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.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Catching Up with Summer

Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
It was raining, at least at my house, when I got up this morning. Therefore, I called the gatehouse and left a message saying I wasn't coming in. Of course, by late morning it had cleared so I started to feel both guilty and deprived. Anyway, I ain't there today. And furthermore, I didn't get a chance to blog last week. So here is the catch-up entry.

Summer broke out in full force last weekend. Hot and sunny and tons of people on the beach. Dogs too. The town beach allows dogs not on leashes but dogs are not allowed on the refuge. Trouble is dogs can't read. I spent the first 45 minutes of my shift chasing dogs and locating their owners. Not fun. The dog action calmed down as the early morning walkers thinned out and the crowds of beach goers arrived for the first nice day of summer.

It was totally a summer day. Sunbathers, roving packs of teenagers, kids digging holes in the sand, and Science Fiction Fishing Guy (a summer regular) fishing for flounder. The only clue that it was still April was the huge flock of long-tailed ducks . Hundreds and hundreds of them. I'm estimating about 500, maybe more. They started the morning all spread out but as the tide came in and wind shifted around to more southerly I noticed they were all clustering in one spot. Science Fiction Fishing Guy wanted to know what kind of fish they eat because they'd obviously found a good fishing spot.

A few swallows, barn and tree, were catching flies over the sand. Other than that, all the bird action was on the other side of the dunes where warblers and other passerines were arriving in droves.

The most disturbing human action was on the town beach, not on the refuge. Whole family groups were climbing up the dunes and sliding down, grabbing onto the newly planted shoots of beach grass on the way down. This is the dune they built after the house fell into the sea last fall.. Dunes are fragile. Beach grass is necessary. Sand circulates. Etc. Etc. Etc. A local TV station did a story on last weekend's dune destruction. There's probably a lot more I should write about sand, dune formation, and beach grass, but I feel like I've written it a thousand times before . Enough for now.

Invisi-bird status: Still invisible. Up to 6 adults have been reported by various people.

Coffee of the Day:I've forgotten but it was good.

Bird of the day: long-tailed duck of course.