Sunday, August 12, 2007

Trans-peninsula cycling, heron "fly-out," Royal and Sandwich Terns

I decided to get in some early morning cycling to beat the oppressive Sunday beach traffic, and left my house on the Delaware Bay side of the Cape May Penninsula when it was still dark, headed for Stone Harbor. A Great-horned Owl called from the Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, just down the street.

I passed the big woods along Indian Trail just at first light, and slowed to listen for a bit. The woods produced only a Carolina Wren and the often overwhelming quiet of neotropical migrants that have finished nesting for the year. This spot has Kentucky Warbler, or had last May, among other quality nesters. Unfortunately, a sand mine proposal threatens Indian Trail, a project NJAS has been opposing under the leadership of Cristina Frank of our IBBA program.

One of the reasons for cycling to Stone Harbor is to get a chance to ride the only things that pass for hills down here: the bridges! The biggest of these is the one from the mainland to North Wildwood, and while it's not exactly High Point, the view from the top is an impressive landscape of salt marsh and channels, pocked with islands of shrubs where herons and egrets nest. The sun hadn't risen yet, and lots of egrets and a fair number of Black-crowned Night-Herons were in the air, going and coming, respectively. It reminded me of the good old days at the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary, former home to a large rookery, where you could go at dawn or dusk to watch the "changing of the guard." The herons and egrets are still here (though Tri-colored numbers seem to have fallen), but now they nest in smaller, scattered colonies.

As I crested the bridge a Royal Tern passed carrying a ~4" fish, headed straight for Champagne Island where it must have a fairly big chick waiting for a fish that size. It was a little surprising to see a Royal that apparently had been foraging inshore, since they mostly feed in the ocean. Yesterday I saw an adult Royal with a recently fledged youngster on the bayside at Norbury's Landing, the first of this species I've seen out there this summer. That parent and young undoubtedly came up from a southern colony and are not part of the Champagne Island group.

I must have picked the right time to cross the bridge, because on the descent two Sandwich Terns passed headed in the opposite direction of the Royal - how lucky can you get. It was a bit of surprise to this species away from the barrier beach and ocean, too. There have been swarms of small bluefish in all the back channels and bays of late, pushing baitfish to the surface, perhaps that explains it.

Hordes of Boat-tailed Grackles chattered and squeaked in the cedars near the marina on the south side of the Nummy Island toll bridge. I thought for a moment I was hearing Purple Martins from the cedars, an odd place for such, and concluded the "cheewp" notes were coming from young boat-taileds.

Nothing unusual appeared on the run from the toll bridge north to Stone Harbor and back, which is to say "all" I saw were many Common Terns, Black Skimmers, American Oystercatchers, egrets, gulls, shorebirds in passing flocks pushed back by the rising tide . . . the whole complex of wetland/barrier beach/inlet and channel surrounding Nummy Island and Hereford Inlet is undoubtedly one of the most fertile and important bird areas in the state.

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