So this year, I decided to do something crazy and new: I volunteered to be a Piping Plover monitor for the US Fish and Wildlife Service!
Piping Plovers are a federally threatened species (not quite endangered, but still, they're in trouble) that nests on sandy beaches scattered along the Connecticut coast, and every year, the USFWS, the Connecticut DEEP, and the Audubon Society get together to ask for volunteers to go out onto the beaches and look for these birds so we can try to protect them (with fences, signs, etc.). About a month ago, I went to a training session and filled out an official government form, they gave me a fancy USFWS hat and ID card, and now on Wednesday afternoons for the rest of the spring and summer, I am in charge of surveying Silver Sands State Park for these little birds. (And I'm supposed to tell the Powers That Be about other species-of-interest that I see as well.) So basically, I get an excuse to go walk on the beach every week and do something that I like to do anyway, and it actually might help our coastal birds. It's kind of a great deal!
Anyway, yesterday was my first afternoon "on the job," and I had a great time and saw lots of cool creatures. No Piping Plovers -- no one's seen them at this park yet this year, actually, and they might not even show up at all -- but now that migration is in full swing, a bunch of interesting birds are streaming back into the area, herons chief among them.
This Yellow-crowned Night Heron -- a new bird for me -- was hunting at the edge of one of the marshes between the parking lot and the beach:
I'm liking that mask! Although I can't help thinking this bird's rat-tail hairdo looks a little silly from the back:
I happened to arrive at the beach as the tide was going out, so I took the chance to walk across the magically-appearing sandbar to Charles Island. In a month, the island will be closed off to the public to protect the herons and egrets that will be nesting there, and some birds were already starting to set up shop! The trees in the center of the island were dotted with big white shapes, like this pair of Great Egrets:
It's difficult to see in this picture (just think how much harder it'll be when the trees leaf out!), but these egrets were decked out in their breeding finery: long flowing feathers and bright green markings on their faces.
I think you can just make out the red eyes of this pair of Black-crowned Night Herons, similarly shrouded in the branches of another tree -- the two were touching beaks and acting all lovey-dovey while I was there:
The herons and egrets weren't the only birds thinking about nesting on Charles Island, either. Several pairs of Canada Geese were honking and flapping (and hissing!) at me, making sure I didn't come too close. (I wasn't about to try!) And one pair of geese had something interesting to show:
I reported my sightings of these two birds at reportband.gov, and I'm waiting to see if I get a response -- people band wild birds for all sorts of studies and things (yay science!), and sometimes, you get to learn the history of the banded bird when you report it. (Or so I've been told.) I'll update this post if I hear anything!
Update (4/7/12): I got two emails yesterday with some information about these birds. C255 is a boy, and C274 is a girl, and they were both banded on the same day right around this same area (near Milford) last summer. I've read that Canada Geese are monogamous, and it's kind of cool to see some evidence for that myself. And I actually think it's sweet that these two are still together (through a banding process and everything). I hope you have a nice family this summer, geese!
Before I move on, I just have to share one more picture of these geese. I just think this picture looks cool, but Paul thinks it looks like a goose with two heads:
I wish all the birds nesting on Charles Island the best of luck this year!
Back on the mainland, there were more birds to see, including two Ospreys (also recently-returned migrants) swooping overhead and calling to each other. One even came low enough for a picture (gosh, what a bird!):
The Herring Gulls were fighting over crabs -- these two youngsters stole a meal from the adult screaming in the back:
And even a regular old American Robin caught my eye yesterday, with its rusty orange breast glowing in the afternoon sun as it foraged with its fellows:
So I'll be back at the beach next week, and every week for the foreseeable future. It'll be an interesting change for me, since I'm still so much more used to woods than ocean. Who knows what will turn up next time!