Monday, July 2, 2012

Anyone fancy a Sandwich?

While driving Out East on Long Island on Thursday, I get a call from Shaibal Mitra who has a Sandwich Tern in view on the flats at Cupsogue.  I'm only 45 minutes away, so I re-route, but within minutes he calls back to say that a mosquito-spraying helicopter has come by and cleared the flats completely, with the Sandwich Tern last seen heading East.  And so a weekend of searching for Sandwich Tern begins ....

Sandwich Terns aren't all that rare in New York, but they certainly aren't common and you do have to go and look for them.  They drop by the flats and tern colonies along the Long Island beaches in Summer each year and sometimes, as after Hurricane Irene last year, can be quite regular.  In other years though, they aren't as abundant and could be missed, so I wanted to try to get this species while it was being reported.

On Friday, I'm offshore on a boat in the morning, battling 8-10 foot swells and not seeing much in the way of sea-birds, so of course when I get back to land I hear that almost every East End birder has seen one or more of perhaps three Sandwich Terns at Cupsogue during the day.   Against my better judgement, I head over there at the high tide, missing the last report by 45 minutes and again dipping the Sandwich Terns.

Red Knots

I have something of a love-hate relationship with Cupsogue.  On the plus side, the birds are great and I spend three hours there on Friday night enjoying large numbers of shorebirds, including Red Knots, White-rumped Sandpipers, etc.  There are also good breeding birds to see, like Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows, and I even add a Suffolk County year-bird when a Little Blue Heron flies over.  On the downside, Cupsogue is crowded, costs $15 to park, requires a hike through, well let's just call it "mud", has rapidly shifting tides, and a healthy population of ferocious biting insects.  Not everyone's idea of an ideal day at the beach.

White-rumped Sandpiper and Semipalmated Sandpiper
Saturday, and round three with Cupsogue.  Even though I know that the evening and the rising tide will be better (based on an Andrew Baksh post from the night before), I'm restricted to a morning visit and decide to give it a try anyway.  There are lots of birders, and lots of terns, including Roseates and a few Royal Terns, but no Sandwich Tern, at least while I'm there.  In fact, no-one sees one on Saturday, so I'm wondering if the birds have moved on.

Saltmarsh Sparrow
Sunday presents a last chance to try the flats and I arrive at 3:30pm to find Seth Ausubel leaving the flats after an epic all day session.  I can't get out as far as I want to due to the rapidly rising tide, so I make a strategic retreat, stopping and scanning as I work my way back to dry land.  When I get there, and clamber out onto the muddy trail-head, I turn for one last scan, and pick up a distant Sandwich Tern!  After many hours of scanning the flats, it popped up just as I was about to give in and call it a day.   I get some truly horrible iPhone shots at 60x through the scope, call Seth (who unfortunately is well on his way back towards the City) and then squelch up the trail and back to the car.  New York year bird #323, and perhaps Cupsogue isn't such a bad place after all ....

Sandwich Term with Common Tern

1 comment:

  1. Well done Anthony!!! You got it using the same technique that Shai taught me. Always take that one last look before getting entirely off the flats. You are re-writing the script on how to do a big year and I am enjoying reading/hearing about your exploits. I will tell you, I called it at the beginning of the year when I found out you were doing a big year. I won't tell you what # I predicted because of my own superstitions, but when its all over, I shall share that with you. Best of luck man!!! Just do it!!!!