Sunday, May 22, 2016

pretty day

Friday May 20, 2016
Bird of the Day: piping plover on the nest
Coffee of the Day: Sumatra Mandeling
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: yellow plastic doo-hickey with cryptic text on it
Invisi-bird Status:  Refuge: 36 pairs, 19 nests. Sandy Point: 10 pairs, 2 nests. Number actually seen by me: 2 one on the nest and one in flight.
On the Nest!
Today's big news is a piping plover nest close to the boundary of the closed area. So close, that bio staff  saw a need to close a tiny bit more of the beach to give the nesting pair (and the chicks when they hatch) some more room. There are three eggs in the nest, so there's room for one more. Piping plovers lay up to four eggs and take turns incubating. I didn't see the parents switch off, but did see whichever one was currently on the nest get up and catch a few bugs in the wrack line.
Warm and Hazy Beach Day
Bio staff returned with some posts, signs, and rope to erect a rope fence slightly north of where the big No Entry signs are. I repositioned myself to line up with the new fence, and had a pretty easy shift. Everybody I talked to was genuinely interested in the plovers. One woman visiting from Oregon, even asked me questions about the different kinds of seaweed in the wrack line. She was keen to know all about the piping plovers, what they eat, what kind of creatures live in the wrack line, and what kind of creatures live in the intertidal zone. She was totally my favorite visitor today.
The Isles of Shoals Looming in the Haze
The weather is finally summerish too! It's warm and hazy. The haze makes for loomings, and sure enough besides the usual fishing boats sailing in midair above the horizon the Isles of Shoals put in an appearance. I've tried to photograph this phenomenon before with not much success, but today I got at least one shot that gives a feel for it. Those dark lines are not clouds, they are islands.
School Group Studying the Wrack Line
There was a group of kids from the charter school learning about the beach especially the wrack line and the piping plovers. One of the volunteer teachers had a big box that she was calling her "wrack line". It had items you would find in the wrack line, including a plastic bottle -- it's never too soon to teach kids about marine debris. Speaking of trash in the wrack line, I found a strange yellow plastic thing that looked like it was part of some larger structure. It had cryptic text on it, like maybe a part number or something. It really stuck out among the grasses and the seaweed.
Weird Wrack Item of the Week
There were a few fishermen on the beach for most of the morning. The two guys nearest me were catching schoolies and taking selfies with them. I can see taking a selfie with a full grown striper, but these schoolies were pretty small. Then one guy got a flounder that was a keeper.  Both guys were very excited about the flounder and were planning out how they were going to cook it
School Group and Fisherman
The birding was pretty quiet, with nothing unusual. The long-tailed ducks are still around but in smaller numbers.  The number of common terns has increased quite a bit and there were several least terns among them this week. I welcome the return of what I call the "Least Tern Air Defense Command" because their aggressive protection of their nests helps protects the plover nests too.
Oh Wrack Line, You're My Home
On my walk back to my car at Lot 1, I spotted my first butterflies of the season:  a couple of American coppers and some cabbage whites. It really does finally feel like May.

As an extra added treat I took my lunch break at the airport, munching on a black bean and sweet potato burrito from Metzy's taco truck and watching a meetup of the Plum Island Airport RC Club doing all kinds of aerobatics with their cool RC planes.

Yeah, I definitely believe it's May now.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

dog drama

Friday May 13,2016
Bird of the Day: Whatever all those birders with huge scopes were looking at in the Merrimack River off Water Street by the clam shack. (Updated to add that they were looking for 3 Hudsonian godwits that had been seen there the previous day.)
Coffee of the Day: Sumatra Mandeling
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: a shrine to marine debris
Invisi-bird Status: no official report, so official count is still 25 pairs. Number actually seen by me: 4.

Finally some mild weather -- at least until shortly before the end of my shift, when the wind changed. It was nice not to be constantly windblown. May is going to start acting like May any day now :-)

Oh, Wrack Line, You're My Home
There was plenty of fly and amphipod action in the wrack line, so the northernmost piping plover gang were chowing down where I could see them pretty well.  A few purple martins and tree swallows were taking advantage of the temporary increase in the fly population too, but not nearly as many as I would have expected. The long-tailed ducks are still around but should be gone soon. A few more common terns have appeared. I haven't seen any least terns yet. The place to be for birders, though, was everywhere but the beach. It's warbler time all along the S-curves and in the pines. It's still raptor migration time over lot 1 and the dunes. May is for the birds.
Sand, Sea, Sky
There weren't many visitors despite the mild weather. I thought I'd have an easy day. Hah!

I spotted a guy with a dog on the town beach heading for the refuge boundary. I started walking toward them, so did a couple of visitors I had just spoken with -- we all wanted to intercept the dog. People kept calling the dog, throwing things for it to chase, and in general trying to get it to pay attention. A couple of times, the dog and his human reversed direction and went back onto the town beach.  Once again the dog with his human in pursuit crossed onto the refuge beach. I dashed over to them, spoke to the human, tried to get the dog to come to me and so on...
A Shrine to Marine Debris - Weird Wrack Item of the Week
Next thing I knew the dog was well into the closed area with the human in pursuit. I radioed Gatehouse to get me some law enforcement help. Unit 62 responded that he was 10 minutes away.  The dog chased off the 4 piping plovers that were feeding in the wrack line and then took off after a killdeer.  The killdeer booked it to the other side of the dunes. I didn't see where the plovers hid, but they definitely gave up on the bug-eating fiesta in the wrack line for the rest of the morning.
The dog stopped to take a shit in the wrack line so I was sure the human would catch up with it. Hah! The dog took off again. To the human's credit, he bagged the poop. He also told me he was sorry. I noticed he did have a leash in his hand, so he clearly once had control of the dog. A few tosses of a ball lured the dog out of the closed area.  Eventually, many ball tosses later, the human caught the dog and snapped the leash on.
A Whole Mess of Mussels
Unit 62 arrived just as the human and his dog (now leashed) were leaving the town beach.  Neither of us were sure when Newbury's ban on dogs on the beach starts. 62 said he'd check with the Newbury police. I told him the guy said he was sorry and was polite, so it wasn't the major drama it could have been. Just a minor dog drama.

The moral of the story, if there is one, is that if you can't control your dog when it's off the leash, don't let it off the leash.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

it just doesn't feel like May

Friday May 6, 2016
AM Shift
Bird of the Day: Willet
Coffee of the Day: Clipper City Blend
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: tie between brightly colored Velcro ball and half-full (or half-empty) bottle of soda
Invisi-bird Status: no official update - bio staff was on her way out to begin the survey just before I left for the day. Number actually seen by me: 5

Mount Agamenticus in the Distance
I thought it would be a more May-like shift when the clouds lifted and the threat of rain vanished. Hah! After a mild start to the morning, the wind changed. Coming in over the water, the wind picked up enough spray that I had to keep wiping off my glasses, not to mention the wind chill had me wishing I'd brought gloves. Wind chill? Gloves? Is this really May? It just doesn't feel like May.

Mount Agamenticus in Maine made itself visible as it sometimes does. For once I got a photo of it looming in the distance.  I did not spend a lot of time taking photos between attending to visitors, looking at the long-tailed ducks bobbing on the waves, and trying to keep my stuff from blowing away.
Backpack, Notebook, Coffee Cup, Driftwood
I sent a pair of visitors from Chicago to Sandy Point for a more sheltered beach walk and a better chance of seeing some birds. I did point out that their best chance for shorebirds was the salt pannes and for warblers etc. they should stop at Hellcat on the way.
Waves Breaking
The tide was coming in, so I set up pretty far back to minimize moving. That worked out well. I did not need to intercept any visitors at the water line. The most interesting visitors of the day were a huge group of school kids on a Mass Audubon field trip. They were learning about piping plovers by pretending to be plovers foraging in the wrack line and being harassed by predators. The instructors were waving stuffed animals to simulate the predators. I couldn't help laughing.
Mass Audubon Kids Field Trip
Two individual piping plovers had put in separate appearances in the wrack line near the boundary of the closed area earlier in the morning and a small flock of three flew by above the water line while the kids were there, but they were out of sight before I could get the instructors' attention. Five piping plovers is the most I've seen so far this season.

My favorite sighting of the day was my first willet of the year. Yeah, I know they've been back for awhile, but somehow I hadn't seen one yet. It let me know it was there with its "pill-will-willet" call.
Weird Wrack Item of the Week 1
The high tide brought up a lot of wrack, mostly plant material of various kinds -- reeds, oak leaves, various types of seaweed, and so on.  I only saw one Hooksett disk, which was somehow reassuring. Maybe we're almost rid of them.

The least explicable item was a half full bottle of some kind of soda. It had clearly washed up and looked like if I dared to open it I would have been splashed big time. Who throws away a half full (or half empty) bottle of soda? Usually bottles are empty (or have messages :-)).  Somewhere in Goffstown, some kid is probably wondering what happened to all that soda.
Weird Wrack Item of the Week 2
The most colorful piece of trash was a red and purple Velcro ball, which may have been left behind by kids playing rather than washed up by the tide. I don't know. I just know it's trash.
Wrack Line
Shortly before I left and shortly before high tide, biological staff came by on the ATV to do the survey. We chatted about how it's hard to find the nests even though we know we have 25 pairs. Piping plovers are masters of camouflage -- that's why I call them the invisi-birds -- and the way biologists usually figure out where the nests are so they can monitor them is by looking for the tracks. With all the rain we've had lately, not many tracks of any kind are visible.

 By the time I left it was full high tide and my fingers were frozen. Imagine my surprise when I got over the top of the dunes to the parking lot and discovered it was warm there.  I stopped at the airport and wrapped my hands around a sweet potato and black bean burrito from Metzy's taco truck.  That made it feel a tiny bit more like May.
Actual Wrack in the Wrack Line