Wednesday, June 10, 2009

June 10, 2009 - Penikese Island, Massachusetts

I'm going to go with an "o."

My trip to Penikese today was a work thing. I'll be co-leading trips out there later this year, and of course I wanted to know where I would be going and what I would be talking about. I know the island's history; I had just never set foot on it.

I was joined by two people today. First, Ian will be my co-leader when we go out in September. It's really his program and I'm the hired gun. Second, we were joined by David Sibley, the author of the Sibley field guides to birds. I left my copy in my car.

We were the guests of the Penikese Island School, a boys' institution set up in a truly rustic setting. The island is only 75 acres in size, a couple of hills connected by an isthmus. The builders of the school wanted it to be like an old family farm, constructing it on the foundations of an old school and lab from the nineteenth century. Those buildings were first, though, transformed into the state's short-lived leper colony. We visited the graves of 14 people who died on the island of the disease.

We also walked to the edge of a common tern colony, hiking our telescopes high above our heads to keep the birds from diving directly onto our scalps. David picked out a first-year arctic tern for us, and then we learned that there were two nests on the island among the 1100 or so common tern nests and innumerable roseate tern nests.

We stepped past several gull nests, herring mostly, but obviously some great black-backed, based on their persistent swoops at our craniums. They meant business. But the moment of the day came in connection with a stone wall.

There's a species of bird out here that does not nest anywhere else in Massachusetts, the Leach's storm-petrel. It nests in the stone wall, or should I say they - at this point, apparently six of them - nest in the stone wall. They cannot be seen by day, as the adults head out to sea to forage for food, but they can be heard at night when they return to the nests. During sunlight hours, you have one chance to figure out whether or not they're there: you smell the nest. So we did. We smelled the spaces between the rocks and located the nests.

When we compile checklists at the end of a day's birding, we use checkmarks for anything we see, and might put an "a" for "audio" for birds we heard but didn't see. What do you put for a bird you didn't see or hear, but smelled? I'm going to put an "o" for "olfactory."

Time: 324 minutes.

New species: (Birds) glossy ibis, arctic tern, roseate tern (246); (Wildflowers in Bloom) multiflora rose, horn poppy, American vetch (55).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: more work on the book.

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