Sunday, July 8, 2012


[The distinctive silhouette of a Yellow-crowned Night-heron perched on a dock rail near Avalon at dawn - longer legs than a Black-crowned, with a solid, heavier bill. Saturday July 7, 2012, Stite's Sound, NJ.]

'"You'll hate me at 4:30 and love me at 6:00." These were the words used to convince my companions that the best way to enjoy Saturday outdoors was to be on the water at dawn, and off the water before the crazy heat and crazy boaters took control. And that's what we did, putting our kayaks in by 5:30 a.m and paddling down to Towsend's Inlet, near the site of the Avalon seawatch, and back around through Stite's Sound, getting off the water by noon, when the mercury had already climbed to 99 degrees.

[First summer Black-bellied Plover, Stite's Sound mudlfats at dawn on Saturday.]

 We encountered a few dozen southbound migrant shorebirds, mainly Short-billed Dowitchers but also Least Sandpipers, both Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and a few Black-bellied Plovers. All of the latter were in non-breeding plumage and presumed first-summer birds - individuals that likely didn't make it all the way to their Canadian breeding grounds, or if they did, did not actually breed. Southbound post-breeding adults will show much more breeding plumage.

 [Adult breeding Common Tern, leaving its Stite's Sound breeding colony on Saturday to find a mummichog or other fish for its offspring. Common Terns at this season can be told from Forster's "easily" by the gray of their underparts - Forster's are white below in all seasons.]

Yes, there are greenhead flies and mud in the back bays, but the rich life draws naturalists back again and again. Tern colonies, gull colonies, heron colonies, shorebird-riddled mudflats, banks packed with ribbed mussels, Ospreys overhead, fish swirling beneath, grunting sentinel Clapper Rails - the coastal cornucopia.
[Gull-billed Tern near Stite's Sound north of the Avalon Causeway on Saturday. Long-winged, short-tailed, very white, and of course the black, heavy bill.]

Near one Forster's Tern colony we saw multiple Gull-billed Terns and heard more "ka-ruck" ing (the call is higher than a Black Skimmer's but similar). Presumably at least a few pairs of Gull-billeds are nesting among the Forster's north of the Avalon Causeway.
 [Forster's Tern perched near a nest, situated typically on"wrack" - piles of debris from dead vegetation thrown up on the high marsh by the highest spring tides.]

[At work we're developing a salt marsh exhibit, and needed to collect dozens of Ribbed Mussel shells to depict the salt marsh bank and the mussel's role in stabilizing it. Inside one dead mussel we found this little female Fiddler Crab.]


  1. I've seen a number of Forster's Terns this year (in San Diego, where Commons are rare and do not summer) that sport the same gray underparts their Common cousins are known for. Clearly, they haven't read the field guides.

    Salt marshes are fascinating ecosystems...and we don't have the biting flies here!

  2. Steve - Interesting - truly gray below? Do they at least have orange bills and frosty upperwings?

  3. Here is one of them: not solid gray throughout the underparts but you can see what I'm talking about: