Thursday, April 23, 2009

museum piece

The famous giant squid of Plum Island is on loan from the Smithsonian to the Georgia Aquarium.
I should update my list of famous giant squid links on my Plum Island web page some day. Also, I should move said page to some more modern and hip hosting site instead of the oldest public dialup Internet Service Provider (ISP) on the planet. My old web site is even more of a museum piece than the famous giant squid.

Speaking of museums, if you are in Ohio you can hear coastal bird conservationist Scott Hecker speak Friday 4/24 on Make Way for Plovers: Reversing Coastal Bird Declines in America at 7:30 p.m. at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. 1 Wade Oval in the University Circle area. Tickets are $10 for adults and $9 for senior citizens, students and children. Call 216-231-1177 or 800-317-9155, ext. 3279, for information.

Meanwhile, back on the refuge: Looking for something to do on Saturday?
Come to a volunteer information session Saturday, April 25, 11 to noon at Refuge Headquarters, 6 Plum Island Turnpike, Newburyport. Call the Refuge at 978-465-5754 ext. 208 for information.
Anyone interested in learning more about the types of volunteer positions for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Parker River, is encouraged to attend. Attending does not create an obligation to volunteer. Besides plover wardens, the refuge needs volunteers to staff the information desk, help with invasive vegetation control -- like pulling pepperweed and planting pitch pines and stuff, and to do various maintenance tasks on the Refuge.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Midwesterners Get Chance to Hear Scott Hecker

For readers out there in the Midwest, don't miss Scott Hecker speaking on piping plovers at Cleveland MNH 4/24.

Scott is the king of piping plover restoration in Massachusetts -- and hence the world, because Massachusetts is the star of piping plover recovery. :-)

Seriously, if you have a chance to catch Scott's presentation, do it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Coffee of the day: Bolivian. Enjoyed it. All of it.

Bird of the day: tie between horned grebe and snowy owl.

Human behavior of the day: yoga in the intertidal zone -- practitioners wearing drysuits.

Invisi-bird status: still invisible but I've heard tell there are some there.

So, the grebe show. There were at least 4 horned grebes bouncing around on the waves just off the north beach. A group of birders with scopes were watching them from the boardwalk, but left before the really fabulous grebe action started. The grebes came progressively closer to shore during my shift until they were identifiable at naked eye distance. Two of them faced each other and kind of reared back and started to stretch their necks up and down, pumping like crazy. They did this for a few minutes at a time, then settled back down onto the water parallel to each other and bobbed their heads up and down without the long neck stretch. They followed this with swimming away from each other until they were fairly well separated, then they started the whole thing over again. At one point there was a lot of splashing and possibly swimming backwards - I was busy talking with visitors (of whom there were 18 today -- which may be a record for an overcast April morning).

There was a huge movement of double-crested cormorants this morning. Lines of from 10 to 40 birds each streamed past for 3 hours. Also, much kestrel and merlin action. One kestrel perched on a post overlooking the beach and attracted a crowd of hawkwatchers who huddled around the boundary of the closed area trying to get as close to the bird as possible without trespassing.

I stared down three dog owners, traded "piping plover tastes like chicken" jokes with the intertidal yoga people, explained the piping plover life cycle to eager birders and a shy kid, and pointed out opsreys and red-breasted mergansers to new birders. I refrained from asking what the particular benefits are of lying down in wet sand to do yoga.

I heard tell from the birders that a snowy owl was hanging out in the marsh a bit south of lot 2, so after the shift I went to check it out. Sure enough, it was easily visible from the road. Not hard to find either -- birders parked every which way created a traffic jam. I kinda wished I still had the radio on me so I could get Unit 61 to break it up.

Lots of swallows around today too.

Twittering from the beach using my cellphone doesn't work too well. There are too many dead spots on the beach.

Now to tackle Saturday's chores.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


The temperature is in the 30's and the wind from the north/northeast is even fiercer than last week's west wind. Ai yi yi! (or however you spell that). My main observations today have been about the aerodynamics of my hat -- trying to calculate the exact angle at which the brim must be pulled down over my eyes to avoid liftoff. It proved impossible to use my binoculars if I kept the hat pulled down far enough. I'm wearing my cozy bright red ear muffs so my ears are not getting frost-bitten. My thin gloves and my hot cuppa coffee are not enough to keep my fingers from getting really cold. Unit 3 pronounces me crazy. I have to agree.

Oh, almost forgot to identify the coffee of the day: Sumatra. Really really good. I ran into Big Steve at Plum Island Coffee Roasters on the way to the refuge. He was off to campaign at the Newbury transfer station. I told him about last week's encounter with the guys who asked if the piping plover were extinct. He got a big kick out of that.

I did speak with a couple of visitors. Three to be exact. Well, 4 if you count Tom Wetmore but since he is King of Plum Island I don't think he counts as a visitor. I lasted under 2 hours in the wind. I saw the usual assortment of indistinguishable scoters, some oldsquaws, a small flock of brant, and a northern gannet. The gannet was really close to shore, as in actually over the beach at one point. A couple of great black backs were chowing down on a dead fish that was already so picked over it was barely identifiable as a fish, let alone determine the species wihout DNA evidence. A ring-billed gull was flying into the wind and catching rides repeatedly. I have to believe it was doing it for fun.

The piping plovers are back but I have not seen any yet. According to Gatehouse, there are 3 or 4 on the refuge. This seems late for arrival but is not surprising given the wind direction.

On the way back into town I spotted a bald eagle over Water Street. I pulled over at the sea wall (shouldn't it be called a river wall?) to get out binocs for a better look. Two herring gulls went after it and chased it out over the river toward Salisbury. It was just like the usual scene of crows chasing a red-tailed hawk but with the parts played by different actors.

I thawed out with French toast and coffee at The Fish Tale.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
A fierce west wind, flying coffee cups, trespassers, dogs, and everything but the kitchen sink - except birds - marked my first plover warden shift of the season today. Ah, spring on Plum Island.

Coffee of the day is Papua New Guinea. Not that I tasted all that much of it. First mistake: I set the coffee cup down on top of the car while I got my beach chair out of the trunk. A gust of wind sent the coffee cup flying across parking lot 1 dripping a trail of Papua New Guinea. The same wind blew my hat off. That flew even further than the coffee. I picked up the cup and discovered there was still some coffee in it. So far so good. The hat was getting away from me. I ran after it and caught up with it without losing more coffee.

On the beach everything but birds is flying around: oak leaves, trash, a balloon, a whiffle ball, my hat. Ack, my hat. I catch the hat, set up my chair, put the coffee cup with its remaining coffee in the cupholder, take a couple of sips, and survey my surroundings. A pair of great black backs are riding the wind. Black plastic letters from a sign are skimming across the sand. What the?

I get up to pick up the flying things. The wind picks up big time. My chair flies across the sand and launches the coffee cup seaward/. It lands upside down in the sand. All remaining coffee seeps into the sand. Wind blows sand into the cup. So much for delicious dark roast this morning.

A couple of guys taking a walk on the beach ask me where the beach closure starts and whether I am there to guard it. Right here. Yes. One of them announces "I'm just going to walk over there and turn around just so I can say I was in there." Both of them proceed to walk right in front of me and into the closed area. They stop, turn around, and laugh. When they come back they ask again why I'm here. I tell them I am here to talk to people about piping plovers and the beach closure and to protect the plovers. I offer to answer any questions they have about the plovers. "Are they extinct?" "Extinct? No, I wouldn't be here protecting them if they were extinct." Endangered, federally threatened, but not extinct.

The rest of the day's visitors are more sane, cooperative, and interested. When Unit 3 and Gatehouse came with the pickup truck to fetch the wind-damaged sign, Some visitors who saw Gatehouse letting air out of the truck tires wanted to know if it was stuck. Not yet. Another challenging question for the day. An ornithology class on a field trip from UNH wasn't having much luck finding birds. With this wind, everything is hunkered down. A group of surfers paddled around on their boards off the town beach. They didn't seem to be catching any waves.

By the time my relief arrived, I was jonesing for coffee. As I was handing off to him, two women with dogs boldly entered the refuge and came walking toward us. No dogs on the refuge. Period. I wave my arms and yell: "No dogs!" I wave the radio and yell "No dogs!" as I start toward them. Eventually they realize I mean it and they turn back.

Yup, first shift of the season yields spilled coffee, first nut jobs of the season, first dogs of the season, and no invisi-birds.

I went back to Plum Island Coffee Roasters and got a second cup of Papua New Guinea. It tasted good.