Friday, June 3, 2011

shorebird extravaganza

Picture it: Friday morning. First time at the south boundary this season. Bright sun. Fierce wind off the water.

Coffee of the Day: French Roast (they didn't say origin, but I'm guessing Colombian)
Bird of the Day: Ruddy Turnstone
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge beach: 11 pairs, 9 nests, 3 chicks!. Sandy Point: 6 pairs, 6 nests.  Newbury town beach: 1 pair.  Number actually seen by me: zero.
Weird Wrack Item of the Day: a huge truck tire -- about 6 feet in diameter

tide pooling
No sooner had I finished my coffee than clouds of shorebirds started landing along the water line.  The tide was out and just starting to turn so there was plenty of wet sand for them to forage in. The wrack was alive with bugs too, so there were buffet options at the migrant shorebird restaurant. The first group was mostly black-bellied plovers and sanderlings with a half dozen Bonaparte's gulls. I've written before how Bonaparte's gulls really act like shorebirds. They tend to hang with sanderlings and they walk along probing the sand -- very different from ring-billed gulls, not to mention herring gulls and great black backs. One bonie had the full black hood, very elegant looking.
looking north
Another, larger, flock arrived and started feeding. This one was mostly semipalmated sandpipers with a few semipalmated plovers. Pretty soon they were joined by more black-bellieds and a ruddy turnstone. A killdeer flew in over the dunes and landed on the beach. It gave up on the group feasting at the water and went after the flies in the wrack instead. A couple of eastern kingbirds joined in the flycatching too. A couple of great black backs were finding interesting things to eat too, one had a crab and one had what looked like a dead skate.

One of the most encouraging sights of the day was a large school group doing a tide pool field trip. They had guides from Mass Audubon's Joppa Flats sanctuary. It really lifted my spirits to see kids enthusiastic about being outdoors and learning about the beach ecosystem.  It took me back to how much I loved the outdoors and nature when I was that age.

My one challenge of the day was a toddler, not quite 3 years old yet, who ran onto the closed beach area as soon as he arrived. I tried my usual gentle "We have some very special birds here having their babies and we can't bother them."  He ran deep into the closed area screaming. The mother asked me what kind of birds, so I explained piping plovers. The kid came back and I asked him if he knew what endangered meant -- fairly young kids often do know about endangered species.  Kid did not want to talk to the mean, scary, old lady at all.  I thought the mother had him under control. The next thing I knew he was booking it north at alarming speed for a toddler, in the closed area of beach. The mother ran after him and caught him. As you can see from the picture, looking south, it's pretty rocky where we were so naturally he was going to go for the flat open beach in the closed area. Trying to be helpful, I suggested that they move to Sandy Point where there is a lot more open beach for him to run around.  The mother and her friend decided to leave. The kid was not going along with this. He pitched a violent tantrum, stomping on the wrack, crying, yelling, screaming, and refusing to follow the adults. I tried to encourage him to follow them but that only set him off more. One of the Mass Audubon people who was with the school group started towards us to help. Finally the mother came back, picked up the kid, and carried him off, literally kicking and screaming.  This goes into the report as "number of visitors in closed area: 1".
looking south

Most of the shorebirds had moved on north, except for the killdeer. More eastern kingbirds arrived as the flies got thicker. A couple of mallards surfed on the incoming tide.

I greeted a group of people who were looking for a good spot. It took me a couple of minutes to realize, hey,  this is a minister, a couple, and two witnesses, a wedding! I suggested they go down toward the end of the point past the school groups.  By time they finished the ceremony, the school groups had gone back to their buses for lunch. A couple of the Mass Audubon folks were still there and I pointed out the happy couple to them. It was the total feelgood vibe for the day.

I congratulated the happy couple  and they asked me to take a picture of the wedding party with the ocean in the background. Despite the sun glare, I got a nice picture with the camera of one of the brides (this is Massachusetts). Then one of the witnesses gave me her camera to do the same.  The wind blew my hat off but I managed to catch the hat with my left hand and snap the picture with my right hand. The wedding party was impressed.

The Audubon people congratulated the happy couple as they were leaving the beach.

Back at headquarters, Jody was assembling the fishing gear for Saturday's kid's fishing day -- an impressive array of surf rods in the back of the pickup truck.

The oystercatchers that one of the Mass Audubon folks had told me about were no longer at Joppa Flats, as the tide had come in, so I missed the rare sighting.

This just in (Saturday morning as I write this), we have chicks! Got email from Jean this morning and also saw a Facebook posting from Matt -- the latest check yesterday (after I left) found that one of the nests is hatching-- 3 chicks, 1 egg to go!

Have I mentioned lately that I'm in love with Massachusetts? :-)

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