Conejohela Flats – Black Terns and Stilt Sandpiper

This morning Ian Gardner and I took the short drive down to Conejohela Flats from Hershey. We arrived at 8:20am and kayaked around for 2.5 hours. The weather started off very windy with rough water on the river, and heavy cloud cover. Later in the morning, the wind died down and the sun came out. The water level in the area was very high when we first arrived and continued to rise slowly throughout our visit. There were very limited areas of open mudflat for shorebirds, and so we were only able to find 11 Semipalmated Plovers, 6 Least Sandpipers, 4 Spotted Sandpipers, 1 Solitary Sandpiper, and 10 Killdeer. There were also 5 Forster’s Terns (3 adults, 2 immatures) mixed in with the large flock of Ring-billed Gulls on Avocet Point as well as a handful of Bald Eagles.

Bald Eagle – Immature over Avocet Point (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Forster’s Tern- Immature at Avocet Point (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Semipalmated Plovers flying around Avocet Point (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Ian and I kayaked around the various nearby islands, searching for other shorebirds and any interesting waders but could only find Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons. We decided to head back to Avocet Point from a different angle and sit there for a while. That’s when things started to heat up. I noticed a darkish bird hovering near Avocet Point and quickly scrambled to get it in my binos – it was an adult Black Tern! One adult flew in and landed on Avocet Point at 9:30am and then took off and flew down to the open water south of the point and joined a second adult and a juvenile. Around 10:00am, all three birds came back and landed at Avocet Point where I was able to get some photos. One of the adults was overall much darker than the other.

Black Tern – This is the darker of the two adults. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Black Tern – Juvenile (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Black Tern – This adult had much more white around the face and breast. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Black Tern – This adult had much more white around the face and breast. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Taking photos of the Black Terns from a moving kayak was proving difficult, so Ian and I positioned ourselves at the south end of Avocet Point, where we could stabilize the kayaks. As I was taking shots of the terns, I could heard the flight calls of a shorebird landing nearby and then Ian spotted it – a molting adult Stilt Sandpiper had flown in and landed within 20 feet of us and began foraging and preening. We couldn’t believe our good luck – we were certainly in the right place at the right time! After getting some great looks at the Stilt Sandpiper, we kayaked back over to our car. We were able to find 42 species this morning (eBird checklist).

Stilt Sandpiper – Molting adult standing at Avocet Point (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)