Piping Plover chick 1 of 2. Day 25. Fledge Day!
We lost two chicks from this brood, but it’s still a win.
If I repeat that often enough, I might begin to believe it…
|Least Tern scrape|
|American Oystercatcher caginess|
|Waiting to be found|
Just as the sun steps over the horizon, head east. Drive with the sun in your eyes until you hit water. Do not think about yesterday’s losses. Do not linger too long over what might’ve been. Do not wonder what you should have done differently.
Climb over the seawall and greet the Oystercatchers on their way to the river. Tip-toe through the wrack and nod towards the grumpy fishermen. Get down on your hands and knees to see what gifts the tide has left you. Do not mind the tears; the sand and the wind in your eyes are a good excuse.
See the Least Terns overhead: the brazen, bustling air-defense system of this beach. Let your eyes map their petite features: the quick wings, the black cap, the downward-pointing yellow bill. Count them by the dozens. Admire the simplicity of their nest: in a pebbly depression of dry sand, eggs 1 to 4, from pale greenish to dull drab, spotted with clear brown and some lavender.
Much of the general beach-going public seems determined to believe that Piping Plovers don’t really exist. Many act as if they’re just an imaginary endangered bird the rest of us have made up to inconvenience dog-walkers or otherwise prevent folks from fully enjoying a day at the beach.
But, I have photographic proof of their existence!
The past couple weeks have been Piping Plover boot camp here. Like the mailman, neither fog nor rain nor blazing sun nor gust of wind stays this courier from the swift completion of her appointed rounds! (The weather has been pretty crappy.) I’m out there on the beach daily trying to piece together tracks and sightings of individual birds to predict where they might nest. There’s been a fair amount of false starts and leads, and a steep learning curve for me, but we’ve got 3 pairs with nests!
I can empathize with the public’s general cluelessness about these birds. They’re really hard to see… even for those of us who are looking for them. They’re designed to be invisible. Just imagine trying to find a tiny bird the color of wet sand on a beach strewn with shell shards. It’s not easy! If nothing else, it gives you a real respect for the power of camouflage. But as a result, the public is left looking at yards and yards of “empty” roped-off beach that they’re not allowed to use and wondering what all the fuss is about.
I spent my afternoon “off” the other day visiting with the plovers out at Sandy Hook. The National Park Service monitors the birds there; I just plopped myself down on the beach with my camera, well outside of the roped-off areas, in order to get a general beach-going public sort of view of them. Just to try and see them the way the rest of the world does (or doesn’t!) PIPLs are very agreeable little birds… if you just sit quietly and still enough, they’ll happily share the beach with you. Every little drama of their lives is playing itself out around us on the beaches…
|I like to feed on the sparkly parts of the beach.|
|The dunes hide me well; they’re a good place to rest.|
|Pebbly and shelly places make me disappear even more.|
|If I position myself just so, I can have a private bath right at your feet!|
|My eggs: a masterwork of disguise.|
Please share the beach.
Please encourage others to do so.
Please help others to see and respect even the hard-to-see wonders of this world.
These birds live here, too. They’re our neighbors. They need our help.
Every day I make “rounds” to the 7 or so sites that I’m responsible for; ideally I get to the beach first thing in the morning while the news is still current. Oftentimes, like any busy person, I just scan the newspaper’s sections for stories I want to read further…
This story was about a person and a dog breaking the rules. Dogs, even leashed and well-behaved ones, aren’t allowed on most ocean beaches during nesting season. I read this story just about every day on every beach I visit.
The same old suspects here… crows, of course (I think!)
I’ve been watching a pair of Fish Crows at one site collecting nesting material for the past couple days… I was happy to connect the tracks I was seeing in the Rugosa Roses in the protected habitat to the Fish Crows flying past with sticks. The nearby nesting American Oystercatchers are not happy with this news, tho and chase them out of the neighborhood at every opportunity!
|CLASSIFIEDS – SINGLES ADS|
Headline news in Spring is all about who’s available and where, right? I’m hoping to see this scrape filled up with Piping Plover eggs before very long.
Click to enlarge and see plover tracks!
|SOCIAL SCENE – WEDDINGS AND CELEBRATIONS|
Weddings (and their associated baby announcements!) are the highlight of the daily social calendar published locally. All we beach-nesting bird people can talk about is who’s expecting and when.
This killdeer couple will be happy parents in 22 – 28 days.
Death notices are published daily and should attempt to give significance and honor to the life lived. Many things that wash up dead each day are surrounded by mystery: a dead loon on the beach isn’t necessarily strange, but how it ended up more than 300 ft. from the ocean wasn’t mentioned in this headline.
|FASHION AND STYLE|
Celebrity Piping Plover “Dexter” is sporting the latest in endangered beach-nesting bird bling… color-coordinated bands!
(I think I made my boss’ day with this story plucked from the headline news!)
*ALL PHOTOS IN THIS POST WERE TAKEN DURING THE OFFICIAL CONDUCT OF MY JOB TO MONITOR AND PROTECT BEACH-NESTING BIRDS, or, like a local fisherman has taken to calling it “as the official birdwatcher here”.
It’s been a busy first couple of days here in NJ, but I’m loving it! I started off on Tuesday with a boss-led tour of the sites I’ll be responsible for and had some fun looking for American Oystercatcher nests.
My shoes, scalp and ears were full of sand at the end of the day!
I was rained out on Wednesday, but Thursday found me helping out (carrying and holding stuff) on a beach-nesting bird habitat survey and fixing fencing damaged in Wednesday’s stormy weather.
Today I was on my own for a couple of site visits and had the chance to spend a few hours at Sandy Hook counting Piping Plovers for a migration survey. It was a beautiful afternoon and I learned my first important lesson for field work – always have an extra pencil!
I was carrying so much stuff on the death march out the Fisherman’s Trail to the survey site and don’t yet have my scope sherpas (student interns) to help me. I lost track of my pencil three-quarters of the way through the census and had to use moon shells in various pockets to keep a tally of the birds I was seeing!
|Today’s sunset at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel|
So I guess I finally have enough of my ducks in a row to tell you all about my plans for this summer…
I’m going home to NJ!
The perfect summer job landed in my lap… I’ll be working for NJ Fish and Wildlife to monitor and protect beach-nesting birds.
Please don’t anyone pinch me… I don’t want to wake up if this is a dream!
I set out early this morning with my bunny and my African violets and after 12+ hours in the car, we’re all feeling pretty bedraggled. I took the shortcut across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to spend the night on the Delmarva Peninsula and will meet the ferry to Cape May in the morning. It’s beautiful here (and there’s still “sweet tea” available!) and I was treated to Brown Pelicans and frolicking dolphins this evening when I stopped at the scenic overlook on the bridge to stretch my legs. Plus, I can smell the sea again… But it’s cold! I started the day with the AC running in the car and ended it with the heat blasting.
Some Piping Plovers and American Oystercatchers are already on eggs… I’m hoping to arrive on the beach with the Least Terns. I’m so excited! I can’t wait to get started and share this adventure with you…
We had snow today in Atlanta… real snow that caused my school to shut down early. I just saw on the TV that school’s closed tomorrow too… a snow day!
I spent the afternoon watching the birds in their snow-induced feeding frenzy. I sat on the warm couch and photographed them through the window as they scavenged bits of dropped seeds and suet or quenched their thirst at the flowerpot saucer I kept unfrozen with warm water.
I’m happiest to see the bluebirds so close; we have four or five at time at the suet feeder when the weather is especially cold. They bring other nice birds with them. A couple of yellow-rumped warblers are often around and occasionally a ruby-crowned kinglet even visits!
Pine warblers… we have what seems like a lot of pine warblers. It’s hard to know for sure how many there are because the males chase everyone else away from the feeder.
And they chase everyone else off their perch on the fence.
And they don’t like to share the flowerpot saucer, either. Such pretty birds, like a ray of bright sunshine. It’s still odd to me to see them in wintertime, but what a treat!
In February, we went to Sanibel Island, Ding Darling NWR, Cape Coral and Ft. DeSoto. The weather was crappy and the drive was interminable, but I hope to get back to that area sometime. Lots of neat birds…
Common Ground Dove – easily overlooked, but striking when they show their rusty wings.
Monk Parakeets feeding in the same field we found this Burrowing Owl; hard to say which felt more unlikely to this Jersey Girl.
We also saw Nanday Parakeets and a Long-billed Curlew on that trip. Talk about impossible to imagine birds!
This Vermillion Flycatcher was probably the least expected bird I added to my nonexistent life list last year – just gorgeous! A friend of a friend on FB gave me directions to a town just west of Tallahassee and I found it in the exact tree where he said it would be – imagine!
I’ve no idea what new birds 2014 holds for me…
|Cape May Point, Sandhill Cranes|
It’s easy for me to forget where I am sometimes and get excited about birds that I shouldn’t. Eastern Phoebes and Pine Warblers, for example. They merit a FOS (first of season) post heralding the arrival of Spring to the local birding group in NJ, but here they’re regulars and spend the winter without anyone getting excited. The opposite of that almost happened with these Sandhill Cranes passing over Cape May Point… in Atlanta you can see scores of them heading south along the interstate on any fall day, but in NJ, they’re something special. In my heart, they’re something special. The wild sound of their cries drifted back to me long after they’d soared out of sight.
While I would’ve loved to visit all my favorite places and all my favorite people, there just wasn’t enough time. There was a visit to Sandy Hook for a very-far-away Snowy Owl and a drive past the coastal ponds that hold ducks all winter long. There weren’t many ducks yet, but those familiar places felt good anyway.
|Stone Harbor Point, Snowy Owl|
At Stone Harbor, we walked slowly, scanning the dunes and grass for what we knew was there, and found it facing a small rise that served as a windbreak. Snowy Owls may occasionally perch in trees or on a fencepost, but they are birds of wide open places and prefer to rest on the ground. This is not my first Snowy Owl, but as with all birds of prey, I’m impressed with the indifferent serenity of this predator with few fears, beyond the local pair of Peregrine Falcons.
First through binoculars and then with the spotting scope, we watched the owl’s half-closed eyes and mottled feathers, the head swiveling around occasionally in a smooth, liquid fashion as if it might just come unhinged at the next turn. The bird’s presence, despite the crowd of onlookers, was such that it seemed to transform this popular beach into tundra. When you see a bird like this, one that is so unconcerned, so self-contained and so strikingly beautiful, it is hard to turn away. The desire to see every detail and to keep looking is strong. The temptation to get closer is almost overwhelming. Instead we take photos, perhaps to assure ourselves later that the bird was real.
|Near the 2nd Ave. jetty in Cape May, invisible Snow Buntings|
Walking the beach with the Cape May lighthouse in the distance, a flock of Snow Buntings came flying right at us. There must have been at least a hundred of them and right before it seemed that they would mow us down, they parted and we were surrounded. Their colors seem copied from fields where snow drifts hide all but the tops of the tallest weeds… large spaces of pure white touched here and there with black and gray and brown. All I heard was the rustle of wings and the ocean… it was glorious. I felt lifted up and then they disappeared back into the dunes.
|Forsythe NWR, Northern Harrier|
Gosh I miss marshes and the harriers that haunt them! The sight of this one, troubling shorebirds as they fed on the mudflats of the refuge, had me laughing and singing to myself, “Watch while I make these Dunlin nervous…” which is a random reference to a Wheeler Boys song…
|Forsythe NWR, Snow Geese|
These birds, too, belong to a far away winter world. It was late afternoon and I was standing out in the cold waiting for the Snow Geese to fly across the road from one side of the refuge and over my head to the other side. It is one of the most spectacular things to witness… the gigantic flock of them, the lowering sun coloring up the white of their undersides, the noise of them. I love seeing them this way on a winter’s day too, with the hotels of Atlantic City as a backdrop. There might be a hundred different things in your head: things to do, worries and hopes, resentments and regrets. But it’s all forgotten listening to the noisy waves of geese and I felt my mind go clear, silent, here.
These words are here just to remind myself now. I was there. I was happy. Has it been a month already?