With bad memories of our futile quadruple searches for an Elegant Tern at Sandy Hook a couple of years ago, we headed down to Cape May in search of another, even more rare, even more out of place tern. The weather was gloomy and threatening and I didn't relish being part of a bird mob, but the bird was too good to pass up and besides, as we always say when we chase a rarity, this is why we moved down here.
We got a late start but with a tern that shouldn't matter. We arrived at the hawkwatch at 12:55 and heard that doleful phrase, "You just missed it." But, we were informed, the bird was making regular trips back, on average every 20 minutes, so just hang around. I looked up at the gray skies. We'd already had a little drizzle.
After a few minutes, Shari decided to go look on the beach where the bird was also being seen. That would be my last resort, because picking out a grayish tern on a gray day, against the gray ocean, from a lot of only slightly lighter gray terns, wasn't optimal to me. I hate when Shari & I split up when looking for a rarity. I was afraid that either she would see it on the beach and I would miss it, or else it would fly back to the pond in front of me and she would miss it. And great acrimony would ensue either way.
Since she didn't have her cell phone with her we agreed she'd signal me from the dune if she saw the bird. Unfortunately, when she was signaling, I was watching a Bald Eagle try to take a fish away from an Osprey. Finally, she called up to me from the parking lot: The bird was on the beach. I picked up my scope and ran toward the cut in the dunes to the beach. She told she'd met Andrew Baksh, who we know from NY, on the beach, so I was hopeful that I'd have some knowledgeable eyes to guide me. As I got onto the beach, I saw Andrew and he was pointing up in the air--there went the tern, right back to the hawkwatch where I'd been. Should have just stood there.
Ran back to the hawkwatch, asked the guy I'd been talking to where the bird was and he got me on it without too much difficulty--WHISKERED TERN, an Old World tern, found in Europe, Asia, Africa, even Australia and New Zealand, but not around here. At first the bird was flying at the distant end of the pond, in the company of a Black Tern (not a bad bird in itself) and I was having to take it on faith that that was the bird, but soon it began to fly in closer and I was able to get the field marks--very dark gray back and breast, black, slightly white flecked cap, dark bill, a medium-sized tern, a little bigger than the Black Tern, not as big as Forster's or Common, though in flight it would be impossible for me to make size comparisons.
Soon the bird flew off back toward the beach. I wanted to see it stationary, so I headed back to the beach. Shari's attitude was that we'd already seen the bird. My attitude was we just drove 85 miles, I wanted to really see it. I met Andrew as he was coming off the beach and asked him if he'd seen the bird come back. He hadn't but started to scan the large flock of gulls and terns on the beach, which were occasionally being stirred up by oblivious beach walkers. He couldn't find it and then he did--flying over our heads again!
Back to the hawkwatch. Found the bird again and this time it was coming closer in for longer periods. I felt the platform getting more crowded behind me and heard someone tell "Pete" that the bird was present. I turned around and there was Pete Bacinski. He and Mike had been leading a trip to Brig (which because Shari was busy this morning, we didn't attend) and he had led his group down to Cape May to get this rarity. Pete and Mike managed to get the group on the bird, which was delightful for them.
It was way past lunch time but there was one more bird I wanted to get. Not a rarity, but one I didn't have for the year yet. On Lighthouse Pond a Common Gallinule had been reported. Shari & I drove over to Lighthouse Road, found the cut into the pond and started scoping. Hank Burk, who was with Pete & Mike called out from the east shore, where the group had stationed itself, that the bird was on the far shore to our left. Shari, who is lot better at finding stuff than me, picked it out pretty quickly.
Common Gallinule recently had its name changed from Common Moorhen and most people still seem to prefer that name, even though as I point out every time the subject comes up that half of them aren't hens and there aren't many moors in North America. (On a completely irrelevant note, the Toledo Mudhens, a minor league baseball team made famous on M*A*S*H, have the folk name for American Coot. It amuses me that a baseball team of men goes under a feminine moniker.)
Not a lot of birds for the day, but a life bird outweighs quantity.
Mute Swan 10
Blue-winged Teal 10
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 2
Snowy Egret 1
Bald Eagle 1
Common Gallinule 1
Laughing Gull 100
Caspian Tern 1
Black Tern 1
WHISKERED TERN 1
Common Tern 25
Forster's Tern 10
Rock Pigeon 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
Tree Swallow 20
Palm Warbler 1