Saturday, July 3, 2010

July 4th, no holiday for nesting shorebirds

The 4th of July is official start of summer, but if you are a shore nesting bird, this time of year can bring tragic loss to young hatchlings, and unhatched eggs without a moments notice.
Offshore islands now become the summer playground for thousands of boaters in the Norwalk area.

With the many boaters, kayakers, surfboarders, PWC operators and others now using the shoreline areas around the islands for their enjoyment, birds species that have set up nesting sites weeks or months ago when all was quiet, are now in jeopardy of losing this years clutch of offspring.

Places like Sandy Point, in West Haven, rely on volunteers to monitor nest sites and keep firework watchers and others from trampling through these areas.

It is no different in the Norwalk Islands, except there are no monitors, the wildlife and vegetation are pretty much on there own out there.
I spent a few hours Friday evening, it could have turned ugly, but that was avoided.
I left Cockenoe Island as the sun was setting, all seemed quiet. But this was just the start of a long weekend!
Click on any photo to enlarge.

An unsuspecting kayaker paddling close to shore, flushed this flock of nesting terns.
This often happens, and the terns put up with it, as long as people don't walk onto or get near the nesting area

This American Oystercatcher fledgling has now reached adult size, but has not grown its flight feathers and cannot fly, it is easy game for a loose pet.

So would this young Killdeer, these birds are less than six inches tall, stones and shells are mountains to them.

This Piping Plover chick is almost invisible with it's surrounding habitat, if they can't run away they will freeze in place. Many are trampled on each year by unsuspecting beach goers.

These recently hatched Common Terns, again very hard to see, can't fly and have very short legs, it would be impossible for them to flee from any predator, including humans, that could walk ontop of them since they become almost invisible with the shoreline.
These are just some of the birds that need our help when we are along remote shorelines.
One loose dog can kill many chicks and eggs, I know, I've seen it happen.
It's up to us, to protect them, and let life move on.

While two of this Herring Gulls siblings walked off into the vegetation after seeing the boat, this one chose a different maneuver, He'll just swim away.

Just opposite the young Herring Gull was a Glossy Ibis feeding in the marsh.
On a recent survey that I was a part of with CT DEP at least five Glossy Ibis nest were found around the Norwalk Islands.
I will report on the others after the nesting season is over.

Willet are becoming more common as most their young have now fledged.
Nice photo to left click on.

The food source was not far away, as a school of bluefish were blasting baitfish near Peck's Ledge Lighthouse.
This was a repetitive route, ongoing throughout the evening by hundreds of terns.

This is of concern, these youngsters were pounding the fragile beach vegetation with sticks.
I gave them a holler and they stopped, but they then started walking off towards the tern nest site.
Fortunately they turned around within just a few hundred feet of the site, and went back to their
campground or boat.
I had visions of this crew treating the terns as pinatas. Oh Boy!
This is why enforcement is needed. Law Enforcement that is, not me!

One thing I do understand is "boys will be boys"

As the sun was setting, I caught this last tern, returning to it's nest.


  1. Love your blog and photography.
    But more and more beaches are off limits because of nesting birds.
    We need a balanced approach that takes the needs of nesting birds and people into consideration.

  2. Hi Anonymous, thanks for the reply.
    With the exception of the extended Long Beach area in Stratford, I don't know of any other beaches that are off limit in lower Fairfield County, but I'm really just in touch with the Norwalk Islands, so please fill me in.
    The sand spit on Cockenoe Is. is just that, at high tide it is tiny island, maybe 2-300 ft x 50ft at best, at low tide a small bar connects it to a part of the main island.
    This is not a beach by any means, it has a rocky, barnacle encrusted shorelines at almost 360 degrees surrounding the spit. Certainly not a comfortable area to put out a beach blanket and catch some rays.

    This area is according to The Town of Westport
    " a fragile natural resource subject to rapid deterioration if overused or abused"
    Believe me, since I was a kid, there is very little left to this sand spit.

    Over a half century ago, a nuclear power plant was very seriously proposed for this island!

    I'm thinking that perhaps it's best if just a few hundred square feet were left alone, for nature to just simply try to reproduce itself?

    As I view the mainland shoreline from my boat,in Fairfield County, what I see is private mansions, houses, marinas, condo's, golf courses, beaches both public and private, power plants, resturants and on and on. It seems to be all about us, with very little space left for anything else.
    I guess nature could reinvent itself and get out of our space, which remarkably it sometimes does,if we could just make shore nesting birds move to the forest to breed,lay eggs and raise their young, that could solve the beach issue, and that is something that may just have to happen in the next several thousand years. Of course a few species may go extinct in the meantime.

    You are correct, there is a balance, but it is not tipping in Nature's favor.


  3. P.S.
    For those asking, all seems to be well out there.
    Many birds are still brooding,and there are a good number of youngsters around the shoreline, these numbers are growing daily.


  4. I am in agreement with Larry's take on the issue of "balance." Take a look at the top photo from "Steve's Birds" blog entry of July 5th. (Larry supplies a link to that blog.)

    If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, than this photo sums it up well.