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Cloudy mornings on the beach

A great blue heron on Beer Can Island. How’d you like to have its eye on you as you pass by? CREDIT: Michael Givant

An oystercatcher.

A resting willet.

A serene shot of four oystercatchers out on Beer Can Island.

MICHAEL GIVANT
Contributing Columnist
givant@lbknews.com

Cloudy mornings on LBK beaches have a pleasing two-fold effect. They allow me to see birds without the glare of water and sand that is found on bright sunny days. They also turn the landscape into a theatrical stage setting, thereby creating mood.

Beer Can Island has numerous bare ash-colored trees, some of which are standing, while others lie fallen with their huge root systems exposed. The trees lend a hint of mystery to the landscape.

An osprey is on a leaning tree at the end of a broken vertical branch with a large sheepshead porgy dangling from its left claw. The fish’s mouth is partially open and light gray spiny scales protrude from its back like spikes. I can see both eyes of the fish atop its head, which weren’t vigilant enough. The “fish-hawk” is facing the water looking intently, with its tail partially fanned. Why isn’t the fierce-looking raptor eating its catch? Is it waiting for its mate?

Wanting a better look, I sit on a fallen tree off to the side. However the osprey moves its head around nervously. Not wanting to scare it off, I walk out in front where it can keep an eye on me.

A young boy approaches the tree twirling something and the osprey hefts the fish, flapping its wings and makes loud high sounds. A man with a camera approaches. Ospreys don’t like people getting close. It looks directly at me with those intense yellow eyes on either side of its dark hooked bill. How long will it stay?

The osprey starts flapping wildly as the man gets too close. Holding the fish in its right claw the raptor lifts off the branch. It’s flapping hard but seems to be suspended in mid air by the fish’s weight. However the osprey turns toward some Australian pine trees, goes around them and vanishes.

Further out on Beer Can, a pale sun is reflecting off two patches of grass. Between them is a great blue heron that is either resting or in a semi-trance. From the rear its head has a black breeding plume waving in the breeze. The neck is the color of sandstone and its gray back appears smooth as suede. Gray feathers hang over the bird’s back like a frilly wrap. The bird faces straight ahead, as I pass to its side, but keeps a wary yellow eye on me.

On Whitney Beach the tide has left a steep ledge in the sand. Some clumps of seaweed lay scattered on it, but I don’t notice until a large section of the weed seemingly gets up and starts to move! It’s an oystercatcher, a large bird with a black head and dark back that has been resting. Another, near it, also gets up but a third further away apparently sees no need. Did I miss them in the mood created by this cloudy morning?

The next morning, also partly cloudy, a ruddy turnstone is carrying a shell, which it puts on the sand. Then the bird stabs repeatedly taking out the meat faster than I can see. Willets, large non-descript sandpipers and lean as greyhounds, are feeding in the shallow water. At first there are only four, then there are eight and finally there are 12. Sanderlings, smaller chunky sandpipers, race after the waves sticking their bills into the soaked sands in search of aquatic invertebrates.

My wife sees a bottle-nosed dolphin very close to shore. Seconds later it partially surfaces. Very close, indeed. There’s a flat, calm area of water. It’s the “footprint” of where the dolphin has been. It surfaces again showing a fin, goes under, starts coming back and then moves further out.

We start walking, following the dolphin on a raised surface of sand that I call a “whale’s back,” because it reminds me of one just rising out of the water. I’m not watching out for the “peeps” and some terns in my path scatter. Sorry guys. At one point we get a view of the dolphin traveling almost straight ahead. It’s like a scene from the 1956 movie “Moby Dick” starring Gregory Peck. With the sun momentarily out, a multitude of gulls and terns are circling over the water — just like the movie! Where are the actors?

The willets are calling and flying. They are flying a lot this winter. I’m getting used to their high, loud calls in flight. When the willet flies it shows a dazzling, white and black wing pattern that belies its drabness. A few facing me start to rotate their wings like propellers with a moving white spot. Then I see their whole wings, like a whole propeller blade rotating. Several fly low over the water. One dips down, its back facing me and moves toward shore. At the same instant another in a seemingly synchronized move goes out to sea. These swift, agile fliers are offering an education in their flight.

Coming back it has clouded up and the pale aqua gulf is almost indistinguishable from the clouded-over horizon. Against a swath of pebbly clouds 20-plus brown pelicans are plunge-diving. Some go almost simultaneously into the water, four at a time leaving tall splashes. These huge birds with a 79-inch wingspan flatten their wings against their sides, then turn in a partial corkscrew motion just before hitting the water bill first. One comes up stretching out its huge pouch indicating that a fish was in it.

A flat-bottomed fishing boat comes parallel to shore and turns leaving a trailing arch. The pelicans fly. Somehow the intruding boat and its arch look elegant in the calm water. Now the sky’s bathed in light pastel colors. It’s all part of the magic of what has been a cloudy morning on the beach. Smitten by the scene I sit down and take in the show.

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