Monday, August 12, 2013

latest update on the invisi-birds

The nesting season is winding down and signs of the change of seasons are in the air. Besides the tree swallow phenomenon and the arrival of migrating semipalmated sandpipers I mentioned in the last entry, another sign of a new season is the ripening of rose hips and beach plums.

Rose Hips

We're having a very productive year at Parker River NWR.

The latest update on the invisi-birds from biological staff (aka Jim):
Refuge Beach:  Active pairs: 2, active nests: 0, chicks: 2, fledglings: 42.
Sandy Point:  Fledglings: 2.
Town Beach: 0

Pairs: 32
Fledglings: 42
Fledglings per pair: 1.31.

According to biological staff there are still some least tern chicks running around on both the refuge and the Sandy Point beaches, but most have fledged.

Lots 2 and 3 are now open in addition to Lot 1. The refuge beach is still closed south of Lot 3.

Stay tuned for further updates.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

rain, swallows, kingbirds

Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Bird of The Day: Tree Swallow
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: none
Invisi-bird status: Still a few chicks that haven't fledged. Number actually seen by me: zero.

So my prediction that the rain would trick me like it did last Friday was wrong. However, I felt so badly about bailing on last week's shift because it was raining when I got up that I decided to go anyway. Hah! The rain lasted all day.  No need for plover wardens. Mother nature was doing fine at keeping people away.

It's that time of year again. The swallows are flocking. The annual sign warning drivers to look out for swallows in the road is up. Below is last year's sign. It was raining too hard to get a good shot of this year's sign. In any case, there were indeed swallows in the road. There were also starlings, American robins, semipalmated sandpipers, mourning doves, turkeys, purple finches, and a toad in the road.  The road was clearly the place to be.
Last Year's Swallow Warning Sign
I'm used to seeing peeps of various species in the puddles on the unpaved part of the refuge road, on the road to Nelson Island, and other dirt roads in the area, like Stackyard Rd. and Patmos Rd. What amazed me was semipalmated sandpipers on the paved road. There were plenty of them foraging in the salt pannes (which I will forever spell the correct way regardless of the spellchecker and the MassBird listserve conventions -- salt pannes are wet, salt pans are dry -- you could look it up). Shorebird migration is barely underway, so there weren't enormous numbers of semipalmated sandpipers yet. There were a few lesser yellowlegs and two greater yellowlegs too, but they seemed to know to avoid the road.

Sandpiper in the Road
Tree swallows swirling around in the rain are hard to photograph. I even tried to record video, but my feeble equipment cannot convey how the sky looked all full of swallows, eastern kingbirds, and rain. The mixed swallow and kingbird flock over Stage Island pool attracted a least tern, who tried to join in the action. An eastern kingbird got into a pitched battle with the tern, harassing it and being harassed back. The swallows ignored the whole thing.

Sky Full of Swallows and Rain
Sometimes groups of the swallows landed on trees by the side of the road and rested for a few minutes before swirling back up into the larger flock.

Swallows in Tree
Three turkeys crossed the road by the speed limit sign near the S-curves. I got their picture once they made it to the other side. You can't really see the third one at this angle, it was smaller and had its head down.

Starlings were doing the massive flocking thing too and blocking the road. At one point there was a giant flock that included American robins and common grackles too.  Smaller flocks of robins took to the road in several spots as well. Everything seemed to be flocking except the mourning doves, who always stand in the middle of the road anyway.

I took a photo of the mixed starling/robin/grackle flock through the wet windshield  to capture more of a sense of how rainy it was.
Starlings with Some Robins and Grackles
It's amazing how much the wet pavement looks like wet sand, but I can't imagine what there is of interest to semipalmated sandpipers on pavement.

Uh, This is the Road, Not the Beach
I couldn't get a photo of three purple finches in the middle of the road, nor of various gray catbirds, brown thrashers and northern mockingbirds walking across. So many birds walking instead of flying--maybe the swallows and kingbirds were taking up all the air space.

The best sighting of the day was a not even a bird. A toad hopped across the road from the marsh side to the dune side and obligingly posed for a photo. I brake for toads.

Toad in the Road

Thursday, August 8, 2013

long overdue update

The weather has not cooperated with my schedule lately. It seems that every time I am on the schedule for Friday morning, or just happen to be available on Friday morning, the day starts out pouring rain. It looks likely that there will be thunderstorms tomorrow morning too. If so, I guarantee that the rain will end around 11:30AM -- just in time for the next shift. Anyway, I have been neglecting the blog. After all, how much is there to say about not going to the beach? Most of these photos are from mid-July, but one can never have enough photos of Parker River NWR, right?
Looking South (July 12)
The invisi-birds have had a very productive season. Picture me doing a happy dance in the rain.
The latest update from biological staff (aka Jim) on August 2 listed 40 fledglings on the refuge beach and 6 at Sandy Point. He also reported 6 active pairs and possibly 5 chicks on the refuge beach.

If you've been following along at home with your own spreadsheet  32 pairs with 40 fledglings gives us 1.25 fledglings per pair. That is an excellent rate of productivity. By the way, I really wish that media coverage of piping plovers measured success by fledglings per pair rather than total number of nests. That's just a pet peeve of mine.

Looking North (July 12)
The least terns have been doing well also, though I don't have numbers. There are still least tern chicks hanging out on the beach. They should  be fledged soon.

Better Than A Stick Fence!
In other news, I like the new plastic posts that can be deployed at low tide. They are  better than a  Big Steve stick fence.

Hooksett Disc

There are still Hooksett discs around. And although I have met visitors from New Hampshire who asked about them, none of the visitors were actually from Hooksett.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

rain and a rarity

My favorite coffee, a life bird, piping plovers, least terns, and even bank swallows -- who cares about rain?

Friday June 28 AM Shift North (sort of)

Coffee of the Day:Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Bird of the Day: red-necked stint
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: Hotsticks bag
Invisi-bird Status:  Refuge beach: 31 pairs, 13 active nests, 34 chicks, no fledglings yet. Sandy Point: 4 pairs,7 chicks. Town beach: 0. Number actually seen by me: 2.

It was pouring rain when I woke up, but mindful of how the rain tricked me 2 weeks ago and stopped by 10AM, I decided to go to the refuge anyway, aiming for 9AM instead of 8. It was still raining when I bought my coffee at PICR, raining even harder as I passed the historic aerodrome, and still raining when I got to the refuge. There was not a single car in Lot 1(well, except mine) and not a soul on the north end of the beach. So where were all the cars that had entered the refuge ahead of me? A chance encounter with His Royal Highness, the King of Plum Island, aka Tom Wetmore revealed the answer. The red-necked stint that had been reported on the massbird listserve was being seen at the south end of the refuge beach. With no reason to get rained on at the north boundary, I high-tailed it south.

Willet on the Town Marker in the Rain
Along the way, I drank my coffee and stopped for a photo of the town marker willet - I'm sure it's always the same one - in the rain. Also saw the suicidal mourning dove pair in their usual spot in the middle of the gravel road. I wonder what they made of all the construction/commotion this spring.

Rainy Birders

Aside from nearly getting conked in the head with a birder's tripod as he was leaving the beach (the other birders pointed out that it would be a really bad idea to knock out a refuge volunteer :-)), I had no trouble finding the birders or the stint. Obviously I did not have my scope with me, as I was equipped for a day of plover wardening,  not a day of rarity chasing, but several people volunteered to lower their scopes down to my height and I accepted one of the offers -- a very nice lady.

Somewhat Drier Birders on the Red-Necked Stint
The stint came a lot closer and I got good looks with my binoculars too. It was hanging out with a semipalmated plover and sometimes a semipalmated sandpiper and a killdeer too. There were nice opportunities for comparison with the semipalmated sandpiper. Such a pretty bird!

Stint (Right Foreground) with Some Friends
I watched the stint and its companions from lots of different spots.  At one point it was close enough that I could watch it with the naked eye and attempt handheld non-digiscoped photography. Attempt is the key word. At full zoom in the foggy/rainy/hazy light, I couldn't really focus on it.

Bank Swallow Nests
As I was standing there, I noticed a bank swallow in my peripheral vision. I turned around and sure enough several bank swallows were flying in and out of their holes. At one point I counted 5 of them. Another birder (Strickland Wheelock I think, but I didn't  have my photographic guide to Massachusetts birders with me :-)) came over to look at the bank swallows and we had a great discussion about flight.

The rain  had let up and I'd gotten good looks at the stint, so I figured I would go back to the north boundary just to check on things. Things were quiet visitor-wise.  A pair of piping plovers were feeding on the town beach. I spotted the remains of a bonfire on refuge property, fairly close to the closed area. The bonfires have been moving slowly southward from week to week from the dunes at the town beach to the the Lot 1 access road between the dunes to right out there on the refuge beach.

This week's fire people meant business. I found an empty plastic bag of Hotsticks fire-starters.
Bag That Contained Bug Free, Kiln-Dried, Premium Hardwood Fire-starters
A least tern flew by me at eye level with a fish in its beak. The two piping plovers wandered in and out of the edge of the surf.
Piping Plover
And here's a brief entry on last week's shift. That should cover all the recent news.

Friday June 21 AM Shift North

Coffee of the Day: Boatyard Brew
Bird of the Day: Bonaparte's gull
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: unidentifiable plastic thing
Invisi-bird Status (actually from 6/14 -- didn't get an update on 6/21): Refuge beach: 32 pairs, 15 active nests, 28 chicks, no fledglings yet. Town beach: 0. Number actually seen by me: 3.

It was one of those days with lots of tiny moments.

Three visitors exclaimed that the new boardwalk, especially the stairs, is a work of art.

A third grader asked an excellent question about how the piping plover's nest site choices were being affected by sea-level rise and global warming.

A fisherman caught a flounder and kids came running from all over the beach to see it.

As I was thinking "gee, I haven't seen any Bonaparte's gulls this year" a small flock of them landed next to the ring-billed gulls on the beach.

I got a nice shot of a piping plover contemplating the vastness of the ocean.

Piping Plover
Weird Wrack Item of the Week

Bonfire Remnants on Refuge Property

Saturday, June 1, 2013

hazy, hot, and humid -- with boardwalk

Friday May 31 AM Shift North

Coffee of the Day: Tanzania Peaberry
Bird of the Day: eastern kingbird
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: hmm, no time to walk the wrack line this week
Invisi-bird Status:  Refuge beach: 22 pairs, 18 nests. Sandy Point: 4 pairs, 3 nests. Town beach: 0. Number actually seen by me: 5.

The once and future boardwalk is now a present reality! Yup, the Lot 1 boardwalk is back just in time for the hottest day of the summer so far, oh wait, it's still spring and it's 90 degrees. We have stairs down to the beach!

Look! We have stairs!
Last week, I had exactly one visitor.  This week I think I lost count at 23 (I put 23 in my report, but there may have been more.).  The big difference: Lot 1 is open. OK, maybe the heat is a bigger difference. People were streaming onto the beach starting before 8:00AM.  The tide was going out for most of the shift. I think low tide was a little after 11:00 AM. It was way cooler by the water so as the tide went out everybody moved closer to the water.  Visitors looked longingly at the empty beach in the closed area but were all cool with it when I pointed out a nearby piping plover pair feeding in the exposed sand flats near the boundary. I find the line "The birds are having their babies and we don't want to bother them" works very well with preschoolers, especially little girls in the pink phase.

Pushing the Limit
People set up as close as possible to the boundary, pushing the limit, so I just walked up and down and up and down for as long as I could handle it to make sure they had a good idea of where the boundary is and that I really am watching. I took the above photo from the boardwalk as I was leaving. You can see the chairs, toys, and people all lined up.

I had to be a big old meanie and tell a little girl and her mom that they could not fly her new kite on the refuge. I suggested they move to the town beach.  The mom had no problem with that. The kid was a kid. Speaking of little girls, I have rarely seen so much pink as I did today. Most girls had pink bathing suits, adorable pink beach chairs, pink shovels, pink buckets, pink trucks (???), you name a beach toy and they had it in pink. I wonder if the cool pink folding beach chair with canopy comes in adult size. I could be tempted.

Little Piping Plover and Medium Sized Wave
The northernmost "pair" of piping plovers continued their "just friends" behavior. They fed on the flats for hours but I saw no sign of mating behavior or scraping.  When pointing them out to a keen visitor, I said "buddy" instead of mate and when the visitor exclaimed "Buddy?" I told him the saga of how they act like a pair but haven't nested. Biological staff came by and we compared notes on these two. He came up with the idea that they're having a very long engagement.

Three more piping plovers flew in for a while near the end of my shift and fed along the town beach.  They were still there when I left, so I don't know if they returned to nests somewhere near there.

Low Tide -- Looking Toward the Boardwalk
The birding treat of the day was my first eastern kingbird of the season. Thoreau refers to June as "Kingbird Days" so it was kind of cool to encounter one on the last day of May as we enter into June.

plovers and terns and gannets, oh my

Friday May 24 AM Shift North

Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Bird of the Day: least tern
Weird Wrack Item of the Week:  green plastic thingie
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge beach: 21 pairs, 9 nests. Sandy Point: 4 pairs, 2 nests. Number actually seen by me: 2.

Cloudy Sky, Lots of Beach, Lots of Wrack
I half expected to be rained out today, but it stopped raining in time for me to get in nearly a full shift. It turned out to be a spectacular day. There weren't many visitors, actually there was only one that I actually spoke with, so I had plenty of time to observe the piping plovers and their little friends the least terns. Yup, least terns are back. Now if we can get them to nest near where the plovers are so they can scare off the predators with their dive bombing and pooping defense system, we'll be all set :-)

Progress on the Boardwalk
The one visitor I did talk with only wanted to know why Lot 1 was still closed. He'd forgotten the big storm and ensuing damage to the boardwalks (plural -- 1, 2, and 3 were all damaged but only 1 had to be rebuilt). I have recently started referring to that area of the dune as the once and future boardwalk. The progress is amazing. Bob of the refuge maintenance staff is doing awesome work. Volunteers have pitched in to lend a hand -- many hands -- and the public by and large has been patient.

Piping Plover in the Wrack

For quite a bit of the shift, a pair of plovers was hanging around feeding along the waterline and in the wrack near the once and future boardwalk. Like last week, I observed absolutely no mating behavior.  Unit 61 stopped by and we discussed the once and future boardwalk, the northernmost plover pair, and the amazing amount of sand that has come back to the beach in the last couple of weeks. Sand got us onto the ever popular/unpopular topic of jetties. We're both in the "jetties don't solve the problem" camp. He'd never read Orrin Pilkey, so I recommended The Corps and the Shore.

Anyway, neither of us spotted any scrapes or other evidence of nesting behavior on the part of the northernmost pair. I promised to watch them carefully for signs of nesting.
Tiny Plover with Big Wave
My big excitement for the day was the least terns. They are probably my second favorite bird after piping plover.  It was a treat to watch them.

There was an absolutely spectacular northern gannet show just offshore. Dozens of them were plunge diving and coming up with fish I could not identify. I need to work on "fish at a distance" :-) Some cormorants and both common and least terns joined in the frenzy so I gather there was major fish action.

Green Plastic Thingie
There continues to be lots of plastic trash in the wrack. I found a green plastic thingie that looked like part of a chair. I think I saw something chair-like and the same color green further up on the town beach, so it's plausible.  As usual, there were the inevitable Hooksett discs. Friends keep asking me when I'm going to write a book about them. Alas, a book about small white plastic sewage treatment discs does not have the appeal of Moby Duck's bath toys. It's possible that nobody outside the Merrimack Valley could be persuaded to be interested in the ongoing saga of the Hooksett discs.

The Inevitable Hooksett Disc
I played around with my camera trying to give the invisi-birds some contrast against the waves. Had I not used digi-zoom and high contrast, this bird would not be visible or would look like a couple of dark lines. It was seriously that camouflaged.

Invisi-bird Tries to Blend into Wave
Of course, being the color of dry sand (and white caps -- see above), these little guys stand out on wet sand.

A Little More Contrast with the Wet Sand
My favorite coffee from PICR,  piping plovers, least terns, and a gannet show made for a fantastic day.

Monday, May 20, 2013

lovely day with piping plovers

Friday May 17 AM shift

My favorite coffee, perfect weather, and first sighting of the invisi-birds on Friday must mean the forces of the universe are aligned in perfection. 

Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Bird of the Day: piping plover
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: a New York driver's license
Invisi-bird Status: 15 nests -- 13 on the refuge and 2 at Sandy Point. Number actually seen by me: 3!!!!!!

What a Gorgeous Day!
After most of the weather we've been having lately, I was expecting wind and fog. There wasn't any. The weather was stunning.
Where Plovers Dine
Biological staff came by with a ride-along guest. He asked if I'd seen any piping plovers feeding on the flats as the tide was going out. Once again, I said I hadn't seen any shorebirds of any kind. I know there are piping plovers and all manner of other shorebirds out there, but they have not been hanging around the north part of the beach.

See Them? Those Three Dots Along the Waterline? Yup!
Not long after biological staff and guest headed south, I saw a piping plover flying toward
me. It landed on the beach, right at the water line. Pretty soon another one joined it. The two of them were feeding like crazy -- doing that foot trembling thing that's actually called "plovering" because plovers do it (weird because some gulls do it too). They hung out there for quite some time. Every once in awhile, they would hunker down next to a long strand of kelp that had washed up. This was all too far away for me to see what they might have been doing with the kelp. I don't know what kind of insects or whatever a single strand of kelp might harbor. A third piping plover joined them foraging on the flats for awhile, but then it flew up the beach to the highest line of wrack near where the stairs from the Lot 1 boardwalk used to be. I lost track of it amongst the wrack, and resumed watching the other two. I even got to point them out to a visitor, who was happy to know they're really here.

Hard at Work on the Boardwalk
Speaking of the Lot 1 boardwalk, I could hear the saws and hammers and see definite progress. There's still a lot to do, because they'll need to build out a platform on either side at the end, and, of course, stairs.

Where Newbury Residents Party
Between visitors I walked around on the town beach to stretch my legs. I found another party site.  Newbury must be beach party central this spring. By far the strangest thing I found was a New York State driver license. The strangest thing about it was that it wasn't really damaged much. It really didn't look like it had spent much time in the ocean or in the Merrimack River. Maybe somebody dropped it while walking or partying on the beach.

Driver License in the Wrack
Just before I left for the day, I got word that the refuge road had reopened all the way down to Sandy Point. The construction work got done way early thanks to the dry weather.  What a day! Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, piping plovers, good weather, and the road construction is finished! Now if somebody could just wave a magic wand over the Lot 1 boardwalk...

cormorants, terns, and mystery tracks

Hey, I'm way behind in updating you all on such important stuff as piping plovers, progress on the Lot 1 boardwalk reconstruction, how windy it is on the beach, and what weird stuff is washing up on the beach. Lately when I'm not on the beach or at some sort of startup event or poetry slam, I'm gallivanting all over Massachusetts visiting places I want to add to New England At-Hand. So, forgive the lack of beachy updates and set the way back machine to Friday, May 10.

Coffee of the Day: Boatyard Blend
Bird of the Day: double-crested cormorant
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: rubber hose
Invisi-bird Status:  9 nests. Number actually seen by me: zero.

Fog to the South of Me
The day started out  foggy at Plum Island, but pleasantly warm and not windy for a change.  The fog was kind of picturesque. It reminded me a little bit of Nova Scotia.  Besides the ever present flock of longtailed ducks (shouldn't they be somewhere way north of here by now?) the first birds I spotted were 2 common terns, the first of the season. Now that the common terns are here, least terns should be arriving soon too.

Fog to the North of Me
The fog started to lift around the time  biological staff came by on the way to do his survey. He reported that we have 9 piping plover nests so far. There were some mystery tracks leading up the dune, right near the refuge boundary. They looked too big to be shorebird tracks of any kind that I'm familiar with.

Mystery Tracks
Biological staff checked out the mystery tracks and did not find any birds or nests over the top of the dune. I thought they looked like turkey tracks. We never did figure it out. Oddly enough, once the sun came out, the tracks were no longer visible.
A Few Double-crested Cormorants Moving North

There seemed to be a major movement of double-crested cormorants going on. It started with a few flocks of 50-100 each, then longer and longer lines of them in the thousands streamed by. The phenomenon went on for most of the 4 hours I was there.

A Way, Wicked Lot of Double-crested Cormorants Moving North
As the fog lifted, more visitors arrived, so I actually got to talk to interested people. The funniest thing was when some women from New Hampshire asked me if the Hooksett discs were still showing up on the beach.  It would have been funnier if they were actually from Hooksett, but still...
No Fog to the South of Me
By 11:00 AM or so, you never would have known the day had started out foggy.

No Fog to the North of Me

Besides Hooksett discs, there were a few bits and pieces of things that looked like plumbing supplies from the houses that fell in or something.  I've been finding small pieces of rubber hose that looks more like household stuff than stuff from a boat.

Rubber Hose
Work on the Lot 1 boardwalk is progressing. Lots of wood was delivered.

Boardwalk Rebuilding Supplies
The Lot 1 Boardwalk In Progress