I wiped away the weeds & foam. / I fetched my sea-born treasures home... Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Beach Treasure: The Decoy

A few weeks ago we had a full moon/ high tide storm and the fences that protect the nesting sites of the endangered bird species were swept away or toppled. The conservation people removed the fences afterward, much earlier than usual but late enough that the baby birds were long since fledged and gone. While the fences are up we respect their boundaries and beachcombers like myself do not venture into those areas or onto the dunes. But as soon as the fences and (threatening!) signs disappear I love to go see what all has accumulated since late March.

This year I almost immediately found something quite unusual. First I reluctantly passed up the huge seine net with floats and hooks and rings, and instead combed the edges of the dunes. And there I found a wonderful decoy of an arctic tern, handmade, hand painted, made out of wood.

Now all these years I've watched the fences go up each spring and the birds arrive. To the east are the arctic and common terns; an amazing and huge flock of black skimmers nests just beyond that. To the west are least terns, so tiny, so aggressive! And dotted all around are plover nests and oystercatcher nests---rare species that do not nest in communal flocks but like the company of others.
So I'd watch and I’d wonder: How do they know to come here? How do they know that these areas are for them and that they are safe? Why that part of the beach and not another unfenced section? The fences are not really much, I am not sure the birds can even perceive them--- just some posts and orange string and those nasty signs stuck in the sand. Sooooo???

plover chick  and adult oyser catcher/fence in upper right

So now I know! Just as duck hunters attract their prey with decoys the endangered species patrol attracts our shorebirds with decoys of their own kind. Who ever knew! And who would ever guess that they use handmade folk-art quality decoys instead of something plastic or mass produced.

mixed tern flock

adult skimmers and chicks

A treasure found, a mystery solved…….

* * * *
A note about the wild birds with whom we share our beach: at the end of the summer, large flocks of terns and plovers and skimmers and gulls congregate along the shoreline. They feed on the various organisms of the tidal beach, from bugs to clams to minnows to trash, fattening themselves for their long migrations south for the winter months. They need to eat as much as possible and conserve energy
for the long and stressful flights, sometimes many thousands of miles. The birds will scurry away from humans---often in adorably perfect unison--- but they try not to fly which requires more effort. And most beachgoers either respect the birds and detour around, or simply ignore them---which is fine. But late this summer on at least two occasions I saw young children, totally supervised by careful adults, allowed, even encouraged, to chase and harass the birds into flight.
                                                                                                                                          black skimmer flock

It was appalling to me.

One set of cute little boys chased the thousands of sanderlings and plovers into fight, not once, not twice but again and again and again until the flock flew away from out beach—their home!---in fear and frustration. They would circle around and around out over the waves, panic-stricken. Yet as soon as they resettled the boys would again attack. Another time children viciously chased the gulls, yes, a hardier sort of creature, but still not deserving of being attacked by diminutive human terrors.
                                                              pre-migratory sanderlings               

At the time I did and said nothing. Since this occurred at a public beach I was too cautious to approach the parents and remonstrate or complain. But I am asking you all now---please! Enjoy the beach, enjoy a day in the sun and sand and surf with your children. But please teach those children to respect the wild creatures who also live here at The Beach.

skimmers in flight
Pls click on photos to see larger pix of my birds!