Friday, December 31, 2010

roundup of plum island storm stories

Whenever there's a big storm, the media rush to Plum Island to see if any houses are about to fall into the ocean. This week's storm was no exception. Here's a roundup of some of the news stories.

Newburyport Current: Plum Island homes imperiled by December blizzard

The Daily News of Newburyport: Emergency action approved for P.I. Sand barriers to be placed around endangered homes

WHDH: Storm puts Plum Island homeowners on edge

Lawrence Eagle Tribune: Plum Island home teeters on the brink

There was also a good article in Dredging Today before the storm: Plum Island Beach Erosion Concerns Residents

Thursday, December 30, 2010

bad idea

I'm beginning to think there is something about the Merrimack River and its tributary, the Concord, that induces people to behave strangely. I can't believe how many stories there are every year about people jumping off bridges to avoid police around here.

A clear sign of lack of sobriety is jumping into the Merrimack to avoid a sobriety checkpoint:
Man rescued after jump from Lawrence bridge » Latest News », North Andover, MA

Even weirder than jumping off a bridge to avoid a sobriety checkpoint is jumping off a bridge to avoid being pulled over for running a stop sign: -- not a good idea at all.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Random Ice Photo

Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
Spent some time trying to get the perfect photo of icicles on a very cold night last week. I ended up liking this one the best. The soft focus on the ice and crisp shadow work well together.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

no northern lapwing

I'm not really much of a twitcher but an unusal shorebird or gull on my territory will get me going.
When I saw on Twitter that there was a Northern Lapwing at Plum Island, I nearly dropped my sandwich at Perfecto's. I bolted down the rest of the sandwich, dashed home to grab binoculars, camera, and warm jacket, and drove as fast as I legally could to the refuge.

I skipped the legendary Parking Lot 1 and barely scanned the Salt Pannes on my way to the general area where the lapwing was reported. When I saw a gathering of birders at the North Pool Overlook, I did the "bird the birders" manuever and joined them. I asked if they were looking at the Northern Lapwing and they told me they were looking for it. Steve Haydock recognized my voice and claimed it had been years since he'd seen me. I reminded him that I did see him once last year at Parking Lot 1. We caught up on sightings and had a nice chat. The overlook was a veritable who's who of the local birderati. Besides Steve H., we had Doug Chickering (the Prince of Plum Island) and Lois Cooper, Tom Wetmore (all hail the King), and even Wayne Petersen. I believe this was my first wild sighting of Wayne (all others have been either at Mass Audubon events or at Scott Hecker's hurricane party at Goldenrod Cottage.) Other elite of the birderati including Dave Larson were strategically positioned where the bird was last seen.

I hung out with the gang and watched an incredible raptor show. At one point I had two rough-legged hawks, a northern harrier, and a red-tailed hawk all in sight once.  They were fun to watch. I scanned for the lapwing with no results. After a couple of hours, everybody moved on to other sites.  I worked my way down the island all the way to Sandy Point with no luck. On the way back I started taking pictures of the late fall colors looking awesome in the late afternoon light. Yes I know I said late twice.

Milkweed Pod
 There were some northern pintails in with the mallards and black ducks at Stage Island Pool, and loads more Canada geese overhead. Canada geese were everywhere. It looked like a major goose movement going on.

Red Leaves
The winterberry looked awesome against the clear blue sky.   It was so windy that no birds were taking advantage of it.  (I did notice the seasonal sign at the entrance reminding people to leave the berries for the birds to eat.) Still no Northern Lapwing. I kept looking everywhere I could think of.



I saw a few more red-tailed hawks and another northern harrier near the Pines Trail, where I pulled off to take some more pictures. I scanned the field for about 20 minutes and as I was about to leave I saw a bird rise up from the edge of the field closest to the Bill Forward Pool and got excited. It was a largish shorebird-type bird with a yellowish brown butt and dark wings. I could see some white on the belly and the way it flew looked kind of large-shorebird-like, but I really couldn't get a good enough look to identify it. It flew north toward Hellcat. I jumped back in the car and drove to the Bill Forward blind for the best look at where I thought it was headed. No luck. Nothing.

Not ready to give up, having been teased by this mystery bird, I headed for Hellcat. The birders at Hellcat hadn't seen any sign of it. I ran into Steve again and told him what I'd seen, which was not enough to even call it a "maybe".  I hung around Hellcat after everybody left and kept looking and hoping. Sigh.

Jim Hully, who found the bird originally this morning, posted his photos on SmugMug.

I'm sure Doug Chickering will post one of his wonderful not-finding-the-bird stories on

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chantilly Place Award Winning Window

Chantilly Place
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
We went to the art stroll/hot chocolate competition/parade in Lowell on Saturday. Brew'd Awakening won the hot chocolate contest with an orange flavored hot chocolate garnished with marshmallow and candied orange peel.

The winner of the window decoration competition was announced today: Chantilly Place. I'm not surprised. Their holiday window display is elegant and impressive every year.

Friday, November 19, 2010

PIPL pix from 1999

Look what I found while I was cleaning my desk this afternoon! A floppy full of photos from 1999. Remember floppies? Remember 1999? I remember. It was a gorgeous June day and a piping plover walked right up to me on the beach at Sandy Point.  These look pretty good for 640x480 Sony Mavica shots.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

wild and domestic fowl

The wintering brant have arrived in full force in Rhode Island. Nancy and I went to Colt State Park in Bristol to check them out. The whole time we were there they either paddled around or flew up in small groups only to circle around and land among the larger flock again. None of them were eating.

Brant on Narragansett Bay
I watched the flock long enough and closely enough to notice that some of the immature ones (the ones with the more well-defined white edges on the wings) seemed to have no white neck patch at all.  Usually the immatures have a very faint white neck patch. So, I looked it up in the book when I got home and learned that juveniles have no white neck patch at all. That got me wondering what age divides juvenile from merely immature. Actually, I kind of wonder about that with people too. :-) Must read up more on the brant life cycle.
They're not swimming uphill, I was leaning on a rock at an angle.


I estimated roughly 150 to 200 total brant in the flock.
No visit to Colt State Park would be complete without a stop at Coggeshall Farm, especially in autumn when they may be cooking interesting things in the fireplace. They were in fact cooking pound cake.
Domestic rooster trying to get into the farmhouse
Domestic fowl were milling around the yard right in front of the farmhouse. Roosters were crowing and scratching in the dirt. Turkeys were poking about.  We took a walk through the farmyard to get up close and personal with the domestic fowl.
Domestic geese in the barnyard
The geese were hyper vigilant and seemed to think it their duty to protect themselves and the entire farm from both us and the turkeys. Every time a turkey got close to them, they extended their necks in threat display. When we walked past them, they did the same. They didn't seem to mind the roosters or the sheep.
Domestic geese on guard against intruders

Domestic turkey with sheep
More pictures of yesterday's encounters with both wild and domestic fowl are available in my Flickr stream.

Monday, October 25, 2010


North Andover Fall Foliage in the Rain

Autumn in New England. You get a picture in your mind of red, orange, and yellow maple leaves when I say that. Don't you? Well, we did see plenty of maple leaves yesterday in our autumn tour of a tiny corner of the Merrimack Valley.

First stop on our extremely local tour of "New England Autumn" was the corn field at Barker's Farm. The corn stubble was overrun with hundreds of crows. They were in the field scavenging, perched in trees, flying back and forth, just all over the place. There was no sign of Canada geese, Sandhill cranes, or turkeys, all of whom were fixtures at that spot a couple of weeks ago. The crows seem to have moved into the goose niche.

Next stop was Crescent Farm in Bradford. For some reason, I've now been to Crescent Farm more times in the last 3 weeks than in the previous 30 years but I still haven't done the corn maze. Crescent Farm is a veritable farm theme park, with hayrides, cute animals, a corn maze, pick your own pumpkin fields, pumpkin ice cream, haunted hayride tours, birthday parties ...

Friendly Goat

One of the goats was extremely friendly and nuzzled Nancy's white cane through the fence. The alpaca was aloof, but posed nicely for pictures.

Aloof Alpaca

I've already had my one splurge on pumpkin ice cream for the season, and it was way too cold for ice cream yesterday anyway. Besides, what is Autumn in New England without cider? Hot cider. So once it started to rain in earnest, we went inside the farm shop for hot cider. As we enjoyed our cider, a group of Chinese students were avidly photographing all the different kinds of pumpkins and gourds for sale.


As we looked out over the fields we could see people picking pumpkins while carrying umbrellas, the hayride going by full of kids in Halloween costumes, and the animals chowing down on hay. The corn stubble field across the street from the silo and shop was completely empty of any bird life at all. No geese, no crows. I commented on that to Nancy, wondering why the crows were all at Barker's and not at Crescent.

Hayride and Cows

The best moment of the whole Crescent Farm visit came as we were walking back to the car. I looked out over the fields again and suddenly a flock of about 300 crows erupted from the corn maze all at once. No time for a photo, but it was an awesome sight.

Our last stop for the day was at Anvil Farm in Boxford for some apples and a look at the pigs. The apples were great. The pigs were all asleep in their pig houses.

The Barn at Anvil Farm

A good time was had by all.

More photos of the day on Flickr if you must see 'em all.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Surfland Fishing Report

Should have posted this before. The mackerel are attracting tons of gannets, as per usual at this time of year. Also there are some good pictures of the dredging and beach renourishment project. Check it out at:
Surfland Fishing Report

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

flight of ideas leads to a little walk down memory lane

Gunnar Engblom's "guess the bird blogger" post on Hungarian shorebird blogger Szimuly György got me thinking about my trip to Peteri Lake with Zsolt and Maci and the ornithologist Bankovics Attila, way back in the distant mists of time (actually, 2001 -- it just seems much longer ago).

It was really hot that day and I was exhausted by the time we finished birding and sat down to an al fresco meal of traditional Hungarian fish soup. The lake was alive with egrets and herons who were there for the abundant frogs. Zsolt kept trying to keep my Collins Field Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe. I remember telling him I didn't understand why he wanted my English language one when the very same book was available in Hungarian -- translated by the very same Attila whom we had driven to Peteri Lake from Budapest and who was now guiding us. Never did get an answer to that. Nor did we ever resolve whether the frogs were telling each other long narratives.

I found this wonderful description of Peteri Lake and noticed that the author mentions Attila's visits: Péteri Tó Bird Reserve is also our Home. That brought back vivid memories of Indian rollers and sedge warblers and European goldfinches as well as the herons and egrets. It's a very special place.

For some reason I usually think of my misadventure while viewing the ferruginous ducks at the Tisza River when I think of that trip rather than the wonders of Peteri Lake. Of course, when I visited Maci two years later, her most vivid memory of that trip was our Otis tarda sighting, which was originally the whole point of the trip. Ah, those were the days.

Monday, October 18, 2010

yet another stuff in the merrimack entry

The latest stuff in the Merrimack River:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

local media getting excited about coming storm

With a northeast storm predicted for tonight/tomorrow, the recently completed Plum Island beach renourishment is getting lots of media attention. What do you want to bet that every media outlet in a 75 mile radius has a crew at Plum Island center the instant the storm hits? Meanwhile, here are some of the stories:

WHDH-TV - Plum Island prepares shore against erosion

Will improvements to Plum Island help it stand up to bad weather?

Dredging project restores Plum Island Beach

Dredging Today – Plum Island Renourishment Project Come Up Short (USA)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cormorants at Bold Point

Double crested cormorants were all over the place at Bold Point in Providence this weekend. It's neat the way they arrange themselves on pilings to pose for photographers.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tourist Traps

Tourist Traps
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
Newburyport actually goes to the trouble of stacking picturesque wooden lobster traps on the Riverwalk for tourists to photograph. This amuses me.

I took this at the beginning of September just before Hurricane Earl swung by out at sea.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

sandhill cranes!

I had a nice surprise this rainy afternoon: 2 sandhill cranes only 3 miles from my house! They were hanging out with a whole lot of Canada geese in the corn stubble at Barker's Farm. Cranes and geese alike were eating up a storm. One of the cranes picked up a whole ear of corn and started pulling off the husk. It was cold and raining but I hung out and watched for awhile and tried to get some pictures. I went off to the farm stand to buy some corn and tomatoes for myself -- maybe the cranes were making me crave corn -- and mentioned to the woman there that there were two very beautiful sandhill cranes in the corn field. She said she knew about them and other people had mentioned them. After I got my produce (corn, tomatoes, Macoun apple) I went back for another look. The cranes were a tiny bit closer to the road and the rain was a little lighter so I got the above picture. A few other birders came by while I was there.

On the way back home to cook the corn, I met a flock of wild turkeys blocking the road. Quite a birdy day!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

catching up 1: ASRI raptor weekend

The weekend of September 11-12 we attended Raptor Weekend at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island's education center in Bristol. We watched flight demonstrations, presentations by Mark and Marcia Wilson of Eyes on Owls, got to meet Webster the ASRI education owl, and took a walk through the sanctuary's meadow out to the bay. Took lots and lots of pix. These are only a few.

Narragansett Bay

Spectacled Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl Spreading Its Wings

Another Snowy Owl (I love snowy owls)

Eastern Screech Owl


Nancy and I were keen to meet Webster because we contributed to the fund to pay for cataract surgery for him so he could continue to live and educate at Audubon Society of Rhode Island. We were thrilled that he is recovering very well and can see well enough to catch his food and not fall off his perch. May he live many more years!

Harris' Hawk

Harris' Hawk

Great Horned Owl (not Webster -- one of the Eyes on Owls birds)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Merrimack River Dredging Update

Hurricane Igor may be way, way, way offshore but the high surf has interfered with dredging the mouth of the Merrimack: Dredging stalled by rough seas, broken part. Well, Igor and mechanical problems.

Putting on my tech writer (and geek humor) hat for a second, this is the first time I've seen the phrasal verb "to ground out" used to mean "to run aground". It's more common to see "to ground" used to mean to run a vessel aground. I got this mental picture of a batter hitting the boat on the ground to an infielder who throws it to first base. I'm trying to visualize the mouth of the Merrimack as a baseball diamond. First base at Butler's Toothpick and third at the lighthouse? How far upriver would you have to hit the boat for a home run?

Other Merrimack River news links:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

stuff in the merrimack -- dredging equipment

The dredging of the mouth of the Merrimack has begun. There's lots of equipment in the river between Salisbury Beach and the northern tip of Plum Island right now. The mother ship is The Illinois belonging to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. The Illinois is surrounded by satellite vessels of various types and lots of pipes and hose-like things. They're pumping the dredged sand from the river onto Salisbury Beach. I guess after Salisbury gets its share, they'll pump onto Plum Island. I made a quick excursion to Plum Island Point for a good view of all the cool equipment before heading down to Cambridge for Mass Innovation Night. Cool dredging projects always start the same day as Mass Innovation Night, right? :-) (See my tech writer blog for info on Mass Innovation Night:

The Illinois

It was hard to get a photo that showed how big the hose is. I kept hoping a kayak would paddle up next to it or something to convey the scale. The vehicles in the campground are too far away to really show the scale.

Big Hose-Like Pipe Thing Near the Campground

I wondered if any seals would haul out on top of the pipe instead of on the rocks or the beach. Probably not.

Pipe Near Butler's Toothpick

Pipes and Ships

Some press coverage of the dredging:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

PI Sunset

PI Sunset
Originally uploaded by Captain_Peleg
Sunset on a hazy evening last week, viewed from Stage Island.
Seconds later a flock of great egrets passed right in front of the pink sun, Too bad I missed the shot.