Monday, April 5, 2010

dog catcher

looking south from the northern boundary of the refuge

Yes, it's April already. I did my first plover warden shift of the season on Friday (too busy to blog about it 'til Monday).
Coffee of the Day: French Roast
Bird of the Day: long-tailed duck
Weird Wrack Item of the Day: a tube of 212 brand skin cream.
Invisi-bird Status: vague rumors of one sighted at Sandy Point.

The storms (were there 2, 3, or just one continuous month-long storm?) did quite a job on the beach. I was there at low tide, so my photos may create an illusion that "beach" exists. Take a closer look at where the wrack deposited by the high tide is relative to the dunes. The dunes look like a monster took a bite out of 'em. Quite impressive.

the sign is up, the beach is closed

Friday's weather was the most glorious spring weather there has ever been or ever will be in Essex County. Many schools were closed for Good Friday, and many people had guests in town for the Easter weekend. This combination made for a very busy day. I lost track of how many people I talked to after about 18. Many people were surprised the beach closure had started already. I think they were actually surprised it's April because March seemed like an eternity.

The storm deposited a lot of stuff on the beach in addition to the normal wrack items: logs, branches, sticks, building materials, and both identifiable and unidentifiable plastic items. One visitor kept complaining to me that the beach was dirty. "Why is the beach so dirty?" she asked. I started to wonder if she had been living under a rock for the past month. "We had some big storms recently," I said. That didn't really satisfy her and she kept complaining about it. She seemed more annoyed with the harmless stuff than with the plastic though. I guess she was picturing walking barefoot in soft white sand.

A flock of long-tailed ducks bounced around in the waves for the whole shift. They are cool-looking and I love to watch them dive. A mixed flock of black scoters and surf scoters joined them for awhile too. Other than that the bird life around me was mostly herring gulls with one or two great black backs. A couple from Michigan and their son who goes to BC, were all excited about birding on Plum Island for the first time. They wanted to know what specialties to look for. I pointed out the long-tailed ducks and the scoters to them and they were very excited. That felt good.

My big accomplishment for the day was catching a dog. Literally.

Dogs aren't allowed on the refuge at any time. They are allowed on the town beach until May. A woman out walking on the town beach with two dogs (well, I thought they were both hers), a medium-sized brown one and a huge fuzzy black one, breezed right past the no dogs allowed sign on the refuge boundary with the dogs racing ahead of her. I spoke to her. She left. Both dogs followed. A few minutes later, the big black one returned. Apparently it wasn't her dog. It was running loose unsupervised.

The dog was running all over the place, playing with the kids of the woman who complained the beach was dirty, checking out everybody who was walking along the beach, dashing around in circles. I walked toward it and was about to call law enforcement when dirty-beach lady offered to walk the dog back to the woman we originally thought it belonged to. She walked it to the refuge boundary. It came back.

I chased it down and grabbed it by the collar at the water line. I called Unit 61 but couldn't manage to talk clearly on the radio while handling the dog so he wasn't clear on the nature of my need for back up. Fortunately he was in lot 1 so I wasn't holding the dog for long. "Look at you, Janet, you're a dog catcher!" "Good work!" 61 was clearly pleased with my dog catching skills. Turns out the dog was a repeat offender. The owner had an outstanding unpaid ticket.

Unit 61 took hold of the dog's collar and tried to walk it off the beach. The dirty-beach woman started giving 61 a hard time about taking the dog away and her kids started crying because they thought the dog was being hurt. The dog balked, tried to knock over 61, and tried to get away. At one point 61 had the dog between his legs. I'll bet he's glad I didn't get a picture of that. Clearly dragging the dog by the collar wasn't going to work. I looked around for some rope in the wrack. Normally there's tons of yellow plastic rope amidst the wrack, but I found none. 61 radioed Gatehouse to ask for rope. Gatehouse arrived with rope and with one of those long poles with a loop on the end that they use for catching predators. That was sheer genius. The two guys led the dog off with the pole.

Flush with my success at dog catching, I had no trouble handling a surly preteen boy who was trespassing in the closed area. All other visitor contacts were great: an in depth discussion of the pros and cons of beach re-nourishment, several chances to give my piping plover life cycle talk, and some reminiscences of fishing there in the 1950s.

Lunch at The Fish Tale, an upland sandpiper, and some glossy ibises across from the airport rounded out the day.


Jamie said...

Congratulations on your dog catching abilities. I do hope that one of your Piping Plover talks was to the dirty-beach woman and her children. It seems they need their horizons broadened a bit!

steve said...

I will see you "On the Refuge."