Thursday, July 7, 2011

Field Notes - Another Arctic Tern on LI...

Birders on the flats at Cupsogue LI
A vigil by a number of birders turned out to be rewarding although views of one of the intended targets left much to be desired. Nevertheless, in this game of birding, one takes whatever one gets and be thankful. On Sunday (July 3rd), I arrived at Cupsogue Park, in Suffolk County LI, a little later than I would have liked and opted not to do a seawatch, since I wanted to head out to the flats before the incoming tide got too high. I later learned that the seawatching was a productive one turning in a few goodies, such as, Parasitic Jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus), Cory Shearwaters (Calonectris diomedea), Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis)and Wilson’s Storm Petrels (Oceanites oceanicus). When I waded out to the flats, I realized that the tide was coming in fast and so opted not to go all the way out to the area where I noticed Shai Mitra was doing a careful study of the Terns that were mulling around. Terns were the order of the day, specifically, Arctic and or Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis), both uncommon requiring lots of luck in the hopes that they show up. After about 45 minutes and with the tide getting higher, I decided that I was going to call it in and join the seawatchers back on the boardwalk. I would regret that decision, as half an hour after I left, Pat Lindsay, who was on the boardwalk alerted me to the presence of an Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) on the flats. A first summer bird, found none other than the Ternmeister himself, Shai Mitra, whose vigil on the flats almost to the peak of high tide was nothing less than total commitment and focus – not to mention the skills required to pick one out. This bird could be the fourth Arctic Tern found this year at Cupsogue LI. Those of us who were on the boardwalk were guided to the location of the Arctic Tern by phone relay and we all got looks of the bird. Then, we decided to get ambitious and headed out to the marsh edges to get a closer look. Unfortunately, the prized subject did not oblige and took off before we all got out the marsh.

Adult Roseate Tern
A first year Common Tern caused a brief moment of excitement, as we thought the bird had returned. Despite a dedicated search by Shai who by now was almost up to his thighs in water, the tern could not be relocated. A reluctant group headed back to the boardwalk where some of us took a break for coffee while others continued seawatching. Most of the birders there that morning decided on waiting for the tide to turn, which was going to be late afternoon. Shai, Pat and I decided on doing some offsite birding to essentially kill some time. A drive to Shinnecock Inlet did not produce anything that we did not already have for the day. Lunch soon followed and with our stomachs filled with food and our spirits lifted with margaritas and wine, we headed back out the flats. We birded the flats for about 2 hours, but failed to pull out an Arctic Tern.

The left most bird is a Short-billed Dowitcher of the (hendersoni subspecies)
Our consolation were a couple of adult Roseate Terns (Sterna dougallii), a nice looking Short-billed Dowitcher of the (hendersoni subspecies) which was picked out by Andy Guthrie. Andy also keyed in on a peep with a big bill which was debated upon well into the afternoon. Another trip back to the boardwalk for refreshments, which included beers and margaritas, provided enough motivation for a third trip out the flats despite a light drizzle and cloudy conditions. Our third trip back out to the flats for some of us was encouraged by the scope spotting of a breeding plumaged Black Tern Chlidonias niger on the flats – a bird which was not seen earlier. We worked the flats hard and some of us went off on a mission to verify the big billed peep that was so heavily debated on. Birder extraordinaire Tom Burke and I first picked up the peep and after a close look remarked that the bird had rufus in the scapulars; this was a diagnostic feature that we were looking for to justify what this bird was deemed to be, a Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri). Shai and others in the meantime continued their vigil for an Arctic Tern. After about another 2 hours we decided to call it a day as the drizzle began increasing and there was thunder in the distance. The weather conditions did not make for good sea watching, so everyone decided to call it a day. It was long, but terrific day of birding with, to quote Shai, “some of the finest birding minds in the state”.

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corey said...

I'm glad to see you properly spelled "Corey Shearwater".



Thanks Cory for pointing that out ;)