Friday, August 28, 2009

Surprise Skimmers at Plymouth Beach

With the number of terns I had seen from the whale watch and the posibility of arctic or roseate terns, I could not resist a visit to Plymouth Beach. There is a huge tern colony at the tip of Plymouth Beach, with hundred or thousands of common terns, plus a handful of roseates. The latter 2 were my targets.

Plymouth Beach is also known as Plymouth Long Beach, and with good reason. The walk to the tern colony was almost three miles, some of it in soft sand. On the way I found mixed shorebirds, including dowitchers and willets, and some endangered Piping Plovers.

(A juvenile Piping Plover, Plymouth Beach, MA)

I left my dad and sister after around 1.5-2 miles, when they turned back. I continued on to the tern colony. Least terns and shorebirds became more abundant, and then came the dunes. At the tip of the spit of land that the beach is on is a area of dunes, and that is where the terns nest. I scanned the flocks from a distance. There were many flying in every direction over the dunes, and a few hundred facing the same direction on the sand. I found a few individuals that could have maybe been arctic terns, but I am not good enough to know for sure. (Below- Arctic Tern? Who Knows?)

The birds on the beach were not near their nests, so I tried to get closer, but a handful of birds flew up and dive bombed me, screaming and flying at my head. Instead of trying to get any closer, I moved around the flock, trying to find unusual terns and marveling at the numbers and the noise. Tern are pretty loud birds. And 1,000 terns are really loud. They make a variety of calls, screeches, screams, and more.
Around this time I heard a different sound, and turned around to see a black skimmer flying up the beach behind me. It called a few more times, and then flew into a portion of the dunes close to and visable from the beach. I had seen them before in Florida and Cape May, but this bird was a huge surprise. I didn't even think that there range extended that far north. I study the skimmer for a few minutes, and then moved a little farther down the beach. When I returned, there were 2 skimmers sitting in the dunes.

When I got home, I did a little research on skimmers in MA, and found that they were unusual and erratic, and that nesting birds were very rare. I also learned that these particular skimmers had been seen before were known to be nesting, the only pair in MA and the northernmost nesting pair in the country. Over the next few weeks, I heard a couple of people talking about going to plymouth beach to see the skimmers.

I had gone to the beach for the terns, and stumbled upon the skimmers.

Eamon Corbett