Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Part II

I have steadily become a bigger and bigger fan of national wildlife refuges. If you want to see breathtaking scenery, national parks are generally a better bet. But as their name implies, national wildlife refuges are the places to go for animals.

Because nature doesn't operate like the Jungle Cruise at Disney World, there's no guarantee you'll see exactly what you're hoping to. That may be a reason why national parks are more popular; Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon are always going to be where you expect them.  But that degree of uncertainty with trying to photograph wildlife is part of its appeal to me.  You've got to know something about your quarry's behavior and make smart choices about time and location to improve your chances.  I'll always choose an activity where there's a degree of skill and influence over the outcome involved over ones that are almost complete chance.

Eastern Towhee, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
With shorebirds -- and specifically baby ones -- firmly in mind, of course the first thing I'd find would be a relative of a familiar Colorado species.  Eastern Towhees look similar to the Spotted Towhees I would occasionally encounter in the Rocky Mountains.  I lay still and watched this one hop around foraging for a while, and while it clearly noticed me it wasn't too concerned about me.

House Finch, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
Speaking of familiar species, House Finches apparently also like Cape Cod beaches in addition to backyard feeders in North Texas and streams in Colorado.

Least Sandpiper, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
I was still fighting overcast skies, and this Least Sandpiper didn't seem to want me to get close.  So the shot is a little grainier than I would like due to a fairly high ISO and some tight cropping.  I know, I know -- excuses are unbecoming. :P

Savannah Sparrow, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
I crested a dune covered with dense, short bushes and a chorus of cheeps.  I could never actually see the source of any of the cheeps, but they all seemed to becoming from deep within the bushes.  Spotting this Savannah Sparrow holding an apparent meal in its beak and appearing unsure of what to do with it, my assumption is that the bushes were full of nests with newborns.  The parent didn't want to reveal the location of its nest with me lurking about.

Piping Plover, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
And speaking of parents -- aren't all the segues in this post great? -- I eventually came across a pair of Piping Plovers.  They were giving me the routine of sitting down in the sand, then getting up and running off a few feet, making peeping noises the whole time.  I was sure they were trying to lead me away from a chick.

Piping Plover, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
Sure enough, after much scanning of the area, I found the chick!  It makes sense that something whose life literally depends on not being found by other things whose lives literally depend on finding it would be tough to spot.

Piping Plover, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
I was surprised at how fast this little bird could run; it definitely wanted to stay as far away from me as it could.  So I tried to respect that, settling again for some fairly distant shots.  Always better to not get the exact shot you want than to overly stress any wildlife.  But at least I finally saw my shorebird chick!

Atlantic Sand Fiddler Crab, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
Feeling at least somewhat successful, I headed back toward my car.  As the tide continued to recede, I noticed some movement in a patch of wet sand among some reeds -- fiddler crabs!

This guy seemed to be the BMOC, waving his big ol' claw around.

Atlantic Sand Fiddler Crab, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
Then this guy came out of his hole all like, "Bruh, you ain't all that!"

Atlantic Sand Fiddler Crab, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
And then they went at it!  The duel was short and not especially violent.  The guy on the right emerged the apparent victor, as his challenger slunk back to his hole.

Atlantic Sand Fiddler Crab, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
These two dudes had the right idea -- no need to fight; let's just chill and enjoy a day at the beach!  Of course, I suppose every day for a fiddler crab is a day at the beach...

The only thing I would have changed about my visit to Monomoy would have been to have clearer skies.  But I saw everything I hoped to see, and for that I was grateful.

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