New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

April Shorebirding Highlights

Part 1- Portland Fair Grounds, April 11- There was a light rain in the morning and the skating pond was nearly dried up.  It was hard to tell how many Common Snipe were present; most were in the grass along the edges of the empty pond. The Snipe were active however- flying from one side to the other and coming and going to the pond.

     Kildeer and Snipe

   More Snipe arrive.

    More Kildeer fly into the nearly dry pond.

    Great Blue Herons were busy buzzing the pond.

   One of the three Eagles I saw that morning flying along the river in the distance.

    This Muskrat was busy stocking its pantry....I hope the pond makes it this summer!

    This single Greater Yellowlegs flies into the (pond).

   My lucky shot! Just as I was ready to leave, this Snipe dropped into the pond and landed right in front of me!

   Hammonasset- This small flock of Glossy Ibis landed in the middle restoration marsh.

    White-faced Ibis in the same marsh last year on April 22.

    Part of the large flock of Glossy Ibis which had at least one White-faced Ibis on a farm in Portsmouth, RI- last year on April 17.

   As I drove into my driveway (April 12), this Turkey Vulture greeted me!

      Milford Point, April 27- I arrived at low tide around 10:30 am and stayed until just after noon. The sun was hidden by clouds for the majority of the time. Because of the east wind and the very low tide, I was able to walk most of the way down the spit to the extended low tide bar to near the low stones of the inner breakwater (below the high water mark of course). I wanted to get closer to the flocks of Dunlins/Sanderlings that had gathered there to search for other spring migrants such as Short-billed Dowitcher; but didn’t find any.

     Along the way, I passed by two pair of Oystercatchers that were stationed along the higher ground of the bar.

     On the tidal flats on the western end of the bar, there were five Oystercatchers present (three on the flats and two standing on the outer breakwater sandbar). The three on the flats were making frequent circling flights over the flats landing once and a while to feed.

     There was a large gathering of Brant on the river bars, and a single hen Common Merganser was mixed in with a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers near the low stones.

     A single Snowy Egret landed in the cut and started feeding.

    While I was standing there, a pair of Piping Plovers flew towards me and landed on the muddy flats and began feeding.

     As I watched and photographed the Plovers, I noticed another one running ahead of me.

    At one point, there were five Plovers around me, feeding and running on the bar, and flying back and forth up and down the sandbar.  

     One of the Plovers landed on the mudflats of the empty inlet ponds and was escorted out of the area by another bird that I never saw (great camouflage). It eventually flew east disappearing towards the Milford beaches. This happened with other birds on three other occasions while I was there.

     Heading back, I was very careful and made it a point to keep my distance from the tide line and not to walk up on top of the bar above the high water mark fearing that some of them would possibly be trying to nest. Approaching the high ground (last high ground at the end of the main bar) I spotted a single Plover hiding among the tide line grass bundles. Acting like a Plover, it diverted my attention from the area and his mate by leading me away. This pair may have been trying to nest.

     I left the area quickly, and moved to a spot by the second inlet pond to watch a feeding Greater Yellowlegs. The banks of this pond have a very steep incline near the bar, so I was close to the tide line as I walked by. I stopped to take admire a beautiful pair of Oystercatchers that had settled on the middle of the bar.

     I ended up standing there enjoying the Oystercatchers and the show that was yet to come.      This Oystercatcher pair walked around the bar, and often engaged in pair bonding displays.

     One of the birds settled down in the grass bundles near me (possible nest site?)…..

     ….. while the other walked their beach territory.

     Apparently, the Oystercatcher's beach territory overlapped and encroached on another pair of bird’s territory. As the Oystercatcher walked to the west of me, it was met by a very upset Piping Plover. The Plover was very persuasive as it suggested that the Oystercatcher leave their beach immediately!! I wasn’t aware that this second pair of Plovers was there, I walked right by them!

     After the Plover chased the Oystercatcher from their beach, it settled in, but only for a few minutes until the Oystercatcher showed up again.

     I was fascinated by this interaction, and I watched it for over half an hour. Again and again the Oystercatcher walked the same path, and again and again met the same fate. A few times the female Plover joined in with the chase.

     But, it wasn’t always in the favor of the Plovers, one time the Oystercatcher brought its mate along, and met with mixed results. They won part of the confrontation…….

    ……but were eventually escorted off by the smaller Plover(s).

    This continued for all the time I was there........

    .....its obvious who the beach master was!!

     Plovers flew in to the mudflats behind me. This bird flew in to feed and was immediately escorted off by another Plover that was there that (again) I never noticed! It also flew off to the East.

     This bird flew in and landed next to me……..

     …..and found a sand worm; merely eight feet from where I was standing!

     Wishing the birds well, good luck,  and thanking them for allowing me to share their lives with them (for just a short while), I walked back towards the cut-over by the fenced nesting bird area, I located a third pair of Piping Plovers and the second pair of Oystercatchers on the high ground near the beginning of the bar. Unfortunately, I knew that if these birds were trying to nest, they wouldn’t make it, higher tides are just a moon and a storm away!

     I stopped for a moment at the birding platform by the parking lot, as the Purple Martins were feeding over my head. The marsh was alive with birds including a few flocks of Dunlins/Sanderlings, Greater Yellowlegs (with one Willet mixed in), Gadwall and Green-winged Teal. It was hard to get an accurate count with the Piping Plovers (flying in and out) without re-counting, but my conservative estimate was thirteen (three pairs on the high beach, five feeding on the flats, and at least two of the flying birds I counted). Excellent and unexpected!
Nine Oystercatchers.

Guilford, Great Harbor Marsh (above the dike impoundment), East River Marsh- Willets are back!

       Incubating Osprey

     Female Red-winged Blackbird

Keith Mueller
Killingworth, CT