Thursday, August 02, 2012

Birding Raritan Bay with the Middlesex Merlins

Last Saturday I went birding with the other members of my World Series of Birding team — Patrick, Anthony, and Tom. We started out at Morgan Mudflats, which in recent weeks has been a hotspot for rare terns and other unusual birds. I saw my life Sandwich Tern there a few weeks ago, on a day when over 140 Common Terns were present at the mudflats, with another 350 at Pirate's Cove. Other recent reports included an American Avocet, Gull-billed Terns, and Short-billed Dowitchers.

Tern numbers were down significantly on Saturday but still substantial. Shortly after we started scanning the mudflats, Anthony picked out a Roseate Tern. It hung around the mudflats for the rest of the morning, mostly loafing but sometimes venturing out on short trips over the water. This bird appeared to be banded on both legs, but the distance was too far to make the bands out with confidence. I shot the photo above through Patrick's spotting scope; the bird on the left is a Common Tern.

Patrick picked out another interesting bird, a Surf Scoter swimming just offshore. Scoters are highly unusual anywhere in New Jersey during the summer months, and even more so in Middlesex County where they rarely venture even in winter. This bird was a county first for me; the Roseate Tern was a state first.

We moved on to Pirate's Cove, a spit of beach at the Middlesex-Monmouth border. As at Morgan, the mudflats at Pirate's Cove held a lot fewer terns than in previous weeks. No rare terns were present despite our best efforts to pick one out from the reduced crowd. We did hear a Fish Crow, our bête noire from the World Series. From there we stopped at a couple marinas on the north side of Cheesequake Creek. At the first, we saw a Clapper Rail chick (shown above) foraging in the mud along the edge of the creek. I had never seen a rail chick before, so this was a great way to end the morning.