Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Barnegat Light SP 6/25--Piping Plover, Common Tern

Piping Plover chick, Barnegat Light SP
The time had come to get my Piping Plovers for the year, so I was up early and at Barnegat Light before 7 this morning. Huge swaths of the beach have been cordoned off to provide a safe haven for these little plovers, leaving a rather narrow 1/2 mile corridor down to the ocean. It is really amazing how much space has to be dedicated to a few birds--this year it seems like only a pair of PIPL nested successfully.

The path between the strings has the disadvantage, for humans, of forcing you to walk on soft sand, instead of the harder packed surface along the tidal pools by the jetty, so I was really trudging this morning to where I saw two other standing with tripods. Look for the birders, not the birds.

But, when I finally got there, huffing and puffing, I found the two photographers were waiting. The plovers had not put in an appearance yet, though they could be heard, by those with acute hearing, about 40 feet back in the dunes.

I settled in to wait but after about a half hour I decided to try to get them on the way back and continued to the seaside. There I was able to get my secondary target bird of the day, Common Tern. I could see dark terns (Forster's are "frosty" terns) diving around one of the channel markers. Because they were dark and because they were over the ocean, I knew they were Common Terns, but they looked like this:
Not a very satisfactory view. One did fly over my head and I got a quick view. Still: BVD.

I walked back to where one of the photogs remained on vigil. He seemed to know a lot about the birds--I gather he'd been tracking the nest and the chicks for a while now. Ospreys were flying back and forth with sticks--late nesters because they had made the error of trying to nest on a construction crane across the inlet on Island Beach, he told me. He also told me that the Ospreys were a strain on the plovers, who would fly up and attack the hawks, not realizing, of course, they were not a threat. He got up and went down the beach to photograph the Ospreys, while I waited. For a half a second I saw a little, pale bird jump up out of the dunes and fly at a Herring Gull, a much more credible threat to its young. I was hoping that was not going to be my only look for the day.

It was needling me what crappy looks I got of the terns so I gave up again on the plovers and walked back down to the end of the jetty, then turned north and walked along the beach. Finally, I was able to get decent, close looks at the birds, satisfying myself that they did not have frosted wings, that their beaks were reddish and their underparts gray. I'm terrible at distinguishing these two terns in flight, but one was decent enough to settle down on the beach and with long study, I was pretty sure it was a Common:
With the terns accounted for I turned once again back to the corridor. With my binoculars I cold see the photographer prone on the sand, looking through his view finder toward the tidal pools. By following the direction his cannon-like lens was pointing I was able to see movement and quickly put my scope on a Piping Plover chick. Then I saw an adult. Then two more chicks. Altogether I had 5--both adults and 3 chicks. The chicks would run across the corridor while the adults hunkered down in the sand, sometimes doing the broken wing display to distract us. I watched them for 15 or 20 minutes, again seeing an adult fly up and chase a gull, a bird that has to be 10 or 20 times its size.

I was very happy.

The only other notable birds on the beach today were 3 American Oystercatchers, which provided some welcome distraction while I waited the first two times for the plovers.

The day's list:
22 species
Mallard  3
Osprey  3
American Oystercatcher  3
Piping Plover  5    
Laughing Gull  25
Herring Gull  25
Great Black-backed Gull  35
Common Tern  10
Mourning Dove  1
Fish Crow  1     Heard
Barn Swallow  10
Carolina Chickadee  1     Heard, trail by visitor's ctr
Carolina Wren  1     Heard, trail by visitor's ctr
Gray Catbird  1     Heard, trail by visitor's ctr
Northern Mockingbird  1     heard, dunes
Common Yellowthroat  1     heard, dunes
Song Sparrow  1     heard, dunes
Northern Cardinal  2     visitor's ctr and trail
Red-winged Blackbird  10
Boat-tailed Grackle  3
House Finch  1     Heard, trail by visitor's ctr
House Sparrow  10

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