Thursday, October 30, 2008

Black Skimmers and Co.

One of my goals for the trip to Cape May was to see Black Skimmers. I had heard about them from Susan and Laura, seen photos on the Internet, and read about how their oversized lower mandible is used to skim fish from the surface of the ocean, but nothing prepared me for the sight of these beauties in person.

I had gone back to the condo on Friday afternoon, to shower and rest after a hard morning of birding. I was clean and dry and comfy, ready to relax, when Susan called me from the beach. "Laura and I are at the Second Avenue jetty and there are tons of skimmers! Get down here," she exclaimed. I thought about it for 30 seconds, then reluctantly declined. My bed was calling.

Saturday morning, Lynne and I came out of Uncle Bill's Pancake House, a Cape May institution. Breakfast here is a requirement of the Autumn Weekend. As we were taking pictures of the sign (don't ask!), I noticed an odd flock of birds wheeling and diving over the water's edge. "Look at those strange gulls," I commented. Lynne did a double-take. "Those aren't gulls," she replied. "They're ..." We looked at each other. "SKIMMERS!"

We hopped in the car and followed them along the beach. When they stopped, we stopped, parking the car quickly and grabbing our bins and cameras. We tracked them to their resting place.

Black Skimmers - what an incredible bird!
click on any photo to enlarge

The adults are black and white, with an outlandish red-orange and black bill. First year birds are sooty gray, smudged versions of their parents. The difference in bill length is less dramatic, too.

With the skimmers were a flock of Forester's Terns and a Laughing Gull.

foreground: Laughing Gull
middle left: adult Black Skimmer, followed by 2 juveniles
rear and right side: Forester's Terns

The whole flock, including some tern action.


Lisa said...

Good gravy marie, was it THAT windy? Brrrrrrr!!!!

The 1st pic of the skimmers, where they're landing (?), makes them look like giant hummingbirds - the wings back, the head forward, and that long bill.

OK, I think that last statement either finally ID's me as a non-birder (colossal ignorance) or a birder-in-training.

Bird GIS!!!

Says Lisa, whose security word (not to be confused with "safe word", which is something TOTALLY different) is "hordud."

NCmountainwoman said...

I've never seen a Black Skimmer. Amazing birds and great photographs.

Kyle said...

Great pictures of the skimmers, Kathi! I am more and more jealous of the adventures y'all had at Cape May with every new post I read from "The Flock." Sounds like it was absolutely wonderful!


Berder said...

Unfortunately when I went to Cape May, birding was not on my list of hobbies.
I have such an urge to go again and appreciate what it is about.
Great Post!

Beth in NYC said...

Congrats on seeing your first skimmers! They're neat birds but they're pretty hard on the tern chicks (sometimes terns will nest near a skimmer colony and it's not fun to watch). However, their babies are very cute!

Lynne said...

That was one of the neatest moments of the whole weekend and I'm glad we got to share it. Now, you know how goofy I am about vultures and I was thrilled to see the Black Vultures, but these Skimmers were THE coolest birds of the trip.

word verification: unsigh

Mary said...

Skimmers. Oh, I miss the beach. Could kick myself right now for taking the beach and the life birds it offers for granted so so long...

Thanks, Kathi.

Mary, wishin' back to the beach right now :o)

Susan Gets Native said...

I'm wondering why I was the ONLY ONE who did the Black Skimmer-Commando Crawl?

dguzman said...

I'm so glad you got to see them! They're amazing.

@Susan--you were the only one who did the crawl because you're the only commando among us!