Sunday, October 03, 2010

Shorebirds at Sandy Hook

There were lots of birders at Sandy Hook yesterday, perhaps inspired by the news of favorable weather for migration. I did not see many warblers (only 5 species), but it was clear that there was substantial movement last night. There were dozens of Yellow-rumped Warblers, particularly along the Fishermen's Trail near the hawk watch bunker. At Plum Island, the birds were changing over to a winter cast – Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows, and my first Dark-eyed Junco of the fall. Out on the beaches, most of the Laughing Gulls have moved on, and large flocks of Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, and Great Black-backed Gulls are taking their place. Winter waterfowl are not present in significant numbers yet, but it is only a matter of time until they are.

I enjoyed spending some time with the Sanderlings and Black-bellied Plovers at the end of the Fishermen's Trail. Sanderlings tend to cluster along the ocean's edge. As a wave recedes, they chase it to feed in the newly washed sand, and then they run back up the beach as a new wave breaks. When not feeding actively, they often loaf just a few feet from the waterline, as these Sanderlings are doing.

The dry spit where they were resting cannot have been very wide, perhaps two feet, with water on both sides.

As I was watching and photographing the Sanderlings, five Black-bellied Plovers flew in to join them. The birds all cleared away when a wave (probably amplified by the wake of a passing boat) washed completely over their resting spot.