Sunday, May 20, 2012

Nummy and Cook's

 [American Oystercatcher nest, Nummy Island, NJ on Saturday, May 19.]

Saturday was a bright blue day, a bit windy perhaps but otherwise a fine day for picture taking, if not fishing, which had been my first intent over at Stone Harbor. Between the stiff NE wind and apparent absence of fish - I saw not one tern plunge - photography took over.

Quite accidentally, I found an American Oystercatcher nest on Nummy Island by bumping the incubating bird off the nest. I felt bad, but backed off and she, or he (both sexes incubate) quickly returned and settled on the two splotchy eggs. Presuming the clutch is complete at two, this is likely a renest, since on first nestings oystercatchers ordinarily lay 3 eggs. Which is still less than the 4 that is the norm for shorebirds. Unlike most shorebirds, oystercatcher chicks get fed for a long time by their parents, which likely explains why the species lays a smaller clutch. The chicks must learn how to crack a shellfish, or slice the adductor muscle, not a simple matter and one that requires a fully developed bill.

[This American Oystercatcher quickly returned to its nest once I backed away. The nest is little more than two eggs layed on a pile of wrack, mainly broken phragmites stalks deposited by the high tide.]

American Oystercatchers have made a shift in their preferred nesting habitat. They still nest on beaches where they can, which isn't many places. Most now nest on the salt marsh, often on piles of wrack deposited by flood tides.

While watching for fish activity, I cruised the Nummy Island causeway looking for birds. This is a fine thing to do, since the causeway crossing this "Island"  of salt marsh between North Wildwood and Stone Harbor has a wide shoulder. Just make sure you are all the way off the roadway when you stop.

I've been coming to Nummy and vicinity for a long, long time, since the 1980's, and although the nearby Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary heron rookery has been abandoned since the mid-90's, the island is an excellent place to find wading birds. The herons apparently abandoned the rookery thanks to predators, especially a pair of Great-horned Owls, but still nest on clumps of trees and shrubs on islands nearby.

[Much scarcer than Great and Snowy Egrets, this Tricolored Heron at Nummy Island on Saturday. What an amazing bill on this small heron, which looks bigger when seen alone than the 26" long it actually measures (and a lot of that is bill). Snowy Egret is about the same size, while the Great Egret at 39" towers over both.]

Spring shorebirds often accumulate on Nummy Island at high tide, and there were a fair number of Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Whimbrel, and plenty of the breeding Willets.

 [Black-bellied Plover on Nummy Island - en route to Nunavut for nesting.]

[Ospreys are pretty much all incubating eggs right now.]

After Nummy it was a short hop across the Peninsula to Cook's Beach and its shorebirds. Cook's is one of the better viewing sites for the shorebird/horseshoe crab phenomenon, and an excellent place to see Seaside Sparrow and Clapper Rail, too. The beach itself is closed, but it is possible to walk down to water's edge right at the end of the road and look north or south along the bay. A falling tide seems best there.

 [Red Knots trade back and forth past the end of the road at Cook's Beach.]

 [Three of the other main horseshoe crab egg-eaters: Ruddy Turnstone, top left, Sanderling center, and Semipalmated Sandpiper, right.]

[Seaside Sparrows are singing vigorously now (unlike Saltmarsh Sparrows which, truth be told, never sing vigorously but are at least more active from June on.]

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