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

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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.