Thursday, July 31, 2008

don't touch them

Tried to post this using Twitter but it didn't shorten the URL to one of those tinyurl thingies.

A well-meaning beachgoer in Wells, Maine contributed to the death of a piping plover chick.

Many people think piping plovers live and feed in the dunes. They don't. The feed on the beach. They eat bugs in the wrack or feed on marine invertebrates along the water line. People are all the time telling me that the plovers nest in the dunes. I am all the time telling them, no they nest on the beach between the wrack line and the dunes. Big difference.

Please, please, please don't touch the chicks. Do not pick them up and move them. This is not like picking up a baby bird fallen from the nest and putting it back in, which won't hurt anything. Piping plover chicks are precocial. Their parents do not bring them food. They have to get their own food. In the wrack. Not the dunes. A newly hatched chick needs to eat fairly soon after hatching too. Hours in the dunes far away from its food source is doom.

Stories like this are among the reasons I believe symbolic fencing is not enough. There needs to be live human education and possibly beach closure.

Hands off the chicks!!!

P.S. I know I owe brilliant narrative from Saturday. It's coming.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

quick update

There was no new biologist's report in the lockbox this morning so I don't know if the one remaining nest that was due to hatch today has hatched. I don't have new numbers. I do have new stories but that will have to wait 'til tomorrow.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

ships music pirates

Fish Tale too crowded for breakfast before shift. A flashing sign near the bridge reads "Beerfest Saturday 7/19". This weekend is some kind of maritime festival in Salisbury.

Journey unimpeded by drawbridge.

Coffee of the day Mexican (hints of chocolate -- very tasty -- and yes, despite 95 degrees and climbing temperatures, I drank it hot.). I even had someone in line at the coffee shop ask me how the plovers are doing. The t-shirt with the plover family and "Life's a Beach for the Piping Plover" caption on the back kind of make me conspicuous...

The numbers from Friday's census:
Piping Plover: Adult Pairs: Refuge 4, Sandy Point 2, Total 6; Nests Incubated: Refuge 1, Sandy Point 0, Total 1; Nests Hatched: Refuge 3, Sandy Point 2, Total 5; Chicks <25>: Refuge: 3, Sandy Point 3, Total 6; Chicks => 25 days: Refuge 6, Sandy Point 4, Total 10.
Least Terns: Adult Pairs: ~30; Colonies 2; Chicks 8.

The big news is that the piping plover nest at 0.45 has hatched. There was a prominent notice taped inside the door of the lockbox telling plover wardens to be especially vigilant for chicks from 0.45 getting within 2/10 of a mile of the north boundary. Though I was extra vigilant, I didn't see any chicks or any invisibirds at all. There were so many gulls roosting on the beach between there and the boundary that any plover chick venturing anywhere near would have become breakfast pretty quickly.

We're talking major gull hangout. I stopped counting them because more and more kept arriving and none were leaving for hours. All 4 usual suspects were there: great black back, herring, ring-billed, and Bonaparte's. The Bonaparte's actually arrived late to the party and fed at the water's edge instead of loafing like everybody else. Except for the Bonaparte's everybody was facing into the wind at the best angle for maximum cooling. Nobody was chasing greenheads even though they were plentiful.

And one point during the shift as I was facing the water and talking to someone I saw (using my unusually well developed peripheral vision) someone walking purposefully toward the boundary behind me. A woman walked right up to the boundary and dumped a package of crackers -- Saltines I think -- into the closed area to feed the gulls. Hordes of ringbills rose up from the loafing area and descended onto the crackers. Meanwhile, the woman disappeared into a crowd of people so I didn't get a chance to say anything. Gulls kept joining the feeding frenzy until nary a cracker crumb was visible.

It's bad enough when people don't clean up after themselves and leave food scraps on the beach to attract predators. It's a whole 'nother thing to deliberately dump food on the beach to attract predators. One of the major things all you readers can do to help save the piping plover is to not leave food on the beach, whether it's here on the Atlantic coast beaches or in the piping plover's other nesting areas in the Great Lakes. Please don't feed the gulls. Please clean up after your picnics. It's a small thing to ask and it can make a difference.

Beyond the gull-feeding, the shift was pretty uneventful. Visitors were very cooperative except for one teeange boy. The greenheads were not able to fly into the wind so I only got one bite and a couple of nibbles during lulls. I'm not sure if the wind was from Bertha or Cristobal, who are both out there in the Atlantic making trouble. The waves were getting big. Oh, and I actually did see somebody catch a flounder -- too bad nobody asked me that this week. A group of Chinese guys were all fishing together and when the guy in the middle caught the flounder there were many excited Chinese sentences in which the only word I understood was "flounder". It was just like being at work except with "flounder" replacing something like "SS7" or "H.323".

I stopped off at the Fish Tale for lunch figuring it would be much less crowded nearer to closing time. It was. Also, on the way into the parking lot I noticed a flashing sign I hadn't seen on the way up this morning:


Didn't see any of the above.

Friday, July 18, 2008

piping plover news round up

The Boston Globe has a nice article about urban piping plovers in Revere and Winthrop. The chick photo is from last year. Cute though.

I thought I was the only one who wrote about not seeing piping plovers. Not so. The Traveling Turtle Girl has a blog entry about not seeing piping plovers. I sympathize. It's hard to do a census of invisibirds.

Kitty Mowmow's Animal Expo talks about review of critical habitat areas for piping plovers along the Texas coast.

martytdx has a beautiful piping plover photo up on Flickr.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

meanwhile in new hampshire

Both Maine and New Hampshire are experiencing low piping plover numbers this year. The latest from New Hampshire is that numbers are still low.

first greenhead bite of the season, weird questions, flycatching behavior

Now for the narrative of Saturday's shift:

The greenheads are out in force right on schedule. I came prepared with light-colored clothing and bug repellent. I still managed to get my first bite of the season on my right calf. The darn bug crawled inside my pants leg despite the repellent and the fact they were the lightest khakis I have. Sigh.

There weren't as many people on the beach as I would have expected on a perfect July day. The greenheads may have something to do with that. I talked with about 12 people, saw 1 Coast Guard asset -- a helicopter, and saw 1 piping plover. Not my finest writing skills here. Sometimes it's hard to write about the same types of events over and over again and make it interesting. Oh, almost forgot the all important Coffee of the Day. That was French Roast Colombian. In other news, I skipped breakfast at the Fish Tale because it was jampacked at 7:30 in the morning. The place was crammed with tourists inside and out so I wouldn't have heard any good fish stories or flying stories anyway.

So, the visitors:

A couple, clearly not from here, walked up to me and asked why on earth the beach was closed with signs AND a guard, were there land mines? Seriously. They thought the only possible reason for beach closure was some sort of danger to the beach-goers and the first thing that came to mind was land mines. So who is going to start their invasion of the USA at Plum Island? Canada? Unless maybe terrorists were confusing us with other, more sinister, Plum Island. I told them it was a nesting area for piping plovers and least terns and started to launch into my spiel but they interrupted me and asked "Do they eat flies?" When I said yes, they said "Good" and walked away.

Somebody else asked me where the whale was. The long dead one. It's still buried on the beach right where it was. The sand covered it back up again. Sand moves out to sea in the winter and comes back in the summer... I started on my sand circulation speech... They were far more interested in the buried remains of the long dead whale than in the piping plovers or least terns.

Then of course there was the ritual "Have you seen anybody catching flounder today?" "No. I saw one guy catch a little skate. No flounder." "Are the people on the boats out there catching flounder?" "I'll check with my superpowered binoculars. Nope. Nobody except that blue lobster boat over there seems to be pulling in anything at all. Everybody's just standing there on the decks with their fishing rods."

About the most exciting thing I did was ask Unit 62 what happened with the sailboat that ran aground during my last shift (Friday, July 4). He said the boat was pretty beat up. As I predicted, both the Coast Guard and the tow boat were required to get the thing off the beach. I gathered from 62 that it took quite an effort. Guess, those folks' summer is a bummer. I'll bet some rich people are unhappy right now.

With all the greenheads and other kinds of flies around there was plenty of food for swallows and gulls. The swallows carpet the beach flying about a foot off the ground and just gobble up flies as they go. Ring-billed gulls hawk the flies like kingbirds do. The herring gulls and great black backs did not seem interested in the flies. A great black back landed on the beach with a fish near some herring gulls. They tried to rob him. Not a good idea. The great black back swallowed the fish and then chomped down on the nearest herring gull -- twice. Once on the tail and then on the wing. They struggled for awhile with the great black back hanging onto the herring gull's wing until it lost interest and let go. I half expected to see it eat the herring gull. Ugly scene.

Stay tuned for more musings on gulls catching flies sometime between now and Saturday.

Meanwhile, if you want to know what I did with the rest of last Saturday, you can read Musings of Captain_Peleg, my mostly non-bird-related blog.

statistics from last weekend

Boy am I ever behind in blogging. Too much to do to have time to blog about it.

So, the statistics from 7/11 (Friday):

Piping Plovers: Adult Pairs: Refuge 5, Sandy Point: 4, Total: 9;
Nests Incubated: Refuge: 2, Sandy Point: 0, Total: 2;
Nests Hatched: Refuge: 2, Sandy Point: 2, Total: 4;
Chicks <25>: Refuge: 0, Sandy Point: 7, Total: 7;
Chicks => 25 Days:
Refuge: 6, Sandy Point: 0, Total 6;
Least Terns:
Pairs: 25, Colonies: 2, Chicks: 7, Fledglings: 0; The LETE colonies are all on the refuge, not at Sandy Point.

In case you wondered why 25 days is a magic age for the chick census, they fledge between 25 and 30 days.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow

We do have other birds besides piping plovers on the refuge at PRNWR. One of special interest is the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow. Check out this article from the Boston Globe about studying rising levels of mercury contamination.

Friday, July 4, 2008

meanwhile in the rain

I kept waiting for it to stop raining this morning in hopes of putting in a full plover warden shift but the rain kept up most of the morning. I went over to the Fish Tale Diner for breakfast -- veggie omelet and English muffin, yum -- and watched it rain. A pair of goldfinches landed in the Bridge Marina boatyard to check out a puddle. Do goldfinches eat at the Fish Tale too? A great black back sat on top of a light pole. A herring gull sat on the roof of Striper's Grille. A flock of mallards swam between boats in the Merrimack. It continued to rain.

On to Plum Island Coffee Roasters to fetch my dose of Ethiopian Yrgacheff (however you spell that), still waiting for the rain to stop. More mallards paddling around on this side of the river. Herring gulls too, but no goldfinches. I guess they don't drink micro-roasted coffee. Oh, and needless to say the drawbridge did not impede my path between The Fish Tale and PI Coffee Roasters today.

Finally, the rain changes to a light drizzle. I head out to the boardwalk at Lot 1 for a bit and regale two visitors with the life cycle of the piping plover. They ask good questions about mammalian predators. Three gull species roost on the beach all together: great black back, herring gull, ring-billed gull. A few cormorants roost among them too, doing their prehistoric ecclesiastical-looking wing-drying pose (imagine a dinosaur blessing the congregation
with arms outstretched). A Bonaparte's gull flies over the group but doesn't join them. Least terns make countless trips back and forth between the LETE colony and the water. They're too far away for me to identify what kind of fish they're catching to feed their loved ones. The few human fishermen are not catching anything.

Just as I am leaving, the sun comes out. That figures. Too bad I didn't plan on doing the midday shift today. I gotta go pick up Nancy at the bus station and with the 4th of July festivities in Boston and the visit of Dick Cheney to the USS Constitution, the trip could be long and arduous.

I stop at the VCS (Visitor Contact Station) to use the rest room and talk to the volunteer there, who is usually at the gatehouse. Unit 3 comes by to help with the VCS set-up. I chat with them until a genuine visitor arrives. The volunteer shows him around enthusiastically and he's taking it all in enthusiastically. I laugh and ask if he wants to know about piping plovers too. Turns out he does! I launch into my enthusiastic and animated description of how cool they are and how vulnerable they are and outline their lifecycle and why that means we need to close parts of the beach. He's lovin' it. While I'm talking to visitor, volunteer and Unit 3 vanish out back and I'm alone in the VCS. A birder (you can tell by the scope) asks if I can contact law enforcement because there' s a sailboat aground on the beach near Lot 5 (or was it 3, I'm forgetting already). Nope. I don't have the radio with me. Unit 3 is right here... no wait... you'd better go to the gatehouse and tell them to get law enforcement. When Unit 3 and VCS volunteer come back I tell them about it. Unit 3 calls Unit 61 and gets him on the case. And I really have to leave.

I did not see the report from yesterday's survey so I don't have updated chick numbers.

I don't know what happened with the sailboat, but I would imagine that the Coast Guard would be somewhat more useful in this situation than refuge law enforcement.

Now I really really really gotta go pick up Nancy.

wonderful piping plover photos on Flickr

Check out the piping plover series by William Dalton. They're awesome.