April 21, 1997

The tide is going out uncovering crabs scuttling sideways across what was the bottom a minute ago and is now the beach. A wave knocks a crab on its back. It flails its legs trying to right itself. The next wave turns it over onto its legs again. It digs furiously all appendages flying. It's digging so fast yet it sinks into the sand incongruously slowly like it's being sucked down from underneath. The sand closes over it until all I can see is the bubbles when the water recedes over the tiny hole.

Another, smaller crab topples over. The next wave doesn't right it. It finally rights itself and starts digging. All up and down the beach these dark red fist sized crabs are digging holes to wait out the low tide. I watch them through binoculars, which have the added effect of foreshortening the background so it looks like the burrowing crabs and the six fishing trawlers looming on the horizon are all on the same plane. Eerie.

I scan from crabs to trawlers and back getting a sense of the drama of everyday life. I think of the fishing captains, wondering if they've filed for the federal boat buy back to reduce the fleet since there are so few fish left. Can they bury their boats like the crabs do and wait out the low tide in the industry?

The first hour of my plover warden shift is very quiet. It's me, the crabs, slews of white winged scoters, 2 common loons, and 4 horned grebes. It's a gorgeous spring day and a holiday in Massachusetts (Patriot's Day - anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord), so beach traffic picks up around 12:30.

A steady stream of people and dogs flows up and down the beach. A few try to sneak past onto the refuge beach and I gently turn them back. Some people come over specifically to ask me questions about the piping plovers. I give them lots of info.

I make an old guy's day by showing him the loons. He remembers loons from summer camp as a boy in Maine and he needs his loon fix.

An ornithology student wants to know how much my binoculars cost (they're really nice 10x50 ones so give a wide field of view). She says she's from Amherst and her bird class is coming out here in May for a field trip that she's going to miss. She wants to know what they're likely to see. I tell her the field trip date is the peak of the warbler migrations. She goes back into town to a bed and breakfast to work on her thesis.

A couple from Vermont or someplace ask about beach erosion. I get to give my barrier beach/sand circulation spiel. They like it. They ask more questions, which I answer with equal ease. Gee, at least they didn't ask me about sediments. I still haven't mastered sediments and the final is in 3 weeks.

Over the next 3 hours I contact 18 people and 6 dogs. I chase two dogs off the beach myself. I get the owners to get the other dogs. I'm getting sunburned. Everybody is really nice today. They're all pulling for the plovers to step back from the brink of extinction. No weirdoes or front end loaders today.

Plover count: 10

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