Monday, January 9, 2012

In Theory and In Practice

[The four winter gulls: Ring-billed, Herring and Bonaparte's in the foreground; a Great Black-backed in the distance. Miami Beach - the one Delaware Bay, not Florida - on Sunday.]

It seemed like a good plan, in theory. Dress in warm camo clothes, nestle into the edge of a dune where the falling tide exposes a sand spit projecting into Delaware Bay, and wait for gulls to congregate on the spit at point blank range, camera at the ready to document all the rarities that appeared. . .

In practice it was a great way to watch gulls floating and flying way out in the bay, and occasionally catch the distant wailing of courting Black Scoters.

That was Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon, I had another theory. I like being at the mouths of inlets as the falling tide nears low.  The theory is the tide sweeping out of the inlet sweeps with it food that might attract fish, and birds that eat fish. Also, if the inlet has a jetty, the falling tide exposes the intertidal zone, the food-encrusted rocks where sandpipers and gulls can pick and probe. For birds that dive, the food on low tide is that much closer to the surface, a shorter dive to the lunch table.

The afternoon theory worked better. I hiked down to the Cold Spring Inlet, the southern terminus of Two Mile Beach, where the Cape May Canal enters the Atlantic. A small but diverse foraging "frenzy" had formed near the tip of the Cold Spring jetty, with 60 or so Bonaparte's Gulls dipping and swooping over a dozen Red-throated Loons, a few Common Loons, and, finally, a Razorbill. The birds were far, and time was short to make my very cautious way out to the end of the jetty, a trek not to be taken lightly, this jetty is way more treacherous than the one at Barnegat Light.

So I passed, contenting myself with scoping the distant birds and photographing the closer Ruddy Turnstones, which did indeed accumulate on the exposed rocks, along with a few Purple Sandpipers and several hundred "large gulls," which in our neck of the woods means almost all Herring Gulls. There were the usual Great Cormorants at the inlet, and a dozen or so American Oystercatchers on the mud at the entrance to the Cape May Harbor. All three scoters were represented, including a somewhat unusual flock of 12 White-winged Scoters with a few Surfs mixed in.

[A bird that could be used in the definition of the adjective "harlequin" - Ruddy Turnstone, Cold Spring jetty on Sunday.]

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