Saturday, May 31, 2014

loomings and least terns (Friday's shift)

Lines of Wrack
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Bird of the Day: least tern
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: a prescription bottle (empty)
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge beach: 11 pairs, 5 nests; Sandy Point: 5 pairs, 3 nests; Number actually seen by me: 1.

The first thing I noticed when I started my shift was the very steep berm. My photo doesn't really capture it, but the slope of the beach between that leftmost (in the photo) line of wrack and the water line is really steep.  There was a fair amount of sand roiled up by the waves too, so more sand was arriving as the tide came in.
Wrack Item of the Week
 Trash-wise, the big change was that the pink plastic kiddie car on the town beach is finally gone! Did some child finally claim it? Did the tide pull it back out to sea? Did beach cleanup volunteers pick it up? I guess we'll never know.  In general, there was a lot less plastic trash in the wrack.  The weirdest thing I found was a green plastic prescription bottle.  It was empty of both prescription and message. It would be weird to send out a message in a prescription bottle anyway. The other weird item was a funnel I spotted on the closed area of the beach. I'm picturing a giant hermit crab adopting it as a hat. :-)

Runner Up for Wrack Item of the Week
While scanning the closed area with my binoculars, I spotted something that looked like a really tall piece of driftwood -- like a tree standing upright or something. It was hazy enough that I figured it was a looming (a mirage in which objects below the horizon seem to be raised above their true positions). I've had the experience of a great black back looking the size of a toddler, so I thought nothing of it for a few minutes. Once I'd finished my coffee, I noticed that the looming was moving. As I got a better view, I realized it was a person. I radioed Gatehouse and described the location as between lots 2 & 3. Eventually, Unit 8 arrived on the beach and took a look. He doesn't have as much experience staring at the beach, so wasn't sure where each of the boardwalks comes out. After watching the person walk up toward the dunes and back toward the water, 8 set out on the refuge road to see if there were any vehicles in lots 2 or 3 that might give a clue. The only vehicle he found was a refuge vehicle that Gatehouse confirmed was Frank. I doubt that it was Frank on the beach at that spot. Anyway, the person disappeared before I left. I'm now, in 20/20 hindsight, thinking that the haze did throw off my perception of distance and the trespasser was considerably south of lot 3 and was merely being projected above the horizon. Dang, I guess I need more experience with loomings.

Meanwhile, a squadron of least terns flew over my head bearing fish. I narrowly dodged a stream of least tern excrement. The least terns were very active fishing and then flying to the southwest. I'm guessing they're setting up housekeeping somewhere to the southwest of where I was standing. The leasties outnumbered the common terns by quite a few.  They were definitely the most noticeable avian life form of the day.

One piping plover put in an appearance for about a half hour feeding along the water line and around the big piles of seaweed washed up.  It kept vanishing behind the piles of bladder wrack and kelp. I managed to get a photo of it between piles.

For such a gorgeous day, visitor action was slow. I only spoke with one visitor, who wanted an update on how many nests there are.

To recap: 1 piping plover, 1 visitor, and 1 trespasser (who may or may not have been a mirage). Just another day on the beach.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Least Terns Are Back

Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Harrar
Bird of the Day: least tern
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: unidentified round thing
Invisi-bird Status: Haven't seen this week's report yet.  Number actually seen by me: 2

Piping Plover in the Wrack Line
I really thought my shift would be rained out, but the rain stopped just in time. The heavy clouds mainly kept people off the beach. A few guys were fishing for stripers and not catching  much of anything. One guy caught the smallest striped bass I've seen yet. That was about it.

Had my first Big Steve sighting of the season. He was just leaving when I was picking up the radio and backpack at the gatehouse.  Also had a Tom Wetmore sighting. Would love to know what he saw with his scope looking out beyond the flock of long tailed ducks.
The pink plastic kiddie car is still on the town beach in the same spot. I didn't bother taking a picture of it because it hasn't moved.  There were the usual Hooksett disks on the beach. They're going to be there forever. There was even one in the parking lot at Plum Island Coffee Roasters. The strangest thing I found as I walked the wrack line was large round thing about the size of a salad plate - gray on top, black on the sides. It looked like some kind of filter disk though I can't figure out what it might be a filter from.

Large Round Thing in the Wrack Line
For most of the shift it was just me, the fishermen, and the birds. Two piping plovers flew in from the general direction of the 0.2 mile marker, doing their trademark peep-lo call. The both fed for awhile then one flew back. The other one stayed, running back and forth along the water line. It didn't stay in the closed area (they can't read after all), but it would turn back as soon as it got to about even with the boardwalk (if you drew a line from the boardwalk to the waterline, I mean).

Piping Plover in Outgoing Tide
A couple of common terns and a small flock of about 6 least terns showed up and were diving like crazy. It's good to see the least terns back for the season. I hope they nest on the refuge beach. It was fun to compare the least and common terns' diving techniques side by side.

At the Water's Edge
I hadn't really had to say much more than "Hi!" to a few visitors until a huge group of high school kids arrived on a field trip.  One of the teachers came over and told me they knew about the plover nesting, assured me they had a group permit, and all that stuff. I gave one of the other teachers some of the handouts about piping plovers.  The kids were doing some kind of interdisciplinary art project on the beach, which seemed harmless enough.  When the one plover who'd been around all day returned to the public use area, I asked the teachers to make sure the kids stayed at least 10 feet away from it.  They assured me everything would be OK.  Then I spotted boys digging in the dunes and girls sitting in the dunes right next to the signs that tell you the dune is fragile and keep out. I flagged down a teacher and asked him to talk to them, which he did. So far so good. Just before it was time for me to leave I spotted more kids sliding down the dune (you know, the one that's been slowing building back up -- you've seen it on the news...) ... Flagged down another teacher and she got right on it. I was relieved I didn't have to call Law Enforcement.  I did mention the situation to Gatehouse when I left.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

May 16 -- Feeding Frenzy

Invisi-bird  with Bubbles
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Bird of the Day: common tern -- lots of 'em
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: the pink plastic kiddie car is still still here
Invisi-bird status: Refuge beach 28 pairs, 12 nests; Sandy Point 4 pairs, 2 nests; Town beach 0. Number actually seen by me: 2.

Looking North
When I arrived, the beach was empty except for two striper fishermen and a trail of footprints. The fishermen weren't catching much. Whatever stripers they hauled in were smaller than my cat (who is very small) and got thrown back immediately.  The footprints of a person and a dog looked like they had been there even before the fishermen arrived. I never saw anybody in the closed area.

Looking South

Trespasser Footprints
Visitors were scarce despite the beautiful sunny day. That may be because it was not a beautiful sunny day inland. All morning I kept expecting the rain to move toward the coast but it didn't. 

Invisi-bird at Low Tide
Two piping plovers hung around together feeding just to the south of the boundary, but I saw no signs of mating behavior.  Birding in general was fairly slow until almost lunch time. There were the usual long tailed ducks, a few cormorants, and three common terns. Then suddenly there were hundreds of terns, hundreds of cormorants, gulls, and various kinds of diving ducks all in one spot in a giant feeding frenzy. Something big must have chased all the small bait fish toward that spot. Terns were diving from every direction. It was spectacular to watch.
Feeding Frenzy
I hope the Mass Audubon Birdathon people I saw on the Lot 1 boardwalk got to sort through all those species to add to their tally.

Mass Audubon Birdathon People
Instead of yet another photo of the pink plastic kiddie car, which is inexplicably still here, I'll include a somewhat hazy photo of the light reflecting off solar panels on a roof near the northern end of the island. At times it looked like a giant column of light hovering over the roof and stretching way up into the sky. Maybe the homeowners were signaling an alien spaceship :-)

Column of Light Reflecting Upward off Solar Panels

May 9 -- The Birdiest Day Yet

Coffee of the Day: Tanzania Peaberry
Bird of the Day: brown thrasher
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: a seat by the fireside
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge beach 24 pairs, 4 nests; Sandy Point 4 pairs, 2 nests, Town beach 0. Number actually seen by me: 3.

Interesting clouds, relatively little wind, lots of birds ... I repeat lots of birds. This was by far the birdiest day yet. Common terns are back. Three black-bellied plovers were feeding along the water line near the three piping plovers and one semipalmated sandpiper (one -- they can exist alone ? :-)). An osprey flew directly over my head.  The beach just seemed totally alive with birds.

Still Here!
The pink plastic kiddie car is still here. I'd have thought some kid would have taken it home by now.

A Seat by the Fireside
It looks like the illegal beach bonfire season has started. I spotted freshly burnt logs, empty beer bottles, and a cushion positioned cozily by the fireside.  Only one cushion? I guess the other firebugs sat in the sand. Sigh. I'm thinking we need a webcam set up on the Lot 1 boardwalk pointed at this spot. That would probably be cheaper than posting law enforcement out there all night. Anyway, at least these people didn't leave the freakin' fire burning (that has happened before).
The birding got even better as I was leaving after my shift. Two brown thrashers were bustling around in the underbrush in the dune near the gatehouse. As I was watching them, an eastern towhee landed on a bush right above them and admonished me to drink my tea.  It actually seems like summer already.

May 2 - Waves, Longtailed Ducks, and Interesting Wrack Items

Sea and Sky
Coffee of the Day: French Roast
Bird of the Day: long tailed duck
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: paint-spattered hard hat
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge beach: 16 pairs, Sandy Point: 2 pairs, Town beach: 0, Number actually seen by me: 3.

The invisi-birds were getting pretty bold today, at times even feeding right in front of me outside the closed area -- still on the refuge, not the town beach, so no worries. Three of them were spread out along the water line, often doing the foot trembling thing to stir up the intertidal muck in search of tiny invertebrates.

Doing the Foot Trembling Thing
We've had some big waves lately and some new interesting trash has washed up. Hmm, could I make a career out of photographing trash in the wrack line? Probably not, but if by taking pictures of it, I can show how big a problem it is, I'll keep doing it.

Construction Hard Hat
As I walked along the wrack line, I noticed some weird wrack items that appeared to be related. A paint spattered hard hat lay a dozen yards north of an empty rusting paint can.  Of course, there's no telling if they came from the same construction site, but they could have.
Paint Can
Big waves bring up more than trash, though. I found many different kinds of seaweed.
Hundreds of long tailed ducks were hanging out just offshore - naked eye identification range. The coolest thing about them was a behavior I had not seen before. They were surfing, riding the curl, and then diving into the wave just before it would break over them. I tried to get a photo of them doing this, but by the time I would get them in focus, they were underwater.
In other bird news, cormorants are on the move, tree swallow numbers are increasing, and a flock of 50+ sanderlings flew over in their tight, mind-melded way.

Monday, May 19, 2014

April 25 - From Plovers to Poets (Busy Day)

Looking North
Coffee of the Day: Tanzania Peaberry
Bird of the Day: long tailed duck
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: that plastic kiddie car is still here!
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge beach: 16 pairs. Sandy Point: 2 pairs. Number actually seen by me: 3.
Wave Breaking Behind Driftwood
What a gorgeous day! I worked a shorter shift - left at 11AM - because I had committed to photograph the Spoken Word Olympics (Party) aka SWOP in Lowell. It was a very good for plovers and poets and long tailed ducks and big waves.  There were tons of long tailed ducks enjoying the waves.
Still Here
I managed to use my Jedi mind control powers to turn back two dogs who were about to trespass on the refuge. They turned back before I even spoke to their human.

Still Here
Trash-wise, I was somewhat surprised to see that pink plastic kiddie car still here in the same spot. The plastic hatch-cover-like thing was still on the beach too but not in the same spot. The gull wing was still here but not surrounded by wrack. 

Still Here
The view was unbelievable. I could see the White Island Light Station clearly from the beach. I've seen hazy loomings of various Isles of Shoals landmarks before, but this was a clean crisp view of the light station and it was not floating above the horizon the way a looming does.

A couple of piping plovers foraged along the water line, but I didn't see any mating behavior.  They were a little further south than the last time I was watching them. I guess the pickings weren't as good nearer the boundary.

I was kind of reluctant to leave the beauty of the beach for the beauty of the young people doing poetry, but took off nonetheless. Despite leaving early, I still barely made it to Lowell on time. I-495 was having one of those I-495 days: an accident in Amesbury, a car in the median just south of Amesbury, construction in Lawrence, construction in Andover.... and so on.

National Poetry Month
The young people were great. The event was fun. Photographing the young poets in their writing workshops and on stage in competition was a good challenge for me. The main thing I learned is that it's a lot easier to visually convey the act of writing when the kids are using pen and paper than when they're using their phones to write. I mean an intent face staring at screen with thumbs positioned for typing could mean anything.  Must explore that theme more at some point.

Friday, May 9, 2014

April 11 - Nice Weather Again

Looking South
Coffee of the Day: Tanzania Peaberry
Bird of the Day: red throated loon
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: that kiddie car again/still
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge beach: 12 adults. Sandy Point: 5 adults. Number actually seen by me: 1.

It's Still Here

A lone piping plover hung out feeding along the wrack line for hours. It came pretty close to me a few times.
Piping Plover in the Wrack

There were more birds around this week, including a whole lot of long tailed ducks and three red throated loons. Lots of tree swallows too. I almost got fooled by the purple martin decoys on the purple martin colony next to the VCS. Thought only one was a decoy and it had attracted the other two, then realized none of them were moving.

Gull Wing in the Wrack

My favorite question was about the small flies and beach hoppers in the wrack. Someone wanted to know what they were.  Of course I had to talk about how important they are for the birds to eat.

Another question, which I overheard a kid asking a dad, was where could this plastic hatch have come from? I didn't jump in and give my standard half-joking answer "the Goffstown dump" but I did think it. For those who don't remember the Mother's Day flood of 2006, I'm referring to the fact that loads of trash barrels labeled Goffstown ended up on Plum Island. Anyway, I just privately laughed to myself about all the places all this trash comes from and how people all the way up the Merrimack have no idea how much of their trash ends up here. Please don't throw things in the river, okay?

Nobody asked where the gull wing came from.

This Plastic Hatch-like Thing is Still Here Too
The sky cleared dramatically by the middle of the day. I handled all visitors and dogs appropriately and actually saw a piping plover, so I call it a successful shift.

Looking North

Sand Dollar

April 4 - First Plover Warden Shift of 2014 Season -

Note: I started writing this on April 4, but didn't get back to it because April got really hectic. Will try to catch up soon.
It's that time of year again already!
Coffee of the Day: Boatyard Brew
Bird of the Day: piping plover
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: kiddie car
Invisi-bird Status: they're baaaack! Number actually seen by me: 1.

Looking Toward the Dunes from the Water Line at Low Tide
Rarely have I had such a beautiful day for the first shift of the season. OK, so it was windy and cold, but it was sunny and bright and just downright gorgeous.  Within the first hour, I had a bunch of visitors, including one island resident who said he'd seen two piping plovers flying over the town beach. He also mentioned having seen a snowy owl  and wanted to know if the snowy owls are a problem for the plovers.  I told him I didn't think so, because the snowies aren't usually here at the same time as the plovers. Snowy owls do prey on shorebirds and ducks when they are hanging out on the beach but they seem to prefer rodent-type beings. Anyway, crows and gulls pose more of a threat to piping plovers than the occasional snowy owl.

Weird Wrack Item of the Week
There is an amazing amount of weird plastic stuff on the beach, some of it unidentifiable. The weirdest item to me is also the most recognizable item: a kiddie car big enough for a toddler to ride on. At first I thought someone on the town beach must have been playing with it and then walked off, intending to pick it up when they left the beach. However, on closer inspection, it looked like it had been in the water for some time.

Another Weird Wrack Item
It was like old home week seeing refuge staff again after the winter. Jean stopped by on the way out to replace the mile markers -- they all disappeared over the winter. She relayed her piping plover sighting to me. Later on, one flew in from the south and landed on the beach near the north boundary. It may or may not have been one of hers.

Looking South

I had more visitors than usual on a cold April day, and they were all nice and genuinely interested in the welfare of the plovers.

Looking North
Other than sighting my first piping plover of the season on my very first shift of the season, the birding was slow. I attribute that to the wind. There were a few red-winged blackbirds, two tree swallows, a few gulls of the usual three species, a few double-crested cormorants, and two killdeer. That was about it. No sea ducks of any kind.