Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nummy Island & Environs: Herons, Terns, Pelicans + thoughts on Whimbrel

[Laughing Gull pair with two chicks, near Nummy Island on Tuesday night, June 23. Photo by Don Freiday, click to enlarge.]

I kayaked the vicinity of the free bridge to Nummy Island yesterday evening, checking the Laughing Gull colony after recent flooding, and the heron rookery on the shrub island west of Stone Harbor, which is visible if you look north from the free bridge and also from a couple of the back streets that run out to Great Channel from Stone Harbor.

Many of the gulls have been flooded out, but the ones on the higher creek banks are doing fine. I saw one nest with 4 downy young, most had 2 (the published average clutch is 3), and many adults still sat on nests, either covering eggs or downy young. The din from the colony is extraordinary.

The heron rookery mentioned above seems to have all the expected species except perhaps Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, although even circling the island with a kayak I could only see two nests, both of Great Egret. Up to 10 Snowy Egrets sat in trees, and at least 3 Little Blue Herons and 1 Tri-colored Heron were in the area, although these I did not see actually in the trees, only flying past nearby. Nest construction is still underway, with ibis and Great Egrets bringing in nesting material. There was the usual evening changing of the guard, with day herons flying in and night-herons flying out (I counted about 15 Black-crowned). It was reminiscent of the good old days with the rookery between 2nd and 3rd Avenue in Stone Harbor, though the numbers of birds are much lower.

[Glossy Ibis carrying nesting material to rookery near Stone Harbor Tuesday night, June 23. Photo by Don Freiday, click to enlarge.]

I encountered about 5 Royal Terns, and three Brown Pelicans came sailing in off the ocean, quite high, and continued north, an interesting observation given Tom Reed's report of 3 pelicans in Cape May earlier in the day.

Tom's Whimbrel Monday (June 22) gets my vote as a southbound migrant, even though the earliest record in Sibley's The Birds of Cape May is June 28. If true, it is the first bona fide southbound bird of the summer I've heard about.

Conditions in the eastern arctic are apparently abysmal, with a very late spring and extensive snow cover well into June from James Bay northward, which is going to mean a very poor nesting year for shorebirds and Arctic geese. This may also send some of these species south even earlier than normal. After a relatively good spring on the bayshore, horseshoe crab egg-wise, this is a darn shame, it seems unlikely birds like Red Knots and Sanderlings will nest successfully this year.

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