Tuesday, July 25, 2017

crowded crazy beach

Friday, July 21, 2017
Bird of the Day: black tern
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Harrar
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: moon snail sand collar
Invisi-bird Status: Official: Refuge Beach: 27 Pairs, 3 Nests, 70 Chicks, 14 Fledglings. No report on town beach and Sandy Point. Number actually seen by me: 4 (3 chicks, 1 adult).

Plover Chick Looking for Food in the Sand
After a long streak of cloudy, rainy, cold, or otherwise non-beach-weather Fridays, this one was a typical hot beach day. I knew as soon as I got up that it was going to be a busy, strenuous, potentially stressful day. And indeed it was. Lots of people, lots of greenheads, lots of questions, confusion, radio difficulties, and heat made for an interesting day.
Another Cute Chick
The first half hour was actually fairly quiet visitor-wise and I spotted my favorite chicks right off the bat. I watched one of the chicks flexing its wings, not quite fledged yet, but getting close. It looked like it was trying to get used to having wings. I also saw, for the first time this season, a least tern parent feeding its chick.
Looking South
The beach got really crowded around mid-morning. There were lots of family groups, lots of swimmers, and a few fishermen. You know it's deep into July when the most common questions are about greenheads, not about the plovers. People wanted to know what kind of repellent I use (Dak's GreenHead) and when the greenheads will go away (early August). The oddest question was from a woman who asked whether I'd seen any needles on the beach, because she'd heard  that vast numbers of needles were washing up on beaches. The news has been full of needles in the Merrimack River, needles on the beaches, needles in playgrounds, and other places. I told her I had not seen or heard of any on the refuge beach.
Sand Collar
My favorite question was from a kid who spotted a sand collar upside down at the waterline. He asked what it was and his grandfather replied that it was a coffee cup from a sunken ocean liner. The kid was not buying that answer and exclaimed "But it's made of sand!"  He liked my explanation of how the female moon snail lays her eggs in a structure made out of sand and mucus and sometimes they wash up on the beach. The kid put it back right side up.
Least Terns on Nest
My most frightening moment of the day came when I spotted two people walking in the closed area very close to a least tern nest. I stopped them before either of them stepped on the tern nest. The least tern air defense command rose up and shrieked at them but for some reason did not poop on them. Anyway, I guided them over to the boundary away from the nest. They told me they were looking for Ranger McKenzie's program on piping plovers, for which they were late, and that Gatehouse had told them to try to catch up with the group from the Lot 1 beach.  My radio was getting no signal whatsoever where I was standing, and after moving around a little, I finally gave up and called Gatehouse on my phone (which oddly, did have somewhat of a signal). Gatehouse didn't know where McKenzie was and couldn't reach her. Nobody had told me about any program on the Lot 1 beach, and I'd been on the beach since 8:30 and had not seen any refuge staff or group, so I was very confused. I found a better spot for radio and called Gatehouse a couple more times, but by the time Gatehouse contacted McKenzie and determined that she was at Lot 7, the people had left the beach. The whole thing was weird, but fortunately I prevented them from harming the least tern nest. A couple of other visitors who saw/heard all this came over and said sympathetically "I wouldn't want your job."
Piping Plover between ATV Tracks
A couple of windblown beach balls and a guy landing a stand up paddle board on the closed beach were dealt with much more easily. Things calmed down.

There was a great flurry of tern activity offshore, mostly common terns, diving and coming up with fish. As I was watching them, I noticed a smaller dark tern in among them. Once it came in closer, I could see it was a black tern! Birders have been reporting a black tern on the refuge for a few weeks so I'm guessing this is probably the same one. First time I've seen one on Plum Island.
Meanwhile in the Milkweed Patch
By the time I left, I was wilting from the heat and feeling really dehydrated, but that didn't stop me from noticing the status of the milkweed patch. Some of them have already formed seed pods. Others are still flowering. I did not see any monarch butterflies but did see bumblebees.
Milkweed Flowers

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