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.

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