Thursday, July 10, 2014

Checking in With Beach Birds

Every week when I visit Silver Sands State Park, I get a little more attached to the place. I love getting to check in with familiar creatures, and there's always something new to see! Here are a few sights (mostly birds) from this morning's visit.

The Piping Plover chicks east of the park are getting even closer to adulthood (including the chick with the injured leg, who's still running around and foraging with its siblings as of this morning). It looks like they just need some longer wing and tail feathers, and then they should be good to go!

While the four chicks foraged in the sand, Dad kept careful watch; he even chased a House Sparrow away at one point. A folded mat makes a convenient lookout perch:

The plovers aren't the only bird family with growing babies around here, of course. I was very happy to see a gangly Clapper Rail chick wander out of the marsh grass; such a cute little dinosaur-like creature:

The Barn Swallows are nesting under the boardwalk, and this adult perched on the railing for a rest between hunting flights:

There were actually dozens of swallows hunting in the air over the marsh, more than I think I've ever seen here at once. The swirling (and chittering) cloud of birds was mostly made of Barn Swallows, but there were also several Tree Swallows in the mix, as well as a few Chimney Swifts, which I've definitely never seen hunting in this spot before. This picture may not look like much, but its quite a busy scene for this airspace:

On the beach, a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls made an imposing sight:

I'm surprised to notice that I've actually never posted about Great Black-backed Gulls before. They show up around here pretty frequently, and they have the distinction of being the largest gull in the world. These two were quite noisy, and they kept striking these odd tilted postures and tossing their heads; I can only think this is some sort of courtship display, but it seems kind of late in the season to be thinking about making a nest:

A Common Loon was floating close to shore. This bird was looking a little less than pristine (it was presumably molting out of its breeding plumage), but it was still such a handsome creature:

A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was hunting at the water's edge (not quite as elegant as the Black-crowned Night-Heron I saw last week, and I always think that dark mask looks strange):

Although I often see many species of egrets and herons in this park, I don't usually see Great Blue Herons here. It was quite a treat, then, when this huge creature soared by:

I love those wings, and those big legs! This bird circled overhead a few times, so here's another view:

As I was leaving the park, I checked out some Common Milkweed plants to see what sorts of bugs might have been hanging out there. A few of the flower clusters were looking pretty well decimated.... Someone was hungry!

A closer inspection revealed that the orange pollen-like dusting on the plants' stems and leaves was actually tons of tiny bright aphids (probably the species Aphis nerii). These guys were everywhere and they were having a feast:

Fortunately, there were many more milkweed plants without aphids, so there's still plenty of this apparently delicious (for bugs) plant to go around.

Here's to another great day at the beach!


  1. The barn swallow looks like a bluebird to me. Are they similar in markings?

    1. They are pretty similar color-wise, with blue backs and rusty orange breasts, although the Barn Swallows look more blackish in some lights. The Barn Swallows also have those really long bodies, and big wide mouths (good for catching insects in flight), and when they're flying they have pointy two-pronged tails.