Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Tern, tern, tern

Least Tern (Sterna antillarum)

(Photo credit - Steve Nanz)

The coastal areas around New York City and Long Island are host to numerous breeding seabirds. I am fascinated, in particular, by the legions of terns and their raucous colonies. Least Terns are one of my favorites to watch. These dainty, yellow-billed birds fiercely protect their nesting areas by dive-bombing anyone or anything. They hatch precocious young that waddle around when they are just a mere wisp of downy feathers. Common Terns are also fairly abundant breeders around New York. Both species are listed as “Threatened” in New York State.

Today Sean, Shane and I made the rounds of various Long Island locations. There had been a couple of postings of a rare tern seen a short distance from Westhampton Beach. We hoped that, with a little luck, we’d find that bird and a couple of other tern species. We ended our day with a stop at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, optimistic that we would add a recently reported Gull-billed Tern to our ”Tern“ list.

American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) at Rt. 51 bike trail

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Before driving out towards Shinnecock inlet we stopped at a grassland habitat in search of a different species. In Eastport there is a spot known by birders as ”The Rt. 51 bike path“. It is one of the declining areas on Long Island where Grasshopper Sparrows can still be found. I had never seen one but was feeling optimistic as Sean said it was a pretty good bet. Halfway around a short loop path we located a single, singing sparrow perched on a milkweed plant. We watched it for a short time then hopped back into the car and continued driving east.

Queen Ann's Lace (Daucus carota)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click to learn more about Queen Ann's Lace-

-Click to learn more about Grasshopper Sparrows-

The Ponquogue Bridge is the eastern most access bridge to the barrier island before the break at Shinnecock Inlet. We stopped at a parking lot beneath the bridge to scan for birds before continuing the short distance to the inlet. Despite strong winds we spotted a variety of shorebirds, seabirds and waders. It was still pretty early in the day when we left the inlet parking lot and began driving west on Dune Road towards Cupsogue Park.

Shinnecock Inlet looking south

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click to learn more about the inlet history-

Cupsogue is a town beach with the Atlantic Ocean on the south side and Moriches Bay on the north. Where we parked, at the northwest corner of the lot, we could see an abundance of gulls and terns on the bay. There appeared to be a small island off the shore where birds were roosting. To get a closer look we had to walk a short distance down a 4-wheel drive road. That road intersected with a narrow trail which then gave us access to the bay. We scanned the flocks of terns from the end of the trail for a few minutes then walked east along the beach until we were opposite the small island (I think it’s called Swan Island). It is nearly in line with the west end of the parking lot. I’m not very proficient at tern identification and after a while they all began to look the same. Finally Sean calmly said, ”I found something very interesting on the island“. It was a first year Arctic Tern (they don’t develop full adult plumage until their third year). The stubby-legged bird was resting on the shore among the Common Terns. His thin, black bill, white crown and waddling walk made him stand out from the other birds. I took some photos through Shane and Sean’s spotting scopes. A few minutes later a Black Tern landed on the same stretch of sand. The inky plumed tern presented an even more pronounced contrast next to the Common Terns. He seemed a bit cranky, snapping at all the other terns. He ended up standing by himself at the left edge of the beach.

Egrets on Dune Road

(Photo credit - Rob J)


Moriches Bay looking north

(Photo credit - Rob J)

First year Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)


(Photo credit - Rob J)

I had just seen two beautiful, unusual seabirds and would have been perfectly happy to go straight home. Instead, we decided to stop at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge where we could possibly add two more species of tern - Forster’s and Gull-billed.

Bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Yucca (Yucca filamentosa)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click to learn more about Yucca-

After parking near the temporary visitor’s center we crossed Crossbay Boulevard. As we walked towards the south end of the East Pond I noticed the invasive wildflower ”Bouncing Bet“ in bloom within tangles of Poison Ivy. The southflats were pretty quiet so we backtracked and took the trail towards ”The Raunt“, at the center of the pond. Towering Yucca plants are blooming near the head of that trail. We added Forster’s Tern at the Raunt then headed back to the West Pond. At the West Pond we were surprised to see that a few Gadwall, wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Ruddy Duck were still present. A single Blue-winged Teal was also still hanging around. By this time of year they are usually on their breeding grounds.

We had one tern to go and Sean managed to spot it as it flew over the trail near the first bench. The Gull-billed Tern is probably the only tern that I can identify with a quick look. So far, unlike other terns, its unique shape, flight and bill stands out in my minds eye. Incredible we ended our day having seen Gull-billed Tern, Roseate Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Forster's Tern, Least Tern and Black Tern!

It probably sounds a little weird but when Sean, Shane and I are together we always seem to find very good birds. I’m generally not superstitious but maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.

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Eastport, Shinnecock, Cupsogue & JBWR, 7/12/2005
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Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Wood Duck
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Ruddy Duck
Osprey
Northern Harrier
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
Killdeer
American Oystercatcher
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Willet
Spotted Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Red Knot
Sanderling
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Roseate Tern
Common Tern
Arctic Tern
Forster's Tern
Least Tern
Black Tern
Black Skimmer
Chimney Swift
Eastern Kingbird
Fish Crow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
House Wren
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Other resident species seen (or heard):
Canada Goose, Mute Swan, American Black Duck, Mallard, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, American Crow, American Robin, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) at JBWR

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click to learn more about Trumpet Creep-

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