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