Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Whiskered Tern!!

For the second month in a row, a very rare code 5 bird was found in the lower 48 states.  Last Friday Louise Zemaitis discovered a whiskered tern feeding over Bunker Pond at Cape May Point State Park.  The platform at the pond is a well known hawk watch counting spot in the fall.  This is only the 3rd documented whiskered tern in the ABA area with the last visitor being recorded in 1998.  The whiskered tern breeds in parts of Europe and winters in Africa.  All of the documented sightings in the U.S. have occurred in the summer/early fall at Cape May with the 1993 bird apparently moving over to Delaware for a period of time before disappearing.

As soon as I saw the NARBA report on the the tern, I wanted to make the drive from Chapel Hill to Cape May, but knew I could not leave before Sunday afternoon because of house guests.  Dan and Doreene called me on Friday to see if I was going to try for the tern.  They left Columbus, OH Saturday morning with Laura Keene (the first 3 photos in today's blog were taken by her; click on any photo to enlarge), and Jay Lehman.  They made it to Cape May in time to see the tern late that afternoon, and then went back the next morning to see it again.

Neil Hayward drove down Saturday morning from Boston, and was looking at the tern by mid afternoon.  He left to drive back home before the Ohio contingent arrived.  In the photo above the whiskered tern is standing by itself in the very center of the frame facing to the left, and in the photo below it is in the center flying to the left over the pond.

 I was able to get on the road Sunday by 1:30 PM, and made it to Vineland, NJ by 9 where I spent the night.  I was up at 5 AM and reached the park by 6:30.  There were already a 1/2 dozen birders scoping the pond.  One of them was Paul Hurtado who I had met last May at Magee Marsh in Ohio.  Another birder I know, Barrett Pierce, was also there.  Paul, Barrett and I walked out to the beach to check to see if the whiskered tern was roosting there with the other terns. 

We had not been scanning the flock for even 5 minutes when Paul and I saw the whiskered tern fly in and land.  We phoned the birders back on the platform.  While we waited for them to arrive, the flock was spooked, but returned fairly quickly.  Pretty soon we had 15-20 of us lined up (my photo), but we now needed to relocate the tern, which we did after a couple of minutes.  Some of the group were having a hard time picking it out of the larger flock, but eventually everyone got on it.  After about 15 minutes, the flock flushed again, and when they returned, the whiskered tern was not refound.  Since I had a long drive back home, I decided to leave.  I saw reports from later in the day that it was seen off and on at the beach, and over the pond throughout the day, and it was reported on the beach again this AM.  Almost a 1000 miles of driving proved to be most worthwhile!