Sunday, June 18, 2017

Beach Babies

     I spent last night at my parent's house in Nassau Co. on Long Island. My sister, her friend, Tim and myself went to see Steve Miller and Peter Frampton play at Jones Beach. What a great show it was, I really LOVE the Steve Miller Band.
     As everyone is hitting the bathrooms before heading home, I waited and saw that there was a Brown Booby in Nassau County. After an evening of tailgating, singing, and dancing-- could I commit to waking up early and getting to Nickerson Beach before they start charging for parking (before 8am)??
     Well, apparently the answer is yes, I think some late night Sonic (yeah, they opened a Sonic at home!) Cheesy Poppers and Tots saved my day. Also, I forgot to delete an alarm for a weekend I worked so I got woken up at 6:30 AM, and I figured, when will it be my chance to ever see such a bird... So, off I went!
     I arrived, as did many others, only to learn the booby perished. I saw it... wrapped up in a bag, to be handed over to whoever would analyze/necropsy (I assume). Not a super duper awesome start, plus it was so hazy, so visibility sucked. But, then things got better...
I try to visit Nickerson Beach in the late spring/summer to see the baby shorebirds. The beach has a protected colony of nesting common terns, least terns, piping plovers, black skimmers, and these little babies belong to the American Oystercatcher.

After finding out the booby had passed, I peered out to the ocean to see 2 Cory's Shearwaters. Without a powerful scope I found it hard to sit and spy for birds coming in and also, it is Father's Day and I wanted to get home to join my dad and my family for breakfast, so I kept my eyes on the action close around me. Plus, I really like observing bird behavior and there was a lot going on right there on the beach.

While looking out to the ocean, a cloud of birds flew suddenly overhead. Black skimmers and common terns took to the air, reminding me of a scene I witnessed last summer. I figured that something similar was happening, a predator was in the area.

Flying off from the cloud, empty-taloned was a peregrine falcon. But what I enjoyed was this American Oystercatcher defiantly telling its unwelcome visitor off and giving chase.

When I think of Oystercatchers, I think of these kind of clunky looking, loud mouths who run and fly from just about anything. This one individual has turned my image of oystercatchers upside down. I suppose when you are a parent you do all sorts of crazy things, all in the name of your kids.

This is the oystercatcher I know, eyeing me, wondering which way I am heading so that it can walk in the opposite direction.

I really like black skimmers, they remained in flight after the peregrine left the scene, flying as a group out over the sand, over the waves and then circling back.

Their long wings make flying effortless and this bird clearly belongs in the air, because on the ground they look so... well, you'll see.

A common tern takes a break to preen. The terns were busy catching fish in the sand where the surf would just come up. I didn't see any babies yet, but there were a lot of sitting adults. So I assume fish were being brought back to mostly feed their sitting mate.

In the waves close to shore a female surf scoter scooted by, parallel to the beach. A nice, unexpected sight.

A common tern fluffs out its feathers after standing up.

An American oystercatcher, presumably sitting on eggs?

So about black skimmers and how they are best for flight, this is how absurdly ridiculous they look when grounded. Their long wings, longer than their body, their pill-shaped head and chest, absurdly tiny feet and an equally absurdly long bill. It must be a challenge to stand and not tip over!

But for as absurd as they look, I think they are so stinkin' cute!


A baby oystercatcher perched up on a lifeguard bench.

When at rest, these guys will sit on/next to anything they can find. I suppose some of the anthropomorphic features of the beach help with that. Not sure how well its working for its camouflage game...

This young oystercatcher is banded, it's easiest to band these little ones as they cannot fly and can easily be handled and have the bands safely put on them by various researchers, local universities or wildlife groups such as Audubon.
The bands will help the researcher learn more about the life of this bird as bands can be reported. Every report will help the researcher know if the bird is alive or dead, where it has been sighted and where it goes throughout its lifetime.

My favorite part of this morning though had to be the plovers, the piping plovers made up for the unfortunate end of the Brown Booby. Because....

BEHBEHS!!!!!! Just do you understand how tiny this guy is-- the parent (above) is sparrow-sized... this guy is like 2-3 cotton balls running around on toothpicks.

Many of these shorebirds, when born are fairly independent-- meaning they can run around and seek cover, feed themselves (if food is around them), and their eyes are open upon hatching. I mean, it makes sense, really-- think about raising babies in open spaces-- whether the beach or the savannah, especially if you are considered a prey species, it's best your babies can get a move-on and rely on parents more-so for muscle and protection.

Did my heart melt--- oh you freakin' bet it did.

When the parent walked further off or flew, the babies immediately know to find something to sit near and remain still. At this moment, an oystercatcher flew over head- the parents are taking no chances.
These dried up pieces or seaweed were decent enough to nestle up to for comfort and safety.



Babies also use their parents for shelter. Both mom and dad raise the chicks.

Time to gather the troops!

1...

...

...

*insert that quiey-we're-in-public, angry mom voice* "You get in here, RIGHT NOW."

ohhhkay.

...

and 3!

Babies are hidden under their protective parent, giving everyone a bit of respite.

(this is when I began to quietly "squee" to myself....)

These birds used to be considered endangered, humans being their biggest threat. Obviously they love the beach too, but it's actually like, important that they are there- so they can reproduce. Driving on the beach, dogs, cats we have let live outside, rats we attract with our trash, and just our general usage of the beach really put a strain on these animals.
Populations have been getting better with help from conservationists and laws made. On this beach colonies are roped off, go past the ropes and a hefty fine will come your way. Also if you go past the ropes-- you will get attacked by birds, they dive bomb you outside the ropes! Plover nests in particular are caged off to keep people and cats/rats/raccoons out.



And then, its back to survival. And it was also time for me to go hang out with my dad and enjoy a nice breakfast out with him and my family.