Friday, November 6, 2009

a bridge in Vermont

Here and Now today had a story on the economic impact of the closure of the Champlain Bridge between Vermont and New York so I thought I'd post a picture of the bridge. I took this in October of 2006 when we went to Addison to see the snow geese.

If you haven't made the Addison snow geese pilgrimage, you're really missing something. Thousands of snow geese congregate in a field in Addison that acts as a staging area for the migration. When they rise up to move to another area you get the feeling you are just totally in among them.

Also, the Addison fire department puts on the best pancake breakfast ever. You have not had blueberry pancakes if you haven't had them on a cold Vermont morning served to you by firemen.

Across the bridge in New York we visited several apple orchards and found the best jam ever.

Other pictures from the trip are here.

I hope the bridge gets repaired and reopens soon.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

first snow bunting of winter

OK, so we've already had the first snowfall and the second snowfall last week but it just isn't winter until I see the first snow bunting.

So, we were down at Colt State Park in Bristol, RI looking at the newly arrived brant -- hundreds of brant traditionally winter there -- and I spotted this lone snow bunting on the edge of the grass by the rocks.

Other signs of winter were dark-eyed juncos and, of course, the brant.

A single laughing gull in with a flock of herring gulls and ring-billed gulls kept its distance from the herring gulls but didn't seem as intimidated by people.

Friday, October 23, 2009

stuff in the Merrimack (imaginary)

Apparently the Merrimack River has its very own monster, Merry Mac. That counts as "stuff in the Merrimack" even if imaginary. One of the giant shoe sculptures up for auction in Haverhill depicts said monster. It would be really cool if the high bidder managed to keep it in the Merrimack Valley.

Check it out:

Giant Haverhill shoe statues go up for auction -, North Andover, MA

Posted using ShareThis

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Rachel Carson Connection

I tweeted earlier today about the article in's The Green Blog about Rachel Carson's Massachusetts ties. I was surprised to read that Carson's connection to Massachusetts and in particular to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island is not widely known in the Boston Globe's archives and among the people the author talked to. I thought that after USFWS made a big to-do of Carson's 100th birthday in 2007 more people outside of the refuge staff and volunteers were aware of it. I guess not, so I figured I'd blog a little about it.

Rachel Carson visited the Parker River refuge in September 1946. It was still fairly new as part of the National Wildlife Refuge system, having been established in 1942. She surveyed the bird life there and wrote about the refuge. In her Parker River entry in the Conservation in Action series, Carson described the refuge as "New England's most important contribution to the national effort to save the waterfowl of North America."

On reading it, the most interesting thing to me is the extent to which refuge management practices have changed and the changes in the situations of American black duck and Canada goose. Her description of the road as tortuous and often impassable is still pretty accurate. I've had other volunteers tell me I was abusing my car by driving it south of Hellcat after a rain storm. She also mentions the road sometimes being flooded at high tide. I've only seen that once in my life, but it was pretty impressive. The dunes have built up a lot since then.

The other thing I got a kick out of in the pamphlet is the detail that at that time (1946) Essex County had records of 357 different species. To make it clear how impressive that is, she cites Cape May: "To give some meaning to this figure, consider one of the best known birding grounds in eastern United States, Cape May County in New Jersey, where the record is 318." I know I should know what the current total species count is, but I don't. All the refuge materials just say "more than 300 species". Must remember to ask Tom Wetmore, the knower of all Plum Island bird data.

Note: The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge pamphlet in the Conservation in Action series seems to have vanished from the USFWS Rachel Carson page but it is available at DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska.

The Green Blog talks about an upcoming new biography by called Days of the World, Years of the World: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson(working title) in the works for the 50th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring. There have been so many Rachel Carson biographies over the years and at least some of them have mentioned PRNWR. No, I have not read all of them. However, I remember reading The Gentle Subversive by Mark Lytle back in 2007 when it came out and very much enjoying the narrative style of biography. It made me see Rachel Carson as a person not just an icon. Way back in time I remember going to an environmental writers conference at the New England Aquarium and hearing Linda Lear who was either working on or had just finished (I forget, it was in the late 1990s) Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature.

I think both the Linda Lear biography and the Mark Lytle biography quote a letter in which she mentions "Audubonites" along with mud and sand as features of a strenuous day at Parker River NWR. I'm sure even back then birders stopped dead in the middle of the S-curves. :-) According to the letter quoted, she felt "sunburned, black and blue, mosquito-bitten, and weary" at the end of each day there. You can tell she visited in September and not July by one thing missing from her list: greenheads. I wonder what she would have said about them.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

dark eyed juncos have arrived

Coffee of the Day: George Howell Select Espresso Sorrento blend (I bought a pound)
Bird of the Day: dark eyed junco
Strange Wrack Item of the Day: saltmarsh hay that has a beak

So it's the last day of my vacation and the familia loca doesn't need me for anything and the Ex-Pat is on his way back to Dubai. Must be time for a walk on the beach.

It's impossible to go anywhere on the refuge today without seeing dark eyed juncos. They have arrived en masse. Hundreds of them. They even outnumbered yellow-rumped warblers. This is a sure sign that the season has changed. Betcha we have the first frost tonight.

Of course, they were too busy flying around in search of food to pose for me except for these two guys who were willing to pose as long as the background was the same color that they are.

There were plenty of common eiders around too, but not nearly as many as juncos. The male eiders were looking very funky and alternative in their non-breeding plumage.

From a distance, I saw this thing that looked like a gull resting on the beach. I thought it might be injured and went to have a look. Silly me. It's just saltmarsh hay with a beak.

Did that occur naturally or is it art?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

the wrack is peeping!

Coffee of the Day: George Howell Select Espresso Sorrento blend (brewed and consumed at home, not on the beach)
Bird of the Day: Western Sandpiper
Wrack Item of the Day: Peeps! (the shore bird kind, not the marshmallow kind I famously mailed to Bosnia)

Needing to burn off some adrenaline from Red Sox playoff tension, moving Mom stress, Gray Cubicle stress and so on, I went for a walk on the beach. I parked at lot 6 and encountered yellow-rumped warblers all over the place -- in the bushes, in the trees, on the ground, under the boardwalk... I'm used to having brown thrashers or mourning doves fly up from under my feet but this is the first time I've experienced that with a yellowrump.

From Lot 6 I started walking south toward Sandy Point. Just past the no-driving-past-here sign, I spotted three semipalmated plovers foraging in the wrack.I sat down on a log to watch them and try to take some pictures without disrupting their all-important fueling up for the rest of the migration. One of 'em, I swear was posing for me. It kept doing all the cool plover postures right where I could get the best view. :-)
I'm soaking in the wind and the surf and the sun when the wrack starts peeping all around me. Seriously, the peeping is coming from the wrack. Holy shorebirds! I'm surrounded on all sides by peeps hunkered down in the wrack! At first they seem to be mostly semipalmated plovers, at least 15 of them at first count.
But, see those rocks in the wrack? Not rocks. Sleeping peeps.
There's a shorebird ID workshop breaking out in the wrack! BTW, note this is literally wrack -- you can see it's mostly bladder wrack.

The sandpipers were mostly hunkered down with bills tucked into their feathers while the plovers moved around almost manically.

A small group of semipalmated plovers and semipalmated sandpipers started walking up toward the dunes. As I watched them, a sanderling joined them and then passed the crowd as if it were a race. Hmm,, a bike race, the tour de plage, with semipalmated peloton and sanderling breaking away?

The best surprise of all was a Western Sandpiper, which popped out of the wrack, stretched its wings and showed me its distinctive slimmer slightly down curving bill as if to say "Hey. look at me, I'm not one of these ordinary peeps!"

I lost count at 30 of the semipalmated plovers, about 8 to 10 semipalmated sandpipers, 4 sanderlings, and either 1 or 2 western sandpipers (might have counted the same one twice as they and I moved down the beach).

It was a low total species count kind of day overall, with the aforementioned yellow-rumped warblers and peeps plus a lot of double-crested cormorants, two snowy egrets, 1 great egret, and two turkey vultures. But who cares about the list when the wrack is peeping all around you?

Monday, September 28, 2009

but where are the gulls?

What a weekend! What a study in contrasts! Saturday was one of those clear blue days that people move to New England for. Sunday it was one of those days when it rains sideways and you shiver in your wet sweatshirt wondering why you came.

We timed our arrival on Saturday to see Sharks Come Cruisin' at 1:00. They commented on
how lucky they were to have such great weather this year after playing the rain last year.
They even mentioned last year's rain in a song. They rocked! Then it was over to the dining tent for some lunch.

sharks come cruisin
Sharks Come Cruisin'

We got back to the main tent in time to catch some of "Something Fishy", which was Jon Campbell, Dave Densmore, Jim McGrath, and Bob Quinn all on the same stage. We were so taken with Bob Quinn, whom we'd never heard before, that we caught his next recitation at the narrative tent. He's an excellent storyteller and has that cool Maine accent. He reads his Uncle Bonney's poems and tells his own stories of life on Eagle Island. When he was about to read a poem about gulls, he commented on the lack of gulls around today (Saturday).

bob quinn
Bob Quinn

The theme of the festival this year is farming and fishing so they had a surf and turf poetry pairing of David Densmore, fisherpoet, and Joel Nelson, cowboy poet. Both poets left me wanting more.

Dave Densmore and Joel Nelson (Joel is the one in the Texas hat)

Sunday was a whole 'nother thing. I ended up, after much discussion and indecision, going alone. I really wanted to hear more of Joel Nelson, which I did, and Sunday was also my only chance to hear the Ana Vinagre Ensemble. I need my dose of fado. What can I say? Ana Vinagre was well worth the trek across the pedestrian bridge while trying to keep my umbrella from flying onto the highway. Ana Vinagre commented on the scarcity of gulls today (Sunday). Actually, she said gaviota -- I guess the Portuguese word for gull is the same as the Spanish word.

The "Of Land and Sea" session again combined "surf and turf" with Joel Nelson, Bob Quinn, Good Old Plough, and Dave Densmore along with The Johnson Girls. One highlight for me was when Dave Densmore read a poem about being stuck in boat with engine trouble with his teacher, who managed to lose the oars, while his Dad tried to get the outboard working. Bob Quinn played off that with a story about trying to get an engine started and accidentally blowing it up. Another highlight was a luminous Joel Nelson poem about finding an arrowhead. So I met my goal of getting my dose of fado and hearing more of Joel Nelson.

Ana Vinagre and Jon Campbell, Two Icons of the Southeastern Mass./Rhode Island Scene

So where were the gulls? They were scarce on both Saturday and Sunday as both Bob Quinn and Ana Vinagre commented. I guess the wind must have driven them inland. Maybe it should have driven me inland (just kidding). I think I saw two herring gulls and one great black back the entire weekend. Normally, the New Bedford waterfront is dominated by gulls. They are everywhere. When you look down from the parking garage onto the roofs of buildings you see lots and lots of shell fragments dropped there in the process of gulls cracking open quahogs, mussels, and whatever all else shellfish they scrounge up. The roofs of New Bedford look like it snowed shell fragments. It snows shells and rains gull feathers.

Feathers and Shell Fragments

On the way back to the garage I tried to take a few pictures of New Bedford in the rain while trying not to lose my umbrella. There were gull feathers and shell fragments in every gutter and gully.

More Feathers

Rainy New Bedford

My Umbrella Landed Next to a Happy Face

Friday, September 25, 2009

ya just gotta love google

Sometimes Google's idea of relevant ads cracks me up. I recently searched on "piping plover" in Google News and got plenty of relevant hits but the ads, well, go figure:

What did I expect? I ran the Google Adwords keyword tool on this blog and it recommended deep sea fishing. OK, so I do mention fish and fishing but it's surf fishing and the entries that mention fish often even explicitly use the word surfcasting. Maybe it's all the mentions of bait...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

haystacks, hay staddles, history

Making history with hay; Haystack building demo a nod to Newbury's past -, Newburyport, MA

Posted using ShareThis

Strange how what used to be work is now a weekend's amusement. At least they're preserving the history. Maybe now people will spell hay staddle correctly despite Microsoft's spellchecker's insistence that there's no such word. They should have an exhibit of Martin Johnson Heade paintings to coincide with this.

yet more "stuff in the Merrimack" Nashua fisherman hooks what he believes was a 6-foot gator

Posted using ShareThis

Now that's a fish story! The "one that got away" writ large! This veers into urban legend territory. On the other hand, I suppose it's no less believable than an SUV with the keys still in it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

different view

I thought I was way late posting about the parachute jump thing on the beach but not as late as 2B2 Flyby who just got around to it in his catch-up post. The view from the airport sure was different from my view from the beach. At least he got a picture of one of the jumpers. I was too busy trying to figure out whether they were about to land on the refuge, had already landed on the refuge, or otherwise fall afoul of federal law. Next year I am definitely joining them for breakfast at the airport before I watch them fall from the sky.

Monday, September 14, 2009

place name

Interesting that Google Maps shows the name of the state part at the southern tip of Plum Island as Plum Island State Park when the actual name of the park is Sandy Point State Reservation according to Mass. DCR, which runs the Massachusetts state park system. Also interesting that Wikipedia, of which I am usually a little skeptical, gets the name right.

As far as I can tell, Google Maps is the source of the mistake. That is, the other incorrect references seem to refer back to Google Maps. So, has somebody at Google renamed a Massachusetts state park base on what strings people search for rather than what the place is actually named? Fascinating.

yet more stuff in the merrimack

Latest stuff found in the Merrimack River: stinking, rotting whale flesh.

See this archival Plover Warden Diaries entry for why I hope they have learned their lesson about where to bury stinking, rotting whale flesh.

And finally, I'm not sure if you can count a whole town as stuff in the river, but the Nashua Telegraph has a great archival picture of the town of Litchfield, NH inundated by the Merrimack in 1936.

Fear not, dear readers, I will resume posting about coffee and gulls and shorebirds as soon as my day job and family activities allow me a little time to breathe (and smell the coffee).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

more stuff in the river

The latest stuff pulled out of the Merrimack River:
Getting way tired of piping plover recipes in the comments section of every news article that so much as mentions the invisi-bird in passing. Especially tired of a certain Newburyport paper's sloppy reporting. If you're going to misquote a state agency, at least get the name of the agency right.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

stuff in the Merrimack

Thank goodness not everything that gets washed, dumped, or driven into the Merrimack River ends up on the beach at Plum Island. In addition to the usual tires, shopping carts, and of course the bodies of people killed in boating accidents, some interesting things have been pulled from the river lately:
Particularly fascinating is the 2007 BMW SUV with the keys still in it. Can you say "insurance fraud" boys and girls? I knew you could.


[Edited to update link to stolen car article.]

Monday, August 31, 2009


Seems like this year we waited forever for summer to arrive and now that it's finally come it's suddenly fall. Swallows are massing by the thousands. Flocks of peeps are on the move. Beach plums are ripening. Monarch butterflies are flying around the refuge too.

Late Sunday afternoon, I spent some time on Plum Island. Not really birding, just kind of paying attention to the birds. I sat at the Pines Trail overlook listening to the layers of cricket songs and experiencing the swallows swirling around me as if I were just part of the air like they are. They came close enough that I could pick out two bank swallows and a barn swallow among the thousands of tree swallows.

I took a walk on the beach and watched small mixed flocks of peeps streaming by, some stopping to feed at the water line and some continuing 0n past the rocks and down to Sandy Point. There were tons of semipalmated and least sandpipers, some sanderlings, two semipalmated plovers and one piping plover. Lots of people there too. Kayakers and boogie boarders and skim boarders and surfers. Two people were flying kites, which spooked the peeps.

Ring billed gulls, herring gulls, and one great black back were all roosting in the wrack molting. Whenever one would take off, I'd notice a little pile of feathers in the depression in the seaweed where they'd been. BTW, in this case I mean "wrack" literally -- a lot of the seaweed was bladder wrack. Most of the gulls were ringbills.

Double crested cormorants were on the move too, but in smaller flocks than the peeps.

Didn't see the Baird's or the Buff-breasted sandpipers that were reported, but I really wasn't looking. I was just enjoying seeing, hearing, and feeling fall happening all around me.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

News roundup

Shorebird migration is on:

Migrating shorebirds highlight area birding -, Newburyport, MA

Posted using ShareThis

The new eel tank exhibit opened at the refuge headquarters. I haven't seen it yet. I plan to soon. I love eels. The American eel is a fascinating creature.

Live eel exhibit opens at the refuge.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

house finches

Two members of a flock of five house finches that landed next to my brother's deck when were celebrating Mom's birthday at Salisbury Beach on 8/16.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

catch-up #3: Lowell Folk Festival (July 26)

Still upriver in Lowell. Must get St. George's Orthodox Church recipe for loubiyeh. Also discovered awesome collard greens and cornbread and good ice cream and other great food without even venturing over to the Portuguese War Veterans booth for the fava beans. Both Nancy and I have been chasing the best favas of Portuguese festas throughout southeastern New England this summer but we're too full of other fabulous ethnic foods to chase them today.

Genticorum from Quebec (July 26)

Kid in a tree listening to Alash (July 26)

Niamh Ní Charra on Concertina (July 26)

Here we are, still upriver in Lowell. Sky getting very dark. Wind changing. Predicted thunderstorms approaching. Off to the John Street garage before the heavens open up. Sure enough, we watch the deluge start as we ride the glass fronted elevator to the top of the garage. I guess that's all the music for us today. Simply must get St. George's Orthodox Church recipe for loubiyeh.

catch-up #2: Lowell Folk Festival (July 25)

The Town is Galloway. The Merrimac River, broad and placid, flows down to it from the New Hampshire Hills, foaming on over ancient stones towards a place where the river suddenly swings about in a wide and peaceful basin, moving on now around the flank of the town, on to places known as Lawrence and Haverhill, through a wooded valley, and on to the sea at Plum Island, where the river enters an infinity of waters and is gone.

-- from The Town and the City
by Jack Kerouac.

The Lowell Folk Festival doesn't involve birds and doesn't take place on the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (otherwise it would be called the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Folk Festival) but heck, it's time for this blog to venture off-island a little and embrace summer in Massachusetts in ALL its glory. So, let's float our ice floe upriver and take in some music.

Dunno whether plastic penguins like loubiyeh, but we do, and St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church's booth at the Lowell Folk Festival has the best anywhere. Lucky for us, the booth is right near the Boardinghouse Park stage, where most of the artists we want to hear are appearing tonight.

The red brick city on the Merrimack is beautiful as the light changes in the evening.

DL Menard is rocking Boardinghouse Park when we arrive and we're digging it. Then as we await the parade of the Glen David Andrews Band, we enjoy our loubiyeh, rice, falafel, etc. Niamh Ní Charra (Irish) is up next and all I can say is she is g*d's gift to both fiddle and concertina and for that matter to electrical engineering. As soon as her set is done, I race to the merch tent for her album and tell her she is a credit to electrical engineers. We chat a bit about the Irish high-tech scene (from my past life), but others need autographs too. Next up is Dr. Michael White & the Original Liberty Jazz Band (Traditional New Orleans jazz) who are also fantastic. The evening ends with Trudy Lynn (blues and soul) from Texas. Quite a night.

Niamh Ní Charra and her band at Boardinghouse Park: July 25

catch-up #1: the parallax view (Saturday July 25)

Gull and Cormorant: July 25

Coffee of the Day: French Roast Colombian. 2 weeks in a row? I must not be the only Saturday customer who likes it.
Bird of the Day: homo skydiverus -- skydiving humans with big parachutes
Invisi-bird Status: Still no new update in the box. Last one was from 6/18. Number seen by me: zero. Though I did hear tell that they are gathering at Sandy Point prior to departure.
Strange Wrack Item of the Day: skydiver's boot falling from the sky. Does it count as wrack if it came from the sky and not the ocean?

It's a gorgeous day, complete with a pleasant breeze to keep the greenheads down. This is arguably the best day of the summer so far. Bird action is fairly light. No masses of gulls roosting just far enough away to be unidentifiable. No invisi-birds. Not even the usual bait-stealing common grackle. Too bad for that bait-loving grackle because there are plenty of surf fishing people.

Cormorant: July 25

There's some kind of parachuting event going on today. They did this last year too, I remember. Unit 61 radios me to keep an eye on where the parachuters land -- that is, that they DO NOT land on the refuge. There's a clearly marked landing area on the town beach with big flags to show the wind direction.

The beach has kind of a steep drop-off between where I setup and the low tide line. I'm standing down on the wet sand talking to a woman who is learning to surfcast and keeps wandering into the closed area after her errant casts, so I'm below the drop-off/berm/whatever. Parachuters come swooping in over the closed area then over my head and onward to the designated landing area. A guy with an orange and yellow striped chute is way off course and comes pretty low over the refuge. It's gonna be close. From where I'm standing I can't really tell whether he made it to the landing area but it looks like he just made it past the refuge boundary. Unit 61 radios me asking if the orange and yellow striped guy landed on the refuge. I tell him I think he made it past the sign. Later I suddenly remember my high school physics lesson on parallax.

61 is on the trail of where the guy landed. Meanwhile, a couple parachuting in tandem swoops over, one holding on to the feet of the other. They evidently aren't too expert at it because one of the guy's boots falls off. Fortunately, it didn't brain any beachgoers. Equally fortunately, the tandem jumpers landed safely and not on the refuge. The woman who was learning to surfcast kept asking "Did you see that?" "Yeah. Weirdest thing on the beach today by far."

I caught up with 61, who had found the landing print of the orange and yellow striped guy and found a witness who saw where he landed from a better angle than I did. Ticket time for that guy. Later it turns out he's the same guy who landed in the water last year. I guess he needs more practice.

After my shift was over, I had lunch at Plum Crazy and regaled the waitress with tales of the boot falling from the sky. She said her boyfriend wanted her to try tandem skydiving but now she was having second thoughts.

Instead of heading right back into town after lunch, I drove up to the northern tip of the island to see if I could get a good view of the tall ships anchored off Salisbury Beach for the Sand and Sea Festival. There were three of them, of which I got a nice view of two.

Tall Ships at Salisbury Beach: July 25

As if that weren't enough for one day, I stop off at the airport on the way back into town and watch a couple of vintage planes landing. The skydiving people are having a cookout and I am tempted to sneak some corn on the cob, but I don't.

Back in town I stimulate the economy with a huge pile of books at Jabberwocky, including the new Donald Kroodsma book and Bernd Heinrich's book about summer. When I will find time to read them, I do not know as I am off to the Lowell Folk Festival tonight for the rest of the weekend.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Every once in awhile I'll talk to a refuge visitor from out of state or out of town who tells me "I'm staying at the hotel." There's only one hotel on the island so I know they mean Blue. Now Blue has been named one of America's top seaside inns in the July issue of Travel and Leisure. I love how the write-up starts out with "Unlike Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, this 11-mile-long barrier isle off the state’s North Shore has remained relatively undiscovered." Undiscovered by Travel and Leisure readers maybe, but definitely very much discovered by birders and striper fishermen. Birders come from all over to add to their lists during spring and fall migration.


PI may not be "destination birding" the way Cape May or Point Pele or some of the other famous spots but it's up there. I've run into birders from the UK who came specifically for shorebirds during the fall migration. And when there's a rarity like a black-tailed godwit or a fork-tailed flycatcher, the traffic jams on the refuge's one road are legendary. That's why I laughed my ... off when I read in Mark Obmascik's The Big Year that when one of the competitors comes to tick off the fork-tailed flycatcher at Parker River NWR the cars lined up at the gatehouse are there for the "white sand beaches" and not for the fork-tailed flycatcher. As I wrote in my 2004 book list back when I read it: PI does not have white sand and those traffic jams at the gatehouse during the fork-tailed flycatcher's visit that year were definitely people who came to see the bird."


And if PI is not "destination birding" it is certainly "destination fishing". Yesterday when I was watching the "kids fishing day" activity, I remembered visiting Plum Island in the 1950s and dodging around the poles and lines of surfcasters. My childhood memories of the island are very hazy because I was very young and we didn't stay there -- just drove up from Boston to visit my uncle who rented one of the funky little cottages and fished there. I mainly remember being car sick and thinking this island was impossibly far from Boston. It's not. It only seemed that way.

I bought a DVD of Reel People, a documentary about the fishermen of Plum Island, at Surfland to give to my brother Bob The Ex-Pat for his upcoming birthday. I had to watch it first, of course. It was totally worth it to see Unit 61 talking about the biggest fish he ever caught. Yes, everything comes back to life on the refuge. 61's 15 minutes of fame rocks. My other favorite part is about the scientist tagging schoolies in Plum Island Sound. Just after I watched the movie, I read an article in the Daily News of Newburyport about the research.. (Mass Audubon has an article about the acoustic tagging of schoolies project in Sanctuary.)


So now that Plum Island has been discovered by the quaint seaside inn Travel and Leisure crowd, I can only wonder where they're all gonna park.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

foggy fishing

Coffee of the Day: French Roast Colombian. Mmm, mmm, good.
Bird of the Day: ring-billed gull
Invisi-bird Status: Still no new update in the box. Last one was from 6/18. Unit 3 reported that there was one from 6/26 at the Visitor Center. That's the one quoted in the Daily News article . Number actually seen by me = zero. I think the northernmost pair have moved on.
Strange Wrack Item of the Day: part of a boat name plate with a Mass. Vessel registration sticker on it.

There was another kids' fishing event today, this one at the north end of the refuge. It seemed like a much smaller event than the last one. Poles and bait were ready when the kiddos arrived. The weather was not so welcoming. The fog was so thick you'd a thought the world ended a hundred yards south of the 0.1 mile marker and a few yards north of the island "center". Somebody commented that it was too bad the kids didn't have nicer weather for learning to fish. I pointed out that this is realistic fishing weather.

Besides the fog, there was a steady breeze. That kept both birds and greenheads down. Almost nothing was flying except least terns and common terns. Vast numbers of gulls roosted in the sand just south of me. Most of them looked like they were asleep. When the fog lifted a tiny bit, I was able to distinguish the mix of species in the roost -- mainly herring gulls and ring-billed gulls but also a few Bonaparte's and laughing gulls, all ruled over by a few great black backs, the burgomeister gull.

Most of the ring-billed gulls were in various stages of molt or of immature plumages but a trio of them who landed basically at my feet had the most perfect pristine plumage (say that three times fast) I have ever seen. Bright white. Crisp blacks and grays. Seriously, they looked like they were specially imported for a ring-billed gull photo shoot. Beautiful birds.

While I was gathering driftwood to extend my stick fence down to the water as the tide went out, I noticed something strange in the wrack. It was a white plastic rectangle that looked like it had broken off from a much longer piece of plastic. On it was the letter U in black and an orange Mass. Vessel registration sticker. I picked it up and handed it in to the Gatehouse on my way out just in case it had anything to do with the boat that crashed into the jetty.

There were very few visitors today. I only had to intercept 3 people. Two of them were together and actually wanted to hear what I had to say and were impressed by the effort to protect the plovers. The other one was grumpy but compliant. The fog kept the visitors in line I guess.

Then it was off to lunch at the Fish Tale. No fish tales were being told at the counter but the food was great.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

updated numbers

So, as I mentioned, the latest update in the lockbox at the gatehouse where we go to pick up our radios is from 6/18. However, the intrepid reporter from The Daily News of Newburyport not only talked to biological staff but found an update posted at headquarters from 6/26. I don't think the article counts the pairs at Sandy Point, just the refuge.

Whaling Museum blog

Whaling Museum blog

Shared via AddThis

Monday, July 13, 2009

saturday's shift

Coffee of the Day: French Roast Sumatra. Earthy and full-bodied. Very tasty.
Bird of the Day: eastern kingbird.
Invisi-bird status: No update in the lockbox since 6/18. Number actually seen by me: zero. I neither saw nor heard nor even heard tell of the northernmost pair, who I thought based on behavior had re-nested. Oh well.

Saturday turned out to be a beautiful summer day, something in short supply 'round these parts nowadays. I met Unit 61 in Lot 1 as he was coming off the beach and I was heading onto the beach. He was amazed there were only three people there. I told him it would be jam-packed by 11:00 AM. I was about an hour off. The beach was jammed and the parking lots all full by 10:00.

Few people were fishing, none of them catching anything. Some folks were having a kid's birthday party with lots of families. They gave me a bagel and a birthday cupcake. That went well with my French Roast Sumatra and my lemon ginger scone.

I wore a path to the water line chasing kids and adults out of the closed area. Amazing numbers of people did not know about the beach closure. I contacted at least 25 people of all ages and attitudes. The piece de resistence was a jogger who boldly jogged into the closed area even after he saw me coming toward him. When I told him the beach is closed, he said "I'm not swimming, I'm running." He repeated the "I'm not swimming" response when I tried again. I finally said "The sand is closed too." He wasn't interested in anything I had to say but he did turn back once he realized I was going to get backup if he didn't leave. After he was gone I muttered to myself, within earshot of a couple of other beach goers "I hope the red tide eats him." Realizing I said it out loud and it was stupid, I laughed and added "Well, technically he'd have to eat the red tide for it to affect him I guess."

Bird activity was very very slow. The wind was keeping everybody down except a few least and common terns and some very low flying tree swallows. The wind picked up a little as the morning went on and lots of leaves, pieces of straw, and trash was blowing around. A white gull feather blew past me and two eastern kingbirds swooped on it from different directions apparently both under the misapprehension that it was a flying insect of some kind. One of them caught but dropped it. They started skirmishing with each other and forgot all about the feather, which probably wasn't edible anyway.

The parking lots were all full and there was a line of cars waiting to enter the refuge by the time I left. On the way out I suggested to 61 that they start a lemonade stand.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


What's the rarest bird you've ever seen?

The question has been on my mind since I read the July 8 Boston Globe article on how birding brings couples together. It's evidently been on other minds since then too, because Steve Grinley's Words on Birds column in the Daily News of Newburyport yesterday tackles the rarity question. Steve picks it up from the same angle that's been bugging me: Is it rare in the whole world? North America? Massachusetts? Merrimack River Plastic Penguins aside, a King Penguin would be alarmingly rare in Massachusetts but common on South Georgia. So what is is rare?

Rarity is relative. I guess that doesn't take away from the question's usefulness as a pickup line. After all, I might prefer someone who answered "rare relative to what?" than "orange-breasted falcon" whereas Peter Alden (see Globe story mentioned above) clearly prefers the orange-breasted falcon answer. I wish the story mentioned where the attractive woman had seen the orange-breasted falcon. If it was at Great Meadows, that would be rare indeed.

So what's the rarest bird I've seen? In the world? I'm still not sure. How many great bustards are left in the world? The European population of the Great Bustard is estimated to be between 35,600 and 38,500. The species is regarded as being in decline, maybe doomed. But that's practically a common bird compared to the piping plover, which numbers very roughly around 3190 in the Atlantic Coast population. I'm not counting the inland PIPL population because I don't have numbers at my finger tips but I'm sure even if you added that in the total would still be in the thousands, not the tens of thousands. I saw the Western Reef Heron when it showed up in Portsmouth, NH a couple years ago and it was only the 3rd North American record. How many Western Reef Herons are in the world? What about all the endemic finch species I saw in the Galapagos? Is one of them my rarest bird?

I could spend all day and most of next week researching the population statistics of every bird I have ever seen and their relative rarity in their own habatits and still not have a really good answer. All I know is how my heart soared out on the Hungarian puszta when I saw my first Great Bustard and how privileged I feel whenever I see a piping plover on the beach at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge during a Saturday plover warden shift.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Volunteer Opportunity at Parker River

A Volunteer Opportunity is available at
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge!

Position Description:

Parker River NWR offers free interpretive programs to the public (primarily but not limited to children ages 3-15) covering a large variety of subjects relative to the local ecosystem and its inhabitants. We also offer several environmental education programs to schools and other organizations in the area at no charge. We are currently trying to expand our program and want your help. As a volunteer you would begin by aiding our rangers in leading these groups and then progress on to running some independently! This is a great opportunity to become more knowledgeable about your local ecosystem and help the community. All training is free and extensive. Those volunteers with more experience will be encouraged to help develop curriculum for and run future programs. No commitment is too small so please help us develop and grow this community-enriching program!

Preferred Volunteer Qualities:

- Experience working with people.
- Enthusiasm and a passion for the environment
- Good communication skills
- Flexibility
- Any knowledge of natural science or our local ecosystems a plus

To express interest or request more information, please contact:

Mary Carpenter
Park Ranger – Visitor Services Specialist
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
Or e-mail us at
Please put “Volunteer Opportunity” in the subject line.

Friday, July 3, 2009

bird baths in the road and other anomalies

Coffee of the Day: Kenya AA. Nice deep flavor.
Bird of the Day: unidentified species of plastic penguin.
Invisi-bird Status: no update posted in the box since 6/18. Number actually seen by me: zero.
Strange wrack item of the day: tie between television and roses.

Everything is topsy turvy today: It's Friday and I'm South. Penguins are floating down the Merrimack on an ice floe and there's a television in the wrack. Strange daze indeed.

The south boundary is just north of Lot 7 right now. Despite the outdated note in the lockbox saying that Lot 7 was not open and plover wardens should hoof it from the Sandy Point lot, I ascertained that Lot 7 was indeed open and the reserved plover warden spot was there. And it's not raining, though when I arrived it was very very dark. It lightened later when the sun peeked through the clouds looking blindingly white and strange. After awhile we even got blue sky.

The first thing I saw when I got to the beach was a big old Magnavox television. I walked over and looked at it, shaking my head in bewilderment. Many people who arrived via the Lot 7 boardwalk had the same reaction. I can barely imagine where that washed up from.

There's not much bird activity and not much human activity for most of the morning. Human activity picked up as the tide was going out and I found myself wearing a trail to the water line to intercept people who didn't see the sign. I kept moving my chair closer to the water line but that left a gap behind me, so I just kept walking back and forth. Most of the visitors were nice and cooperative. One family even came over to ask what piping plovers look like, where they nest, etc., so I got to do my schtick. One couple in full hiking gear came barreling towards the boundary and were very surprised when I told them the beach was closed for nesting. They were quite disappointed. I'd been pointing other people looking for a long walk toward Sandy Point and told them about the trail that goes up over Bar Head but these two were not interested. They wanted to know where else they could hike on the beach and all I could suggest was to hike north from Lot 1 -- not exactly a wilderness hike.

Bird activity stayed pretty quiet on the beach. There were a few eastern kingbirds catching flies in the wrack and a couple of Bonaparte's gulls. That was about it except for some very distant sanderlings and cormorants.

Shortly before the end of my shift, I was so frustrated with the lack of rope and signage that I commenced building a Steve Mangione style stick fence. As I walked along the wrack line looking for suitable sticks I started to find white roses in the wrack. I started to wonder if they had been part of some kind of memorial service for the missing boater from the latest north jetty tragedy. I don't know. I suppose there could be lots of reasons people throw cultivated white roses into the sea or the Merrimack. As I'm writing this, I just checked the Daily News again and discovered that there's an update on the story now that the boat has been recovered.

Enough digression about the jetty of death. Back to birds.

The most interesting bird activity of the day was all on the drive back to the Gatehouse from Lot 7. The dirt road is full of puddles. Each puddle seemed to be functioning as a bird bath, with a different species in each puddle: gray catbird, eastern kingbird, brown thrasher, common grackle, American goldfinch, American robin, several species of sparrow. All in the middle of the road. Oh, and suicidal mourning doves too -- although they didn't seem to be bathing, just hanging out in the middle of the road. It was quite a show. Needless to say it took me a long time to get back to the Gatehouse.

On the way back into town, I stopped to photograph the penguins who have been hanging out on an ice floe in the Merrimack. Earlier this morning, the ice floe was visible and they were not so deep in the grass. They kind of remind me of when I visited the Falklands and saw penguins marching across a grassy slope down to the water. Except of course, these rare Merrimack River penguins are made of plastic.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

science journalism 101

This story from the Scituate section of shows how little people know about the piping plover -- even the people who are supposed to be protecting them. In general, piping plovers nest on the beach, not in the dunes. The preferred nesting habitat is between the wrack line and foredune near dunes that are sparsely vegetated. Putting symbolic fencing around the dunes without knowing where the nests are does little good. The places that have successfully hatched nests and fledged young put up the symbolic fencing around the nests, not just marking off some area where they hope they will nest.

This situation could be avoided: "If someone accidentally steps on a nest that is not between the makeshift fence and the dune because the birds have laid eggs outside the boundary, Jones shrugs and says so be it, although he slowly walks the beach trying to avoid nests and eggs."
If he's out there looking for nests, why can't he put the string fences around the nests?

Reporting like this perpetuates the dangerous (to the plovers) myth that piping plovers nest, live, and feed on the dunes. This leads to sad situations like what happened on Wells beach in Maine last year. A well-meaning rescuer placed a piping plover chick in the dune grass where it was unable to get food. It died.

I wish the Boston Globe could be a little more responsible in science journalism and get their facts straight. I wish someone could explain plover protection to the Scituate conservation people. How 'bout Mass Audubon lending a hand?

Sorry if I'm ranting. I get upset over stuff like this too easily.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

some fog in coastal areas

Coffee of the Day: Kenya AA. Very rich and smooth.
Bird of the Day: piping plover.
Invisi-bird Status: No update since last week. Number actually seen by me: 1. But I think I heard 2 (on the other hand, maybe bird #1 was ventriloquizing).

It was bright and sunny at my house this morning. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. I was puzzled by the forecast on the radio predicting pop-up showers and some fog in coastal areas. It was not until I got to Amesbury that I saw clouds. By Salisbury (the next town) I could see I was headed into a dark gray wall of clouds. As I crossed the Merrimack River on the drawbridge into Newburyport, I could barely see the boats in the harbor. On the beach I could barely see the fishermen at the water line from the boardwalk. Yup, we're having some fog.

Three willets flew over calling pill-will-willet as a I got out of the car. As I walked down the boardwalk to the beach I heard willets, purple martins, song sparrows, yellow warblers, least terns, wait a sec, they're all coming from the same bush. Least terns definitely do not hang out in bushes. Sure enough, there's a brown thrasher doing a marathon impression of just about every bird on the refuge.

The first bird I saw on the beach was one of my invisi-birds. A piping plover flew over my head and landed at the water line where it did its best impression of an insane windup toy turning in every direction. Whatever it was eating, there was plenty of it all over the place. I heard another peep-lo call that sounded like it was coming from just above the wrack line but I never saw the other bird. Eventually, my plover companion flew back to somewhere between the wrack line and the dune and quieted down. The wind had picked up something fierce and the fog was closing in.

There were a fair number of visitors despite the fog. The most common question was "when is the sun going to come out". Man, I wish I knew. The fog played tag with us -- starting to recede, then closing in with a vengeance. One guy said the last time he'd been on the island was 50 years ago. It's a lot different now. Then again, it's different from last week. The beach changes every day. Somebody asked about the whale remains that were uncovered a couple of summers ago. "Under the sand beneath your feet," I replied. Then I got to give my barrier island circulation of sand speech in addition to my piping plover life cycle speech.

One guy came striding down the beach from the north showing no signs of turning back at the boundary. I intercepted him and tried the "are there any questions I can answer for you?" approach first. No response. I switched to the "The beach is closed from here south." He stares thru me and asks "Why?". "Nesting piping plovers. They're endangered and they nest right on the beach." Fortunately, he headed back north. Strange encounter.

The radio functioned just fine for the whole shift and I handed it off to my relief. It's nice when the radios are fully charged.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

partly cloudy or partly sunny

Finally getting to posting about Saturday's shift...

Coffee of the Day: Costa Rica.
Bird of the Day: Tie between piping plover and roseate tern.
Invisi-bird Status: Update dated 6/18: 13 pairs, 10 nests, 5 nests hatched on refuge. Sandy Point: 6 pairs, 6 nests, 2 nests hatched. Number actually seen by me: 2.


I heard a piping plover calling peep-lo as I was walking onto the beach from the boardwalk at Lot 1. Spotted the caller immediately with the naked eye. Cool way to start the day.

The beach is surprisingly uncrowded given that it's not actively raining and the sun has even managed to peek out from behind the clouds for significant stretches of time. Had a discussion with a fisherman about whether the day is partly cloudy or partly sunny. Neither of us could figure out what the difference is. He's fishing with two of his sons. The youngest one seems to have found the sweet spot for flounders. He caught three of them, all keepers, during my shift. No stripers. No blues, though I've heard that the blues are running early this year at the mouth of the Merrimack.

So few visitors means I have plenty of time to watch the invisi-birds (when visible). Two of them seem to be alternating trips to the waterline to feed. One of them is doing the foot trembling thing, stirring up small intertidal creatures and grabbing them in its bill. Later on I watch a piping plover harassing and attacking a common grackle and then an eastern kingbird. They're all making quite a bit of noise. The plover is being very aggressive. I'm guessing there are eggs or young nearby. Later I hear from Unit 3 that the northernmost nest was predated. I tell her the behavior I've seen and theorize that this pair has re-nested. Either that or they just really hate other birds :-)

The common grackle with the funky tail feathers, whom I photographed a few weeks ago, has been hanging around where the boys are fishing for flounder. It sees an opportunity when the humans are focused on their tackle and it makes off with bait they left lying in the sand. Clam. Mackerel. Who knew grackles eat that stuff?

Least terns are fishing up a storm all in one spot. It's kinda near where the kid got his biggest flounder. Are baitfish fleeing from flounder? Common terns join them. And a Bonaparte's gull. A roseate tern lands on a lobster buoy conveniently close to some common terns for comparison. First roseate I've seen this year. The Bonaparte's gull is only my second one of the season. This one has the full black hood.

The battery was low when I picked up the radio and it's been dwindling ever since. Just before 11:00 I start wondering if it will last the shift. It starts chirping at me. Is that the "feed me" call of the radio? By roughly 11:15 it's dead. Oh well, I still have my cell phone. I mention it to Unit 3 when she's showing around two new plover warden recruits. She tells Gatehouse to give my relief a fresh radio.

Relief arrives without a radio. Back at the gatehouse I find out they're all dead and being charged. Life in the land of gulls and radios gets so complicated sometimes.

At the Fish Tale, no see 'ums are biting the tourists on the deck. I eat French Toast at the counter. Fun to have breakfast for lunch. Back to Plum Island Coffee Roasters for a pound of French Roast Sumatra so Nancy and I can sip fresh tasty coffee on Sunday morning. Then it's off to pick up laundry and Nancy and head to Lowell for the Portuguese feast (we are devotees of New England's Portuguese feasts).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

the bait is coming

Yesterday's shift continued:

Didn't spill my coffee. Saw at least one invisi-bird (picture above). Weather was perfect. All visitors were well-behaved. There were no dogs. Who could ask for anything more? OK, so maybe I could've asked for one of Tom Wetmore's roseate terns or Manx shearwaters but that would be sooooo gilding the lily... After an intense week of way too much to do in too little time at Gray Cubicle World, it felt great to be on the beach.

Once again, Kids Fishing Day, now called Go Fish!, sneaked up on me. Being North this time, my only contact with it was hearing the radio chatter going back and forth. Normally, the most common words heard on the PRNWR radios are "Sandy Point is full", next most common is probably "Lot 7 is full", and so on up the list of parking lots. However, today is the first time I have ever overheard the words "The bait is coming." Gotta have bait for kids fishing day. Gotta have poles, line, and a casting instructor too. I monitored the progress of these items on the radio while I kept my eye out for trespassers, dogs, intertidal yoga people, and the great New England BwTBC birding event. OK, so I wasn't really expecting the intertidal yoga people to reappear, especially with all the people fishing, but I just had to use that term again.

When the
BwTBC folks arrived I told Christopher (picusblog) about the kids fishing event and suggested heading south first. Sometime later,of course, I heard the famous words "Sandy Point is full" on the radio. Go fish. By the way nobody on the north beach was catching a thing.

Had a teachable moment with a little girl who kept trying to run into the closed area. I showed her a picture of a piping plover and explained how we need to take care of them. She got really interested. Her grandparents thanked me.

Met up with the BwTBC folks at Hellcat for a group photo. Hung with them for awhile and enjoyed fabulous up close and personal views of a savannah sparrow singing its little heart out at the North Pool overlook. By the time we reached the salt pannes (I spell it the traditional New England way), a wave of fatigue hit me. I blamed it on staying up late to watch the Red Sox beat Philly in 13 innings followed by getting up early and spending the morning on the beach talking about piping plovers but I think it had more to do with the cumulative fatigue of the past few weeks of Gray Cubicle World work. So, alas and alack, I gave up on the idea of accompanying them to NH for the Mississippi kites.

It was a treat to meet all these birders who tweet.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

short update

Coffee of the Day: Bolivian. Smooth & delicious.
Bird of the day: northern gannet.
Invisi-bird status: Pairs nesting on refuge 12 (per Unit 62). Number actually seen by me: 1. Another of the Sandy Point nests has hatched too.
Tweet-up: met up with the Birders who Blog Chirp and Tweet Field Trip organized by picusblog for part of their gathering. They were fun. Alas, I suddenly felt way too tired to continue on with them up to Newmarket, NH for the Mississippi kites.

Must go fetch clean clothes before laundry closes, else will be forced to wear rags to Gray Cubicle World (not its real name) for work on Monday. Fuller blog entry tomorrow.

Monday, June 1, 2009

some pics of chicks (not mine)

John Crookes posted a link to his photos of the Sandy Point piping plover chicks on the listserv. These are the first chicks of the season on Plum Island.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

least terns in the mist

Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Harrar.

Invisi-bird Status: 6 nests on refuge. 6 nests on Sandy Point. One of the nests on Sandy Point has hatched. Number seen by me: zero, although I did hear the peep-lo call coming from somewhere in the mists.

Bird of the Day: eastern kingbird.


Today started off overcast and foggy and a little cool. I packed a sweatshirt in case it was cold on the beach. Ended up not needing it. All morning as the tide was going out the sky was clearing from the west and the blue hazy mist was burning off. The mist really did look blue, especially in low lying spots on the beach. It gave a blue shimmer to the view in both directions.

Just to the south of me, I could make out flashes of white who turned out to be least terns flying around low over the beach between the wrack line and the dunes. There were at least 4, possibly 6. They would fly to the water and fish like crazy, then fly back to the same spot on the beach and circle around while calling. I didn't see any obvious mating or nesting activity, but it's a pretty good guess that they're up to something in that spot.

Mid morning, my first eastern kingbird of the season perched on a piece of driftwood behind me and made his presence known. After awhile two more eastern kingbirds arrived and the first one chased them off. They came back. They scuffled a bit and quieted down. A bit later I heard a big commotion of least terns and eastern kingbirds. The kingbirds had ventured into the least tern territory and the terns were having none of it. Eventually the kingbirds came back to their starting point and spread themselves out -- perched two on driftwood logs a fair distance apart and one on the mile marker. Guess the terns won.

The other exciting wildlife watching today was a couple of seals chowing down on several species of fish and seaweed. I saw one choke down a fair-sized skate. Interestingly, the seal was hanging out in a spot just where a couple of the fishing people were targeting with their surf casting.
The least terns were also visiting that spot a lot. Must be where the fish are. And it wasn't until the blue mist had almost entirely burned off (except on the area of beach where I kept hearing the piping plovers -- same low spot where I saw all those dunlin and other species last week) that I realized I had been watching two seals, one larger and grayer than the other, not one exceptionally fast-moving and hungry seal.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

grackles, and ants, and stripers, and shorebirds, oh my!

Saturday, May 23, AM shift

Coffee of the Day
: Bolivian. Piping hot. Nice.

Invisi-bird Status: 9 pairs, 6 nests on refuge. Possible 6 nests at Sandy Point (not sure on that). Number actually seen by me: 2.

Coast Guard Asset Sightings: 1 boat -- a long range interceptor I think.

Bird of the Day: tie between common grackle and dunlin.


The tide is coming in. It's cold. Fishermen are landing big stripers. The beach is covered with flying ants. Dozens of common grackles are vigorously pursuing the flying ants. There's often one or two common grackles on the beach but this is the first time I've seen such numbers. They are really chowing down on those ants.

Stripers are biting like crazy, many of them keepers. A woman who already has a 28 inch striper in her cooler reels in a 30 inch one. Another guy lands a keeper. More fisherpeople arrive. And whatever bait fish the stripers are chasing are now also attracting least terns. Two groups of 4 leasties each are fishing up a storm. These are the first least terns I've seen here this year. I hope we have a least tern colony this year. Proximity to nesting least terns actually increases the piping plovers' chances of successful nesting.

The least terns don't seem interested in the flying ants, but one of the grackles is interesed in the bait fish. I've seen purple martins catch fish before but this is the first time I've seen a common grackle with a fish. You see something new every day. Boy are there a lot of grackles.

A huge mixed flock of shorebirds has assembled on the beach just to the south. Dunlin, black-bellied plovers, semipalmated plovers, sanderlings, semipalmated sandpipers, ruddy turnstones, and other shorebirds too far away to identify are all hanging out together. Two piping plovers are foraging between the wrack line and the water. It looks like they're sharing in the flying ant bounty too. Dozens of dunlin are doing the sewing machine type motion picking things out of the wet sand. I don't know if they're getting in on the flying ant fiesta.

Out on the water, a lobster boat has been sitting there at anchor for sometime but nobody seems to be raising or lowering traps or anything. A Coast Guard asset, one of those low orange interceptor boats, checks it out and leaves. It must be OK.

I was expecting a jam packed holiday weekend beach crowd. It's so cold that there haven't been very many visitors. The most interesting question I got was whether we have sea turtles nesting here. Nope. If they showed up here, they'd be really lost. I still can't wrap my mind around how cold it is when yesterday was a summer scorcher.

Unit 3 stops by with a new volunteer. They say they heard there were a lot of flying ants but they don't see any. I tell them mass quantities of grackles have been eating them. Very efficient grackles I guess.

Later when I go to Plum Crazy for lunch -- I'm hooked on their veggie burgers -- I notice I've got a couple of flying ants in my camera case.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


The weather this spring has kept the lilacs blooming longer. More time for us to enjoy.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Well, it rhymes with scone

The Gull in Question

Coffee of the Day: Sumatra. Quite good.

Invisi-bird Status: 4 pairs on the refuge beach and one nest with 4 eggs at Sandy Point. And... drum roll please... I actually saw one today. Flying around making lots of noise and then working the wrack like crazy for bugs.

Bird of the Day: Long-tailed duck, again. Hordes of them. Legions of them. Regiments of them.

The Story

This weekend's deceptive weather pattern is the opposite of last weekend's. Today it was bright and sunny at my house and raining on the refuge. The rain wasn't too bad so I stuck it out until the sun came out. It turned into a perfect beach day just as my shift ended. Go figure.

Having convinced myself that the rain was going to stop and I could make myself useful, I got out onto the beach and checked the signs, fences, and buoys. All OK. I scanned for dogs. Then I got out the binoculars to check out the bird life while I drank my coffee. I also had a lemon ginger scone in my pack -- Plum Island Coffee Roasters is famous for their lemon ginger scones -- to eat once I got settled in.

First thing I noticed was a large flock of long-tailed ducks, around 500 of 'em. I was going to txt that to Twitter when I noticed my cellphone had vanished. Yikes! I retraced my steps on the beach with no luck. In panic, I radioed Unit 3 to see if it was in the parking lot or my car. Nope. I went to check the boardwalk. Nope. I rendezvoused with Unit 3 in the parking lot and had her call my phone in case it was hidden under the seat of the car or something. Finally, we called Plum Island Coffee Roasters and had them go out and look in their parking lot. Nothing. Sigh. Back to greeting visitors, checking for dogs, and looking for piping plovers.

Meanwhile, as I've been searching, a herring gull has been eyeing my pack and edging closer to it. Darn. He's going to get my scone! I don't know if I can handle no phone and no scone. Fortunately, another gull distracts him for a bit. I get to finish my coffee and eat the scone.

Later I was walking toward the north boundary when I noticed something dark in the sand, surrounded by gull tracks. My phone! I retrieve the phone and notify Unit 3 that I've found it. Since I did not see the suspect actually move it from wherever I dropped it to the where I found it, I can only guess that the attempted scone scavenger was also the one who stole my phone. BTW, that same gull hung out in my general vicinity for hours.

Once all the excitement about phone and scone had subsided I took a good look at those long-tailed ducks. A horned grebe surfaced in the middle of the long-tailed duck flock, looked around in all directions and dove again. Other interlopers included 2 red-breasted mergansers, a single white-winged scoter, and a common loon. Great flowing rivers of long-tailed ducks streamed by me and joined the flock slightly to the south. I lost count around 1500 or so. There may have been more.

As I watched the long-tailed ducks I heard my favorite sound: peep-lo! It took me awhile to locate the piping plover who was making the sound but I finally got awesome looks. It did some aerobatic loops, calling all the while, and landed closer to me where it worked the wrack line expertly catching bugs. It looked like it was getting quite a feast. I watched it for a long time, feeling grateful that I'd decided to stick it out with the weather.

The sun came out. I greeted 8 visitors and intimidated one pack of dog owners.

Lunch was a veggie burger at Plum Crazy -- the new place where PJ's used to be. I love their veggie burger. Had it the first time 2 weeks ago and have been talking it up.

Once again the ratio of words to pictures has become un-bloglike so I'd better stop here.