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?