Thursday, August 9, 2018

some brief updates as the season winds down

Didn't sign up for any August shifts -- too much other stuff going on -- so no first hand report from me today. Last official word I heard was that the official total of piping plover chicks fledged is 40. That's a good number given the wash-overs from extreme high tides and the normal amount of predation.

The least terns have left the beach. I haven't seen any data on them, but it didn't seem like a good year for them.

In other bird news, the swallows are doing their massive flocking thing and are a sight to behold. The swallows staging for migration is one of PRNWR's most amazing phenomena.

July 27, 2018
AM Shift North
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Yrgacheffe
Bird of the Day: semipalmated sandpiper
Butterfly of the Day: monarch
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: a sock -- don't know if it's the mate to the one from 2 weeks ago or merely a similar-looking sock
Invisi-bird Status: Official: 40 chicks have fledged from 18 nests, 7 chicks remaining from 3 nests. Number actually seen by me: 4 adults who seemed to be new arrivals migrating through.
Looking South
Didn't have a lot of visitor questions or trespassers and such, so I got a little time to check out the shorebird migration, which is definitely in progress. In addition to a group of 4 piping plovers who arrived from somewhere north of this beach (Seabrook? Hampton? Somewhere in Maine?) to chow down at the water line,  there were multiple flocks of semipalmated sandpipers landing on the beach  for awhile then taking off southward.  A few common terns and a few least terns were still around.

Weird Sock of the Week
This week I spotted even more monarchs on the beach. Also loads of cabbage whites -- but it was thrilling to see so many monarchs.

The surfers have largely been replaced by standup paddleboarders.  None of them landed on the beach or got caught in any rip currents -- placid paddleboarding all around.

July 20, 2018

Coffee of the Day: I dunno. Did I even have coffee today? Too much going on in too many places. Anyway, I wasn't at PICR so definitely don't know what their dark roast of the day was.
Not at PRNWR today because of the aforementioned too many things in too many places. Hence, no piping plovers were actually seen by me and no weird wrack items were photographed by me.

Invisi-bird Status: Official Report: 19 fledglings from 7 nests, 27 chicks from 13 nests, 1 nest yet to hatch.  Least tern status: Bio staff reports seeing 1 least tern chick.

Monday, July 16, 2018

it's all happening at the beach

 July 13, 2018
AM shift - North
Coffee of the Day: Clipper City Blend
Bird of the Day: piping plover
Butterfly of the Day: American Copper
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: a sock
Invisi-Bird Status: Official: Refuge: 8 fledglings/3 broods, 28 chicks/15 broods, 4 nests;  Sandy Point: 11 chicks/4 broods, 4 nests; Town Beach: 7 chicks/3 broods, 1 nest. Number actually seen by me: 3 -- 2 adults and 1 chick who looked pretty close to being able to fly.

Least Tern Status:  Bio staff reported that one least tern chick hatched on Saturday. Maybe the first and only. The Friday night high tide washed over most of the least tern nests. 
In case the above status is confusing: Although I'm writing about Friday morning's shift, I'm writing this on Sunday and thus have knowledge of what happened with the extreme high tide on Friday night.
Watching the Tide Come in
Summer is just racing by! The greenheads are out in full force, the plover chicks are starting to fledge, the willets and some of the other shorebirds are starting to stage for migration ...  Yikes, where did the summer go? 
Hmm, what's this orange thing in the wrack line?

There was a nice breeze on the beach, just enough to keep the greenheads from biting me but not enough to make it cold. Visitors were sparse for the first 3 hours or so, in great contrast to two weeks ago when the beach was already jampacked at 8:00 AM.  I had plenty of time to watch my personal piping plover family (that's how I think of them lately). I spotted both of the adults and the chick almost the moment I arrived. They were running around above the wrack line at the base of the dunes. Eventually they moved closer to the water line and I got to see the chick flexing its wings as if it was trying to figure out how to fly. I did not see it fly, but I'm guessing by its actions and its feathers that it was right on the verge of fledging. It may well be one of the fledglings that bio staff observed on Saturday.
There wasn't a whole lot of other bird action. A few least terns and a few common terns were fishing fairly far out over the water. Most of the gulls -- herring gulls, ringbilled gulls, and great black backs -- were loafing on the beach down past the Lot 2 area as were the cormorants. A killdeer landed on the beach near where the piping plovers were hiding and one of the adult plovers promptly rush directly at it attempting to drive it away. The killdeer took off pretty quickly.
Weird Wrack Item of the Week
A monarch butterfly flew over the wrack line -- only my second monarch sighting of the season and once again on the beach rather than in the dunes or the milkweed patch. There seem to be tons of cabbage whites around both on the beach and in the dunes.  My favorite butterfly of the day was the American Copper. They're really tiny -- smaller than cabbage whites -- but also quite colorful.

Let's Go! I Want to Migrate!
Visitor questions were few and all things I could answer easily. That is, until I had handed over the radio and the backpack to my relief and headed back to my car. A woman stopped me in Lot 1 and asked how far it is to the Lot 3 restrooms because the restrooms in the VCS at Lot 1 were closed. I answered that it was a pretty long walk but didn't give an estimated distance. She insisted that I tell her how many miles it is. Since I had already handed off the backpack, I didn't have a map with me to look it up. I finally convinced her to drive there and described exactly where it was. Anyway, I looked at a map when I got home and figured the distance is about 2 miles. Guess I'll be able to answer if anybody asks that again.
Meanwhile in the Milkweed Patch
When I stopped to sign out and turn in my report, Gatehouse was talking to the greenheads while wielding a flyswatter--telling them how many chances he'd given them to get out of the gatehouse.  Yes, people talk to greenheads. It's July.

I parked next to the milkweed patch for a quick photo or two. Much more of the milkweed is actually in bloom now and Cabbage Whites and American Coppers were fluttering around. Couldn't get a good photo of a Cabbage White, but I did get a really good shot of an American Copper. 
American Copper

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

quick update

Update for: July 6, 2018

Following the if it's raining at my house it's probably raining at PRNWR rule, I didn't go be north plover warden today (July 6).

Coffee of the Day at my house instead of Plum Island Coffee Roasters:  New Harvest Steamroller blend.

Invisi-bird Status: Refuge: 28 pairs, 6 nests, 41 chicks/19 broods. Sandy Point: 9 pairs, 4 nests, 19 chicks/broods. Town Beach: 5 pairs, 1 nest, 11 chicks/4 broods. Number actually seen by me: zero because I wasn't there.

No info on the least terns.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

crowded beach in the heat

June 29, 2018
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Yrgacheffe
Sighting of the Day: monarch butterfly (first of the season)
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: none
Invisi-bird Status: Official: Refuge Beach: 29 pairs, 9 nests, 37 chicks/17 broods; Sandy Point: 9 pairs, 5 nests, 12 chicks/3 broods; Town Beach: 5 pairs, 3 nests, 5 chicks/2broods. Number actually seen by me: 1.

Looking South
OK, it's really most sincerely hot today. The beach was already packed with people at 8AM and they just kept coming. Questions ranged from is the tide going out or coming in to why the plovers are not nesting as close to the north boundary as they did last year.  I didn't have a whole lot of time to take photos.
Herring Gull
The plover pair I can usually see from the boundary -- and their two chicks -- were doing a good job of becoming invisible for at least the first two hours of the shift.  I finally heard the peep-lo call coming from quite a way farther south and up closer to the dunes and located one of the adults walking around. I heard another one calling but didn't see it.  There really wasn't much bird activity on the beach except for a few herring gulls keeping an eye out for visitors' food scraps or bait.

My best sighting of the day was not a bird at all. A monarch butterfly flew down off the dunes and made a low pass over the beach. My first of the season. I'd actually been thinking about monarchs because I hadn't even seen the milkweed in bloom yet, never mind monarchs or their caterpillars. It seemed a little late to me. I guess I should read my old blog posts/notebooks to see when the milkweed usually flowers and when the monarchs come around. As I was leaving for the day I did find some milkweed in bloom in one of the usual spots. The only thing that would have been more exciting would be seeing the monarch on the milkweed.
Milkweed in Bloom

Wednesday, July 4, 2018


June 22, 2018
Coffee of the Day: Sumatra Mandehling
Bird of the Day: piping plover -- finally chicks!
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: strange pink thing
Invisi-bird Status: Official: Refuge: 23 chicks from 7 nests, 20 nests that haven't hatched yet, total 35 pairs; Sandy Point: 10 pairs, 7 nests, 1 brood with 4 chicks; Town Beach: 4 pairs, 2 nests, 1 brood with 4 chicks. Number actually seen by me: 4 -- pair and two chicks.
Least Tern Status: 10 nests, 10 pairs that haven't nested yet.

Looking South
Some of the nests are starting to hatch, including the one I've been watching. I spotted two chicks running around in the wrack line. It was a little difficult to spot the chicks in the wrack line when they weren't moving around.  There was just so much stuff for them to hide behind or blend in with. Watching them was the highlight of the morning.
Plenty of Camouflage, Strange Pink Thing, and Lots of Seaweed
Today's odd thing about the wrack line was the presence of so many colorful but unidentifiable trash items -- mostly plastic by the looks of them. I think that pink thing may have been a buoy of some sort, guessing from the shape, and it appeared to be made of some kind of Styrofoam-like stuff. Weird indeed.
Not a Seal
Speaking of weird, today's confusing item of flotsam was a log that was flipping around in the surf and at times looked like it was a seal poking its head up. After watching it for a few minutes, I felt confident answering the visitor's question about it with: "Nope, it's not a seal. It's a log."

Monday, July 2, 2018

rainy day

June 15, 2018
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Yrgacheffe
Bird of the Day: wild turkey
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: none
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge: 35 pairs, 26 active nests, 2 broods totaling 6 chicks. Number actually seen by me: zero.
Least Tern Status: 3 nests.

Mystery Bird in the Rain
It wasn't raining when I left my house but by the time I got to the refuge it was definitely raining. It didn't look like it was going to let up within the next several hours, so I decided not to do my shift. Since I was already on the refuge I drove down to the North Pool Overlook to drink my coffee and see what birds I've been missing.  There was not a whole lot of bird activity but the wild turkeys and the mourning doves seemed completely unbothered by the rain.

furthermore a wiffle ball

June 8, 2018
Coffee of the Day:  French Roast Sumatra
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: wiffle ball
Invisi-bird Status: Official: Refuge: 25 nests. Some washovers. Nothing else in the report. Number actually seen by me:1.

Looking South
Only saw one of the adult piping plovers today. Was pretty busy and didn't get much chance to walk the wrack line or take photos. I did spot a wiffle ball in the wrack line inside the closed area. That's pretty weird as plastic items go.
Weird Wrack Item of the Week

gull, grackles, horseshoe crabs and dune vegetation

June 1, 2018
Coffee of the Day: Clipper City Roast
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: lobster trap with lots of fishing line attached
Invisi-bird Status: Official: Refuge Beach: 43 pairs, 29 nests. Don't know about Sandy Point or the town beach. Number actually seen by me: 2.

Looking South
Horseshoe crabs are becoming a theme. Not only have there been a ton of molted shells around, but today I spotted a great black back and and herring gull tussling over a horseshoe crab at the water line.
Gull and Crab
Watching the two gulls pecking at the underside of the crab, I kept wondering how much "meat" there could possibly be for them to eat. I know the eggs and larvae are important food sources for shorebirds, but I never thought about what besides humans (for fertilizer and bait) preys on the adults.  I did some searching for info when I got home. According to The Horseshoe Crab site  adult horseshoe crabs provide food for sharks, gulls, and boat-tailed grackles. Still trying to figure out how much food the gulls actually get out of a single horseshoe crab. And boat-tailed grackles? I can't even picture that.

Herring Gull and Crab
Speaking of grackles, the common grackle not the boat-tailed, a flock of 6 or 7 common grackles landed on the beach near the piping plover nest that I can see from the boundary. Both adult plovers immediately started doing the broken wing distraction display -- going in different directions like they knew they had to split up the grackle flock. It was pretty impressive and seemed to sufficiently distract the grackles. No plovers or eggs were harmed. Guess I need to research more about what common grackles eat. I've only ever seen them eat fish, but what do I know?

Weird Wrack Item of the Week
The dunes are in bloom with tons of beach pea and beach heath. It's great to see so much vegetation after all the winter storms. The swaths of color are a delight for the eye.
Beach Pea
I've heard Hudsonia tomentosa referred to as beach heath and beach heather.  If you google beach heath, the first results for someplace called Heath Beach, so I guess beach heather is the more common common name.
Beach Heath
I noticed what looked like some Japanese honeysuckle in bloom next to Lot 1.  That's one of those invasive species that people both love and hate.

Japanese Honeysuckle?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

very hot day with weird flotsam and predator exclosure

May 25, 2018
Coffee of the Day: Tanzania Peaberry
Bird of the Day: least tern air defense command in action
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: strange agglomeration of flotsam
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge: 43 pairs, 26 nests. Sandy Point: 9 pairs, 2 nests. Town Beach: 6 pairs, 2 nests. Number actually seen by me: 2 on active nest.

Looking South
The extremely hot weather brought lots of people to the beach. The slope of the beach changes constantly and today's beach had a steep drop off between the dry sand and the wet sand area as the tide went out. People walking along the water line can't necessarily see where the boundary is nor can people up on the dry area see everything that's happening below the drop off. I got quite a workout going back and forth to the water line intercepting walkers about to trespass into the closed area and rounding up children who were dashing into the closed area and/or pulling up all the sticks we were using to mark the boundary. It's always tough when the tide is out but the combination of the steep slope and unruly children made it exhausting.
Great Black Back
Tons of visitors means tons of questions, most of which were the usual ones about how the plovers are doing, is the tide coming in or going out, when will the beach re-open,  where are the striped bass, etc.  However, today's most common question was about a mass of orange buoys with stuff tangled up in the lines bobbing in the waves close to shore. People were freaking out thinking it was either a swimmer in distress or a dead body about to wash up onshore. I lost count of how many people asked me if what they were looking at was a person in distress and whether I could call for help. With binoculars I could tell it was just a tangled mass of flotsam. I had to keep explaining that. I remembered to tell my relief about it. He mentioned that on his last shift he'd gotten a lot of questions about what the predator exclosure was.

Predator Exclosure -- You can sort of see the plover on the nest
Biological staff hasn't been regularly installing predator exclosures because crows had learned that that's where the plovers are. They have exclosed some nests depending on location and other circumstances. Anyway, there is now an exclosure around the nest nearest the north boundary. Only one visitor asked me about it.

The least tern air defense command went into action several times to chase away a great black back, a herring gull, a crow, and just about anything that moved. There aren't any least tern nests at this end so I'm not sure what they were defending.

after that 10.9 foot high tide (delayed post)

May 18, 2018
Coffee of the Day: French Roast
Bird of the Day: least tern
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: a Minion
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge: 43 pairs, 10 nests. Sandy Point: 10 pairs, 7 nests. Town Beach: 6 pairs, 2 nests. Number actually seen by me: 2.
Notes: 8 nests lost to predation by crows, 8 nests lost to flooding because of that huge high tide (10.9 feet).
Black-bellied Plovers
I was relieved to spot my personal piping plover pair -- the northernmost pair on the refuge beach -- after hearing about the nests washed over by the unusually high tide. The nest is fairly far back from the high tide line but could still be vulnerable. They were both doing a great job of camouflaging themselves in the sand. You'd really have to be looking for them to notice them unless they're running around or making the peep-lo call.
You can't see me! Or my nest! I'm invisi-bird!
There are finally a few least terns around this end of the beach, but they aren't doing any mating/pair-bonding activities yet.

A small flock of black-bellied plovers landed on the beach and hung out for awhile feeding along the water line. There wasn't all that much bird activity on the beach today. The most interesting shorebird I saw today was a short-billed dowitcher across the street from the airport.

Weird Wrack Item of the Week

doing Wednesday instead of Friday for a change (delayed post)

May 9, 2018
Coffee of the Day: Sumatra Mandehling
Bird of the Day: common tern
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: largish, tight ball of fishing line
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge: 41 pairs, 13 nests. Sandy Point: 10 pairs, 7 nests. Town Beach: 4 pairs, 2 nests. Number actually seen by me: 2.
Ball of Fishing Line
It was a gorgeous day on the beach. The common terns are back, but I haven't seen any least terns yet. There weren't many visitors on a Wednesday. Fridays are always busier.

Looking South
There seems to be more beach -- sand is definitely coming back in. There are still lots of horseshoe crab shells and lots of pine cones in the wrack. The piping plover pair I spotted last week are still hanging around the north boundary and being very active. I still didn't see any behaviors like the parallel run or test scrapes, but I'm guessing they are about to settle on a nest soon.
Hey Look, a Piping Plover

first Hooksett disk sighting of the season (delayed post)

April 27, 2018
Coffee of the Day: Sumatra Mandehling
Bird of the Day: piping plover
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: a Hooksett disk
Coast Guard Assets: 1 Jayhawk helicopter
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge: 34 pairs, 1 loner, 0 nests. Sandy Point: 7 pairs, 0 nests. Town Beach: 3 pairs, 0 nests. Number actually seen by me: 2.

Looking South
Horseshoe crab shells of all different sizes were everywhere: beach, dunes, boardwalk, parking lot ... just all over the place. I thought the big season for horseshoe crab molting was July and August so it seemed a bit strange. They come ashore to mate in the spring but I don't think there's molting associated with that. I guess I need to consult some horseshoe crab reference materials.
Huge Horseshoe Crab Shell
I found a Hooksett disk in the wrack line. It was the first one I've found this year. I can't believe I'm still finding them after 7 years!  The incident at the Hooksett waste water treatment plant was in 2011! I guess with 4 million of them, it's going to take decades to find them all. The Blue Ocean Society is still keeping track of where they're washing up.

Pieces of Horseshoe Crab Shells in the Wrack

The best part of today was that I finally saw piping plovers at the northern end of the beach. Two of them were hanging out together. I didn't see any mating behavior but they did seem to be scouting out scrape locations. Maybe there' will be a nest on this end of the beach this year after all.

Pine Cone
In other interesting wrack line news, there were a lot of pine cones in the wrack. It's amazing how much the wrack line reveals not just about what grows in the Great Marsh, but also what grows upriver along the Merrimack.

Had my first northern gannet sighting of the season and my first Coast Guard helicopter sighting of the season too.

not on duty but birding at the refuge anyway (delayed post)

April 20, 2018
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Harrar
Bird of the Day: peregrine falcon
Weird Wrack Item of the Week:  all the usual stuff, nothing particularly weird
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge: 26 pairs, 10 loners, 0 nests. Sandy Point: 6 pairs, 0 nests. Town Beach: 3 pairs, 0 nests. Number actually seen by me: 2 at Sandy Point.

View from the Lot 1 Boardwalk
I was not on the schedule for today so I took advantage of the free time to do some birding. Not having seen a piping plover yet this season was getting to me, so I headed down to Sandy Point where they're fairly visible. Sure enough, I heard the peep-lo call and saw two of them in flight. Ran into another plover warden (also not on duty today but in search of his first sight of them this year also) and we compared notes on how little appropriate nesting habitat was left on the northern end of the refuge after the winter.
Driftwood and Beach Grass at Sandy Point
I took my time birding along the road back to the entrance from Sandy Point. I saw a number of turkeys, some of them in the middle of the road, a lone northern flicker, a bunch of turkey vultures and several northern harriers, but the best sighting was peregrine falcon over the dunes.  Raptor migration is definitely underway. There was a group of hawk watchers at Lot. They told me they'd seen a lot of northern harriers including a "gray ghost" (the adult male northern harrier). I was disappointed to have missed that one because that's an impressive sight.
Rocks in the Dunes at Sandy Point

lots of semipalmated sandpipers (delayed post)

April 13, 2018
Coffee of the Day: Tanzania Peaberry
Bird of the Day: semipalmated sandpiper
Weird Wrack Item of the Week: semi-deflated basketball
Invisi-bird Status: Refuge: 22 pairs, 8 loners, 0 nests. Sandy Point: 25 individuals, 0 nests. Town Beach: zero. Number actually seen by me: zero.

Looking South from the Refuge Boundary
It was a pretty quiet shift -- not a lot of visitors. Didn't see any piping plovers. Big waves washed ashore lots and lots of wrack, more grasses than seaweed though. There had been a hatch of those little flies that live in the wrack line and the tree swallows were having a great time catching them. Things like that always remind me that the wrack line is a whole mini-ecosystem within the beach ecosystem. There's so much going on there.
Big Waves and Lots of Wrack
The weird wrack item of the week was a partially deflated basketball just south of the boundary of the closed area.
Weird Wrack Item of the Week

A flock of about 30 semipalmated sandpipers landed along the water line. They hung out there for awhile. They are the first ones I've seen this year, so they're definitely my bird of the day.
Clam Shells

Monday, May 28, 2018

cold bright day (delayed post)

April 6, 2018
Coffee of the Day: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
Bird of the Day: Osprey
Invisi-bird Status: No official report yet. Number actually seen by me: zero

Beach Looking South
It was really cold. Visitors were few. There's not a lot of beach left after this winter's ravages. I couldn't really capture in a photo how little space there is between the wrack line and the dunes and how steep the drop off is from the high tide line to the water.

There was not a lot of bird activity except for a large flock of redwinged blackbirds around the gatehouse and Lot 1. My favorite sighting was a lone osprey surveying the fish situation but not catching anything. No sign of piping plovers yet.

Atmospheric conditions were such that Mount Agamenticus was visible today. That's about all I've got to say about today's shift.

Looking Toward Mount Agamenticus