Friday, June 4, 2010

gannet show

Coffee of the Day: Kenya AA
Bird of the Day: northern gannet
Weird Wrack Item of the Day: a pair of Crocs of a garish pink color that seemed extreme even for Crocs
Coast Guard Assets Sighted: none
Refuge Biological Staff Sighted: 2 on their way to put up predator exclosures around some of the nests
Invisi-bird Status: 2 nests are hatching! We have chicks!!!! 8 nests on the refuge and 2 at Sandy Point. Number actually seen by me: zero.

Morning started out hazy and everything looked silvery: the waves, the sand, the sanderlings, and the sky. Ring-billed gulls by the dozen were resting on the sand and didn't move when I set up my chair. Another mixed group of gulls, mostly ring bills but including great black backs and herring gulls rested in the sand further south and were only partially visible in the haze. A couple of great black backs were having a tug of war over some kind of fish. Eight northern gannets were diving up a storm just offshore.

For the first two hours I saw only 2 visitors and had plenty of time to watch the gannet show. Every time I looked there were more. I eventually lost count at 50. Some were in bright, pristine, adult plumage. There were a few all dark first year birds and several 2nd and 3rd year birds showing more white. They put on a magnificent show, plunge diving with a big splash then surfacing and taking off again or resting on the surface of the water.

Least terns flew directly over my head dangling fish from their bills. Most of them disappeared into the haze well to the south of where I saw them hanging out last Saturday. However, 3 of them kept going to a spot just south of the .2 mile marker. A few common terns flew over me really low too, only one of them carrying fish. It flew over the dunes toward the marsh, presumably to the salt pannes or thereabouts. After awhile a really large tern, bigger than a common with a thick red bill , a shorter tail, and more white on the nape of the neck. It took me a minute to blurt out to myself: Caspian tern.

Biological staff came by on the ATV headed out to check on the nests and erect predator exclosures around some of the nests (areas where coyote tracks have been seen). They gave me awesome news: 2 nests are hatching! There are chicks on the refuge! I took me awhile to take this in because I had been convinced by one of the other biological staff that only one nest had survived the mid-May high tide. I guess the other one was extremely well-hidden. With chicks hatching and now a count of 8 nests on the refuge, things sound a whole lot less dire than they did a week and a half ago.

The haze started to burn off around 11:00 AM. That was also close to low tide. Now that I had way more beach to cover, visitors started arriving. A large group of teenagers played football in the sand and went swimming. A smaller group played a weird variation of boccie that seemed to involve trying to get the ball closest to the water without losing it.

The buoys that are supposed to extend down to the low tide line aren't in yet -- the volunteers had to stop last Saturday when the tide came in. I had to chase down a couple of teenagers who didn't know where the boundary was, a three year old who didn't understand the concept of a boundary, and one person who had no idea the beach was closed. I picked up a bunch of sticks and extended the Big Steve style stick fence down to the water. That didn't stop the 3-year-old from returning to the closed area again.

With all this action going on after my contemplative early morning of watching the gannet show, I was starting to get really tired. Also hungry. I started to pack up some of my stuff to be ready to leave at the stroke of noon. Hah! Next thing I knew a huge black curly haired dog was running loose on the refuge beach. He joined in the football game with the teenagers. I radioed Gatehouse who promised to send law enforcement. Meanwhile, the teenagers started playing fetch with the dog. One of them threw a stick into the dunes and the dog obligingly fetched it. I started toward the teenagers and the guilty one came up and said he was sorry. I asked them all to please keep the dog out of the dunes and told them I'd called for law enforcement.

I waited and watched. The dog was not wearing a collar this time, so I didn't dare try to grab it. It continued playing football with the teens. One of the teens spotted a similar looking giant black dog on the town beach. There are two of them? Yikes! The teens and the dog ran up to the town beach. I radioed Gatehouse that the dog had left the refuge property with some teens. Gatehouse and law enforcement acknowledged and I headed out.

By the time I got to the boardwalk I was really tired and hungry and a little spacey. I was halfway down the boardwalk when I noticed my radio was missing. I must have said "where's my radio?" aloud because a young woman headed toward the beach asked me what was wrong. She went and found the radio, which I had dropped when I was carting stuff up the stairs. Crisis averted. What a day!

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