Wednesday, June 1, 2016

invasion of the flying ants

Friday May 27, 2016
Bird of the Day: least tern
Coffee of the Day: French Roast Sumatra
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: plastic bag pinned down by stick
Invisi-bird Status: Official count: 42 pairs, 22 nests (not differentiated by refuge vs. Sandy Point). Number seen by me: 3.
Piping Plover at Low Tide
Flying ants are all over the place. So are common grackles. I've noticed this phenomenon in years past. When the huge flying ant hatch happens, the grackles are all over it. There are plenty of birds that eat ants, but for some reason this is a notable event for grackles.
Beach -- Looking South

The slope of the berm is so steep that it's difficult to see people walking along the water line at low tide and it's equally difficult for them to see the boundary signs, so I had a bit more dashing back and forth to the water line to intercept people than usual. Even one of the leaders of a school group, who was well aware of the beach closure, walked right past the boundary into the closed area even as I was walking toward him. Sigh. Anyway, nobody got near the northernmost nest. BTW, as promised, staff moved the signs further north to give the nesting pair more room.

Beach Art Installation
As might be expected with the holiday weekend starting, there were a fair number of visitors. I met one couple from North Andover who asked a lot of questions about birds, which of course I was able to answer. Somehow we got from the piping plovers here on the beach to the nesting great horned owls in North Andover (there are at least 2 great horned owl nests that I know of there). Some visitors asked about the ants, but not as many as I would have expected.
Creepy Crab
The least terns are back in full force and the long-tailed ducks are gone. Must be summer. The least tern air defense command took on an aggressive herring gull that was near the plover nest and drove it away easily. I love least terns nearly as much as I love piping plovers. They are feisty little beasts.

Fortunately, I Already Drank the Coffee
While I was running around intercepting people down by the water line, the winged ants took over my coffee cup. Fortunately I had finished the delicious French Roast Sumatra. (Also, when I went back to PICR for a refill, the kind folks washed the cup for me when I told them about the ants.) I saw one huge ant without wings dragging around a couple of dead winged ones. I don't know enough about ants to understand what I was seeing. I googled flying ants but the first 10 pages of results all had to do with getting carpenter ants out of your house. I had to laugh, because I had an invasion of tiny sugar ants in my house a few weeks ago and was desperately googling how to get rid of them (vinegar and then caulking the crack they came in through). My partner pointed out to me then that if the ants were on the beach I'd be studying their behavior, not being creeped out by them and trying to get rid of them. Anyway, my handy Insects of New England and New York, informed me that there are 51 species of carpenter ants but offered no clue as to which ones swarm on the beach.

Somehow, I Don't Want to Know What's in the Bag
The strangest beach trash I spotted was a plastic bag with who knows what in it pinned down to the sand by a stick. If someone could take the time to pin it down like that, why couldn't they take the time to carry the bag off the beach to a trash can?

Common Grackle

Herring Gull
By the time my relief arrived, I was definitely ready for another cup of coffee and some lunch. I headed into downtown Newburyport to obtain same and to check out El Galeon, the tall ship in town for Maritime Days.

Sailboat Looking All Summery
El Galeon was impressive. So was the crowd lining up for tours. And never underestimate the racket that dozens of kids with souvenir bosun's whistles can make.

Meanwhile in Newburyport