Saturday, August 06, 2011

Migrating Shorebirds on Raritan Bay

Yesterday morning I was out on Middlesex County's Raritan Bay coastline to see what sorts of waterbirds might be moving through. Even though it was not as hot as a few weeks ago, the heat affected me more than I expected, so that I felt a little sick at times. As a result, I did not spend as much time on the beaches as I otherwise might have and probably saw fewer bird species.

The first stop was the mudflats at Cliff Avenue in South Amboy. As usual, the spit was lined with birds, most of which turned out to be common gulls (Laughing, Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed). A few terns, mostly Least and Common, rounded out the numbers. Two Black Skimmers skimmed just offshore, sometimes in tandem and sometimes separately. A few shorebirds were about, particularly Willets and Greater Yellowlegs. Two Spotted Sandpipers were working the high tide line on the beach. The most impressive sight, though, was the large aggregation of egrets. At least fifteen Great Egrets were perched in a grove of trees; a few are shown above. A similar number of Snowy Egrets worked the shallow water just off the beach. Among them were two Little Blue Herons (a new county bird for me) and one Great Blue Heron.

The second stop was Pirate's Cove in Cliffwood Beach. I was no sooner in the parking lot than I saw a stocky heron fly up out of the near side of the creek, over the road, and land on the other side. Immediately sensing what it was, I crossed the road and found the bird standing on the west side of the creek – a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, my second county bird for the day.

The beach itself had a similar assortment of species as the South Amboy mudflats. One new species for the day was Boat-tailed Grackle; a few were out on one of the sandbars. Pirate's Cove provided a better viewing distance of Common Terns and Willets than South Amboy did. Flocks of terns right now show a mixture of adults and juveniles. One juvenile yesterday was begging nonstop, letting anyone who would listen know about how hungry it was. Most of the terns around it just kept preening or resting. Its parents were out catching fish and brought back an occasional morsel to feed it.