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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Shades of black, white and gray

Bird's eye view of Moriches Bay (click to enlarge)

I had another pre-dawn pickup on Tuesday. Sean, Doug and I were going out east to Cupsogue Beach County Park, near the town of Westhampton Dunes. Low-tide creates a large mud flat on the Moriches Bay side of the barrier island and attracts hundreds of seabirds. Our primary motivation for the early morning drive was to try to find an Arctic Tern. In general, it’s also a good time of year to look for other unusual terns.

Moriches Bay

(Photo credit - Rob J)

When we arrived the tide was still pretty high and there were no exposed flats. We had to wait 45 minutes to an hour for the water to drop. In the meantime we walked across the parking lot to the ocean side and scanned for shearwaters and other seabirds. A muggy haze hung over the horizon obscuring fishing boats and any distant, passing pelagic birds. Normally one needs to hop on a ship and travel to deep water to find these birds but we have had some luck in the past spotting a few species from the ocean’s edge.

Cupsogue mud flat

(Photo credit - Rob J)

A narrow path to the mud flats begins at the edge of the asphalt parking lot. I felt like I needed a machette as the first section of the trail cuts through dense, towering phragmites. We also had to tip-toe around patches of Poison Ivy jutting out of the reeds. As we got closer to the mud flats the vegetation got shorter and the ground got softer. Exiting the phragmites we had to decide whether to walk through thick, sticky mud or around it and through sharp edged cordgrass. Once we were on the mud flat we had to wade across several channels of calf deep, cool water. I stood in the water and watched hermit crabs flowing passed my feet in the outgoing tide.

-Click here for more about saltmarsh vegetation-

I have problems identifying some gulls and terns as their plumages are mostly just a diverse amalgamation of black, white and gray. Sean has spent a lot of time banding terns and is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to this family of birds. I looked forward to spending a few hours studying flocks of terns roosting on a mud flat.

Common Terns (Sterna hirundo)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Roseate Terns (Sterna dougallii)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

We set up our scopes near one large flock of terns and across an inlet from another. Common Terns were the most abundant species in the area. Several fledgling Common Terns were observed lying stretched out with their chins on the cool ground. Parents arriving with food sparked a crying, begging session by their offspring. Several Roseate Terns were also seen relaxing and preening within the flock. Least Terns were seen in lesser numbers. A Black Tern in post-breeding plumage was spotted among the Roseate Terns. Between studying the terns and swatting at green flies I scanned the flats for small shorebirds. As I observed at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, dowitchers were the most abundant shorebird. I also counted approximately 12 Piping Plover in the area. One wary American Oystercatcher nervously eyed us as he walked nearby. He headed to several small shoals of mussels where he probed for food. When the returning tide began to cover our feet we reluctantly packed up our gear. If we stayed too long we’d either have to remain on a small island until the next tide change or swim through deep water with our gear. We never found any Arctic Terns but it was still a great experience.

Least Tern (Sterna antillarum)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

American Oystercatchers

(Photo credit - Rob J)

This year I’ve been spending a lot of time chasing birds. It’s changed the focus of my blog and, sometimes, I feel like I’m missing the forest for the trees. While I have been learning a great deal about the ebb and flow of the different families of migrating birds, time restraints have changed the way I observe nature. Red-tailed Hawks, botanicals, reptiles and insects have become secondary to my activities. I’ll need to eventually return to spending more time smelling the roses.

Shorebird footprints

(Photo credit - Rob J)

-Click here for more info on terns-

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Cupsogue, 7/18/2006
Common Loon
Cory's Shearwater
Manx Shearwater
Northern Gannet
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Glossy Ibis
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
American Oystercatcher
Greater Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone
Red Knot
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Roseate Tern
Common Tern
Least Tern
Black Tern
Black Skimmer
Belted Kingfisher
Fish Crow
Purple Martin
Barn Swallow
Common Yellowthroat
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow
Seaside Sparrow
Boat-tailed Grackle

Other common species seen (or heard):
Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, House Sparrow

Mussels, snails, barnacles & starfish

(Photo credit - Rob J)


Pamela said...

amazing stuff... as always.
I keep you on my links - so I can pop in and enjoy a few moments.
I feel like I'm bird watching in cyberspace. Not bad, not bad at all!!!

Rob Jett said...

Thanks very much.

Exploring urban nature, birds, birdwatching, birding, hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, bees, hawks, raptors, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, environment, binoculars, spotting scope