Sunday, July 7, 2013

Western Sandpiper search leads to an Elegant Tern at Cupsogue Long Island NY...

There were so many titles I played around with to get this post off the ground but I finally settled on this one. So, here is the scoop on how New York's 1st state record of an Elegant Tern (pending NYSARC approval) was identified and documented. On July 3rd, I headed out to Cupsogue LI after reading the reports of Adult Arctic Terns seen on the Cupsogue Flats the day before; I had not seen any adult Arctic Terns at Cupsogue since June, so I was interested.  The day started for me a bit late as I knew the flats would have ample birders out looking for the Red-necked Stint, a CODE 3 that John Gluth and I had found last Sunday (read about it here). The conditions were foggy with some precipitation somewhat reminiscent of the day the RNST was found; despite the lack of better lighting for better photos of the Stint, I was happy about the conditions. It would at least be cool and maybe keep the feral primate numbers down.

Red-necked Stint
The small group of birders I met on the flats included Vincent Nichnadowicz, Ann Lazarus, Dale Dancis, Andy Guthrie a few others and the author of "Don't cry for me Argentina 1 and 2", the very poetic Bob Adamo. They had the Red-necked Stint in their field glasses and so I remarked cheekily to Bob Adamo, that it was good news since we were going to be spared a "Don't cry for me Argentina 3" post. Bob was a good sport as I expected and offered his congratulations on the find. I later found out that Katherine K, another birder who bemoaned her bad luck at missing the RNST the previous day was the one who spotted it after it had wandered off on the flats and out of sight for a bit. Later on, we were joined on the flats by Lloyd Spitalnik and Harry Mass both photographers, they too got on the RNST and Lloyd got some photos see his work here.

1st Summer Arctic Tern in the background with 1st Summer Common Tern in the foreground.
The group thinned out and soon it was only, Andy, Lloyd, Harry and I who remained and we spent some time looking at the Terns. Both Lloyd and Harry were keen to see Arctic Terns and it was not long before Andy and I pointed out a couple of 1st Summer Arctic Terns for them. While Lloyd and Harry enjoyed getting their sought after photos of Arctic and Roseate Terns, Andy and I spent some time studying the rest of flock looking closely at the variation of plumages this time of the year offered. We also had a bird that initially was thought to be a 2nd Summer Roseate Tern, but then we were not so sure. Both Andy and I in looking at our photos and doing some analysis are leaning towards, Siberian Common Tern (S. h. longipennis). I have sent photos to Shai Mitra for his review and feedback since he reported on a possible candidate back on June 26th 2011 also at Cupsogue LI. See his photos here.

Hybrid Calidrid believe to be Dunlin X White-rumped Sandpiper.
Soon, lloyd and Harry decided to leave not wanting to take any chances negotiating high tides with expensive equipment (sensible thing to do). I walked back to the last flat before the channel to make sure they were leaving safely. Then it was Andy and I alone on the flats and Andy after checking in with me to see how long I intended to stay, decided to hang with me to high tide even though he was hungry and wanted to leave. I assured Andy, that I knew my way off the flats and could negotiate the deep channels as I had done it before; although since Hurricane Sandy I have had to exercise more caution with the constant change. It was sometime near 3:15 p.m. when Andy and I began to work our way off the flats. As we got to the last open flat before the deep channel, we noticed a birder coming onto the flats. I remember telling Andy that this person must know the channels to be coming onto the flats this late during the rising tide and not worrying about deep and or soft spots. I later learned the individual was Michael Scheibel. We greeted Michael and asked if he was looking for the Red-necked Stint or Arctic Terns, but surprisingly he responded he was looking for a Western Sandpiper reported earlier down the road at Pikes Beach. Apparently the bird had flown towards the Cupsogue Flats and so Michael was hoping to catch up with it.

Hybrid Calidrid believe to be Dunlin X White-rumped Sandpiper.
We left Michael to his Western Sandpiper quest and continued our way off the flats. Just before we began walking into the channel, Andy spotted the Red-necked Stint close by. I suggested stopping for photos and we spent a few minutes getting some shots of the RNST. During our photo session, I kept a watchful eye on the incoming water as it began to get onto the area where we were.  After about 20 minutes, we decided that it was time to leave. Michael by then, had walked over to where we were and said he would cross the channel with us. I asked him, if he saw the Western Sandpiper and he indicated that he had; I then turned to Andy and suggested that we had to go see the Western Sandpiper (there was no way I was passing on a breeding plumage Western Sandpiper). It was a short distance from where we were and so we walked over. After Michael pointed out where the bird was, Andy and I both looked at it then with a start we both remarked to Michael that it was not a Western Sandpiper but rather a Hybrid Calidrid. From the giss, it looked to be a hybrid Dunlin X White-rumped Sandpiper. We felt confident with our ID when the bird flushed and we heard it give a White-rumped Sandpiper call.

Elegant Tern 1st State Record!
I was cycling through my photos of the Calidrid, when Andy said to me that a Royal Tern was now on the spit just a bit beyond where we were. I looked over and asked where? Andy give me the precise location and when I looked over with my naked eye, I thought the bird looked small for Royal. By then Andy had brought his scope to bear on the bird and then turned to me and said, "this bird has a long bill for a Royal, you ought to take a look". I put my scope on the bird and saw what Andy meant. This bird did not look like any Royal Tern I had seen before, it looked smaller, bill longer and there was a kind of pinkish tinge from the breast. I studied for a bit, then took my eye off the scope and looked at Andy, and casually said, Elegant in more of a questionable voice than an affirmative. Andy didn't immediately say anything, but I could sense he was thinking like I did. We have to get a better look at this bird, I suggested to him. We angled to our left to get a side profile and took additional looks. By the time I took my head up from the scope, I was confident we were not looking at a Royal Tern.

Elegant Tern at Cupsogue LI.
Andy and I then began the process of going through the field marks for an Elegant Tern; all the while we were both taking photos and I was also shooting video. Excitement was building. We talked through several field marks such as the long bill with the yellow at the tip, the slight shaggy crest and the black patch that was extended more so than Royal. After a about 3 minutes, I turned to Andy and said that I was confident we were looking at an Elegant Tern. I had seen Elegant Terns last year in Southern California and had studied them at length...I was sure. I asked Andy for his confidence level and he shook his head in affirmation, he was a go and so I called Shai Mitra who unfortunately was in Rhode Island. Shai offered his heartiest congratulations and I promised him photos for review. Andy in the meantime had called Tom Burke only to get his voice mail and also texted photos to the Cornell Mafia (no names...I am sworn to secrecy). I then decided that I was going to do a post just in case anyone was in the area. I figured even though the tide was now coming in fast, someone might be lucky to get here in time for the bird. We were hedging also that we had the ID nailed, but to be on the safe side I was going to use cautionary language; hence, the title, "Possible Elegant Tern".

Elegant Tern in the foreground with Common Tern in the background.
As we left the flats, we saw the bird flying out towards the ocean and we dreaded posting the news, but hoped it would return. By the time Andy and I had reached the Cupsogue parking lot, confirmation txts and phone calls were being returned in response to us sending out a few photos for review. The ID "appeared" good; it was then the realization sunk in that we had just documented and confirmed New York's 1st State Record of an Elegant Tern.  On the deck Andy relayed a text from a friend of ours who asked if we thought the bird could be the June 27th bird that Arie Gilbert had reported as a possible candidate?  I had not read that post but Andy did and he indicated there were no photos, so there was no way to know, it very well could be.  I did not care, it did not matter, we were part of the find or re-find depending on how one looked at it; plus we had photos and a confirmed ID, you could not find happier birders at that moment. More importantly, we were both hoping that the bird would stick around for others.  Note: since that day the bird has been seen by several birders through July 6th. Hopefully, it sticks for others. So thanks Michael for showing up at the right time because had we never turned back to look for a Western Sandpiper, this story could not be written.

Possible Siberian Common Tern (S. h. longipennis)

Elegant Tern at Cupsogue LI.
Tags: , , ,

Share with Bookmark and Share

No comments: