Friday, July 30, 2010

another busy day on the beach

Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Bird of the Day: common tern
No interesting wrack items or Coast Guard assets sighted (However, I was wishing I had the power to make Coast Guard assets appear on demand). One refuge biological staff sighted.
Invisi-bird Status: no update this week. The numbers on the white board haven't been updated since July 15. Number seen by me: zero.

The first thing I notice this morning (well, besides the group of RVs camping at the airport) is mass quantities of common terns. There are more common terns flying around the north end of the beach this morning than I have seen collectively all summer. Migration is in full swing.

The second thing I notice is that the crazies are out in full force. All kinds of crazies. You got your disgruntled plover-hating locals, your inattentive parents (Whatever happened to helicopter parents? Do they only hover over imaginary danger?), and your clueless boat skippers. I had forgotten that you don't need a license or a safety certificate to drive a power boat in Massachusetts.

A powerboat comes in dangerously close to shore to pick up a passenger. What the?!?! The passenger is trespassing in the closed beach area, the boat is illegally, and like I said, dangerously, close to shore. Some women fishing for flounder ask me if I've ever seen anything like this before. Nope. Never. Never mind keeping people and boats out of the closed area, which is my actual duty, I'm frickin' worried about injury or loss of life! The boat is aground. The skipper tries to get it out and only succeeds in turning it parallel to the waves. This is not good. A big wave sets the boat up on its side. Fortunately it doesn't capsize. The skipper is in the water trying to push the boat off the sand. I ask if he needs help. "Maybe," he says. I call for help but Gatehouse thinks I am saying "dog" when I am saying "boat aground". I try to hold radio at correct angle to mouth and enunciate clearly but no luck. Nobody but Gatehouse can hear me at all. Adrenalin is flowing as I try to figure out how I and the flounder ladies can rescue these people if the boat capsizes. Finally the idiot gets the boat unstuck from the bottom and perpendicular to shore with the bow facing shore so the engine is free to go into reverse without getting the guy more stuck. They leave and I'm still shaking. I radio Gatehouse that the problem is solved. Unit 61 radios that he only heard Gatehouse's part of the conversation. Gatehouse tells him it's resolved.

I chase down a stray toddler and return her to her Mommy. Y'know, if it was just a matter of trespassing in the nesting area, it wouldn't be so bad, but these stray toddlers wander into the water and have no frickin' clue about the undertow, the rip, whatever you call it in your part of the world. Grrr. The Mommy at least has the class to say she's sorry.

A woman who is impatient for the beach to reopen asks me how many plovers are still here. She's been told all but three have left and "the girl" (plover warden? biologist? random person?) told her they don't know what's taking those last three so long to leave. I tell her I don't know the numbers. The last numbers I had were from July 15 and there were still 15 chicks. I don't know how many of those have fledged.

I try to use the speech that usually works for me about how vulnerable the chicks are between when they hatch and when they fledge. "People are vulnerable too," she says and goes on about how the people need the beach to cool off during this terrible heat wave. Hunh? I have trouble believing that elderly people are dying of heat stroke because they can't access 6 miles of a national wildlife refuge beach. I think the boat aground thing must have scrambled my brain because I stupidly say that people have air conditioning. She argues that not everybody has air conditioning. Of course that's true. I don't argue with her on that point anymore though I'm still internally trying to imagine how opening the refuge beach would save even one life. There's plenty of beach.

The woman keeps after me even after I turn away. She uses the old "Crane's Beach doesn't close the beach" argument. I respond with the official "This is a national wildlife refuge, our mission is wildlife first" argument. I explain that Crane's Beach is privately owned by the Trustees of Reservations. It is not a national wildlife refuge. She then tells me that the reason the piping plovers do better on Crane's Beach than on the refuge is because our closing the beach means there are no people to scare the foxes away. First time I've heard that. I tell her there is no argument I can make that will convince her that saving the piping plover is worth closing a few miles of beach and that if she wants to change the policy of the USFWS, she should contact headquarters in Washington.

I'm fielding questions and chasing toddlers at a pretty pace when ... pause dramatically ... the boat comes back. Seriously. Apparently he is dropping off the woman he picked up earlier. She jumps off the boat into the rip. The flounder fishing ladies are astounded. "He expects her to swim thru the rip!?!" they exclaim. He manages not to run aground. The passenger manages to get ashore, in the closed area again. I tell her to stay out of there and that they are darn lucky nobody was hurt. She shrugs it off and says it won't happen again.

By the time my relief arrives, I am exhausted. Everyone to whom I tell the tale, from Gatehouse to coffeeshop waitresses is astounded that no one got hurt and that you apparently don't need a brain to drive a boat in Massachusetts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Would you like to receive news releases and review copies of Princeton University Press's forthcoming birding and natural history books? Please contact me at for more information.