Monday, June 20, 2016


Friday June 17, 2016
Bird of the Day: Joppa penguin (Eudyptes joppaensis plasticus)
Coffee of the Day: Brazilian
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: watermelon rind
Invisi-bird Status: Official: 37 pairs, 65 chicks. Number actually seen by me: 2 adults, 2 chicks.

Piping Plover in the Intertidal Zone
What a gorgeous beach day! Not too hot, not too cold, just right. My first adventure of the day was getting my coffee. The line at PICR was literally out the door. People were ordering complicated drinks so the line was moving slowly. A couple of very businesslike women arrived and went right around the line to the register. That struck me as strange until I realized they were there to do some sort of promotion. When I got to the register and Bruce handed me my coffee, the two women said "It's on us today." They were from Eastern Bank and were handing out brochures about their bank and paying for people's coffee. What a neat thing to do!
Least Tern in the Wrack Line
When I finally got to the refuge with coffee in hand, my first bird sighting of the day was a northern mockingbird doing a perfect least tern impression. That cracked me up. I've heard mockingbirds do robins, cardinals, car alarms, phones, creaky screen doors, but I have never heard one do a least tern. Other mimics on the refuge do terns and shorebirds. More than once I've looked up at the call of a common tern and spotted a catbird in a tree.  Least tern was by far the dominant sound all around Lot 1, so I guess the mockingbird was just fitting in.
Looking North Just before It Got Really Busy
I spotted a piping plover feeding at the edge of the water as soon as I arrived and within an hour I spotted two chicks! My close personal friends -- the northernmost pair --  are now a family of four and were feeding together. They kept a close watch on their chicks.  When they felt threatened by a gull or something, they would go to the dry sand and flatten down to become invisible.   At one point a great black back flew in and I got to see the whole arsenal of defensive moves. There was the broken wing display to distract the gull and of course the chicks invoked the cloak of invisibility. I couldn't distinguish them from sand with my binoculars. The gull was closer and has better vision but was paying attention to the distraction display. One of the adults charged the great black back in that bossy plover way.  As the plover was going after the gull twelve least terns rose up from the sand calling kzzreeeep kzzreeeep and mobbing the gull until it finally took off for parts south.  Wow! The allied least tern air defense command to the rescue!
Weird Watermelon Rind
The open part of the beach started to get really busy around 11AM with lots of families with kids. One kid was about to launch a kite, so I had to go talk to kid and parent who obviously missed the big sign at the entrance that says "no kite flying" (among other things like "no drones"). Beach nesting birds mistake kites for aerial predators and muster their defense mechanisms.  Given the proximity and agitated state of the least terns, I was actually a little worried that the adorable little girl with the kite was about to get pooped on by a dozen least terns. Anyway, I told the parent they could take the kite up to the town beach but couldn't fly it on the refuge. Everybody was cool with that and it was the only law enforcement type thing I had to handle all day.
Wonder Where the Rest of This Tire Is
A walk along the wrack line to stretch my legs, yielded a couple of interesting trash items: part of a blown tire and a shriveled watermelon rind. The watermelon rind was weird because by the amount of sand and salt on it, it looked like it had been there awhile, but the colors still looked fresh.

As I was walking along the beach I overheard two teenage boys who had just arrived talking about the beach closure. That wouldn't normally be unusual, but what one of the kids was saying was "I did an MCAS response on that -- whether it's more effective to enclose the nests or close the beach."  Piping plovers on the MCAS? Who knew?
As I was heading off the refuge for lunch I had to get around some large trucks and tractors from the haying operation on the Amelia Little Salt Marsh (the Essex County Greenbelt property that abuts the refuge).  I had to stop and take a photo and I cracked up laughing because the idea of cutting hay with tractors and baling it into rectangular bales is just soooooo at odds with the "quaint New England" trope of hay stacked on staddles in the marsh as painted by Martin Johnson Heade. Somehow, my tractor with hay bales photo just isn't that artistic.
Joppa Penguins
What's that I spy in the Merrimack? Penguins? Yup. It's that time of year again. The plastic penguins on their plastic ice floes have appeared off Joppa Flats. They were getting at least as much attention as any Hudsonian godwit has gotten over the past few weeks. This more than makes up for the lack of tall ships this week :-).
Great Egret Headed Upriver to Check Out the Penguins

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