Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Parker River NWR Photo Contest

Time for the 2016 Parker River National Wildlife Refuge photo contest. Submissions start today, November 2. Winners will be announced during the Conservation Film Festival in March.

Got a great photo or two that you took at PRNWR? Know someone who might be interested in entering? See the refuge website for entry guidelines:

Hay Staddle

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Latest Issue of The Wrack Line Highlights Piping Plover Conservation

Approaching the Refuge

The new issue of The Wrack Line, the excellent newsletter of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, is out and it contains an excellent article covering 30 years of piping plover conservation at the refuge.  There's also a profile of stalwart plover warden Mike Coppinger, who works the south boundary on Mondays and Wednesdays during the nesting season. And that's just the plover-related content! You'll definitely want to read the whole issue. Here's the link:

Glasswort Assuming Its Fall Color

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

signs of fall

The Great Marsh
All the beaches and parking lots opened on Friday. The plover chicks are all fledged.  Bio staff roped off the areas with the late blooming least tern chicks. I figure the least tern air defense command can easily convince any visitors who get too close that it's really not a good idea. The swallows are doing their amazing gathering into huge flocks ballet over the dunes and the road and the parking lots. Shorebird migration is happening. It looks like the fall hawk migration is starting too. It's amazing how fall really kind of starts in August.

Shed Horseshoe Crab Shells -- Lots of Them
I took a side trip over to the Nelson Island part of the refuge in the hopes of spotting some shorebirds. In the past I've encountered loads of least and semipalmated sandpipers as well as greater and lesser yellowlegs feeding in the mudflats around this time. Alas, I spotted exactly one semipalmated sandpiper and one greater yellowlegs. Mostly what I found was lots of cast off horseshoe crab shells, really tiny ones. I know they molt a lot when they're juveniles, so maybe some of the shells of different tiny sizes were shed by the same individual over the course of the summer. Who knows? Anyway, they're cool looking and they lead me to believe that the marsh was a happening place this summer. It's still a happening place as I could see lots of small silvery fishes just under the surface of the water along both sides of the trail.
Two Horseshoe Crab Shells Closeup
Signs of fall were evident in the marsh as well. I spotted patches of glasswort starting to turn red, although most of it is still green. Glasswort is a really cool succulent as it loves salt, doesn't need much water to survive, turns vivid crimson in fall, and is edible. Oddly I've never tasted it. It stores whatever water it needs in its stems and is the first plant to establish itself in bare spots in really salty marshes. The reason it's called glasswort because its ashes were used in glass making. Evidently burnt glasswort contains lots of potash. I've heard it's also used in soap making.

Fall Already? -- Glasswort is Turning Red
Visitors, except for duck hunters, often miss this side of Parker River NWR, which is too bad because it's gorgeous. I know salt marshes are not as appealing as beaches, but I love to visit this spot and the adjacent Rough Meadows Mass Audubon sanctuary. 
Nelson Island

Monday, August 22, 2016

the heat goes on (but without flies)

Friday August 19, 2016
Bird of the Day: tree swallow
Coffee of the Day: French Roast
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: power cord
Invisi-bird Status: Official: 1 active pair, 2 chicks, 72 fledglings! Number actually seen by me: zero

72 fledglings! 72 fledglings! 72 fledglings! I think this might be a record for our beach. The remaining two piping plover chicks should fledge by Monday.  The least terns are taking their sweet time this year, especially the ones near the north boundary. I had a couple of grouchy people asking "what's taking them so long?" and other grouchy people insisting that "the web site" said the beaches were all open. I'm not clear on what web site they were talking about.  Grouchy people were in the minority this week. The greenheads are long gone and the small mean flies that aren't greenheads are also gone now, so nobody was complaining about flies. I talked to a lot of people and most of them were nice -- even the trespassers.
Beach - Looking South
Yes, there were trespassers. As soon as I arrived on the beach I spotted a couple in the closed area, walking along the lower wrack line (there are multiple lines of wrack right now) collecting shells. I called out to them, waved my arms and gestured for them to get out of there, yelled as loud as I could ... etc. Other beach goers (obviously fans of piping plovers and least terns) tried to get their attention as well. Finally, they began to stroll north, so I settled in and sipped on my coffee until they reached the boundary of the closed area.  Once they were out of there, I told them they were in a nesting area (mind you they had to walk past the signs and also past crowds of people obeying the signs -- gotta wonder how they didn't consider that there might be a reason none of the other beach goers were in there) and explained the whole thing to them. They were very apologetic. They are staying at Blue, the luxury inn, and are clearly from out of town. Guessing from their accent and from the fact that they thought the least terns looked like fairy terns, I'd say they're probably New Zealanders. They asked lots of good questions about least terns and were really very contrite.
Beach -- Looking North
So many people asked what was taking the least terns so long to fledge, I started making jokes about them. I mean, if your Mom and Dad brought you fish all the time, would you bother learning to fly? :-) Visitors picked right up on it and we started bantering about how the terns are like the Millennials living in their parents' basements. I'm picturing them playing video games on the couch while they wait for the next fish. They're not actually refusing to fledge, at least one family of chicks is only 2 weeks old. I don't know if the parents lost a first brood and renested or if they just laid a second brood for the heck of it. Anyway, I don't know any way of speeding up the fledging process -- unlike with Millennials where we could start a Go Fund Me campaign to pay off their student loans :-)
Heat Haze -- Not Sure Why the Center is in Focus
The sand was shimmering with heat haze making for a few optical illusions like cormorants the size of turkeys and great black backs the size of humans. Somebody actually asked if those dark birds were turkeys. Another person asked if people were working on the beach or doing something involving moving sand around. I didn't go into the whole scientific explanation of looming, just explained that the heat shimmer makes things look larger. I tried to capture some of the distortion in a photo (above) but it doesn't fully convey it. The dunes do look very distorted, but most of the birds don't. Another weird optical phenomenon in the heat haze is that Crane Beach and Ipswich look continuous with the island -- and also look weirdly flat. A visitor looking south along the beach asked me how far the road runs. I answered "to Sandy Point, about 7 miles", but that didn't satisfy her. She kept asking if the road ran "all the way to the end." Finally she gestured toward the Gloucester wind turbines and then to the east of that and I realized that "the end" meant the tip of Cape Ann. I explained that there's a lot of water between the tip of Plum Island and the southernmost land she could see. Heat haze and looming are very confusing.

Weird Wrack Item of the Week
Continually moving my chair back up the beach as the tide came in gave me different perspectives on the contents of the wrack line. I spotted a skeleton of something that clearly had a lot of vertebrae, but I'm no good whatsoever at identifying fish species by their bones. The strangest thing I spotted was a power cord of some kind wrapped around one of the fence posts. It looked old fashioned, not the sort of thing that Millennials would have in their parents' basement, but it didn't seem to be corroded at all. Go figure.
Normal Wrack Item of the Week
The cargo cult airplane is entirely gone without a trace, but a genuine flying machine of roughly 1940s vintage flew really low over the beach. Oddly, the least terns did not attack it. They seem to get most bent out of shape by state police helicopters.

Vintage Aeroplane
The biggest avian skirmish of the day came when a herring gull got hold of a juicy chunk of bait from one of the two fishermen on the beach (the fish aren't biting -- it's too hot -- so I'm surprised there were any fishermen) and flew up toward the dunes. A flock of at least 8 other gulls took off in pursuit and tried various techniques to steal that gull's prize. Remarkably, it hung onto the juicy morsel.

My Name is Herring Gull and I'll be Stealing your Bait Today
As I walked toward Lot 1 at the end of my shift, a huge swirling flock of swallows flew in over the dunes and surrounded Lot 1 -- and me. It's that time of year when you can't tell the swallows from the air. I walked through swallows to my car. Fortunately, they have not gotten to the point where they land on the road and tie up traffic yet. My camera was in my backpack, so no photo of the swallows. They'll be doing this for another couple of weeks and it's quite the show. Summer is definitely winding down.

This just in: As I was writing this, I saw the official post from Ranger Matt that the beach is open from Lot 3 to Sandy Point as of today.  Visitors will be happy. Now if we can just get those lazy Millennial least terns between Lots 1 and 2 to fledge ... :-)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

a bad day for beach umbrellas

Friday August 12, 2016
Bird of the Day: semipalmated plover
Coffee of the Day: Clipper City Roast
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: a really beat up shoe
Invisi-bird Status: Official: I don't have the new numbers yet. Number actually seen by me: zero
Gulls Loafing -- Mostly Ringbills

It's too darn hot. The beach is a little cooler than the other side of the dunes and there is a breeze. The greenheads seem to be mostly gone but the "small mean flies that aren't greenheads" (lots of people call them that, including my family members -- I have no idea what they're actually called) are biting and are not as deterred by the wind as greenheads are. Beach-goers seeking relief from the heat are extremely angry about the flies. They're also angry that the beach isn't open yet.  Sigh. One guy started singing Tom Doyle's "Fifty Ways to Kill a Plover". No, I am not going to link to it.  Anyway, the most common question today was "exactly when is the beach going to be open?" It drives people crazy that I can't give an exact date.  At the south end, Lot 7 is open and the beach to the north of that for about a half mile is open now.
Semipalmated Plovers
The "fall" shorebird migration is definitely in progress. Flocks of semipalmated sandpipers are continuing to arrive. This week they are joined by flocks of semipalmated plovers, the sleeker, darker cousins of the piping plover.  At one point a flock of about 20 landed on the beach just below the wrack line and all faced into the wind. It was pretty impressive. I lost count of how many semipalmated plovers there were because they just kept arriving in groups. I had fun watching them. I dreamt about dunlin last night, but did not see any of them -- maybe soon.
Ring-billed Gull
The wind was keeping most of the gulls loafing on the beach.  Again, it was all ring-billed, herring, and great black gulls -- no Bonaparte's gulls and no laughing gulls. The ringbills are pretty good at flying into the wind and tacking, but even they were pretty much taking it easy except for one mass flight out to a spot where lots of common terns were fishing. After the sudden frenzy they all returned to the beach. Also, the gulls are still molting. The breeze was so strong at one point that it blew feathers off of a ring-billed gull in mid-flight.
Lots of beach-goers means lots of beach umbrellas. Lots of protection from the sun, right? Well, yeah, if you can keep them from becoming airborne. The wind seemed the strongest just above ground level, so in addition to molted gull feathers, trash, hats, and bits of seaweed blowing around, it was a bad day for beach umbrellas. Umbrellas were blowing over, turning inside out, and, yes, becoming airborne all over the place. One umbrella flew over the heads of bathers and landed well offshore. It sank fairly quickly. This prompted some people to furl their umbrellas and secure them. Other people just kept chasing their umbrellas and catching them before they became airborne. I saw one umbrella blow over three times, bending one rib each time. That became one mangled umbrella. Chairs were blowing over too, but none of them took flight.

In the Water It's Cooler and No Flies
The flies and the flying umbrellas drove a few people to pack up and leave. Other folks sought refuge from the flies in the water.  I've never heard so many complaints -- even during greenhead season -- about a "relaxing day at the beach" not meeting expectations.
Weird Wrack Item of the Week -- Beat-up Shoe
There's currently not a lot of trash on the beach, which is a relief. The strangest item I saw was a really grubby beat-up shoe. It had clearly been in the water a long time and it looked like it had settled into the beach for a long stay. It was in the closed area, so I couldn't remove it.  In other trash/wrack news, all traces of that cargo cult airplane are gone. No cargo has appeared.

Monday, August 8, 2016

quick update from the beach

Friday August 5, 2016
Bird of the Day: semipalmated sandpiper
Coffee of the Day: Sumatra Mandeling
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: feathers, lots of 'em
Invisi-bird Status: Official: 8 active pairs, 19 unfledged chicks, 55 fledglings. Number actually seen by me: zero.

It's not as hot on the beach as on the other side of the dunes. There's a breeze coming in off the water cooling things down a little and also keeping the remaining greenheads off of me. That said, it's still pretty darn hot.
Looking South
Loads of people were seeking relief from the heat on the beach. One would've thought it was Saturday. Sandy Point was already full before I got to the refuge and even when people left, it filled up again quickly. At one point Lot 1 was almost full too.

Looking North
Beach-goers grumpy with the heat wanted to spread out into the closed area. One guy with an Australian accent was grumbling loudly about "the stupid birds". I don't think piping plovers or least terns are particularly stupid.  Maybe someday people will understand that it is worth it to share the beach with the birds. I think some of the grumpy beach-goers are among the folks who think beaches should be totally free of seaweed and only have white sand too.

Some visitors really were interested in the piping plovers and were happy to hear we have so many fledglings this year. There were even a couple of people interested in least terns. However, mostly I spent my time intercepting people attempting to walk past the boundary into the nesting area.  The tide was coming in and the waterline was well above the sand berm/dropoff , so they couldn't claim not to see the boundary. One little kid (about 7 years old) kept chasing gulls into the nesting area and also just crawling through the sand into the closed area even when he wasn't chasing anything.  Speaking to him 4 or 5 times (I lost count after 3) had no effect. His mother wasn't too interested in keeping him in check either. With loads of other kids running around right on the boundary I ended up having to abandon my chair and just stand on the boundary line right in front of them for an hour or so.  A couple of big waves soaked my shoes, socks, and jeans when I couldn't back up fast enough so I was kind of a mess by the time I left.
Gulls Galore
Dozens of gulls were lounging around on the beach. Every once in awhile some of the ringbilled gulls would take off and fly around, but the herring gulls and great black backs stayed put. Oddly there were no laughing gulls or Bonaparte's gulls in the huge crowd. Many of the gulls were molting. Some of them looked pretty scruffy. Every once in awhile a few feathers would blow across the sand in the breeze. A little ways south of the boundary there was one long line of wrack that was almost entirely gull feathers.  It's not weird for there to be feathers in the wrack line at this time of year, but it is weird to have an entire line of feathers. In other weird wrack line news, part of the cargo cult airplane sculpture is still there, but it doesn't look as airplane-like. I doubt it will attract any cargo :-)

Remains of that Cargo Cult Airplane Sculpture
The shorebird migration season has definitely begun. Little flocks of semipalmated sandpipers started arriving from the north. They landed in the wrack line and then some would take off over the dunes to the marsh. I'm guessing there was a lot more for them to eat in the marsh.  Semipalmated sandpipers are only one sign of migration season. The other prominent sign is the gathering of tree swallows. They are assembling into cloud-like flocks that swoop over dunes, marsh, and fields. At one point a huge flock of them sailed over the beach and ascended really high above the water, where they were joined by a flock of least terns. It was a pretty cool sight.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

random observations

Friday June 22, 2016
Bird of the Day: Eastern kingbird
Coffee of the Day: Sumatra Mandeling
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: nothing really interesting this week
Invisi-bird Status:  Official numbers(as of 7/22): 17 pairs, 1 nest, 16 families with chicks, 39 unfledged chicks, 46 fledglings. Number actually seen by me: zero

Beach from the Lot 1 Boardwalk

Random observation 1: Eastern kingbirds don't seem to be hanging around the beach as much this year. I used to observe them perched on the mile markers and the signs. Today, a drive down the road all the way to the end revealed a ton of eastern kingbirds perched mainly on trees and shrubs, but also a few on fence posts. There seem to be as many of them as there usually are. They're just not hanging around the beach.

Least Tern
Random observation 2: Least terns are so conspicuous that people constantly ask "Are those the plovers?" I think I achieved a new record answering that question today simply while standing on the boardwalk looking for least tern chicks. I wasn't even on duty at that point, just watching terns with my binoculars. You have to be practically unconscious not to notice least terns on the beach, whereas you have to put a lot of effort into seeing piping plovers on the beach. On the other hand, piping plovers are mad cute. They have it all over least terns in the cuteness department.

Greenhead Trap -- Diagram of Greenhead Lifecycle
Random observation 3: The new greenhead signage and the see through (or see into -- I don't know the word for this) greenhead trap are both a big hit. Kids were very curious about it. There was a bee in it at one point and a little girl was very concerned and wanted to know "Why is there a bee in there?" I had to say I don't know, but it can get out and the greenheads can't. The bee did get out.

Greenhead Trap -- Transparent Side so You Can See Inside
Random observation 4: It's cooler on the beach than on the other side of the dunes, but it's still wicked hot. And humid.

Looking South
I know I promised a post on the Massachusetts Division of  Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) Habitat Conservation Plan for Piping Plover. I'm rereading it again and trying to summarize what the differences are from the current rules. My general opinion is that it's a good thing for the Cape Cod beaches -- improving relations with the off road vehicle users and the general public while still protecting the growing piping plover population. The population has grown enough in Massachusetts that a new plan was definitely due. Most of the stuff this plan deals with doesn't apply to federal land anyway, so doesn't affect our little (or not so little) patch of habitat. More later.

Monday, July 18, 2016

at the greenhead festival

Friday July 15, 2016
Bird of the Day: least sandpiper
Coffee of the Day: Sumatra Mandeling
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: the same cargo cult airplane thing I saw last week
Invisi-bird Status: Official: 21 pairs, 3 nests, 18 families, 46 chicks, 44 fledglings. Number actually seen by me: zero.
Greenhead warnings in full effect.

Hot, humid, and hazy weather makes for interesting loomings, my favorite type of optical illusion. I was lucky enough to spot a sailboat floating above the horizon just after I arrived on the beach. For once, I got a photo that captures the illusion.  Later on I saw two lobster boats and a huge barge with attendant tugboat all floating above the horizon also.  No sign of Star Island floating though -- the haze was too thick for that.

Weird Airplane in the Wrack - Week 2
The second thing I noticed was that most of the weird airplane thing I commented on last week was still there. A friend who read last week's post pointed out to me that the airplane was a cargo cult airplane and reminded me of the (very old) movie Mondo Cane. Aha! The airplane in the sand is a decoy to attract a real airplane bringing wonderful things. I doubt that there is an actual cargo cult on Plum Island but the island is just weird enough that I would believe somebody was deliberately referencing cargo cults with their sculpture.

Beach Life
I did not see my personal piping plover family. I know the chick was about to fledge any minute last Friday, so I was not surprised that they weren't there. If I could fly, I'd forage somewhere else for a change too. :-)

Many least tern chicks have hatched and are being ministered to by their parents. Much bringing of fish to the young is occurring. Unlike piping plovers (which are precocial), least terns are altricial. Piping plover chicks leave the nest and forage for food as soon as they hatch. Least tern chicks need their parents to feed them.  The least tern chicks are pretty well hidden in the wrack line, so I often don't see them til they are almost fledged. However, careful observation of where exactly the adults were repeatedly delivering fish revealed a nest near a piece of driftwood. I got to watch the adults feed two chicks several fish. This was my first spotting of least tern chicks this season.

Least Tern Air Defense Command Interfering with my Photo
The beach was not as crowded as I might have expected with the extreme heat. Maybe the word is out that the greenheads are extremely active. I saw two women go into the water for a dip and then lie down to dry off. They immediately got mobbed by greenheads who love wet skin. I don't know why they love wet skin, but they do. They also like dark colors so dark beach clothing is not a good idea.  I had sprayed all exposed skin and much of my clothing with Deep Woods Off and was getting complacent, especially when  a light breeze came up. Then the breezed died down and I felt one bite my upper arm just under my sleeve -- that must be the only spot I missed with the Off. I exclaimed curse words and swatted it away. The bleeding wasn't too bad, but it sure hurt like heck. First greenhead bite of the season - check. When my relief arrived he greeted me with "I've come for the Greenhead Festival!"  I almost doubled over laughing. I responded that I'd only gotten one bite, to which he answered, "Well, two and you'd have to go to the ER!" I hope the beach goers realized we were exaggerating. Those things do draw a lot of blood though.

Y'know, maybe a festival celebrating Plum Island's mean, bloodthirsty greenheads would draw tourists :-)

Monday, July 11, 2016

and the days go by

Friday July 8,2016
Bird of the Day: the Franklin's Gull I didn't see
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Harrar
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: assemblage of beach trash in the shape of an airplane
Invisi-bird Status:Official: 40 pairs, 15 nests, 22 families, 58 chicks. Number actually seen by me: 1 adult, 1 chick.
Impressive Clouds to the South
For an overcast and windy morning, there was still a fair amount of visitor action on the beach. All the visitors were cooperative and interested -- including two women who asked a lot of questions about least terns (maybe I should change the name of this blog to the Least Tern Diaries -- just kidding). Another woman asked me where was the best place to find sand dollars. I told her Sandy Point, but she didn't want to go there so she wandered north along the water line onto the Newbury town beach. There weren't many shells of any kind near the water, so I have no idea whether she found what she was looking for.
Incoming Tide
The tide was out and it was a long walk to the water line, but I didn't have to sprint to catch people this week. Someday I will figure out a tide proof, water proof, safe solution for marking the boundaries at low tide. If you're a long term reader of this blog, you'll know we've tried all kinds of things with rope, buoys, concrete blocks... and of course the ever popular trademark Big Steve stick fence. Where's the app for this? :-)
Weird Wrack Item of the Week
I'd only been there about 15 minutes when I spotted a piping plover chick running around. It looked big enough to be able to fly, but I didn't see any evidence that it actually did. I suspected this chick belonged to my favorite pair, and sure enough I did see one of the parents shortly thereafter. Later on when bio staff came by to start the survey, I mentioned it to her and she confirmed that was the only chick left from my favorite pair. She counted it as a fledgling because as of today (Friday) it reached the age that is technically considered fledged.
Maybe It's Supposed to be a Plane?
My glasses, my binoculars, and my camera kept getting all covered in sea spray as the wind was coming in over the water. That and the low cloud cover made it really hard to identify the birds that were flying by out on the horizon. It also made it not much fun to take photos. My only photo fun was with the strange construction someone had made out of pieces of wood, pieces of wire lobster traps, a concrete block, rocks, and fishing gear. Once I positioned myself correctly, I realized it was supposed to be an airplane. The other fun moment involving the pile of beach junk was when the funky looking gull who has been hanging around for several weeks, discovered some mussels on it and started trying to pry them off. 
Gull Eating Part of It
Speaking of gulls, a couple of birders had reported a Franklin's Gull seen off Lot 1 early in the morning. By the time I was on duty, it had left the Lot 1 beach area. Later in the morning (around 9:30), another birder reported it on a sand bar in the mouth of the Merrimack.  Sigh. I am nowhere near as good as Doug Chickering at writing riveting stories about the bird I missed. As for the birds doing the flyby way out on the horizon, I am guessing they were some species of shearwater too far away to identify -- other birders had reported a movement of shearwaters of various kinds visible off Lot 1.

In other piping plover news, a couple of regular readers have asked my opinion on the new Massachusetts statewide piping plover plan announced in this press release today (Friday). I really feel like I need to read the whole plan in depth before I offer my opinion, so I'll hold off and do a separate blog post on that. Meanwhile, you can find the plan and supporting documents at

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

the least tern air defense command strikes!

Friday July 1, 2016
Bird of the Day: least tern
Coffee of the Day: French Roast Sumatra
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: a weird thing I can't identify
Invisi-bird status: Official: Have not seen official report yet. Number actually seen by me: 6

A Long Way to the Water Line
Much schedule confusion involving disappearing emails, too many plover wardens scheduled at the same time, and stuff like that there, resulted in my taking the mid-day shift at the south boundary. I haven't done south in like two years because chasing toddlers whose parents are not watching them was much more of a problem there than at the Lot 1 beach.  Luckily the toddlers of yesteryear or their successors were not around this week.

The tide was out and there was a lot of territory to patrol. A small group of chicks have been running around at the south boundary so keeping people away from them was my main mission.  There is also a huge least tern presence at this end and my position was much closer to them. I have yet to see a least tern chick this year though.
Out for a Run
I spied the plover chicks and their parents right away and got to watch them do all the cute things plover chicks do. Believe it or not, in all my years of watching piping plovers, I had never seen a chick eat one of those clam worms that live in the wet sand. I'd seen adults do it and seen other people's cool pix of chicks with clam worms, but never seen it myself. So guess what? Not only did I see a chick eat a clam worm, I saw it repeat the action three times. It pecked, pulled up the worm, swallowed it, ran a few steps, pecked again and did the same thing. What amazed me was that it didn't come up empty-beaked. It got the worm every time.
Weird Wrack Item of the Week
At one point I stood up from my chair to reapply sunscreen and spotted out of the corner of my eye a least tern coming directly at my head. Just as my mind processed that it was about to dive bomb me, I felt the least tern poop hit me. I am officially part of the life of the beach! The least tern air defense command evidently coded me as some kind of predator. By the way, least tern poop does not mix well with sunscreen -- attempts to clean it off my arm resulted in smearing it all over.
Thinking About Flying?

With the chicks running around so much, especially choosing to run around outside the refuge boundary, teens with smart phones thought they could just follow them and take photos. One couple in particular following two chicks and getting way too close. I was a little brusque with them the second time I explained that it was NOT OK to chase them. If you want a photo, fine. If you stand still they will probably come close enough for you to get your Instagram shot. If you chase them, they will get stressed out and run like crazy instead of feeding. This is not good. I was kinda hoping the least tern air defense command would go after the teens. Anyway, the teens grunted at me and went to take pictures somewhere else.

Speaking of photography, a serious photographer with an expensive camera and tripod materialized in the closed area up by the dunes while I was down at the water line dealing with people who couldn't figure out where the boundary is because it's hard to see the signs from down there. Said photographer was already headed around Sandy Point by the time I got back up, so I never actually spoke to him. I love photography. I do it a lot. It is not necessary to trespass or to chase threatened species to get good photos. I wish more photographers respected the wildlife and the environment.

Gulls and Barnacles Hanging Out on the Rocks

Saturday, June 25, 2016

life on the beach

Friday June 24, 2016
Bird of the Day: glossy ibis
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: the space shuttle (OK, it was an inflatable toy, but still)
Invisi-bird Status: Official:  42 pairs, 20 nests, 17 families, 51 chicks.  Number actually seen by me: 2

I'd heard reports of the first greenhead of the year so wore light colored pants and a long-sleeved white shirt in addition to carrying a brand new can of Deep Woods Off. Thankfully however, not one greenhead came anywhere near me. It is after all still June, so the real season of the winged jaws is still to come.

Loafing at Low Tide
The tide was out and most of the beach bird life was just hanging out on the sand. All three usual gull suspects (oddly I have not seen any Bonaparte's or Laughing gulls lately), least and common terns, piping plovers, and the inevitable common grackle seemed to be loafing for most of the morning. The common terns did get stirred up when there was a sudden influx of bait fish just offshore and went into a brief frenzy of plunging head first into the water and coming up with fish. A few of the least terns joined them, but mostly they sat around in the sand.
Gull with Reflection
The influx of bait fish attracted stripers of course (yes, spellcheck stripers is a word) and one guy caught a huge one that attracted kids running from all over the beach to check it out. The fisherman took his obligatory selfie with the fish as did a couple of his buddies. I guess catching it was a group endeavor.  Remember the days when you had to get a friend with a camera to photograph you with your striped bass and you yearned to be on the wall of fame at Surfland? I wonder if there's a hashtag equivalent of Surfland's wall.
Piping Plover
The plovers weren't putting on a show for me either. I didn't see any chicks this time. I did see one adult foraging in the wet sand and then shortly before I left, I saw another one way further down the beach so I intuit that it's not the mate of the one nearest me.
Looking North
This seemed to be the biggest beach day of the summer so far. Sandy Point was already full when I got to work and Lot 1 was filling up by lunchtime. They didn't have to close the gate while I was there, but it was starting to look like it could be one of those days.
Least Tern
I didn't have much time to take photos because there were loads of visitors, but I was lucky enough to have least tern plop down on the sand close enough for me to get a long telephoto shot of its classic least tern pose. It's funny how sometimes you can tell what species is hanging out on the sand just from its body language.
Looking South
There was an influx of standup paddleboarders launching from the Newbury town beach. Nobody got caught up in any currents and nobody did any standup paddleboard yoga (which I still don't understand). Bathers were all behaving rationally and when the tide started coming in, I noticed that not a single one of them turned their back on the waves. Why are 7-year-olds so much smarter than fashion models?
Standup Paddleboarders
For once there was not much trash in the wrack. I did get a kick out of a little kid carrying a handful of shells in one hand and an inflatable space shuttle in the other. I suspect that he'd brought the space shuttle with him, not found it on the beach. The kid did not look old enough for there to have been a space shuttle flight in his lifetime. Odd to think of that.
Space Shuttle
Finally, in honor of #NationalPollinatorWeek I stopped at the patch of milkweed near the gatehouse for a few photos of the emerging flowers. I know when most people think about pollinators they think of bees, but Monarch butterflies are pollinators too (they pollinate many kinds of wildflowers) and they depend on milkweed where they lay their eggs. It made me happy to see the milkweed blooming. If you want to know more about monarchs and milkweed, here's a recent article: Common Milkweed Plants Needed to Sustain Monarch Butterfly Population.
Milkweed in Bloom