Wednesday, June 23, 2010

we didn't start the fire

Belated entry for Saturday's shift (been tired, away, and too hot).

Coffee of the Day: Kenya AA
Bird of the Day: Ring-billed gull
Weird Wrack Item of the Day: fire
Coast Guard Assets Sighted: none
Refuge Biological Staff Sighted: none
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge beach: 12 pair, 8 nests, 12 chicks; Sandy Point: 2 pair, 1 nest, 1 chick. Number actually seen by me: zero.

It was one of those summer Saturdays when I realize all over again how much human pressure there is on such a small slice of barrier island habitat. When I arrived, Gatehouse told me the Sandy Point parking lot had already filled up by 7:45 AM. Parking Lot 1 was filling up fast. Lot 1 was full by the time I walked from there to the beach and set up my chair.

There were still some fishermen around although the flounder didn't seem to be biting anymore. There was zero seabird action, which usually indicates no bait fish action, etc. The great food chain was chowing down somewhere else. Regular fisher people (and blog readers), R & N, informed me that they had encountered some trespassers who had camped on the beach overnight -- with a fire. There were remnants of two fires, actually: one near the boundary of the closed area and one at the wrack line. I thought the burnt wood smell I was experiencing was from the smaller fire near me, which was not still burning. However, when R&N told me that the campers had attempted to put out the larger campfire only by shoveling a little sand over it (not a good idea on the beach). Bury hot coals only if you want to cook a New England clambake, not if you want to put the fire out -- a shallow layer of sand over the coals could burn some bare feet.

After I finished my coffee and yelled at some kids who were trespassing in the closed area, I walked over to check on the fire. Sure enough, it was still burning. The coals were definitely still hot. I radioed the Gatehouse, who suggested shoveling sand on it. A beach visitor came over with a small plastic shovel and started doing that but I could feel the hot coals through the sand (almost burned myself). Unit 61 heard the radio conversation and chimed in that I really needed to dump water on it. There was a tiny toy bucket next to the fire but I figured that would necessitate dozens of trips to the retreating water line (tide was still going out). I asked the surrounding beach visitors if anybody had a big bucket. A nice gentleman volunteered himself and his large bait bucket. I gave the toy bucket to his son so he could help Daddy. The two of them toted water from the low tide line up to the fire and doused it. I thanked them profusely.

While I was dealing with the fire, more people tried to walk/jog/run into the closed area. The buoys and rope don't extend down to the low tide line so people either don't notice the boundary or think they can get away with it. Anyway, in the heat and humidity it was a long way from the wrack line, where the fire was, to the water line where the trespassers were. I was wishing for a lifeguard whistle or a bullhorn. Several visitors said I should ask for a whistle for next time. Personally, I think I'll just bring some rope. Anyway, I wore myself out covering a ton of territory. I wrote STOP and NESTING AREA in huge letters in the wet sand a few times (the waves kept erasing it). That actually worked. For the first time ever, I saw a jogger with an iPod actually notice the boundary and turn around! Man, they don't even usually notice rope, buoys, signs, and sticks. I wonder what it was about my hand lettered message in the sand...

All in all it was a busy and strenuous day with lots of visitors and high humidity. I'd forgotten the sunscreen in the car so was trying to keep myself shaded by my clip-on beach umbrella, which managed to detach itself from the chair and blow away in the wind just as I was trying to catch yet more trespassers at the low tide line. Fortunately a kind beach visitor retrieved the umbrella while I chased down the visitors -- who did turn back when I got their attention. I think the umbrella is toast though. It blew inside out and bent into a weird shape.

As mentioned earlier, there was essentially no bird action. The only bird (besides the bait-stealing grackle) that came near the open area was the ring-billed gull, actually several ring-billed gulls. I love to watch them because they are beautiful fliers, expert flycatchers, and have lots of interesting behaviors. They actually practice fly catching by tossing beach straw into the air and catching it. They weren't doing that on Saturday but they were doing the gull cooling behaviors: orienting themselves toward the sun and standing with mouth open into the breeze.

I intended to go to Plum Crazy for lunch but found out that it closed. I made an attempt at Mad Martha's but there was no place to park. Headed to Salisbury for a veggie sub at Angelina's instead. Somewhere along the line I downed about 3 liters of water. Yeah, it was hot out.

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