Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Great Sedge Island 7/8--Marbled Godwit, Royal Tern

Marbled Godwit
Photos: Greg Prelich
Today, Greg & I took our first canoe trip out to Great Sedge Island, off Island Beach SP. Conditions were almost ideal--slightly overcast, a mild breeze, temperature in the mid-70's. We still haven't figured out the tides though. We've been told that low tide around the island is about 3 hours after low tide on the ocean side. At first we thought we'd hit it perfectly, because as we paddled out toward the islands, the water was low and there were many sandbars exposed. But as we made our way along Snake Ditch to get to the inlet, we found ourselves paddling against the incoming tide. It wasn't too bad because the wind wasn't a factor, but we also
didn't find a lot of beach (or
Royal Terns w sterna sp.
roosting birds) at the head of the inlet.

My target bird for the day was Royal Tern, a bird I've spent quite a few hours searching for while walking the beach at the park. We had 4 almost immediately on the first sand bar we put our binoculars on.  We stood in ankle deep water (still low tide) scanning the exposed sand and came up with the expected birds like American Oystercatcher, cormorants, the usual gulls and egrets. Then, just as were about to get back into the canoe Greg saw a large shorebird fly behind us. Our initial thought was a Willet, but it was way too big and  when it landed we could easily see it was a Marbled Godwit , unconcerned by our proximity and here we go again. Marbled Godwit is considered rare in the county, but last year Greg & I saw multiple birds multiple times in the same spot, to the consternation of some boat-less birders. Then, apparently out of nowhere, it was joined by 5 more shorebirds that also weren't Willets, but were Whimbrels, their decurved bills making a nice contrast to the Godwit's bi-colored upturned bill.

We beached the canoe at the inlet and had to pull the canoe up the sand a couple of times as the tide was coming in fast. We saw a few pelicans out on a sandbar, but the water was pretty high and aside from finally seeing actual Willets, we didn't find any more shorebirds or waders that we hadn't seen.

We spent a lot of time sorting through the sterna genus trying to separate the Forster's from the Common, which is easy in theory, not so easy when the birds are at a distance or the light isn't perfect. Is that bill orange-red or red-orange? Can't see the frosty wingtips on that bird. We finally were able to come up with a small flock of what we thought were indisputably Common Terns--all the rest went as Forster's.

We were out there for just under 3 hours, the predicted thunderstorms didn't hit until we were long gone and we found about 30 species. A very satisfying voyage.
Mallard  4
Black Scoter  2     Near boat launch. Continuing birds
Double-crested Cormorant  40
Brown Pelican  5
Great Blue Heron  5
Great Egret  15
Snowy Egret  5
Tricolored Heron  3
Black-crowned Night-Heron  1
Glossy Ibis  50
Osprey  10
Clapper Rail  3     Heard calling.
American Oystercatcher  8
Willet  10
Whimbrel  5
Marbled Godwit  1     
Semipalmated Sandpiper  5
Short-billed Dowitcher  1
Laughing Gull  50
Herring Gull  50
Great Black-backed Gull  30
Least Tern  1
Common Tern  10
Forster's Tern  25
Royal Tern  12
Barn Swallow  2
Seaside Sparrow  5
Song Sparrow  1     Heard
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Boat-tailed Grackle  5

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