invisi-birds revealed

May 14, 2005




Two piping plovers are working the wrack right in front of me at the north end of the refuge beach. I do mean right in front of me. They are within naked eye identification range. Every once in awhile they stop moving and I lose them as they blend perfectly with the sand and shell fragments on the beach. I no longer have to take their existence on faith.

Even better, as hardcore birders participating in the bird-a-thon converge on the boardwalk from lot 1, I get to point out the piping plovers to them. They give me the thumbs up. There isn't much else to point out for the bird-a-thon people except the huge flock of oldsquaws chattering away just offshore. I'm sure the bird-a-thoners probably found all three scoter species among the oldsquaws but I have given up on scoters unless they fly up to me and say "Hi, I am a surf scoter."

Besides the bird-a-thon, there's a lot going on at PI and PRNWR this weekend. Tomorrow is the "Plover and Wildlife Festival", though for some reason I thought it was today. A professor from someplace is leading a class on the beach, escorted by unit 62 who is taking Jean's place because Jean is setting up for the festival. In between greeting visitors, 22 total again, I hear snippets of the professor's talk drift by. He's talking about beach erosion and Amophila breviligulata (even if my spellchecker worked, it doesn't have plant names -- someday I gotta get that botanical spellchecker), one of my favorite subjects. I don't get a chance to listen because I have to deal with a dog.

A big black dog runs up to me with a tennis ball in its mouth. It wants to play catch with me. I see the owner coming in pursuit and wait 'til he's within ear-shot before I say, oh so diplomatically and just loud enough for the owner to hear, "What a nice doggie you are! But dogs are not allowed on the refuge." The guy apologizes and he and the dog head back north.

A woman jogging with her huge dog is barreling onto the refuge beach. Before she gets anywhere near the closed area, I position myself directly in her line of sight and assume the body language of command presence. I give her and the dog my best "get out of here now" stare and miraculously they turn around without my having to say a word.

During a lull in visitor greeting and dog staring down, I walk over to talk to 62 and listen in on the lecture (the professor is talking about invasive species of mussels). I ask 62 if he saw me stare down the woman with dog. Turns out he only saw them turn around. I'm still proud of my stare down technique, honed over many years of protecting the invisi-birds.

I haven't seen any biological staff lately, so I ask 62 about whether all the nests got washed over by last weekend's storm. He says he thinks 2 nests survived, plus the one at Sandy Point, and all the plover pairs are still here. Many visitors are asking about this. I tell them it's still early enough for them to re-nest and hatch the eggs in plenty of time for the chicks to fledge by migration time. It's not like it's June 15 after all. There's still time.

Last weekend's storm was really something. I was at a family gathering at the Beach Boys' house on Salisbury Beach and there was darn little beach there. Rocks that had been placed there in the 1940's to catch sand and build beach were exposed. The back steps got washed off the house. There was little to no dune between the house and the lack of beach place. People couldn't walk on the beach until low tide. Oddly, the symbolic fencing around the piping plover nest just south of their house was still intact. There was no sign of plovers in the vicinity of the symbolic fencing, so I inferred that there were no eggs left. So, after last weekend, I didn't know what to expect when I came to do the plover warden thing today. I keep telling visitors I'm hopeful about the prospects for re-nesting.

Besides the bird-a-thon, the professor with class, and the festival preparations today there's also a fly-in of vintage aircraft at the PI airport. I keep wishing I had a field guide to vintage aeroplanes. Many cool aircraft fly over on their way to the airport . They're stealing the aerial show from the birds today. There's only one gannet diving and three common terns, the first terns I've seen this season.

As the tide goes out I keep wishing for a piece of rope to string between the signs, but as I have no rope I just move the signs closer to the low tide line and spend a lot of time walking back and forth. It's just such a joy to be out here and to see the invisi-birds that I don't care how hard I have to work. My relief shows up -- with a rope! He must have read my mind.

I drive past the airport on my way back into Newburyport and notice that the festivities include vintage automobiles in addition to the planes. Very cool. Lots going on here in a very small place.


Todays' Bird Sightings
Plum Island

piping plover 2
oldsquaw 110
great black backed gull 3
herring gull 3
double crested cormorant 13
northern ganet 1
common tern 3
ring billed gull 1


none besides humans

Coast Guard Assets


Today's Reading
L'Ile Percée
by John Mason Clarke

This Year's Reading
2005 Booklist

Today's Starting Pitcher
Wade Miller


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Copyright © 2005, Janet I. Egan