Thursday, September 14, 2017

Plump, On Stilts

Semipalmated Plover
It takes a unique physique to make a living on the intertidal zone of Halibut Point. You have to wade in where possible, and dash out where necessary.

Ruddy Turnstone
The larger rhythms of the shoreline present foraging opportunities with the outgoing tide. Every moment on the ocean's rim balances opportunity with vigilance.

During spring and fall migrating visitors from the sandpiper family stop at, or fly over Halibut Point. 

Least Sandpiper
Least Sandpipers have been on the prowl in tide pools for several weeks. Who can say whether this fellow has stayed in residence, or is part of a succession?

Stilt legs and a long beak suit him perfectly to harvesting the niche.

Semipalmated Sandpiper (L) and Least Sandpiper (R)
Individuals of similar species keeping close company provide an identification laboratory for outdoorsmen building their field skills.

Semipalmated Sandpiper and juvenile Spotted Sandpiper
No one would confuse these two birds. But this juvenile Spotted Sandpiper doesn't have spots yet, making it look a lot like a Solitary Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpipers are the only members of the clan to nest in this area, and the only one to come to the fresh-water quarries on Halibut Point. Most shorebirds pass through in the spring en route to Arctic breeding grounds. Adults start arriving here by mid July, through September, on their way to South America.

Ruddy Turnstone
One elegant sandpiper relative has been in residence on the shoreline since early August. This pair of Ruddy Turnstones joined the Semipalmated and Spotted Sandpipers at a promising hunting ground.
Ruddy Turnstone, breeding plumage
The turnstones--named for their hunting method on a pebble beach--found shrimp-like prey in the seaweed.
Ruddy Turnstone, juvenile plumage
This juvenile turnstone was happy to pick through a crab carcass demolished by a gull. The adults had already headed south. Young ones find their way to the wintering grounds unaccompanied by the adults. Some species migrate seasonally from the Arctic all the way to Tierra del Fuego, a distance of 10,000 or more miles. Plumping up in advance stores energy for the flight.
Purple Sandpipers
Purple sandpipers will come down to Halibut Point from their high-Arctic tundra breeding grounds to take up the northernmost winter residence of any shorebird. Their plump bodies will get thermal as well as other tests from the elements.

Purple Sandpipers

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Swallows on the Move

One day last week hundreds of tree swallows were zipping around the Halibut Point moorlands on the hunt for midair insect meals invisible to my eyes. The more I appreciated their flashing, darting maneuvers the more I coveted a photograph, but couldn't focus on the speeding specks.

Tree swallows flocking
When they boiled up into a cluster over the grout pile I managed a collective picture by focusing the camera on the rocks below. But I wanted a singular stop-action prize in flight.

You'll be amused imagining me on the shoreline spinning the camera through figure-eights trying to follow individual birds in the viewfinder. Busy hands, busy humor, like building a dribble castle in the surf.
Tree swallow flying
I did manage to bring home one beguiling portrait of a free-flying swallow in reward for my strenuous morning.

Some of the birds spun out over the ocean in search of food morsels, tiny opportunists plying vast forces and distances at the outset of migration.

 I determined to come back for the next day's developments.

The imperatives of migration concentrated the tree swallows at Halibut Point to fatten up for their long flight south. They came specifically to feed on coastal bayberries.

The swallows maneuvered to hover above the shrubbery in headwinds gusting to 25mph.

Almost oblivious to people they picked berries on the wing, or perched briefly in the canopy. 

Ripe bayberries seemed to be reserved for the swallows at the moment of their high-calorie need.

By the following day the congregation had moved on to the immensity of its journey.

Each of the birds perfected a version of its life script through miles and generations.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Summer Shoreline

There's nothing like the month of August for a sense of generosity on the shoreline of Halibut Point. It's a gradual time, warm and slow. Much of man and nature's heavy lifting eases back to a low ebb.

If ever there was a season to haul yourself out of the tides of toil, this is it.

A solitary rock at the edge of the sea makes the perfect place to entertain voices of necessity, self-improvement, and rejuvenation.

Those urgent voices may very well resolve in a leap and a splash.

A leap and a splash lift the winged set to higher panoramic views.

Cormorants, the most enviable of birds, stand, fly, float, and dive along the rim of the sea. They out-swim a fish under water and take to the air.

Well equipped anglers have their jubilant moments.

The convergence of the fishy food chain in August attracts all the hunters that can swim, fly, or drive.

A young bald eagle meets a raucous reception from gulls and crows that normally lord over shoreline delectables.

Seals revel in the abundance.

You have to wonder if the colorful closing of an August day pleases everything with eyes.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Living Waters, Living Stones

For the second time this year Kay and I joined a massive stream of people on Boston Common with concerns about community destiny. But the throng counter-marching to the Free Speech event last Saturday reflected an entirely different mood from the proud buoyancy of the Women's March in January.

We couldn't find the Veterans for Peace contingent right away, intending to be present for the Constitutional principles that were being boisterously debated today. VFP couldn't elevate its white dove flags visibly because public safety officials forbid anyone from carrying sticks that might become weapons in a melee.

In the wake of seven months' tumult with the Trump administration, and the recent disturbance in Charlottesville, the Boston crowd was edgy. They were determined to resist any extremes of intolerance or nationalism proffered in the name of Free Speech. City police cordoned off a wide protective zone around the gazebo where a right-wing rally was expected.

Tens of thousands of counter-protestors pressed in with various voices from shrill to prayerful. The living waters of civic engagement surged over a turbulent streambed of stones. The tiny group sequestered in the crucible became a non-event when their public address failed to materialize. No one knew who exactly those reprehensible elements in the gazebo were, nor what they stood for. But they were a discharge point for the general worry and wrath.

Apparently nice neighbors carried signs with four-letter words denouncing Nazism in America. Many of the imprecations encouraged violent counter-attack. Group chants of "We hate you, we hate you!" and "Shame! Shame! Shame!" were launched across the DMZ toward the gazebo. The mood turned sour.

We found the Veterans for Peace when a phalanx of members, recognizing an opportunity for which they were uniquely qualified, pushed their way by escorting a 'pariah' to safety when the crowd turned on him dangerously. In company with several dark-skinned men in Black Lives Matter shirts we formed a cordon around the offensive individual and moved him to the outer perimeter.

Many people said "Thank you" for the non-violent intercession.  A man in civilian clothes stepped forward to say he had enlisted 22 years ago to protect the founding principles of his country and found it necessary to keep doing it today.

In the streambed of Living Waters were signs of Living Stones, timeless reminders of humanity and good order. The congregation bubbled around them.

Part of that good order came from sensible planning by the City Administration. When they determined that the event had achieved its limit of civic benefit they directed the Riot Squad to extract the Free Speech contingent from the agitated crowd.

As a demonstration of hope, anger, and resolve the gathering was a success. As a venting of crude frustration onto segments of the political body cast as evil, it was a painful failure. It reeked of 'superiority' if not 'supremacy.' Frenzy swirled here and there to pummel an indistinct enemy. Parts of my tribe wrestled with tension, fascination, and barbarism. Perhaps we all did.

I had to check in with uncomfortable feelings. Was I open to looking past the discordant drums and costumes, to listening through clamor for universal dreams? Was I caught up in the forehand embrace of creation or the backhand swat of reaction?

I've returned daily to the easy rhythms of Halibut Point, to open spaces and the sea, where green darner dragonflies are now massing for migration. On Monday a shirtless, shoeless fellow lent me sunglasses to enjoy the eclipse.

Water and stone make up the character of the place beneath a vast sky. It's my practice field for composition, a quiet membrane to the rhythm of encounters with Living Waters and Living Stones. I breathe and write.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cormorants in the Quarry

Of the two species in our area, the Double-crested Cormorant is the primary summer resident and the one more likely to be seen at any time on fresh water. The pair of feather tufts occasionally raised atop its head account for its common name. All the photographs below show Double-crested Cormorants. The lighter colored ones are juveniles.

Heading back to sea