Adolescence is, perhaps, nature's way of preparing parents to welcome the empty nest.
~Karen Savage and Patricia Adams, The Good Stepmother
A little awkward and gawky... they don't mind boundaries well, anymore, or their parent's alarm call... and they're as likely to amble unawares into a group of Greater Black-Backs as to snuggle sweetly under dad's wing... they nap together during the hottest part of the afternoon and then scatter to the wind to feed as the sun sets.
It's getting harder to keep track of them... harder to tell them apart from their dad at a distance.
It's been a full week since I've seen them... and suddenly they have wings... suddenly they're plovers.
There was an evening last week, before the heat wave descended, when the beach was cool and thick with fog, like it is when the Piping Plovers first return in March.
I had to search hard to find my little charges, so completely gray was their world; the sky, sea and sand blending into nothingness.
I've come to know these birds for the little flashes of light that precede them. Their movement, on the periphery of my awareness, is the only thing that gives them away.
They seemed suddenly fearful that evening, aware of my presence and the camera pointed their way. They approached, hesitant in their feeding along the waterline, and skittered past me quickly.
This, too, is a part of their growing up, I guess.
Mama Plover has been gone for almost two weeks now, leaving them in the care of their father. He is even more vigilant since, calling the alarm at my approach and distracting me away from his chicks with a game of hide and seek in the sand.
A part of me wants to play that game with him, to see just where, exactly, he might distract me away to...
Instead I step back and stay away and try to remain separate. These four chicks are not mine. I'm not totally in love with them. I will not miss them, already, before they've learned to fly and are gone as the goldenrod sweeps over the dunes.
If I'm not careful, I'm going to have to change the name of this blog to "The Daily Plover".
These are some of my favorite pix from the past week. Understand that nearly every photo is a favorite and I take upwards of 100 photos of these babies each time I'm out with them. I'm considering wallpapering my place with them I have so many!
We're still watching over 4 chicks; we try not to hover and worry too close, but if you sit still enough they'll scuttle right past your toes. This afternoon I was sure one was going to invite itself into someone's beach bag!
They're 3 weeks old now and have the funniest tail feathers... little duck butts! I saw the largest of the 4 testing its wings a bit this afternoon in the high dunes... it won't be long before they're flying.
Gulls continue to be a source of anxiety for us all... you need only see one carry away a tern chick one time to understand how quickly a gull can act when the opportunity presents itself. The public is still mostly supportive and cooperative, save for the occasional gang of teenage boys or the dopes on cell phones who think the rules don't apply to them. I've had to use my teacher voice a lot in the last couple days!
This past weekend marked the point in the chicks' growth where all four of them no longer fit so easily under mom/dad plover... so they had to find shade elsewhere!
Here they're hunkered down in the sand at the base of the ropes demarcating the closed area of the beach... in front of them is the 25 foot "buffer zone" we roped off once the chicks hatched. Beyond that is open beach and the blazing sun.
So... this Least Tern flies into a busy colony, finds a single girl looking lonely and offers her a fish...
The fish is waved endlessly about in a teasing sort of way...
Notice how possession of the fish has changed ownership at this point in the dance...
This is what I meant by "flirting with fish"... a slightly voyeuristic pleasure I've been able to enjoy and share with the casual unsuspecting beach-goer over the last couple weeks.
It's been fun to point out the naughtiness that's taking place right under their sunburned noses...
So while a number of Least Terns continue to mate, the chicks of their neighbors are beginning to test their wings to fly for the first time... I'm looking forward to that in the coming week!
At one point late in the afternoon yesterday, something panicked the colony and set all the adults to the air and every last chick running toward the shoreline, toward the boundary of their protected area, toward the open beach and the kite-flying, volleyball-playing, sun-marinated and clueless public.
I have pix of plover chicks from this afternoon that are just oozing sweetness, but I'm going to hold them close for a few days...
Instead I want to share pix from last weekend, the Fourth of July, when the beaches were packed with people and the chicks were just barely a week old...
The important thing to know is that we all survived the holiday weekend; despite the hordes of people, the fireworks on the beach, the blazing sun and the occasional thunderstorm.
The parents kept the brood of four chicks close and spent the hottest part of each day in the high dunes.
Often an adult plover gathered the babies into the feathers of his/her breast to provide shade or comfort.
Plover chicks have to feed themselves so they must venture out onto the open beach to feed...
This is a dangerous time and they're vulnerable; everyone is nervous... their parents... us volunteers...
The wrack line was relatively safe, though a parent was always close by to keep anyone from wandering too far from safety...
The volunteer monitors spent our time ushering people away from the ropes and feeding chicks. The chicks were mostly impossible to see at this point, so it took some convincing for people to actually believe there were baby plovers around.
We cheered them on each time they made their way to the waterline to feed.
They're growing nicely and my camera is finding them much easier to focus on... if they ever stand still that is! Watching them feed is like watching a game of "Red Light, Green Light"... remember that as a kid?
These babies can run!
The adult birds are still happy to pose!
*Please note that I haven't cropped any of these pix, so please click to enlarge. Half the joy in this is watching them grow up and a big part of understanding the challenges these birds face is seeing them life-size in their surroundings, I think.