Sunday, June 25, 2017

BEHBEH BIRDS!

     In trying to find the least bittern yesterday and going to Nickerson Beach today, babies were the theme.
     So many pictures were taken, so really-- let's just get to 'em:
A pile-o'-sliders in Prospect Park....

Mama wood duck leads the way across the lake! 7 ducklings in tow!

Very happy to see a large wood duck family, intact at their age! Usually when they are just hatched, they are easy nibbles for snapping turtles. At their current size, the bigger snappers can still take them, but they are starting to get close in size to mama.

It seems to me that this female nested down around the lake, and not at the upper pool, where I really recall mostly seeing baby wood ducks in the past.

A nice prize in making up for no least bittern yesterday.

Got up at 6am today to head out to Nickerson beach with Molly and Corey. A quick drive out resulted in some very "squee-able" sights. We were greeted on the beach by a family of piping plovers.

One of the ways I have learned to help identify shorebirds is in looking at posture. These plovers run crouched like this, distinguishing it from other shore birds-- along with its markings, calls, and feeding behavior, all of these things aside from plumage can help one come to a conclusion on a birds ID.

The beach at Nickerson is busy, birds with chicks are on the move, constantly- flying out to the water to catch food for themselves plus their chicks and their mate. This common tern is on the lookout for a potential meal-- for someone!

Black skimmers have a place within the colony but do not have chicks yet. The birds stick close together and when in flight fly in linear formation or within a group.

When landing on the beach, it seems like they have to brace themselves from falling forward with those extra large bills.

Within the colony, birds recognize each other as individuals, being able to differentiate between their mate and others, they also know their chicks voice among the very many other chicks. But when an adult flies in, even one that isn't your own-- it still seems to grab their attention.
Life on the beach isn't all peachy keen- some parents get taken by predators, peregrines take advantage of such dense numbers of birds. Babies have to compete with their siblings for food- the oldest is usually the largest and strongest. Cats, both feral and outdoor pets can steal babies for food or as a play thing. Babies who venture from their nest close to other terns get a heck of a beating, we witnessed this as they will peck another baby quite vigorously and with no remorse. So among all this cute there were still some trying scenes that we witnessed.

Oystercatchers seem to be everywhere. Some trotted around solo, just outside the colony, as this one did. While others tended to unhatched eggs, half grown chicks, or those just newly hatched.

The common tern chicks with good real estate have tufts of grass to hide within to escape the sun and remain unseen by potential predators.

Others were out in the open. Relying on their mottled, sandy colored down coats, their next best bet is camouflage.

Some parents with open, exposed nests seem to take one for the team. Sitting out in the sun, but having the chick sit on the shadier side of them.

The chicks are a riot to watch, they are very mobile on those little webbed feet, they vocalize, beg, run, hide, and often get themselves into trouble-- I suppose just as any youngster would. 

There are also a lot of moments where it is so hard not to attribute human emotions and feelings. But really, being bonded with your parent as a little, flightless chick is so important in order to be fed, stay safe, and know who to rely on for help, moments like these have value in their survival.

And I think it is okay to "squee" at these things. Having an attachment to nature through emotions, or feeling connected through things that we experience in our human lives is important, especially in getting folks to value and care about these animals-- ultimately resulting in protecting them. So let out your biggest "aww," because, yeah-- it's totally cute and we should continue to ensure that these terns return and grow this colony and others each year as it isn't easy sharing a beach with people.

<3

Oh yeah- and these parents, as tender as they are, also are fierce.

If you visit this beach or ANY nesting colony of birds, respect the boundaries:
1. If there are ropes or posted signs, abide by them, give the birds space. At Nickerson, folks get right up to the rope and the birds are sometimes sitting on nests right behind it, which brings me to...
2. Use common sense, if there is a bird, right behind the rope, sitting or which chicks, back up- provide extra space. When a bird repeatedly dive bombs your head (because they do) take the hint and step off. So many photographers (who are not birders) completely disregard this ethical rule-- and we as well as others asked them to back up and they don't. You have a mondo lens, back up and use it.
3. Don't harass the birds, we also encountered a photographer sitting right at the rope and tossing sand at one of the birds, probably attempting to get its attention. We yelled at him, then approached him, he ignored us-- then we stood and stared-- until he walked off. It is very illegal to do what he did, and it stinks that there is really no one there to enforce that.
4. If you are going to visit the birds, seriously, leave the umbrella, giant rolling cart of gear and other large bulky items at home. Little birds are scared of giant things near their nest and chicks.

Essentially, when you cause a bird to dive you, or be stressed, that bird now is utilizing more energy than it needs on something that it perceives as life threatening. So that means that birds is using up more calories. Which equals the needs to find more food, and so continues the domino affect. So, now lets say a stray cat or hungry falcon comes along-- those birds expending extra energy are more at risk to be caught because someone had to get the perfect shot. Be respectful of your subjects, folks!

Sand lance are little fish that the terms pick right up out of the surf, they are perfect size for their beak and the adults....

... but they seem kind of oddly sized for the chicks.
They are still though very eager o take on the challenge.

This might take a while.
Baby seems to march off so proudly with its prize. Do little baby birds also play with their food? It seems that way-- or maybe it's a struggle as they learn the best way to position a fish to consume. As an adult, they will be able to do this on the wing-- best to start learning on the ground, where your food can't escape back to the water.

Gave up? Or maybe time to try again, while one of the parents picks up the dropped fish.

Alright, take #2!

I make a fairly similar face when large amounts of food are presented to me...

Perhaps this time, we'll get a little help from a parent.

While the other parent cheers baby on. The chick finally did consume the fish that is nearly the same size as it, but it totally took some help from mom and dad.

Resting in the shade, what a good parent.

On the outskirts of the colony, right at the rope barrier, there was a changing of the guard at the oystercatcher nest. It was time for one parent to get up stretch their legs-- maybe grab some food while the other parent takes a turn to sit on the eggs.

It is so cool to watch these birds gingerly come over with their awkwardly long legs to sit ever so gently on their precious eggs.

Its so funny to think they are being so gentle when they barely weigh a pound. Their eggs are so beautiful and it was cool to have a chance to view some different eggs from different species (at a distance).





For areas where there is less grass growing, and therefore less cover, conservation groups monitoring these colonies provide these little boxes. They provide not only shade but cover from aerial predators. These common tern chicks look like they are having a secret meeting inside their little box.

So, above, earlier-- we saw oystercatcher eggs. There were also a few chicks that were a bit older and nearly half grown. They are just so funny looking with their poofy, downy tails.

A stretch of those wings that will one day help this young bird migrate to much farther places.

Bands on their legs identify the bird in the year it hatched, where it hatched - plus additional locations and dates it has been reported after.

Skimmers gathered on their own dune, I liked how these two had their bills crossed. I wonder if they know each other.

They also lay on the ground, in this very funny way.

We noticed some decoys- like this least tern-- with most likely, common tern chicks, gathered near it. These decoys attract birds to the colony to nest, acting like a beacon. Conservationists and researchers do this for many colonial nesters.

One of the parents returns to the chicks in the box.

A tern beach bungalow of sorts...
You can see this box is placed near a pole, one of the barriers marking for people to keep out. This is why I mentioned, ethically, you should even stay back from those because many birds don't follow our rules and nest right at the boundary, such as this one.

The oystercatchers are the noisiest on the beach-- often running to others, or their chicks, or calling as a group flies over. They have a very unique call, that once you hear it, you never forget it.

Piping plover reflections.

When I visited last week- this area was sand. After some heavy rain Friday night through Saturday Morning, a small pool formed. This water was probably quite fresh and many birds were not only searching for food in it, but also bathing.

So previous, you saw the oystercatcher eggs, then the half grown version-- here is what falls in between-- the chick! This little one was running after its parent.

Also, some notes- I am sitting here, preaching on ethics-- but here is my practice:
- I use binoculars, so I can spot stuff from afar and know how to best keep my distance.
- I shot this with a 200-500mm lens, this is at 500mm, still standing a ways away.
- I process my photos in light room- so all the "up-close shots," they are cropped (compare this to above and below).
- If I get dived at (it happens), I take the hint and back off.
- I familiarize myself with behaviors of distress, for these oystercatchers, we observed someone who walked too close ( I truly think they didn't see the baby!). One of the two parents ran off, nosily, trying to distract the attention away from its young. If it lured the danger away, it would get it as far away as possible before taking flight to escape, itself.

So, another highly cropped shot of little oystercatcher catching up to its parents, who have a longer stride and faster pace, at times.

Special treat- a male surf scoter! Last week, I saw a female- the male is pretty amazing and odd looking all at the same time.


Got to see a few least terns, including this one- sitting on some eggs.
Again, this bird nested close to the barriers, and when some folks walked by (just beach goers, passing through) this little pint-sized tern defended their little eggs.

After winning a battle against some beach visitors, the least tern, so tiny and small- returns to its equally tiny and small divot in the ground, acting as its nest.

Considered a threatened species in New York, these birds are protected by law. Some populations within the United States are considered endangered, due to loss of nesting habitat and increased predation by natural and introduced predators.

Another tern baby snuggle pic? No such thing as too many!

And one for the road, adult piping plover and...

Chicks! Again, an uncropped version, shot at 500mm, you can see these little chicks have some super camouflage, often you cannot see them until they run a short distance.

Also, protected by law against approaching these birds, harassing them, or going over to nest sites is all a HUGE no-no.

So bring some binoculars, and check these little guys out from a respectable distance and you will be rewarded with super adorable sights.

Yay for baby birds!!!!