Monday, December 19, 2011

19th century piping plover description

From Zoology of New-York, or the New-York Fauna: comprising detailed description ...
By James Ellsworth De Kay
The Piping Plover or Beach-flea, or Beach-bird as it is sometimes called on Long island, ranges from 24° to 53° north, breeding from New-Jersey to Nova-Scotia. It appears with us about the last of April, and leaves during the month of October. It is a resident during winter from South-Carolina southwardly.
Audubon's bird biography of the piping plover:

Charadrius Melodus, Ord.
During the spring and summer months, this pretty little Plover is found on the sandy beaches of our extensive coasts, from the southern point of the Floridas to the confines of Maine. As you proceed towards Labrador, you find it in every suitable place, as far as the Magdeleine Islands, on the sands of which I saw many that were paired and had eggs on the 11th of June 1833. It breeds on all parts of the eastern coast of the United States, wherever the locality is adapted to its habits. On the 3d of May, this bird was found with eggs on the Keys of the Floridas; about a month later, you may meet with it in the States of Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. Those which leave the south at the approach of spring, return to it about October; and during the whole winter you may find them on the sandy beaches, from South Carolina to the western coast of the Floridas. The species, therefore, may be considered as resident with us.
While migrating eastward, the Piping Plovers proceed in pairs; and should one of these on its way find a convenient place for breeding, and remain there, several others are often induced to take up their abode in the neighbourhood. In autumn, they go in flocks of twenty or thirty individuals, and at times associate with other species, particularly the Turnstone, in whose company I have found them abundantly on the coast of Florida, in the winter months. They never proceed to any distance inland, even along the sandy margins of our largest rivers; nor are they seen along very rocky shores or places covered with deep mud.
The favourite breeding stations of this species are low islands, mostly covered with drifting sand, having a scanty vegetation, and not liable to inundation. In such a place many pairs may be found, with nests thirty or forty yards apart. The nest is sometimes placed at the foot of a tuft of withered grass, at other times in an exposed situation. A cavity is merely scooped out in the soil, and there are deposited in it four eggs, which are in a great measure hatched by the heat which the sand acquires under the influence of a summer sun; but in rough weather, and always by night, the female is careful to sit upon them. Her mate is extremely attentive to her during the period of incubation, and should you happen to stroll near the nest, you are sure to meet him at his station. The eggs, which are four, and have their points placed together, measure one inch and one-eighth by seven and a half eighths, are pyriform, broad, and flatly rounded at the larger end, and tapering directly to the smaller, which is also rounded. They are of a pale bluish-buff colour, sprinkled and lined nearly all over with dark red, brown, and black. Only one brood is raised in the season. The young, which go abroad immediately after they are hatched, run with remarkable speed, and, at the least note of the parent bird indicative of danger, squat so closely on the sand, that you may walk over them without seeing them. Their downy covering is grey mottled with brown; their bill almost black. If taken up in the hand, they emit a soft plaintive note resembling that of the old bird. The strange devices which their parents at this time adopt to ensure their safety, cannot fail to render the student of nature very unwilling to carry them off without urgent necessity. You may see the mother, with expanded tail and wings trailing on the ground, limping and fluttering before you, as if about to expire. It is true you know it to be an artifice, but it is an artifice taught by maternal love; and, when the bird has fairly got rid of her unwelcome visitor, and you see her start up on her legs, stretch forth her wings, and fly away piping her soft note, you cannot but participate in the joy that she feels.
The flight of this Plover is extremely rapid, as well as protracted. It passes through the air by glidings and extended flappings, either close over the sand, or high above the shores. On the ground, few birds are swifter of foot: It runs in a straight line before you, sometimes for twenty or thirty yards, with so much celerity, that unless you have a keen eye, it is almost sure to become lost to your view. Then, in an instant it stops, becomes perfectly motionless, and if it perceives that you have not marked it, squats flat on the sand, which it so much resembles in colour, that you may as well search for another, as try to find it again.
Their notes, which are so soft and mellow as nearly to resemble those of the sweetest songster of the forest, reach your ear long before you have espied the Piping Plover. Now and then, these sounds come from perhaps twenty different directions, and you are perplexed, as well as delighted. At the approach of autumn, this species becomes almost mute, the colour of the plumage fades; and it is then very difficult for you to perceive one that may be only a few yards off, until it starts and runs or flies before you. At this season they are less shy than before.

During winter they are generally in good condition, and their flesh is very delicate and savoury, although, on account of their small size, they seldom draw the sportsman after them. Their food consists of marine insects, minute shell-fish, and small sand worms.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Lawrence Dam

Lawrence Dam
Besides being an engineering marvel in its time, the Lawrence Dam is right next to a huge crow roost. The other day, I saw a Common Raven hanging out with the crows. Alas, I was not able to get a photo (dam photo was taken yesterday, Common Raven sighting was Monday afternoon). The other cool thing I noticed at the dam, was the Herring Gulls seemingly joyriding on the current. They'd float along toward the dam, take flight just before they got to the dam, fly back upriver, and do it all over again.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Brant on the march
Colt State Park was alive with birds on Sunday. The brant were occupying the grass between the puddle and the road. My first snow bunting of the season landed next to a picnic table. The trees were full of chickadees and tufted titmice. As always, there were many herring gulls and some ring-billed gulls. And, of course, pigeons.

Pigeons on the grass, alas!*
*Gertrude Stein, Four Saints in Three Acts.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Color in the Park

Color in the Park by Captain_Peleg
Color in the Park, a photo by Captain_Peleg on Flickr.

Autumn leaves in the park at Lawrence Heritage State Park Visitor Center.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Been walking in Lawrence of late. Took some photos.

Northern Canal Lock
The lock mechanism is fascinating.

Northern Canal has lots of bridges over it -- for trains, people, and vehicles.

It was wicked cloudy today, so made for interesting skies and reflections in the canal.

Pemberton Mill
I've been thinking a lot about the Pemberton Mill collapse (January 1860) lately, wondering what lessons we've learned and perhaps forogotten since then.
Starting Point of The Path
I found the award-winning documentary The Path | Fall of the Pemberton Mill very moving. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Warren Antiques Market

Saw this large banana-like thing sitting just inside the back door of Warren Antiques Market during Walkabout Warren. Was unable to resist going into the shop.

Friday, October 14, 2011

peeps and squash

Ever since I first spotted the squash blossoms in the wrack between lots 6 and 7, I've been wondering what the fruits would look like. One afternoon last week, I went to take a look.

the mystery squash (or gourd)
A few of the plants had these little round gourds on them.

more of those mystery squash are forming behind the blossoms
Some still had blossoms, but I could see the fruit forming.
There were tons and tons of peeps of various kinds. Hundreds of sanderlings were dining at the water line. There were a few other species mixed in with the sanderlings, but I couldn't quite make them out in the crowd.
semipalmated sandpiper
Semipalmated sandpipers were foraging in the tide pools. I've never seen that before. They were running around between the rocks.

It's funny. As I walked from the wrack to the water, I was more aware than usual of the different zones of life on the beach. The tide pools struck me as a much different place from the wrack line. I should gather my thoughts on that and write some more about it.


Friday, September 30, 2011

The Wrack Line is up on the refuge web site

Check out the Fall 2011 issue of The Wrack Line, the newsletter of Parker River National Wildlife Refuge:
wrackline fall 2011.pdf (application/pdf Object)

There's a nice year end wrap up by biological staff and a profile of my favorite fellow volunteer, Big Steve, by Jean (the unit formerly known as 3 for old time readers). I still can't believe 34 chicks fledged. That's the second highest total since I've been volunteering there. It's also nice to see refuge staff appreciating the volunteers. The way the Daily News portrayed our efforts this year, you'd get the impression that staff, especially Matt, did it all. The hard part is explaining to beach goers why the refuge closes the beach -- because the mission is wildlife first. The plover wardens are on the beach explaining that to individual visitors, some of whom are angry, some of whom don't understand, and some of whom are supportive. We may not be as heroic as the pepperweed pullers or as essential to daily operation as the info desk volunteers, but we are out there in the cold and the heat and the greenheads doing the hard part of communicating with the public.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Working Waterfront Festival -- Day 2

Sunday in New Bedford was slightly less humid and much less gray. There were far more visitors. The Foodways stage with its Seafood Throwdown outdrew all the musicians, authors, and demos.  We enjoyed Portuguese fado, folk songs from Maine, sea chanteys from Virginia, humor, and more poetry. I regretted that we had to choose between fabulous music and a panel discussion on navigation from dead reckoning to GPS. So much good stuff, so little time. We did manage to visit the Baker Books tent and pick up a few books.

Ana Vinagre Ensemble

Dave Rowe

Chopped Clams

Northern Neck Chantey Singers take their turn at the Humor and Hardship song circle

So much to say about such a wonderful festival, but there's this whole Red Sox Yankees Rays thing to shift my attention to.

Sky less gray over the tug Jaguar

Working Waterfront Festival -- Day 1

New Bedford Whaling National Park Visitor Center

The Working Waterfront Festival  showcases the fishing industry and the cultural traditions of America's largest commercial fishing port. There's music and food and boats and poetry and oral history and all kinds of activities.
Model Boat at Big Boats, Little Boats demo in Coast Guard Park
We were particularly excited to hear Geno Leech, a fisher poet from Washington, whom we heard a few years ago at the festival and loved. He did not disappoint! He drew a smaller audience than either the survival suit demo or the presentation on the two parlor lobster trap, but he fully engaged with those few of us who came for the poetry.

Geno Leech at the Contest Stage

Rhode Island's own fisher poet and singer songwriter, Jon Campbell, was also fun and also failed to outdraw survival suits and lobster traps. No, nobody could explain the coat hanger hanging over his head. Maybe it had something to do with the survival suits. Campbell had the second best line of the day:  "I ate so much salt cod awhile ago, you could lay me down in the road next time it snows."

Jon Campbell

Most memorable line and life lesson of the day came from the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association guy who was demoing the traditional two parlor trap (he called it the parlor and the kitchen) when asked about the famous UNH video showing how many lobsters passed in and out of a trap when only 2 got caught: "We're trying to outsmart an animal that has no brain."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wildlife and Nature Photography Weekend at Parker River NWR October 7, 8 & 9

This isn't up on the Parker River NWR web site yet so you, my lucky readers, are among the first to know. PRNWR is hosting an awesome Wildlife and Nature Photography Weekend in October in celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week. Mark your calendars now for October 7, 8, and 9.

A photographic print exhibition from the 2011 Parker River NWR Nature Photography Camp will be on display all weekend as well as photo contest prints.

On Friday, October 7, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM, join Jim Fenton for a narrated slide show at the PRNWR visitor center. This is a great opportunity to see Jim's fantastic work and learn about his image making process. You've seen Jim Fenton's photos of the birds of Plymouth Beach on display at Plimoth Plantation . Don't miss this chance to see Jim and his photos at PRNWR.

Saturday, October 8 has a full schedule of great workshops:

  • 8:00 – 9:30 AM: Bird Photography 101: with Nancy Landry. You may have seen her annual Plum Island bird calendar. She'll take you on a bird photo walk at Hellcat. Pre-registration required.
  • 10:30 – 11:30 AM: Point &Shoot Nature Photography: with Matt Poole. Matt's the refuge visitor services manager. You may have seen his photos on the PRNWR Facebook page. Pre-registration is not required. 
  • 1:30 – 2:30 PM: Connecting Kids & Nature Through Digital Photography:  with Matt Poole. Learn about last July's digital nature photography day camp and see images taken by and of the kids. Matt provides an overview of the camp, its purpose, structure, and future. Pre-registration is not required.
Sunday, October 9 offers a chance to catch Nancy Landry's workshop if you missed it on Saturday and to learn all about photography gadgets and thingamajigs with Jim Fenton, and see a film about ANWR, all building up to the announcement of the photo contest winners.
  • 8:00 – 9:30 AM: Bird Photography 101: Join Nancy Landry at Hellcat. Pre-registration is required. See above.
  • 10:30 AM – 12:00 Noon: What’s in the Bag?!: Jim Fenton talks  about the equipment he considers most necessary for his type of image-making and answers audience questions.  Pre-registration is not required. 
  • 12:30 – 1:30 PM: Moving Pictures Are, Well, Moving!: Celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week by watching a wonderful new film about Arctic National Wildlife Refuge(ANWR). Pre-registration is not required. 
  • 1:30 PM: Winners Announced for the 1st Annual Parker River NWR Nature and Wildlife Photo Contest!

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    remembering good times birding with a friend

    Long time readers of previous incarnations of this blog may remember my tales of birding with Hungarian friends: Peteri Lake, our search for Otis tarda, and the Tisza River. Maci, with whom I shared those adventures (and others), passed away last week.  She was a remarkable lady and I will never forget her. She was already 80+ when we shared these adventures. That Otis tarda was a life bird for both of us, and the last time I saw her in Budapest, she lit up remembering it.
    So, in remembrance of Maci, here are some links to our adventures:


    total eclipse -- in which we watch a total solar eclipse from her garden at Lake Balaton.


    endurance birding -- in which we deliver an ornithologist to Peteri Lake, go birding there, eat fish soup on the puszta, and see our life Otis tarda.

    extreme birding -- in which we fail to find black woodpecker and pygmy cormorant and I fall off a cliff looking at a ferruginous duck.

    francia krĂ©mes -- in which we bring Maci pastries, meet her pet turtle, and admire her evergreen oak.


    hello -- in which I have coffee with Maci and reminisce about our birding adventures. This was the last time I saw her.

    Saturday, September 3, 2011

    the dunes

    Looking back over the dunes from the top of the lot 5 boardwalk...

    Looking south along the beach...

    Looking north ...

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    a bug

    some kind of grasshopper
    This grasshopper landed in front of me on the Lot 5 boardwalk. Alas, my grasshopper/cricket/bug id skills are rusty.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011

    fungi of the lot 5 boardwalk

    I went to the overlook at Lot 5 in search of seabirds, of which I saw plenty of the usual suspects plus one Sooty Shearwater. There were a lot of Wilson's Storm-Petrels but no Leach's. I saw a Peregrine Falcon take out a Semipalmated Sandpiper -- kind of gruesome. Unfortunately, I did not get any photos of these things. Fortunately, I found lots of interesting-looking mushrooms to photograph.
    Three 'Shrooms
    That one on the left almost looks like wings.

    Closeup of the one on the left
    Deep in the Shadows

    Some of the shapes are sort of suggestive.

    One looked like Pac Man emerging from the pine needles to chase some ghosts.
    Among the Pine Needles

    There were tons more fungi to photograph, but the mosquitoes were starting to come chomp on me.

    Newly Emerged

    Monday, August 29, 2011

    some least sandpipers

    I saw lots of least sandpipers at Nelson Island before the storm. They were very friendly in terms of posing for pictures.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    moon snails

    Moon snail shells are all over the beach. So are the sand collars the females build to house the eggs.  They're among the coolest gastropods (yeah, they eat with their foot) on the beach. They're fearsome predators of other mollusks. They can move around under the sand to stalk clams in their burrows.

    I've never seen one with the foot extended. In fact, I mostly find empty shells or sometimes just the operculum  washed up in the wrack. The empty shells are popular with hermit crabs.

    Moon Snail Shell

    I did find one last week that was in its shell with the operculum tightly closed.

    Moon Snail -- Operculum Tightly Closed

    Operculum Washed up against a Rock

    This is the time of year when I find lots of the sand collars, especially on certain areas of the beach near Emerson Rocks or near Sandy Point.
    Part of a Sand Collar

    The sand collars are made up of the snail eggs sandwiched between layers of mucus coated with sand . They look fairly solid, almost like rubber gaskets sometimes, but there's more to them than is immediately visible.

    Sand Collar Closeup
    The sand collar forms around the female's foot so it takes on the shape of that particular snail's foot. It's not a complete circle because the female has to leave herself an escape route. Basically she starts laying eggs and the sand sticks to the mucus. The collar keeps forming until she stops laying.
    Sand Collar with Eggs Showing
    The eggs pass through some larval stages while still attached to the sand collar. I'm assuming that what I saw and photographed yesterday (above) were eggs, but I'm not familiar with all the larval stages they go through. There were a ton of collars with eggs showing -- I don't know if gulls (of which there were hundreds) interrupted the egg-laying process or some other factor made the eggs visible.

    More Partial Collars with Eggs
    The other extremely interesting thing about moon snails is that they are a top predator. They eat clams -- even big ones -- by drilling a hole in the shell. They have drill appendage called a radula that they use to make the hole. They also secrete some kind of acid to help soften the shell for drilling. Once they've drilled the hole, they squirt digestive juices into the clam and suck out the meat.

    Clam Shell with Countersunk Hole Drilled by Moon Snail
    Yes, I had to look up the past tense of countersink.

    Oh, and the main predators of moon snails are gulls.