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.