Thursday, March 31, 2011

wrack item of the decade

I took a walk at Sandy Point the other day in the hope of seeing some of the invisi-birds. The wind kept bird action of all kinds to a minimum, but it was a great walk in the brilliant (but cold) sunlight.  As soon as I stepped onto the beach, I spottted one of the millions of plastic discs that washed into the Merrimack River from the Hooksett sewage treatment plant on March 6. Despite several beach cleanups since then, they're still around all over the place. I found many more as I walked along the beach. Y'know how I list the weird wrack item of the week after every plover warden shift? Well, I think the discs are probably the wrack item of the decade.

Hooksett Disc at Sandy Point
Not everything in the wrack was weird or plastic. There are often gull and crow feathers.

Crow Feather in the Wrack
I did a double take when I spotted this plant-like wrack item.  All kinds of plant material washes up, but I think this is the first artificial plant I've ever found on the beach. Look closely. The edges of  the "leaves" are frayed.

Not a Real Plant
The discs are about the size of a half dollar coin. And there are loads of them.
Another Disc from Hooksett on the Beach
They're still showing up on beaches further and further south in Massachusetts. They've made it to Cape Cod. Once they get into the Gulf Stream, they'll probably end up in England this summer.
Hooksett Disc with my Footprint for Scale

Another One -- In the Dunes
Somehow, the discs make things like lobster traps and truck tires seem like normal wrack items.
Lobster Traps and a Tire

Coincidentally, the new book Moby-Duck, about tracing a load of bath toys lost at sea, by Donovan Hohn has been all over NPR lately. I heard him on three different NPR shows in one day, including the locally produced Here and Now.   It was a little weird that Here and Now didn't make any connection with the Hooksett discs.  Not that weird, I guess. Sewage treatment discs are not nearly as cute as rubber duckies. I don't think anybody is going to get a bestseller out of tracing a bunch of plastic discs down the Merrimack River and onto the beaches of Europe.

Here's a shot of some kelp, which belongs in the wrack, to cleanse your visual palate.
Cleansing Shot of Kelp

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

Saw lots of skunk cabbage emerging today at Colt State Park in Bristol, RI.  Spring is way more advanced in Rhode Island than it is up here in northeastern Massachusetts. The flock of brant that has been wintering in the bay near Colt State Park seemed to be organizing itself for migration -- doing a lot of mass takeoffs and landings. The horned larks seem to have moved on already.

Another Skunk Cabbage

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cricket Husk in Quahog Shell

Found this quahog shell with a cricket husk inside among the wrack along Poppasquash Rd. in Bristol, RI. I wonder if it was there all winter.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Vern Laux on the "value" of the piping plover: "The haunting, plaintive calls of the piping plover, an ethereal strident 2-note whistle, on a cold New England beach in March make this species' “value” incalculable."

how to spell Merrimack

Don't know why I didn't do this before. I just ran the Google Ngram Viewer to compare the two most common spellings of the name of the major nearby river: Merrimack and Merrimac.

Merrimack vs. Merrimac

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sunday -- a wild goose chase

We were having breakfast at Malachi's in Providence when I happened to check my email. The RIBirds list was reporting a Ross's goose in Bristol. Had to chase it. Just had to.  We checked the Bristol Golf Course at the last place it had been reported.  Lots of Canada geese. No Ross's. Met a few birders looking for it. Met one birder who had seen it on Saturday and brought her husband back to see it Sunday with no luck. 

We checked several other spots on the golf course with no luck. We did find a huge glacial erratic boulder with the most fabulous lichens on it. It was like a huge abstract painting.
We checked Colt State Park, where it had also been seen. Tons of brant. Hordes of them. No Ross's goose.
The brant were very restless, taking off from the giant puddle in big groups, circling out over Narragansett Bay and then landing back on the puddle repeatedly. They had lots of herring gull and ring-billed gull company, as well as a few mallards.

Brant on the wing
Horned Lark
A few horned larks are still around.  They like to hang around on the grass next to the parking lots. 

On the way to check Poppasquash Road for the Ross's goose, we went through Coggeshall Farm where we saw a guy recording video of a cow nursing her calf.  It was a sweet scene but not really enough action for video.
Calf nursing
There were loads more Canada geese and brant on the water along Poppasquash Road, but, you guessed it, no Ross's goose.

A good time was had by all.

Saturday -- sunny refuge

Saturday was one of those days. The original plan was to meet my cousin for breakfast and go to the plover warden orientation at the refuge.  Then my condo association decreed a mandatory smoke alarm inspection for which somebody had to be home or else at the exact same time as the plover warden orientation. Went to plan B -- abandon trip to Plum Island and stay home waiting for fire inspector guy. Guy showed up early.
Passed fire inspection. Realized if I high-tailed it out of here I would only be 10 min. late for the plover warden orientation and maybe could do lunch after -- messaged cousin with plan C and headed for the refuge headquarters.

So, like, I've been doing the plover warden thing for 16 years and have been known to describe the nesting cycle of the piping plover in my sleep (just ask my beloved) and the orientation is optional for returning volunteers. However, I wanted to make sure I met Ranger Poole and make sure I'm up to speed on the changes he's considering implementing regarding the volunteers.  Besides that, I really needed just to see pictures of cute plover chicks to jolt me out of the winter doldrums. Luckily, Jean had lots of new slides with plenty of cute chicks.
Salt Pannes still frozen -- are those the same geese as yesterday?
 I introduced myself to Ranger Poole, but didn't hear anything about what changes are happening. We chatted a little bit about the refuge's Facebook presence, which only has 89 "likes." There's gotta be a way to get more leverage with social media on behalf of the wildlife of Parker River NWR. Things have come a long way since my primitive hand-coded (ye olde timey HTML of the early 90s) journal was the refuge's only web presence.

But I digress. So anyway, I headed over to Mad Martha's for lunch/breakfast/brunch. Unable to connect with cousin despite "technology", I still had a delicious meal and as a bonus had a fun experience talking with a little boy who has the same iPod Touch that I do. He was about 7 and he was the one who initiated the conversation. He wanted to know how many apps I have. I showed him iBird Plus since I seemed to be in educator mode. He and his sister each had a state bird to research for some project. His was Illinois, northern cardinal. Hers was Delaware, blue hen chicken. I showed him northern cardinal. Couldn't figure out what blue hen chicken was and there was no wifi so I couldn't google it. It's a domestic bird, so not in iBird Plus. They wanted a Skype demo, but I explained I couldn't do it without wifi. The boy was jealous that I have so many apps when he only has four. His favorite is Angry Birds, of course. I have the only iPod Touch in the universe that does not have Angry Birds on it :-)

Then it was over to the refuge to take a few pictures of what it looks like when it's not raining. I swear those exact same Canada geese were on the exact same spot on the ice. I forgot to reset the ISO setting on the camera from Friday, so the photos are a little overexposed looking, but they still pretty much convey how things look on an ordinary March day (as opposed to one of those extraordinary spring days when the sky is deep blue and everything is crisp -- melting ice is by definition not crisp).

Canada geese on the ice
 There are even more puddles everywhere and the trip down the dirt road to the Sandy Point parking lot covered my car with mud. Ah spring.

Melting snow
Berries and puddle
There is a little bit more open water along the edges of the Salt Pannes too.

A little more open water
I did not venture onto the beach. I didn't see any of the plastic discs from Hooksett. (I know regular readers are expecting a "stuff in the Merrimack" entry about the Hooksett fiasco. Maybe I'll do one soon. Meanwhile, diplomatic relations between Massachusetts and New Hampshire remain tense.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Friday -- rainy refuge

Friday 3/11
The Salt Pannes
After I dropped off books for the MRFRS book sale at the Unitarian Church in Newburyport (very historic by the way), I headed over to the refuge between downpours to see what I could see. Between the rain and the fog caused by melting ice and melting snow it was hard to see much of anything. The Salt Pannes were pretty much still frozen. A small group of Canada geese hung out on the ice, at least I think they were Canada geese. They looked like this:

Foggy Birds
Even when the rain wasn't pouring down, everything was dripping wet. The remaining winter berries, rose hips, and so on, looked all glittery.

Dripping Wet

Dripping Wet II
I did see the first (and second, third, fourth, and fifth :-)) redwinged blackbird of the spring. It was thrilling to hear them trilling in the rain.

First Redwinged Blackbird of Spring
Second Redwinged Blackbird of Spring
Puddles of snow melt were everywhere.

Melting Snow Near Parking Lot 7
The visibility on the beach wasn't any better, but it had stopped raining again so I took a short walk. I didn't see any of the contaminated discs from the Hooksett  sewage treatment plant, although they apparently started to be reported on Thursday. I did see two great black backs, many shells, and lots of sand.

Great Black Back
Great Black Back in Flight
Sand Dollar
Whatever lives in here keeps a nice neat hole

So that's how the refuge really looks on a rainy Friday afternoon in March.