Friday, July 23, 2010

helicopters, haze, the universe, and everything

View to the south. Note how hazy it is.

Coffee of the Day: Sumatra
Bird of the Day: willet
Weird Wrack Item of the Day: this pink plastic handle:

Invisi-Bird Status: no update since last week; number actually seen by me: zero.

A Car in a House

Some days the adventure begins before I even get to the refuge. I don't mean the traffic or the cashier who charges me for 3 scones and 2 iced coffees in addition to my dark roast of the day (actually that was last week). I mean flashing blue lights, emergency vehicles of all shapes and sizes, detours, and general weirdness. The emergency vehicles are blocking Water Street. Said vehicles include a big tow truck -- the platform kind not the hook kind -- so I'm guessing accident. I can't really see what's going on though it appears to involve the building next to Starboard Galley. I'm focused on following the detour and getting to the refuge. No time for rubbernecking. Later on the beach I hear people saying something about a car in a house. On the way back after my shift, the street is open but there's yellow tape around the sidewalk in front of the building next to Starboard Galley. The entire front of the building is missing. Later I find out that, yup, a car hit a house.


At 8:00 in the morning the most dominant sound on entering the refuge has been willets for several weeks now. Lots and lots of willets reciting their pill-will-willet mantra form the background for a lone Savannah sparrow singing its heart out next to the boardwalk from Parking Lot 1. That soundtrack has been so regular this summer that I was thinking I should write a post about how I can tell which parking lot I'm at just by the bird sounds. Not this morning. It's awfully quiet. No willets. No Savannah sparrow. The seasons they are a-changin'. Time for willets to head south. There's a house sparrow perched on the shrub (Prunus maritima, I think) where the Savannah sparrow usually is. About half-way through my shift, a flock of a half dozen willets flies over. They are not calling. Silent willets? Has this ever been seen (or heard?) before? Ain't been seen/heard by me 'til today.

Attempted Kleptoparasitism

Dozens of gulls and cormorants are resting on the beach. Only a couple of cormorants are actively fishing. I watch one dive and come up with a small flounder that it swallows easily. An immature herring gull flies out there from the beach and lands on the water. A few minutes later the cormorant comes up with a slightly larger flounder and it's having trouble positioning it for easy swallowing. The herring gull flies around kind of feinting at it -- like it's trying to intimidate it into dropping the flounder. When that doesn't work, the gull flies straight at it and tries to grab the flounder out of its bill. The cormorant still has the flounder. The gull then lands hard on the back of the cormorant's neck, almost like a mammalian predator pouncing. Not only does the cormorant not drop the flounder, it finally actually swallows it! What a dramatic show of attempted kleptoparasitism!

Not the kleptomaniac

Ring-billed gull

A Shark in the Merrimack?

Common and least terns are flying by with fish hanging from their beaks. A flock of 5 great blue herons passes overhead. I hear a helicopter. It's to the north of me, flying over the mouth of the Merrimack. I get the binoculars on it and notice it's not a Coast Guard Jayhawk, nor is it the small black one that hangs out at the airport. When it circles around I see the channel 5 logo on the side. A news helicopter? What's up with that? Then I see another helicopter, and another, all hovering over the rivermouth. I imagine all kinds of tragic possibilities. I make a mental note to ask Gatehouse. The helicopters are still circling when I leave but I forget to ask Gatehouse because he's busy talking to a visitor about pink sand at Sandy Point (pink? it's purple, what up?). When I stop at Jabberwocky to pick up my specially ordered copy of Pete Dunne's new book, Bayshore Summer, and get an ice cold chai at The Nutcracker, which has free Wifi, I whip out my iPod Touch and post the helicopter question on Twitter (which automatically updates my Facebook status). One of my Facebook friends replies "Shark?" She was joking. Guess what? It really is a report of a great white shark in the Merrimack River. (This counts as a "stuff in the Merrimack" entry.) So here's what the helicopters were doing:


There are a million stories on the beach. This is only 4 of them. There are many more to tell. Oh, and so far I am liking Bayshore Summer very much.

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