Friday, April 23, 2010

why yes, there actually are piping plovers here

Why yes, I am the color of dry sand. You can only see me because I'm posing on wet sand for contrast.

Coffee of the Day:
French Roast
Bird of the Day: Piping Plover
Weird Wrack Item of the Day: soy sauce
Coast Guard Assets: 1 boat
Invisi-bird Status: 2 cavorting on the beach at the north boundary - no sign of nest scrapes, but they're clearly enjoying each others' company

Have no fear, this has not turned into an airplane blog. I actually got to be on the beach on Friday doing my job keeping people (and their dogs) and piping plovers apart. Here's how it went:

Life seems vivid and active all over. In the Fish Tale parking lot a herring gull chases a crow who has a beak full of something worth stealing. Inside the Fish Tale people are all talking about the flood - comparing Merrimack River level to past storms: the Mother's Day flood, the flood of 1987... good old-fashioned New England storm talk. Out the window of the Fish Tale I see guys loading ice onto boats. They must be expecting to catch some fish.

At Plum Island Coffee Roasters the boat yard is very busy. The big lifts at Hilton's are all moving around. There are fewer boats in the boat yard and more boats in the water. And it's only April.

On the beach I notice the trademark stick fence handiwork of Big Steve along the boundary. It's high tide so I don't have that much ground to cover until the tide starts going out. Hundreds of longtailed ducks are streaming by, low over the water. They go north. Then they come back south. Back and forth. Back and forth. They're still in the cool-looking funky alternative plumage. I think there are a few black scoters out there too. Lines of double crested cormorants start streaming by also. Visitors are scarce to start off. It's cold and windy.

The first visitor is a guy I've talked to before. We're talking about how the refuge used to be before they paved the road (the northern half of the road -- from Hellcat south is still unpaved) and then he gets on to restaurants and bars that used to be on the island ... how anybody could be nostalgic for the Beach Coma is beyond me :-) ... and how the old summer shacks have been replaced/are being replaced with year round luxury homes and how it's a much bigger deal if year round luxury homes fall into the sea... and that brings him around to the ever popular rumor that Montel Williams wanted to build a heliport for his luxury home on the island. "What would he need a heliport for when there's an airport right over the bridge?" he asks. That gets me talking about the history of the airport and how it was too bad they weren't able to have a vintage airplane flyover for the 100th anniversary.

I was talking to a visitor about the airport and as if on cue this cool airplane flew over.

The tide is going out. A couple of common loons are diving close to shore. A red-throated loon still in winter plumage shows up too. Tree swallows start arriving in a mathematical progression: 4, 8, 12, 16... seriously, do they only add numbers by 4? Visitor numbers start to increase. It's school vacation week in Massachusetts and a lot of families are coming to the beach.

Common Loon surfaced and dove again. I'm lucky I got any kind of picture.

A family with a dog on a leash walks boldly past the no dogs sign onto the refuge from the town beach. When I explain to them that dogs are not allowed on the refuge and point out the sign, the guy tells me he thought that only meant the dunes and that dogs are allowed along the waterline. No dogs are allowed on the National Wildlife Refuge period. Ever. It's not that people with dogs can't read. It's that people with dogs think no rules specifically apply to them. Ever.

A big black unleashed dog runs onto the refuge. It takes me awhile to slog through the wet sand toward him, but I successfully chase him off back to his person on the town beach. Dogs can't read. That is why they have people.

All has calmed down and I'm walking back to my chair by the boundary when a pale speck moving around just to the south of the stick fence catches my eye. Can it be? OMG! It's an invisi-bird! Oh wait, there's one in the wrack too! A pair! Both of them stick around for some time, cavorting, feeding, doing plover behaviors. I'm psyched.

Piping plover running along the waterline.

I notice a couple of birders up on the board walk and ask "Do you see them?" I don't even have to say which "them" I mean. One of the birders turns out to work at the NEAQ shorebird exhibit. They have two male piping plovers there. She wants to know if the ones we're looking at are a pair. I think so. Females don't have as bright an orange color on the bill. I describe it to her as less-saturated color.

One of the piping plovers leaves the closed area calling peep-lo. It comes closer and poses for a picture, nicely contrasting with the wet sand. The invisi-birds have made my day.

It's been windy and cold all morning. It warmed up a little, but by noon it's getting colder again. The plovers are out of sight again, my shift is over, and I'm ready for lunch someplace warm.

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