Saturday, August 23, 2014


Numbers as of this past Monday:
Refuge: 26 pairs,  4 chicks,  59 fledgelings;  Sandy Point: 5 pairs, 1 chick, 11 fledgelings; Town Beach: 2 pairs, 5 fledgelings.

As of yesterday (Friday  August 22) Lot 7 is open.

Want to help clean up the beach? Coast Sweep is coming up on September 13. Come to Lot 1 from 9AM-3PM. Trash bags provided. You never know what interesting trash you will find in the wrack.

fashionistas invade the beach (August 15)

Catching up with blogging my adventures: this is the entry for August 15.

Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Harrar
Bird of the Day: least tern
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: well, the fashion model's glasses haven't washed back up yet, so I'm going to have to call it the Weird Wrack Item of Next Week. Yeah, there's a story here.
Invisibird Status: No report from biological staff. Number actually seen by me: 2.

Looking South
The beach is still closed because there are still chicks who can't fly yet.  I thought they'd all be fledged by now, but they're not. Also, there are unfledged least tern young. So there I was out there this morning expecting a typical shift with a manageable number of visitors. Hah!

Big Waves
The tide was coming in and the waves were particularly big. Further up the island off the Newbury town beach, in the surfing sweet spot, there were more surfers and stand-up paddle boarders than I've seen all summer. I intercepted a few kids and joggers about to enter the closed area, answered questions about piping plovers and least terns and even one about tree swallows, then all heck broke loose.

I spotted a group of college age kids in the closed area. They had come in behind me while I was intercepting a kid at the water line. I politely explained that they had entered a nesting area and asked them exceedingly politely to leave. They were not happy but they did move to the open beach. They turned out to be doing a fashion photo shoot -- a photographer, models, and their driver. They wanted pristine beach empty of visitors.  A beach-goer who used to work the gatehouse several years back tried to help by suggesting alternatives. I chimed in and tried to send them to Rye -- which I thought would be more picturesque and unpopulated than say Salisbury or Hampton.  Former gatehouse tried to negotiate and get me to bend the rules to let them a little ways into the closed area. I radioed Gatehouse (the real one) but had trouble being understood on the radio. All I could find out was that there was no Law Enforcement on duty. Dang, I could've used Unit 61.

Fashionistas Assembling for the Photo Shoot
I finally got hold of Unit 9 on her cell phone and explained the situation. She reiterated "absolutely not" in answer to their pleas to be allowed in the closed area. Finally, they selected a spot on the open beach close to the line and asked some visitors to move. They started their photo shoot.  I told Unit 9 I would stay until the shoot was done because there was no relief on the schedule and these people needed to be watched.

Former gatehouse noticed that a gull was trying to take stuff out of a backpack belonging to one of the models. She zipped up the backpack and offered to take care of the fashionistas' belongings for the duration of the shoot. Big Steve made an appearance and was supportive. The models were doing the beach clothes first, then planning to change to the swimsuits. One of them started to worry that they would not be done by 3:00PM and she had to be at a fashion show. Former gatehouse didn't want to watch their stuff that long and I was worried I would be severely dehydrated  by then, not to mention really hungry.

The Wily Herring Gull
They changed to swimsuits (using the same tricks I learned for doing that when camping with 5 brothers). They went into the water. I mentioned the waves were unusually big, right? The models stand with their backs to the waves. Big Steve, former gatehouse, and I stare with mouths agape. Where are these kids from? Former gatehouse says some are from North Carolina and some from Framingham. OK, they have waves in North Carolina. Big ones. Framingham not so much, but still. Model gets knocked over and comes up the beach to borrow former gatehouse's towel. None of the models have brought towels. For a swimwear photo shoot on the beach. Whatev (is that how you spell it?).

They did a few poses with the female models on the backs of the male models, in the surf, with their backs to the ever bigger incoming waves. One couple gets knocked over. The boy ends up with huge scratches on his ribcage from the girl's fingernails. We ask if he needs medical attention. He says no.

More surf shots. One male model is in the water with his glasses on -- not chic sunglasses or hipster glasses, actual prescription glasses. He gets knocked over and surfaces without his glasses. The glasses vanished. Model calls his Mom. She paid for the glasses on her medical insurance. No one is happy. Fortunately, he has brought his contact lens and they are safely zipped in the backpack. Yup, the thing the gull was trying to get out of the backpack was the contact lens container. So glad former gatehouse zipped the backpack.

Meanwhile a toddler runs full tilt into the closed area chasing a gull. I turn to run after her and trip over the stick fence that Big Steve and I had made to mark the boundary. Fortunately, I grabbed the back of my chair, which was nearby and well dug in to the sand, and managed not to fall.

Finally, all the swimsuit models dry themselves off with former gatehouse's towel, put their clothes back on, and leave. By this time I am starving and thirsty, not necessarily in that order. I wait until they are on the boardwalk before I pack up.

I could throw in a completely irrelevant fish story here, but I've rambled on long enough. I should rewrite this story to make it shorter, but here it is for now.

Oh, and on the way out I told Gatehouse I am done for the season. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

least terns vs. helicopter (July 25 AM Shift)

Edited to clarify: This entry describes the July 25 AM shift. All numbers, stories, and coffee relate to July 25.

Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Harrar
Bird of the Day: least tern
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: feathers (OK, so that's not so weird because the gulls are molting)
Invisibird Status: Refuge beach: 25 pairs, 56 chicks, 19 fledgelings. Sandy Point: 4 pairs, 1 nest, 10 chicks. Town beach: 2 pairs, 1 nest, 1 chick. Number actually seen by me: zero.

Gulls Galore
Gulls of many kinds, though none exotic, roosted on the beach. They were joined by several double-crested cormorants, but no terns - exotic or otherwise.

They All Took Off At Once
At one point all the gulls took off at once, flew around offshore for a minute or two, and settled back down on the beach. Nothing in particular had spooked them. There wasn't any sudden influx of small fish either so I'll have to add this to my list of gull behaviors I need to research more.

Flying Boat
The weather was hazy enough to produce loomings offshore, though the Isles of Shoals did not materialize above the horizon as they sometimes do. The best looming was a fishing boat that appeared to be flying above the water.

The least terns were really active, making lots of noise and dive bombing anything that came near the colony. When biological staff stopped by on her way out to do the beach survey, I mentioned that the leasties were particularly excitable today. She replied "I've got my poop hat." A visitor overheard this and later asked "Did she say poop hat?" I was explaining how least terns use poop as a defense mechanism to some visitors and all became clear to the woman who asked that.

I heard a helicopter nearby and looked up to see a Mass. State Police helicopter flying really low over the water just offshore. Just as the thought "the least terns are going to hate this" formed in my brain, a mob of them flew  toward the chopper making a lot of noise.  The chopper then came in much lower and  over the beach  -- right over the least tern colony. Basically, it buzzed the least tern colony. This did not go over well with the terns. I could not tell biological staff's reaction from that distance.
State Police Helicopter
The helicopter continued flying low over the beach as if they were looking for someone. A very concerned visitor came over to me and asked "Are you aware that there is someone on the beach?" I said that it was biological staff and I knew she was there. The visitor reiterated her concern, insisting the state police must be looking for someone and something must be wrong. I reassured her that the biologist was a) authorized to be there and b) safe and in no distress. Biological staff would have radioed me or gatehouse or law enforcement if anything was amiss and I could see her going about her business checking on the birds. The visitor was finally satisfied that there was no emergency.

I'm not sure what the staties were trying to accomplish by spooking the least terns, and, by the way, the piping plovers. These are birds that mistake kites for avian predators. I could understand flying that low over the nesting areas if there was a problem, like someone missing or drowning or committing crimes... Disrupting the birds for a routine patrol seemed odd, but the state police have been stepping up their helicopter patrolling all over the Merrimack Valley lately. No clue why.
Low Flying Plane

There was a low flying general aviation craft offshore, but it did not buzz the beach. Maybe it was Newbury Fly Low Day or something.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

another quick post

I don't have any new piping plover numbers yet, but it's looking like the remaining chicks will have fledged by the end of next week.


I had a busy shift yesterday but everybody was nice. No hostile people.

There are no stripers.

Invisible Fisherman Fishing for Invisible Stripers

Semipalmated sandpipers, semipalmated plovers, and least sandpipers are taking over the world. Or at least the beach. Huge numbers have been arriving over the past few days. The fall shorebird migration has begun.

There will be stories. It's not that I don't have cool stories to tell. It's that I don't have time to write them. But then, if I don't write, you all won't read, and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, you all should go out and get Doug Chickering's book: Reflections on a Golden-winged Warbler. Doug writes in a vastly different style from mine and still wears the old blue mesh refuge volunteer hat -- mine disintegrated years ago and I like the gray cotton one I have now way better. Oh, and he apparently never has writer's block.

Link for Doug's book:

Saturday, August 2, 2014

quick update

Piping plover numbers from Jean:
Refuge: 25 pair, 32 chicks, 40 fledgelings; Sandy Point: 4 pair, 1 nest, 10 chicks; Town beach: 2 pair, 1 nest, 1 chick.

Week before last: I realized that herring gulls are the essential binding force of the universe. Hitherto, I believed it was either cat hair or coffee.

Last week: a state police helicopter buzzed the least tern colony.

Yesterday: I talked to 17 visitors - 15 very nice and interested in piping plovers and 2 weirdo trespassers. Nobody threw anything at my head (or any other part of my body) this week. No state police helicopters buzzed the least tern colony.  No unusual tern sightings, except that I finally saw my first roseate tern of the season -- they've been around, not sure why I hadn't seen any.

Backlog of fascinating entries about gulls in fado music and about state police helicopter buzzing least tern colony is accumulating.

Blogger burnout and plover warden burnout are beginning to set in.

The Eye of the Ringbill is upon You