Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Season's end

There is something deep within us that sobs at endings. Why, God, does everything have to end? Why does all nature grow old? Why do spring and summer have to go?
~ Joe Wheeler

My summer of sun and fun at the Jersey Shore has come to an end and I'm back in ATL to wait out the off season... 

We packed up the cars, the dog, the bunny and at least 5 gallons of beach sand in every nook and cranny of my belongings and took the long way home along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I've seen these mountains in Spring, but in late Summer they show their true glory framed by blooming Joe Pye and Black-Eyed Susan. It was already feeling like Fall last week at 6,000 feet above sea level, even if there were still a couple Least Tern chicks waiting for the sky back on my NJ beaches.

I'd thought I'd be despondent at leaving the beach and its birds, but it was time; the work I was there to do was done. My last week on the beach had been filled with gray days and a cool northeast wind. I felt the season beginning to shift gears, felt the summer fading into the wind. The birds, for the most part, had already moved on.

The idea that I'd have time to blog about any of the work that I was doing was ridiculous! I hope to revisit some of the highlights (and the failures) here in the weeks to come, and to process all that I saw and learned. I miss the beach already, of course; I miss staring out at the sea for hours, miss the little dramas that played themselves out among the beach-nesting birds that I was privileged to know, miss being a part of something important.

Anyway so... stay tuned! And in the meantime, tell me about what you've been up to...

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Fast forward

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...

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fresh from the nest!

Piping Plover chick 1 of 4. Day 7. 19 days until fledge day.

Today was our first sunny day with people on the beach.

We all survived without too many ruffled feathers.

:-)

Saturday, May 31, 2014

How to: have hope

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.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A field guide to PIPLs

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 am not a figment of your imagination!
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.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Reading the morning papers

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...

TRAVEL SECTION
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.

CRIME BLOTTER
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.

OBITUARIES



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!)

Stayed tuned...

*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".

Friday, May 02, 2014

It's a tough job, but...

My "office" for the day!

: )

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!

:-)