Wednesday, June 21, 2017

another cold rainy friday among the least terns

Friday June 16, 2017
Bird of the Day: turkey vulture
Coffee of the Day: Clipper City Roast
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: blue plastic thingie
Invisi-bird Status: Official:Refuge Beach:48 Pairs, 25 Nests, 16 Chicks; Sandy Point: 9 Pairs, 6 Nests, 4 Chicks; Town Beach: 4 Pairs, 2 Nests, no chicks yet.  Number actually seen by me: 1.
Beach - Looking South
Somehow I wasn't expecting the cold rainy weather until later in the day, and following the usual rule of  "if it's not raining at my house ..." I headed to the refuge for the AM plover warden shift. Got stuck in a traffic jam on Bridge Road -- no, the drawbridge wasn't open, there was construction, go figure -- but managed to get to to PICR, obtain coffee, and not be that terribly late.
Stick Fence -- What's that blue thing in the wrack?
The weather wasn't too bad at first, windy and cold but not raining. Visitors were few: a couple of fishermen who were just leaving when I arrived and a group of three birders visiting from Austria who left not long after that.
Weird Blue Plastic Thingie
One of the plovers did a brief flyby and that was it for plover action for the day. The least terns were still doing their fish-presenting thing, but not as much as last week. They drove off a northern harrier and a red-tailed hawk in quick succession.
Least Terns At the Water Line in the Rain
The most interesting bird behavior of the day was a turkey vulture who landed on the beach to check out a dead fish. I often see them circling over the marsh or over the dunes  but I can't remember the last time I saw a turkey vulture land on the beach. It hung around for a long time, intermittently picking at the fish. Then a great black back flew in and tried to chase the vulture off. The great black back took over eating the fish, but the vulture didn't exactly leave. It stood on the sand about three feet away and just watched. It seemed to be waiting for the great black back to leave. This went on for well over an hour. I kept watching through binoculars.  I have no clue how to identify dead fish at a distance through binoculars and didn't get a chance to walk up to the town beach where this was going on for a closer look, so the fish ID will remain a mystery. The vulture did get another turn at it when the great black back had finally had its fill.
That Crab Doesn't Look Big Enough to Satisfy the Herring Gull
It rained off and on, but every time I thought I should leave, it stopped. When the rain let up, a few more visitors appeared. I saw a family group read the signs and then head out for a walk along the water line toward the town beach. They were photographing each other and picking up shells. No problem, right? The woman who appeared to be the matriarch of the clan carefully noted where I was and where the boundary line was. I saw her watching me, but didn't think anything of it. When I turned my back to deal with something else, she ran into the closed area, grabbed a huge clam shell and ran back out before I could do anything. I was pretty far up from the water line at that point, so I couldn't catch up with her. None of the birds were disturbed, so I just made a note of what happened and left it at that. 

Quite awhile later the group returned to the refuge beach and sat in a circle picnicking and taking more photos. Suddenly the woman stood up holding some kind of food -- a potato chip, Cheetos, I don't know -- straight up over her head.  She posed like that for several minutes before I realized she was trying to bait the least terns to come closer for a photo. Did she really want the least tern air defense command anywhere near her head? I've seen people use food/bait to lure birds for photos -- which is strictly forbidden on the refuge -- but this just seemed weird. Whatever snack food she was holding was not appealing to the terns, nor to the great black backs or the turkey vulture.  Since she wasn't actually feeding any birds or doing anything untoward except holding food over her head, I decided not to approach her.  She finally went back to sit in the circle with the group, and then they all left. 
Least Tern Hiding in Plain Sight
I'm not sure which was the stranger behavior: the turkey vulture standoff with the great black back or the woman trying to lure the terns.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

birds, fish, the tide and an app

Friday June 9
Bird of the Day: least tern
Coffee of the Day: Sumatra Mandehling
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: a silk flower
Invisi-bird Status: Official: Refuge Beach: 50 Pairs, 15 Nests, 9 Chicks; Sandy Point: 9 Pairs, 8 Nests, no chicks; Town Beach: 5 Pairs, 3 Nests; 3 Chicks. Number actually seen by me: 2

My personal plover pair -- that is, the pair closest to the boundary -- seem to have re-nested after losing their nest to predation. They were taking turns leaving wherever the nest is hidden to dash out for food.  I got good looks at each of them, so I was sure I was seeing two different individuals. 
Piping Plover Checking out the Wrack Line
The least tern show continues. Between courtship displays and defense of the territory they are pretty busy right now.  The action is taking place mostly between Lot 1 and Lot 2 so they're the first birds you notice when you come onto the beach.  The courtship involves lots of elaborate flying and calling by the male who then swoops down to offer the female a fish. This goes on for like 3 weeks, it seems.
I Don't Think She Wants That Fish
The male comes up behind and slightly to one side of the female and kind of waves the fish around. I have no idea what criteria the female uses to choose whose fish she will accept. There was one male who was directly behind the female and frantically waving the fish with no reaction from her at all. I was wondering how she could even see the fish. I would've thought he'd be more off to the side so she could get a good look at it.
Please Take My Fish!
When a great black back flew over and attempted to land near the least terns about 15 of them went after it, dive bombing it, pooping on it, and making a racket. Interestingly, once the great black back got to just about the refuge boundary, all but one of the terns decided their work was done and returned to their territory. One tern kept chasing and attacking the great black back, pursuing it north above the town beach until I lost sight of it. The tern did eventually come back.
The Least Tern Air Defense Command
Meanwhile, the humans were not having having as much luck at fishing as the least terns were. As one couple were setting up their fishing rods, I heard the guy say "I forgot the measuring tape." I just had to get in on this, so I responded: "There must be an app for that." After a quick search of the app store he found one, but it measures only in centimeters. His wife laughed and suggested that there must be an app that converts centimeters to inches. Sure enough he found one. Despite all the technical support, they never caught anything to measure.
You Can't See Me I'm Pretending to be Wrack
The tide was coming in and I had to keep moving my chair back. A fisherman who'd been on the beach all morning with no luck came over to talk to the measuring app couple. They advised him that the fishing is usually better on the incoming tide, which is why they had started much later than he had. This seemed to confuse him. Him: "What? Is the tide coming in? Did it just turn?" Me and measuring couple unison: "It's been coming in! High tide is at 12:30."  Strange conversation. And yeah, there's a tide app -- in fact there are tons of them. My favorite is Tides Near Me.
Weird Wrack Item of the Week

As I was walking along the wrack line, I spotted what I thought was some kind of flowering plant. When I got close enough to it, I realized it was made of some kind of cloth, possibly silk. It certainly reached a new beauty level for beach trash.

Looking South

Thursday, June 8, 2017


Friday June 2
Bird of the Day: least tern
Coffee of the Day: Clipper City Roast
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: an UnderArmour sandal
Invisi-bird Status: Official: haven't seen the report. Number actually seen by me: zero.

Looking South
The day was all about least terns. I lost count of how many there were because they were in constant motion, either flying or running or having sex with each other.  This was clearly a big day for least tern mating.
Least Tern
Some pairs were getting it on just above the water line on the wet sand and others were doing it in the wrack line behind piles of driftwood. The most interesting sight was a female running at top speed along the water line with the mail on top of her flapping his wings. He managed to stay on top for what may have been long enough. It was quite a feat of balance.
Besides watching the least terns have sex, I answered visitors' questions and intercepted a dog. Usually dogs get onto the refuge beach from the Newbury town beach, but this one came in over the Lot 1 boardwalk with a family. They let it off the leash but I managed to catch up with them and explain the rules before it got near the closed area. I asked how they got past the gatehouse with the dog in the car and they said she probably just didn't see it in the back seat. The people were completely unaware that dogs are not allowed on the refuge. They were also completely unaware that they were even on a national wildlife refuge. They insisted that the "no dogs" rule only applied to the closed area of beach. It took me several tries to convince them that dogs are not allowed anywhere on the refuge. Not the beach, not road, not the trails, not the clam flats. I managed to explain to them what a national wildlife refuge is and convince them that they would all be a lot happier on the town beach.  That was the only weird visitor encounter of the day.
Wonder Where the Other Sandal Is
The tide was going out and the beach got steeper and steeper until I felt like I was climbing a mountain walking back up from the water. It was so steep that it was actually hard to see people walking along the water line unless I was just below the crest of the sand berm. When my relief showed up, the first thing he asked was "what happened to the beach?" It's a different beach every day, every tide, and some days the difference is more dramatic than others.
Least Tern with Pine Cone
I kept hoping a plover or two would show up, but no such luck. The show was all least terns all the time.
Least Terns
For once the sky was blue with no rain in sight. The wind was out of the northeast but not nearly at the speed of last week's northeast wind. I still had trouble keeping my hat on.

Blue Sky over the Dunes