Today was a beach day, and it was a really lovely one, with perfect weather -- not too hot, not too cool -- and bright sunny skies. I got to spend some time this morning checking out Milford Point, where lots of different types of birds are busy tending nests. A pair of Ospreys have their nest on a platform in the marsh:
(And yes, that's a live web cam up there!)
Nearby, there's a colony of Purple Martins, a large species of swallow whose numbers are declining in Connecticut and is listed as a state threatened species. These birds are apparently entirely dependent on human-provided housing in eastern North America, and these guys at a Milford Point have a few housing options. You've got your apartment-style complex (hey, who let that House Sparrow take a room?):
And a bunch of single-family hanging gourds:
These birds were constantly flying around, catching insects and popping in and out of nest box holes. All the activity was a bit overwhelming, but it was a lot of fun to get to see these communal birds just doing their thing:
The males were especially impressive with their deep purple glossy feathers:
But the browner/splotchier females were cool, too. This girl spent some time peering out of her window (watching the neighbors?):
And then she squeeeezed out of that small hole:
And took off:
Most of the martins I saw in this colony were banded, and I'm sure they're closely monitored. Here's hoping these cool birds do well in the years to come.
Speaking of birds in trouble, the sandy shoreline at Milford Point happens to be a nesting haven for some more state threatened birds, Least Terns and Piping Plovers (the Piping Plovers are federally threatened as well). This prime nesting area is currently swarming with Least Terns (I counted at least 100), and a few plover pairs have also taken up residence:
This whole area is surrounded by string fencing and signs to keep people away, but that thicker fencing at the left in the above picture is there to protect a single Piping Plover nest. The tiny plovers can wander in and out of the fencing at will, but potential predators can't get through. (Piping Plovers need all the help they can get around here. If I remember correctly, there were only around 50 recorded successful plover nests last year in all of Connecticut.)
It's best to stay away from these nesting areas -- to avoid disturbing the birds, or worse, accidentally stepping on a well-camouflaged chick. And that was my plan today... until a large school group strayed too close to the fencing and I felt obligated to put on my volunteer-plover-monitoring hat to go out there and let them know that they should probably move to another part of the beach. I spent as little time as possible near the birds, but I did take a quick picture (from a distance) of one of these very special Piping Plover nests. Can you make out the little plover right in the middle of this fencing?
Their camouflage is really very good, and they're quite small birds. Here's a zoomed-in view -- look for a tiny orange and black beak and a tiny black eye:
It's good to see that these birds are doing the best they can, at least, to increase their population. Good luck, little plover!
Finally, here are a few other assorted sights from today's beach visit. It still surprises me that we have cacti in Connecticut, but yes, here's a wild Prickly Pear, and in bloom no less:
I actually started this morning's trip in nearby Silver Sands State Park, where there were unfortunately no signs of nesting shorebirds, but where I did get to see a bit of drama in the form of a pair of Red-winged Blackbirds who would not stop dive-bombing this Great Egret:
The egret must have been too close to the blackbirds' nest, but surely the blackbirds were also too close to the egret!
So many interesting things to see on this lovely day!