Cook’s Beach Birds

The highest density of birds we saw at one place during the  Cape May Spring (birding) Festival was at Cook’s Beach. They are drawn to the beach by the horseshoe crab eggs – rich food to fatten them up before they continue north on their migration.  I took lots of pictures and was challenged to select the ones I would include in this post. I took a sequence when something startled the birds and they took off – swirled around and landed again. The beach seemed very full even when there were a lot of birds in the air.

In some places the gulls seemed to dominate and there were a lot of horseshoe crabs still around. The Laughing Gulls (black head) and larger Herring Gulls are easy to distinguish.

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Sometimes it was a large group of just Laughing Gulls.

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I got my best picture of a cormorant of the festival at the beach. The birds were on the pilings – not the beach – and seemed to be observing the ruckus on the beach. The out-of- focus birds in the foreground are Ruddy Turnstones. The gull is probably a second year Herring Gull.

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This picture includes Forster’s Terns (the black and white birds) and Ruddy Turnstones on the pilings – preening. The Ruddy Turnstones look rounded…probably are already fattening up.

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There is a back of Ruddy Turnstone on the beach in this picture….and the bird facing the camera is a Red Knot. Both birds are a little larger than the other shorebirds.

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The crowd of birds in the picture below are all Red Knots.  The birds with reddish color are in breeding plumage. The others are non-breeding. Note that two seem to be making eye contact.

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I liked this lineup of Herring Gulls, with the mature bird in front and sitting…the immatures standing behind.

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How many birds can you recognize in the picture below:

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The easy ones are laughing gull, red knot, and ruddy turnstone. There are some smaller shorebirds in the mix as well.

I couldn’t resist one botanical picture as we headed back to the car – a rose growing where vegetation meets the beach.

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Two Mile Beach

There were other sights beside the oystercatchers and whelks at Two Mile Beach  during the Cape May Spring (birding) Festival .

A Horseshoe crab heavily encrusted with barnacles had dug into the beach to survive until the next high tide. They can survive for quite a few hours that way. Our guide from the US Fish and Wildlife Service removed the sand from around it. The crab had already died unfortunately….very sad. It would have been exciting to carry a living crab down to the water’s edge. It was interesting to learn that all the older crabs accumulate barnacles. It changes the look of their shell (do the barnacles block some of their senses as well? I didn’t think to ask.

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There was a young Herring Gull at the edge of the water getting lunch. Is that a small horseshoe crab? It’s a crab rather than a bivalve or fish for sure.

And there was an adult Herring Gull nearby.

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The whelks were not the only kind of marine snail on the beach.

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A smelly carcass of a dead whale was also on the beach. From far away it looked like a rock but as we got closer the smell wafted around us. Closer still and we saw the flies. It was too deteriorated to determine the type of whale. One flipper looked less decayed…a little swollen.

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On a more positive note – a piping plover was investigating the beach. The male was making courtship scratches in the sand. Maybe they will nest on the beach. It used to be a place that plovers nested but it’s not happened in recent years.

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As we walked back toward the dune path, I noticed an odd lump with black markings in the sand. I zoomed in with my camera – a ghost crab! We had been seeing their holes with the remains of their dinners scattered around all over the beach. They are predators and their color camouflages with the sand. The black eyestalks were what I noticed first.

My husband commented that the guides we’ve had that are staff at a National Wildlife Refuge (at Bosque del Apache, Sevilleta, and Two Mile Beach) have all been excellent. I agree with his assessment.

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

We visited Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge last weekend…an afternoon and the next morning. The afternoon was very wet so the picture of the visitor center sigh with plants growing through it was taken the next morning in the sunshine.

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The growth around the visitor center was very green…dogwoods were in bloom and pine pollen was everywhere.

The growth around the visitor center was very green…dogwoods were in bloom and pine pollen was everywhere.

On the first day we drove down the main road toward the beach. It was raining and we didn’t try to take any pictures. The wildlife loop is only open to cars after 3 PM and there was a lull in the rain about that time. We started around. I noticed thistles in bloom (attractive to bees),

Heard lots of red-winged blackbirds and managed to photograph one eventually,

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And photographed a glossy ibis almost out of camera range.

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Near the end of the wildlife loop there were a few of the Chincoteague ponies munching on the wet grass….about that time is started raining again and we headed to our hotel for the night.

The next morning was very breezy and almost cold. Our trip to one of the islands in the Chesapeake Bay was cancelled – winds made it unsafe for small boats. So – we bundled up and headed to the beach at Chincoteague. It is a narrower stretch of sand than when we first saw it more than 35 years ago and when we flew kites here with our daughter about 20 years ago. The gulls were not flying. Only the laughing gulls were at the beach and they were on the ground near the parking lot rather than at the water’s edge.

It was a little disappointing to see only people and roiling water at the beach.

As we started back, we saw a few herring gulls in shallow water protected by the dunes.

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The group of birds a little ways from the herring gull was the high point of the morning at Chincoteague: royal terns and black skimmers (and laughing gulls)!

I’ll post later about the egrets and a heron we saw at Chincoteague. Even with the rain and doing most of our photography using the car as a blind, my husband and I both enjoyed the spring birding opportunities at Chincoteague.

Another Florida Beach

After lunch at Dixie Crossroads, we headed over to a beach close to Titusville: Cherie Down Park in Cape Canaveral. It was a breezy cloudy day….a little cold. There were people fishing from the beach. At first it didn’t seem like there were very many birds. In some ways that made it easier to photograph the ones that were there.

The Sanderling at the water’s edge was the first bird I noticed.

The Ruddy Turnstone kept moving about. I’m not sure whether I photographed the same bird twice or it was two birds.

A Ring-billed Gull surveyed the beach from a pile of sand in the beach replenishment project area.

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Further away a Lesser Black-Backed Gull and Herring Gull were doing the same.

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A Pigeon posed with fluffed feathers…protection against the cold wind.

Lots of Brown Pelicans flew by.

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I managed to catch a sequence of a group as it went by. The ones with white heads are the mature birds…the brown heads are juveniles.

A Willet walked along the water’s edge.

Just before we left a group of Black Skimmer’s flew by…a good high point for the last of the field trip.

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Gull Fly-in

The rain was over by mid-day and by midafternoon we headed out to our second activity of our day at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival: a gull fly-in at Daytona Beach Shores. We met at the Frank Reardon Park and headed down the wooden steps to the beach. There were already a lot of gulls collecting on the wetter part of the beach.

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There were primarily three kinds: Ring-Billed gulls (white head with the black band on their short/slim yellow bills, yellow legs, juveniles are motley brown and gray with a pink bill and legs),

Laughing gulls (head in winter is a blurry gray rather than black as it is in summer, legs are reddish black or black). In the picture below there is a juvenile ring-billed gull behind the laughing gulls. Note that the ring billed gull is larger.

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Herring gulls (white head, yellow eyes, dull pink legs, juveniles are mottled brown). The herring gull is toward the back in the picture below with laughing gulls in the foreground. Note that the Herring Gull is larger than then laughing gulls (and the ring-billed gulls).

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All the birds were preening after spending the day feeding at the landfill. They gather at the beach in large numbers late in the day to rest and clean up before heading out to sea for the night.  There was a peregrine falcon that swooped down from one of the high-rise resorts on the beach periodically – causing the gulls to fly up in a cloud. I got a sequence of shots of one such event.

In the distance – close to the horizon – a parasitic jaeger was making dives and swoops going after gulls in the water. There were also pelicans that flew by. I stayed focused on the gulls as the light began to fade. I got a portrait of a laughing gull in the water.

The sky began to reflect the sunset colors and it was time to call it a day.

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