Saturday, July 9, 2016

Nickerson Beach 7.7.16

     Last Thursday I was scheduled to come in late for work, so I took advantage of sticking to my early wake up time and heading to Nickerson Beach in Long Beach, NY. The thing I learned about Nickerson, without having done research before visiting is that they charge you $30 to park in their lot. There are no nearby streets to park on, so this makes it tough. But, you can bypass the $30 fee by arriving early, before they begin charging (8:30am).
     I arrived to an empty beach (only 2 or 3 other birders out) at 7:00am, with many roped off nesting areas for terns, oystercatchers, plovers, and skimmers. Most folks had the super jumbo lenses, but I had my 50-300mm lens and binoculars which provided fine enough looks at all the chicks on the beach (the bird kind).
     Even at 7:00am, it was hot and we were still under a heat advisory, I spent about an hour and a half out there before heading back to Brooklyn, and miracle-- no traffic either way!
     Enjoy the sights...
A least tern on his/her patch of beach.
A half grown least tern chick, the only one I saw.
...and beach debris. When visiting your local beaches, enjoying them at your leisure, please remember to pick up what you carried in. Trash is so dangerous to wildlife in so many ways, and in the end, it all circles back to us. Plastics break down, it gets ingested by animals and we then eat those animals, like fish in the ocean.
Least terns are easy to tell apart from other terns in our area, their yellow bill, and white patch on their forehead make them easy to tell apart from common terns-- also they are much smaller. The Least tern is considered a threatened species in New York, 
Being a tern or other shorebird is not easy. Nests are just small divots in the sand, sometimes a few pieces of beach grass are pulled close, but really that's it. It's risky business as you are out in the open for natural predators (other birds of prey, foxes, raccoons), introduced predators (rats, dogs, feral and outdoor cats -- seriously, keep the cats inside), and people (beach access for vehicles results in habitat degradation & mortalities, beach developments, and beach fireworks are never fun for the birds who nest there).
Considered endangered in NY, a family of piping plover runs across the beach. Still considered threatened, federally, these little shorebirds cannot bounce back without proper beach habitats in their nesting and wintering range. 
American Oystercatchers were hard not to miss, between their calls and their strolling across the beach back and forth to their chicks. 
Gulls like this Greater Black-backed were common on the beach, they do not nest here, but are very much a predator to any unattended chicks.
Another piping plover on the the beach. These plovers are small and camouflage really well. You don't notice them until they start running across the sand.
A common tern shaking out its feathers after a good preening close to the shore.
Adult common tern and chick. Despite their little legs, I giggle watching the chicks, because they can really bust a move across the sand!
I can't get enough of those carrot beaks!
An oystercatcher chick. The shorebird babies are amazing, they really blend in so well, it's not until they move that you get a good viewing.
Most of the birds take refuge next to any greenery. The plants on the beach are naturally low and chicks will do their best to crouch next to or as under them as they can get. But if you can seek refuge next to your parent too, that's a bonus!
"Mom, mom, ma, mom, mom, MOM, Mommy, mama, mom, ma, MOM, MOM, MOM!"
From human perspective, it looks like these two have done it before and are now a lot more casual with this one... Or they are just inexperienced.
Oystercatcher snuggles, but mom/dad always keeps an eye out...
... always.
When a little tern chick wanders off from its parents, a lesson is to be learned by baby and parents...
Lesson of the day: never get to close to another nest, especially where the bird is bigger than you! 
No lesson sticks better after you get stomped by an angry parent oystercatcher.
Oystercatcher stands its ground and makes it known that the little chick should keep its distance... and back to mom and dad the chick goes.
Meanwhile, the other oystercatcher parent comes back from the shore with a crop full of food to share-- see that bump in it's throat? Breakfast!
Coughing up some breakfast for the kids! 
Speaking of breakfast-- all of a sudden all the birds in the area who could fly were in the air. I thought maybe a photographer got too close, or a feral cat came near... then I saw this ominous ,dark creature perched on top of a tern...
A peregrine falcon, a known predator of shorebirds! Everyone's gotta eat!
An adult common tern in those talons.
Like I said, nesting on the open ground is not easy. But nesting in large colonies like they do at least lessens the odds of it being you that gets picked off. Safety in numbers is just a selfish way of hoping its always your neighbor and never you!
Thankfully for tern, he was dropped. The terns here mob potential danger. Sadly for the falcon, it will have to find another meal. Especially as it might have its own chicks to feed!
Bonus scenes from the falcon scare include synchronized flight from the black skimmers which colonize the grassier, farther off areas in the dunes.

I find these guys absolutely sleek, beautiful, and perfect, even with that uneven bill.
A banded oystercatcher returning to its chicks and mate.
I do find all these little bird pairings and families super sweet, it is so hard NOT to anthropomorphize... What is really going on is just the will to survive and continue the line, pass on your genes and hope they too do the same!
Another plover within the tern nesting area. I love these guys and they are an absolute treat to see!

In comparison to other plovers we usually get, semipalmated and black-bellied, these guys seem so much smaller.



When parents are off finding food, many chicks are left unattended. The larger, older chick is laying down and blending in. The younger one was much more adventurous roaming the area. When their parents return with food, they can identify each other based on their calls (which sounds the same to us) from within the colony. There are a lot of birds within the little area, its pretty amazing how this system of living works.
This guy had a huge camera, and was not all that close. The bigger you look, and closer to the ropes you get that block off the nesting area, the more likely you are to get mobbed and swooped at by angry, protective parents. This person looks to have brought a shield.
The parking lot has a small freshwater pond where the birds can grab a drink, like this common tern.
There are also fish in the pond, so some even take the plunge in attempt to catch one.
     I recommend an early visit to Nickerson if you want to experience some amazing sights of nesting colonies. But please make sure you respect the beach and the nesting areas. One should never go past the ropes, attempt to disrupt the birds, or use tactics that cause any unnecessary stresses on the birds. You want to leave the place as it was and respect the wildlife that we share the beach with.