Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Field Notes - Persistence Pays With Another Arctic Tern on LI...

Birders studying a 1st summer Arctic Tern at Cupsogue LI.
On Saturday, I headed out to Cupsogue LI, to do some birding. I arrived with good time and did a brief seawatch before heading out to the flats. I was joined by Doug Futyma (you may remember him from the White-winged Dove find) and a few other birders who by then were ready to give the flats a go. The flats, were already occupied by birders; many, if not most, were from the New York State Young Birders Club, who were led by Brent Bomkamp and Stella Miller, President of Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon. As we made our way through the channels, I spotted a Black Tern (Chlidonias niger), in flight, which I called out and the other birders who were with me were able to get on. We scoped birds around us before crossing the last channel picking up a breeding plumage Red Knot, Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos), Willets (both Eastern and Western) and many Short-billed Dowitchers (Limnodromus griseus). Doug and I were admiring how disciplined the young birders were (all sticking together as one group) when we were alerted to the presence of a possible Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) on the flats just ahead. Crossing the channel, I was able to quickly spot the candidate mixed in with Common and Forster’s Terns. From my first look, the bird appeared to be a 1st summer type, but better looks were needed.

1st summer Arctic Tern on the flats at Cupsogue LI.
The group was at a fair distance from the terns; no doubt, not wanting to flush them, but Doug and I was of the impression that we needed a closer view of the bird. The arrival of Tom Burke and Gail Benson made it four votes to advance and so I took the initiative and moved in angling to the right to get a side view of the bird. Tom, Gail and Doug joined me and together we began our analysis talking through the field marks that were consistent for a 1st summer Arctic Tern. The bird looked good, but we were making sure we got it right; there were a few 1st summer Common Terns mingling around with the flock that given the right or wrong angle (depending how one looks at it) coupled with the uneven surface of the flats, could be very deceptive when it comes to picking out an Arctic Tern from the crowd.

1st summer Arctic Tern on the flats at Cupsogue LI.
Tom and Doug were excellent in their analysis, patiently working through the field marks. One thing, Tom, Doug, Gail and I had not seen when we got on the bird was the bill and we wanted to get a good look at it, to further seal the deal. After some waiting, the bird finally untucked and the four of us all got good looks at the bill. We were confident it was the real thing. I believe this bird was picked out by Brent Bomkamp, a nice job indeed! Gail Benson and I began taking digiscope shots of the bird and continued reviewing them with Tom and Doug. By then the ternmeister himself, Shai Mitra, showed up along with Patricia Lindsay and Jeff Bolsinger. Shai concurred that it was indeed a 1st summer Arctic Tern. The number of birders, soon got smaller with the departure of the Young Birders Club and the few of us that remained, continued working the flats. In addition to the Arctic Tern, other highlights included, 5 Black Terns all in different plumage stages, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a rare look at a Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii) in 1st summer plumage. Once the tide turned we headed back, had lunch with margaritas and then called it a day. It was a fitting end to a great day of birding; one, where I had satisfying looks at an Arctic Tern and was able to study it quite well with some of the best birders in the state.

Breeding plumage Red Knot (center) with Short-billed Dowitchers on the flats at Cupsogue LI.

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Jim said...

Nice to see you out there. A great day, nice birders, and great birds !


@Jim - it was a great day overall. I was very excited and pleased to study that Arctic Tern with yourself, Gail, Tom, Doug, Shai, Pat and your friend. It was a very, very useful study to breakdown the
field marks.