Sunday, August 12, 2018

August 11 - Bridled Tern and other birds on Great Gull Island

There continues to be a pretty good seabird show around Great Gull Island. It is not as spectacular as in recent weeks but compared to most years it is very good. The star continues to be the adult Bridled Tern hanging out at the northeast corner of the island. This tropical species, whose closest nesting colony is in the Dry Tortugas at the end of the Florida Keys, has now been here for nine days. It is possible it has been here longer since we don’t go to the eastern end of the island every day at this time of the year. Pictures of the bird can be found on my posts for August 3 and August 5. Since Sean Sime first spotted it I have made at least one trip a day to check that it is still here. Usually it is just a quick visit to the north side of the Big Gun Emplacement and once I see the Bridled I leave the area.

The shearwater show has slowed considerably, especially since last Sunday. Most days this past week there have only been a handful seen each day. Today, however, the stormy weather and easterly winds have picked up the numbers again. In the morning, watching from the Dock Blind I could see a number of shearwaters flying around the fishing boats in the Race between Little Gull Island and Fishers Island. Originally, Cory’s Shearwaters predominated, easily outnumbering Great Shearwaters. On August 3rd the relative numbers started to shift and now it is about five to one Greats over Cory’s. Around sunset Helen and I were watching from the Dock Blind again and two Great Shearwaters came in fairly close to the island on the north side west of the old dock. I got a few pictures, but the light was dim.

One of the highlights of the afternoon and early evening were the Parasitic Jaegers that at time chase the feeding terns west of the island. In the late afternoon I spotted three Parasitics west of the island – it looked like two adults and an immature. I have seen a group matching this composition periodically over the last ten days. Late in the day there was an immature Parasitic and a dark phase Parasitic west of the island. In addition to the island’s Common and Roseate terns, and the visiting Bridled, a molting adult Black Tern came by towards evening making it a four tern day.
Around sunset a school of Striped Bass or possibly Bluefish was feeding on the surface just west of the old dock. The terns took advantage of the baitfish being drive to the surface by the larger predatory fish. From the Dock Blind you could hear the larger fish slapping the surface of the water.

The day also had one of our larger varieties of shorebirds recently. The island’s nesting Spotted Sandpipers are still here as well as a family of three American Oystercatchers that nested on the west end. In recent weeks there have usually been two to five Ruddy Turnstones (three today) feeding in the kelp on the shore west of the north building. Some days the turnstones are joined by Least or Semiplamated sandpipers. Today two Leasts were there and a small flock of sixteen Semis flew by. Other shorebirds seen recently have been Greater Yellowlegs, Sanderlings and Short-billed Dowitchers, but none of those were seen today. The shorebird highlight of today, however, was a group of three “Western” Willets that flew into the north rocks on the western side of the island and started looking for food. Willets have been seen on the island in the past, though uncommonly. This is the first time the “Western” subspecies, a potential split into a separate species has been identified on the island. They have no doubt occurred in the past, but were just called Willets and no effort was made to distinguish subspecies.

Finally, I should mention Fred. Fred is a Fish Crow that has been hanging out in the pines on the island since early June. At some point I named him Fred. Helen now feeds him island leftovers. However, every time he ventures out from the pines the terns attack him, so except for brief dashes out for the food Helen leaves at the bird feeder, he generally just sits in the pines and calls occasionally.


  1. Thank you for such a great blog! I'm a nature enthusiast who just moved to Inwood & am so glad to have such a great park nearby.

    Do you know of any organized bird walks through the park? I was thinking if not, I would try & start one my own self! I'm a novice-level birder, but I make up in enthusiasm what I lack in experience.


    1. Beth, Welcome to the neighborhood! Glad you like the blog. I am currently still in the field. When I get back later in September we can see about getting together for some birding in Inwood. Joe


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