Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Plymouth Beach

On Monday my wife and I went down to Plymouth to have a seafood lunch and walk on the beach. On Tuesday I came back and walked the entire stretch of the barrier beach at low tide. Complete awesomeness.

Ah, shorebirds. "What are those birds?" my wife asked as we walked along and I paused to take photos.
"Some sort of sandpiper," I answered. "I'm guessing semipalmated." (I'm pretty sure about this, but not completely confident).
I showed her the Peterson's "peep" sandpiper page when we got home. She laughed. "How can anyone tell these apart?"
I think she understands. At any rate, here they are:

Say, is there something different about this last one?

On the walk back, we took the sandy road over private property that drivers of 4 wheel drive vehicles can use to get further up the beach. Good views of the nesting least terns.

But we had only made it up halfway up the beach (to the cross-over) before we had to turn back and I was intrigued at one might be at the end. A post on MASSBIRD had indicated a bunch of interesting birds at the point, including black skimmers and black terns.

So there I was on a beautiful Tuesday morning, low low tide, walking up the beach again.

At that time of day and tide, it was the usual suspects, though I'm never sad to see semipalmated plovers.

Plus semipalmated friend. (Not really. Later I spotted a little anti-plover sandpiper aggression.)

And piping plovers. This time some nice individual looks.

And a group portrait.

Plus our recent friend, the least tern.

With a special bonus of recently fledged immature least tern (colored just like a piping plover).

But the real action was up at the point, where hundreds of common terns and laughing gulls were grouped on the beach. Making an incredible noise.

Laughing gulls first.

Like all gulls, a bird of many cycles. Here are some non-breeding, but somewhat older ones.

But here is a sample of the group on the beach. A mix of adult and immature, recently fledged birds.

Which means very protective parents (about which I will speak momentarily).

Hundreds of common terns.

Here the game is to scan through the commons to see if you spot a relative exotic like an arctic or a roseate. You are welcome to try.

Hmmm. In the back there, at the boundary between terns and gulls. Something dark. Could that be a black tern? Or is it just a immature laughing gull in tricky lighting?

In fact, I did end up seeing a black tern flying across the beach (no photo though). What a gorgeous treat--jet black in front, lighter in back.

The excitement of the day: a mix of embarrassment and terror. [Play this as the soundtrack--BTW, I tried to filter out the motor boat, but too much and the laughing gull goes away] To check to see if I could find the skimmers, I walked on to the actual point of the beach. (I had seen a beach-goer casually sitting there earlier). Big mistake. I tried to stay clear of the terns and gulls, but they apparently didn't see it that way. First the dive-bombing terns, who attack from behind and wait until they are right on you before they unleash their piercing "KRAAAGH!" Then the laughing gulls, who don't dive-bomb as much fly right at you at eye-level, and twist their "laugh" into something loud and scary. Nerves shot and face red, I walked back down the beach. (Meanwhile some fellow watchers-of-birds were watching this happen from a safe point on the edge. Aha, another point in favor of the spotting scope. You can find your black skimmers without getting attacked.) To add insult to injury, the least terns came after me (same mode of attack as their larger cousins) while I was on the perfectly legitimate sandy road back to the parking lot.

The truth is, I don't mind so much. They are perfectly justified in their aggression. And it's actually good to see how effectively they claim and own their territory. I'm actually more embarrassed at causing such a fuss and stressing out the birds. Nevertheless, the day was great. I'm looking forward to the shorebird migration in August (though I'm going to have to bone up on my shorebird ID cues).