New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Late September Shorebirding-Part 2

                                    Avocets in Newport, Rhode Island

   Five Avocets were reported at Easton Beach in Newport, R I on Saturday the 24th. The birds were seen foraging in the surf along the beach, mingling with Gulls, “Peeps”, beach-goers, and joggers and of course excited birders.  I always think of Easton Bay as a great wintering area for Eiders and other sea ducks as last winter a thousand birds were rafted there along the inner shoals just off the beach.  It would never have crossed my mind that five American Avocets would find the area hospitable for a late September migration resting area.

   I thought about combining a stop in Newport on our way back home from New Hampshire, but I wasn’t sure if the birds would spend the night and be there Sunday afternoon. While we were in New Hampshire, I kept checking my Blackberry for reports of the birds, and they were still there. Our route home from N H was a “bit out of the way” to get to Newport, so we wouldn’t be able to see the birds. When Jen and I got home, Jen suggested that I go first thing in the morning; hopefully the Avocets would still be there. I didn’t need too much convincing with that suggestion!
   Avocets are a stunning shorebird, but considered uncommon in New England. Although a few show up in New England each year, usually in singles and pairs, this is the first small flock I am aware of.  Monday morning at 5:30 am, I am in my truck heading for Easton beach in Newport. During the two hour ride, I kept thinking about those birds, hoping of course that they would still be there. The morning was overcast (again) but the forecast didn’t indicate any rain.  At 7:30 I pulled into the parking lot and to my surprise, there they were! Three of the Avocets were sleeping on the beach near the fresh water outflow creek from Easton Pond; the other two were in the surf feeding.
   I walked down on the beach with the birds and they were quite comfortable with my presence. Within a few minutes, the three birds on the beach joined the other two in the surf and they all began feeding together.

                              Walking together to the water; three males, two females
                                                       Not sure about this wave?
Other than the obvious physical beauty of these birds, one thing that really impressed me was their incredible agility especially in the surf. When the waves would surge up the beach, the birds would often become engulfed in the water and foam seemingly unaffected. Since I was standing in the water with the birds, I felt the power of the waves on my legs. These birds with their long thin legs would counteract the pressure from the surging water by turning and facing the water directly countering the strong current like a keel on a boat.

                                             Retreating from an incoming wave

                                                    The next wave was larger!

   Being able to be that close to these spectacular birds was a gift. There have only been a few times that I have been able to approach this species so closely; the single bird in New Hampshire from the day before, and the pair that was in Hartford last year. Usually the other Avocets Jen and I have seen have been at a distance including the hundreds that group together in the Shearness Pool, Bombay Hook; so close yet so far.

   Part of the flock of hundreds of Avocets, Bombay Hook, Delaware. There are five Marbled Godwits  visible in the flock.

  An hour and a half had passed and it was a great pleasure to be in the birds company. In that time, the birds would feed in the surf, walk on the beach, preen, stretch, sleep, drink the fresh water from the outpouring. 

                                                          Interesting angle; taking a drink from the outflow

                                                Where did that wave come from?
  The other activity that the Avocets displayed was to fly away from the dog that chased them!! It was unfortunate that the owner of the dog thought it was funny that their dog chased the birds off, being encouraged to do it even while I was standing in the water with my camera. The birds flew off towards the outer point at Cliff Walk and I thought they had left the area. I decided to keep my thoughts to myself and walked away from the dog and its owner.

    I watched the five birds disappear towards Cliff Walk and lost sight of them. As I kept watching the beach through my binoculars, a single Avocet started flying back in my direction. It circled twice around the beach at the outflow obviously looking for the other birds.

   Not finding them it flew along the beach heading back to Cliff Walk and out of my sight. I couldn’t imagine how it became separated from the other four birds; my hope was that it would be reunited with them.

    After a few minutes it was clear that the Avocets had left the area, I focused my attention on the hundred plus Sanderlings that had lined up along the beach east of the outpouring. Earlier in the morning I met another birder and he mentioned to me that there was a Red Knot mixed in with the Sanderlings, so I went down the beach to find it. The Knot was sleeping and feeding with a small group of Sanderlings a short distance down the beach.

                              Red Knot with Sanderlings. Each bird is standing on their left legs

                                                       Good portrait of a Red Knot

 Interesting preening posture

                                                       Keeping that right leg tucked

                                                                    Great balance!

    I stayed with the Knot and Sanderlings for a half an hour and watched them feed, preen and sleep, and oh yes; fly away from the aforementioned dog!! The dog made its encore performance just as I was taking some candid shots of the Red Knot (after getting close by gaining their trust crawling on my knees for ten minutes). This time I was a bit “more vocal” with my opinion to the owner of the dog. The owner also voiced their opinion, and I figured it was best to just leave!! Looking back down the beach through my binoculars, I couldn’t find the Avocets, and the dog continued chasing the Sanderlings!            

   Being in the area, I decided to head over to Third Beach and see if any Shorebirds were on the beach. As I walked down Third beach the tide was low and I could see a few Shorebirds feeding in the high tide wrack line. Walking south along the beach I only encountered a few Shorebirds: Black-bellied Plovers, Semi-palmated Plovers, Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers and a few Ruddy Turnstones. I scoped the entire shoreline to the point and didn’t see much of anything. Turning around to head back to my truck, I noticed a few Terns diving in the bay a bit north of the boat ramp. 

                                                                                 Adult Common Tern  

   Near the actively diving Terns were a small gathering of Gulls, terns and a few Sanderlings. Driving out of the parking lot heading towards the group of birds, I noticed a few Black-bellied Plovers in the restoration area, not much else.

  On the beach near the creek were two small flocks of roosting birds: a dozen Herring Gulls, fifteen Ring-billed Gulls, a few Greater black-backed Gulls, twenty Laughing Gulls, fourteen Common terns, three Forster’s Terns and eighteen Sanderlings.

Two of the three Forster’s Terns

                                                       Calling juvenile Common Tern

   Walking along the creek heading back to my truck, I walked up on a hen Common Eider sitting along the shoreline of the creek. I first thought the hen may be sick so I sat back and watched it for a few minutes. Looking at the hen, her eyes were clear, their expression bright and her feathers were shiny, clean and well maintained; signs of a healthy bird (I maintained a large waterfowl aviary for years; those physical signs were the initial indicators of the birds health). It was obvious that she was feeling the stresses of moulting indicated by her short developing primaries and missing tail. 

In the northwest corner of the small parking lot three Double-crested Cormorants had positioned themselves on the old Osprey pole, with the adult posed in the classic “wing drying” posture.

     I wanted to stop back at Easton Beach to hopefully find that the Avocets had returned and settled in, un-harassed by the dog. Pulling into the parking lot, I didn’t have much hope that the Avocets would be there, but there they were!  This time however, they were separated, three were on the beach to the west of the outpouring, and the other two were feeding in the surf about forty yards away from the others. I walked down the beach to photograph the two in the surf, and I heard someone call out to me and directed my attention to the three birds on the beach. I walked over and the very friendly photographer introduced himself to me. His name was Bob Weaver, a name that I was familiar with seeing it often on the R I bird reports and it was a pleasure to finally meet him.

                                                             Male resting on its tarsii prior to sitting

 Resting/sitting pose

                                                                  Another male “feather ruffling”

Male in a classic posture

                                                                              Stunning striding male

                                                                           Success! A small fish

                                                                       A great study of a male Avocet

                                                                                     Preening female

                                                                 Sleeping female

                                                      The other sleeping female

                                                          A study in balance

Tap dancing!

                                                   Parting shot- Close-up flying over a wave
  Bob and I photographed the three birds for a while then decided to photograph the two birds feeding in the surf. By now the sun was out and it was quite warm, so a wade in the cool ocean offered a bit of relief from the noontime heat.  But the sun also added nice lighting for photographing the birds. I stayed a while longer than I had to say good-bye to Bob and to these spectacular birds. Fantastic!

Part 1 Follows……Click on Sept 27 on the Block Archive upper right column
Keith Mueller   Killingworth, CT