Wednesday, May 31, 2017

northeast wind

Friday May 26
Bird of the Day:Bonaparte's gull
Coffee of the Day: I forget
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: umm, there's a wrack line in the Black Cow parking lot, that's weird enough
Invisi-bird Status: Official: haven't seen the report yet. Number actually seen by me: zero.

Following the "if it's not raining at my house, my shift is not rained out" rule, I headed off to Plum Island. I stopped at PICR to get some coffee and noticed that the exceptionally high tide and the storm winds had clearly caused the Merrimack to overflow its banks. One does not normally expect to see a wrack line in the parking lot at the Black Cow or in the boat yard behind PICR.
Least Tern in the Wrack Line
By the time I got to the gatehouse, it felt like it was fixing to rain again. Hmm. Gatehouse said South was already out there and it wasn't really raining yet, so I went for it, betting that there would not be many (if any) visitors so it would be just me and the birds. That's pretty much how it worked out. I spoke to exactly one visitor.

The wind was blowing hard and cold from the northeast. Mostly I watched least terns try to fly into the wind. They are not as good at it as ring-billed gulls, but better at it than many of the gull/tern types of birds.
Looking South
The wrack line probably should've been called the foam line. Big blobs of sea foam covered a lot of the seaweed and other wrack. Flying globs of foam bounced around on the beach.  The wind blew my hat off several times, so I packed it away and let the wind tangle my hair so I looked like some kind of ex-hippie Medusa.
Least Tern Air Defense Command on the Beach
By the time I finished drinking my coffee, the rain came back in earnest.  There was nobody on the beach but me and the least terns. Not even a single piping plover from the northernmost pair. I figure they were hunkering down in the wrack line.
Looking North
I hung around on the Lot 1 platform for awhile hoping the rain would stop again.  Two Bonaparte's gulls flew past me and out over the beach, tacking the way ring-billed gulls do. Must research which gull species do that and which don't and why. Someday when I have nothing else to do.

Shovel Handle -- New Dimensions in Plastic Beach Trash
The rain and the cold wind finally drove me off. I headed over to Salisbury for a second breakfast and more coffee at Pat's Diner, where I talked up the tall ships to customers visiting from out of town.  Sufficiently refueled, I headed back into downtown Newburyport and took a walk in the rain along the waterfront to check out the tall ships Alabama and Adventure in town for Maritime Days. I kind of liked taking photos of the ships  in the rain.

Newburyport Harbor in the Rain
Several school groups were touring the ships. The kids from Amesbury were outfitted in plastic rain ponchos donated by a bank. I didn't manage to catch a good photo of the kids with their ponchos billowing in the rain, but it was fun to see. A couple of kids coming off the Alabama were saying that they were disappointed at not having been thrown overboard. I guess a nice cold swim in the Merrimack was looking good to them.
Tall Ship Adventure

By the time I got done with gawking at the tall ships, my fingers were numb and my hair resembled one of those tangled rafts of vegetation that transported life forms from mainland to island in all the books I've read about evolution.  Clearly time to go home, take a shower, put on dry clothes and take it easy.
Tall Ship Alabama

Monday, May 22, 2017

least terns are back and louder than ever

Friday May 19
Bird of the Day: least tern
Coffee of the Day: Clipper City Roast
Weird Wrack Item of the Week:

Invisi-bird Status: Official: Refuge beach: 53 pairs, 23 nests; Sandy Point: 9 pairs, 4 nests; Town beach: 4 pairs, 3 nests. Number actually seen by me: 1.

Piping Plover
The least terns are back! I heard them making a racket before I even got to Lot 1. Once I got onto the boardwalk I could see them flying around. I ran into Unit 62 on the boardwalk and he commented on the least terns also. I counted at least 17 identifiable without binoculars -- it's kind of easy to id them when they're right above your head :-) I witnessed a lot of presentation of fish and bowing to each other, but no actual mating. There was one tern that kept flying around with the same fish dangling from his beak for over 15 minutes. He must have been holding out for the perfect match before even trying to present a fish. My duties distracted me from continuing to follow that particular drama, so I don't know how it turned out.

Looking South
The least terns were not the only ones having a busy day. The hot weather brought loads of visitors to the beach, especially parents with little kids.  Lots of visitors plus low tide means a busy day for me. There's way more territory to cover at low tide.  Most of the people I talked to were really interested in the piping plovers and one even asked about the least terns, so I felt pretty useful at the information communication part of the job.  The keeping people and plovers apart part of the job was a little tough because little kids are hard to intercept, especially if they're at the water line and I'm up at the wrack line answering a question. One little girl in a pink bathing suit took off into the closed area of beach, but I was able to get her mother's attention, so it all worked out.

Looking North
Other birds of interest besides the piping plover and the least terns were a least sandpiper hanging out with a couple of semipalmated sandpipers, a few common terns, an osprey, and a flock of brant. It struck me as kind of late in the season for the brant, but maybe I only thought that because of the heat.  Hot for May, feels like June, therefore brant should be further north ... whatever.

Same Dead Fish Only Further South and More Decayed?
I think the dead fish I saw several yards south of the boundary was the same dead goosefish I saw last week. It looked it had collapsed a little more, but the way the bones were sticking out of the tail looked like last week's fish.

Plover on the Run
Didn't see anybody catch any cool fish. By the time my relief arrived, I was definitely ready for lunch.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

it's happening on the beach

Friday May 12
Bird of the Day: piping plover
Coffee of the Day: Tanzania Peaberry
Weird Wrack Item of the Week:  a wheel or caster from some piece of office furniture
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge beach: 48 pairs, 20 nests; Sandy Point: 11 pairs, 5 nests; Number actually seen by me: 1.
Piping Plover Stood Still for a Minute
The rain showers stopped just as I was leaving PICR with my coffee. By the time I got onto the beach I could see the sky clearing. Yay! A lone piping plover spent most of the first 2 hours running back and forth along the water line in and out of the closed area. I got plenty of close looks and enjoyed watching the cutest bird on the planet maneuvering at high speed. It finally did stand still long enough for me to get a quick photo. And of course by the time a group of birders showed up on the platform at Lot 1, the plover was nowhere to be seen.
Sky Clearing
It was still kind of chilly but not nearly as windy as the last couple of Fridays have been.  There were a few people fishing, all of whom were wearing winter jackets. One guy was wearing a blanket wrapped around his shoulders over his winter jacket.  The stream of visitors was slow and steady.  Everybody was genuinely interested in piping plovers, and one couple wanted to know how Hurricane Matthew had affected our particular piping plover population. I had to say I don't really know. Although many of the Atlantic population of piping plovers winter in the Bahamas and hundreds went missing after Hurricane Andrew hit Andros and Joulter Cays, it's not clear how many were actually lost nor how many of those were from Massachusetts. Anyway, I was kind of impressed that visitors even asked about it.
A Little Darker to the South
I noticed that a lot of walkers were stopping to look at something in the wrack line, so I figured it must be interesting. When I got a chance, I walked over to look at it. Sure enough it was a really interesting dead fish. It had been dead quite awhile and looked like it had been picked at by birds or crabs or whatever, but that wide head and kind of tadpole-looking shape made me think goosefish immediately. That's a fairly unusual beach find, but not totally unknown. They do occur around here.

Dead Goosefish
I was going to name the goosefish as my weirdest wrack item of the week, but later in the morning a caster that looked like it had just fallen off the leg of a desk washed up on the incoming tide. Sitting there all by itself on the sand, it looked even more alien than the goosefish. After all, desk parts are far less common on the beach than dead goosefish.

Weird Wrack Item of the Week
While I was staring at the weird wrack item of the week, I heard a "kee-arr" call and looked up to see my first two common terns of the season. One was carrying a fair-sized fish in its beak. Haven't seen any least terns yet, but have been told that others have seen a few near Sandy Point.

Wrack Lines Converging
Near the end of my shift, the fisherman wearing the blanket over his winter parka ran up  to me exclaiming excitedly that he'd caught a fish.  He whipped out his phone to show me the photo. Sure enough, it was a striped bass, not nearly big enough to keep. He was really happy, practically jumping up and down.  I got a kick out of his excitement. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

rainy day

Friday May 5
Bird of the Day: kestrel
Coffee of the Day: Boatyard Brew
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: arrangement of driftwood
Invisi-bird Status: Official: Refuge beach: 47 pairs, 11 nests; Sandy Point: 9 pairs, 3 nests; Town beaches: 5 pairs, no nests. Number actually seen by me: zero

Lot 1 Ocean
Another rainy Friday morning. The forecast was for drenching showers, but each report kept pushing them back to later in the day.  I applied the "is it raining where I am right now?" test. It was not raining at my house at 7AM so I headed out to the beach. Of course, by the time I stopped to fill my coffee cup at PICR and got to the refuge it was starting to rain lightly. I decided to drink my coffee on the platform at Lot 1 and see whether the weather would clear.
Looking North
While walking along the Lot 1 boardwalk toward the beach, a gorgeous America kestrel landed on the railing about 5 feet from me. We looked at each other. When it finally occurred to me that I should document this moment and I tried to fumble in my pocket for my phone (my camera was in my backpack requiring way more fumbling), the kestrel took off northward.

Looking South
From the platform, I scanned the dunes with my binoculars but found very little bird action. There was a large flock of some kind of sea ducks fairly far out from the town beach. I couldn't identify them as anything other than dark duck shaped beings. A guy who had been fishing on the town beach noticed them too. On his way back to the parking lot, he asked if I knew what kind of ducks they were. He said their numbers had been increasing all morning.  We never did figure out what they were or what was attracting them all to that particular spot.  Whatever bait fish the ducks were after was not attracting any larger fish.

Another fisherman asked me about the plovers and was thrilled when I told him we already have several nests.

I Don't Think It Washed Up Like This
The rain stopped so I stuck around for awhile. A few (very few) birders and fishermen came by, but mostly the beach was deserted.  My favorite encounter was a birder there with his grandson. He explained to me that his grandson is crazy about ospreys, so that was the focus of their visit. They stopped at the Lot 1 beach for a look at the ocean before heading for the osprey platform at the Pines. 

In the Dunes
It started to rain again in earnest so I took off, but not without stopping several times along the boardwalk to photograph all the flowering plants in the dunes. Somehow, white flowers look particularly beautiful on overcast days.
Subtle Colors
The subtle yet beautiful colors in the dunes and the calls of willets somehow made it a great day to be outdoors.