Lifers on South Beach in Chatham, MA

Last week I had the good fortune to be invited to some meetings in Rhode Island with Swarovski Optik. I also got to do some great birding with the other folks who were there. On August 1st we drove to Chatham and took a boat out to the sandbar that is South Beach (eBird checklist) to see the gulls, terns and shorebirds that nest and roost there. Jumping out of the boat, we still had a couple hundred feet to walk through the water since it was so shallow and with Hudsonian Godwits swirling on one side of the beach and a flock of Red Knots, Sanderlings and dowitchers down the other direction, I had to scan before I even hit dry land.

Panorama of South Beach mudflats

Panorama of South Beach mudflats

Once we were able to get on to the sand and bird, we started finding lifers for Birding is Fun’s Robert Mortensen. The second best thing to finding lifers is helping other people find lifers!

My target bird for the day was Roseate Terns since they nest on the beach and are generally found in good numbers. It took us a while, but eventually we saw the pure white flash of one flying overhead. Soon I had the call down and was picking them up in every tern flock we came to. One fun surprise was seeing adult Roseate Terns feeding begging chicks. Even the young birds are distinctly whiter/frostier on their back.

So I had my expected lifer down and was enjoying seeing them all over. The flash of white compared to the Common Terns was very obvious once I got the hang of it. Now it was time to get serious and see what else we could find. Our next shot of excitement was when Clay Taylor and Robert saw a short-legged tern that looked good for Arctic. Unfortunately it took off and disappeared into a large tern flock before we could get a good look. It wasn’t long however until we happened across the bird you see in the video below. It definitely looked short-legged and short-billed but the real clincher is shown in the video where it spreads its wings and shows the distinctive black tips to the outer primaries. Forster’s and Black Terns rounded out the species of terns we found on the beach.

A little bit of seawatching proved successful when we spotted a Cory’s Shearwater flying south out over the ocean towards the boat that was trying to tag Great White Sharks (no luck while we were watching). It was nearing the end of our time on the beach and we were starting to get thirsty and sunburnt so we headed back to where the cooler was. There were a bunch of shorebirds nearby so I started scanning in hopes of finding White-rumped Sandpiper that some people needed. I spotted this gull, smaller than the Laughing Gulls, petite overall that was looking straight away from us. Bonaparte’s Gull, easy ID. Whoops, the bird turns and I can see that there is some smudging on the neck that is distinctly not like any Bonaparte’s I have ever seen. My mind is churning and I first leap to Black-legged Kittiwake, it has darker smudging on the neck. At this point, the gull turns broadside so we can see how petite it looks…and it rearranges it wings showing off a very distinctive white triangle…SABINE’S GULLLLLLL!!!!! A very unexpected second lifer for the day. The satisfying part about this bird is that it stuck around for me to get great looks and then to arrange myself and do some digiscoping with the Casio g’zOne LTE I am testing out through the Swarovski STX 85. You can get an idea for the different views I was getting of the bird after I first spotted it in the video below.

There is some debate over whether the bird is a non-breeding adult or an advanced first summer bird. I’ll leave it up to you to help me out. Hopefully the screen grabs below and video above help.

Birding South Beach was a fantastic experience. I didn’t even have time to thoroughly enjoy the harbor seals and gray seals, or keep my eye on the boat off shore that was trying to capture great white sharks. That will have to wait until my next visit. Thanks to all the great people I had the chance to bird with, let’s do it again!