from the land of gulls and radios.

The first thing I noticed when I got to the beach was the steep drop-off where the storms (plural for sure) had taken a huge bite out of the sand. It looked like a late autumn beach instead of a July beach. I debated whether to setup on the wet part of the beach for better interception of joggers and walkers but realized it would be easy to slide down the sand toward the waterline but harder to climb up to deal with people between there and the dunes. So I setup above the drop-off, berm, slope, whatever you want to call it. I wore quite a path in the sand running down to the water line to intercept clueless out of town visitors who walked blithely past the buoys marked "area closed".

There were more out of town visitors than usual. I attribute it partly to the New York Times article ranking Newburyport and in particular the Parker River Refuge as number 2 on their top 25 Northeast getaways. Also, Yankee Homecoming attracted people to downtown and some of them probably spilled over onto the beach. And then there was the parachute jumping thing going on (more about which later in this same post). Anyway, by like 10:30 I had worn quite a path and reduced my speech to "beach closed, new chicks, very tiny". Some of the out-of-towners did want to know about piping plovers and least terns so I was able to oblige them with more information than "very tiny". Also, a few people wanted to know about the jellyfish all over the beach -- like do they sting? No. The storms at sea cause the jellyfish to end up closer to shore and on the beach, and these aren't the dreaded stinging Portuguese man-of-war ones. I kept quite busy all morning.

At some point I noticed an airplane dropping two huge yellow streamers into the water close to shore. A small boat went out to pick up the streamers. They were to test the wind direction for the parachute jumpers. A target area for the jumpers was set up on the Newbury town beach roped off and marked with flags to show the wind direction. Well, it wasn't entirely on the town beach. The target area was partly on the refuge. This is a no-no. Unit 61 was already on the case and got them to move the target area completely to the town beach before the jumpers started. There were tons of them. I stopped counting them. Their parachutes were all different colors: rainbow stripes, hot pink, patriotic red white and blue, pale blue ... The pale blue one blended in with the sky and looked remarkably like a jellyfish. Come to think of it the moon looked like a jellyfish too. At first I thought the moon was a white parachute until I realized it wasn't moving.

Unit 61 was taking photos of the parachutists but I didn't get any because every time I got my camera out, I had to slide down the sand to intercept another clueless walker. As we were watching a parachuter landed in the dunes on the refuge. Oops. He won't be allowed to jump again today. Then the radio crackled. "A parachuter just landed in Lot 1!" Apparently Gatehouse and 62 were unaware of this parachute event until then. Unit 62 came to help out 61 with managing whatever. I went back to intercepting walkers and explaining "new chicks very tiny".

As I left, people om the boardwalk were asking 61 and 62 where the parachutes were coming from -- they couldn't see the plane because of the angle -- and the guys had them convinced they were materializing out of thin air. I assured them that they were beaming here ...