Friday, July 30, 2010

Least Terns, is the third nesting attempt the charm?

With amazement, I found seventeen Least Terns today on the Cockenoe Island sand spit sitting on nest, the amazing part is that this is their third nesting attempt this season, with seventy five of the eighty nest having been wiped out by extra high tides during June and July's new moon phases.

I knew they were renesting, and again thought this will be for naught, when something happened... I was following Common Terns bringing fish back to shore for their hungry offspring.

A Least Tern passes close bye with a fish and I follow it to the nest, figuring he's providing nourishment to its mate sitting on the nest, the mate quickly move off the nest to accept this gift, this broke the cover for what was sitting under its wing.

Out of no where pops up this tiny hatchling, WOW! Through all their nest failures, this very late nesting attempt is producing young, she went back to sitting on the nest and the youngster stayed close by. We will continue to monitor these late nest for as long as it takes.

Common Terns have now fledged several hundred youngsters on this tiny area, but they still have aways to go, at least forty are still nesting and there are many hatchlings at various stages on the island. In this photo a butterfish? is being fed to the oldest chick, but lets look deeper into this photo.

This cropped closeup shows four chicks in all, in different stages of development.

To the right of the chick being fed, is a stone, between that stone and the next obvious older chick are two much smaller, very hard to notice smaller chicks. Click on the image to enlarge, its not clean at that magnification, but the birds are there, hope you can see them.

What I had many photos of were this years, begging young Common Terns, the parent to the right seemed disgusted with this, and tried its best to walk off, yet the youngster kept following, finally the adult flew off, for some peace and quite, or to bring back some food?

Besides the terns, there are many other visitors here, including this pair of Willet coming in for a landing.

We also had an alternate plumage Red Knot on the shoreline, this bird flew by at close range, I was not able to photograph it, nor could we relocate it after two hours of trying.
Also seen was several looks at a Roseate Tern feeding near the island.
There are large amounts of baitfish close to the island, with feeding frenzy's all around.
More time needs to be spent around these feeding free for alls, I'm sure there are other birds that I am missing.

A number of Laughing Gulls were loafing along the shore line, these three are in different stages of molting, a nice comparison.

Semipalmated, whether it be Plover as in this photo, or the many hundreds of Sandpiper

were an easy spot along the shoreline.

I'm thinking this is the neatest, coolest dance new dance going on in the islands.

I don't know what it is called... the Oystercatcher Shuffle?

And then there were two! My favorite nest, the one that we have been following, three were there as we approached, it happened, the oldest hopped off the nest, skimmed the water and slowly gained altitude, flew off to perch on a pole next to dad.

The bird to the right is practicing lift, but is not ready yet, the youngster to the left seems to be wondering what this wing flapping is all about, I give him one more week and he'll have it down pat.

This one was flapping its wings with out lifting off, encouraging the other chicks to do the same.

I'm sure you have seen the movie Jurassic Park, recall the Velociraptors?

It's easy to see what this bird evolved from, and they still even call them raptors today, imagine that?

Here is a crop of the above photo, a nice look at the business end. You can also see that well known "reversible outer toe" this is the toe closest to and facing you.

By reversible, the Osprey can hold this toe out to the side as it is doing in the photo, or move it forward, perching with three toes forward and one back as most other raptors do.

By moving the toe to the side it allows the Osprey to carry fish, two toes in, and two toes outside of the fish, better gripping power and more aerodynamic.

Owls also have the ability to do this.


  1. Very cool stuff Larry. Do you think that there is any chance that one or two pairs of Roseate Tern nested among the Common Terns on Cockenoe? There are older records of Roseate Terns nesting there, among the Commons. Most likely the Roseates which you observed came down from Falkner's Island.
    There have been large numbers of terns around the mouth of the Housatonic, many of which are banded. My guess would be that these are from the tern colony on Falkner's Island. There are plenty of juveniles among them and they are largely getting their own fish now, rather than depending upon a parent.

  2. Many of these Common Terns are also banded, I have not seen any Roseate's on the island, just this one, mixed in with the flocks of feeding terns.