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.