Tern, Tern, Tern

140917_Osprey_1010acsAll across the Jersey Shore, dainty dancers are on the wing. These elegant ballerinas in crisp black, gray and white dart and pirouette effortlessly. At times they hover almost motionlessly high above the stage, then plummet to the surface and back up in one smooth motion. Who are these dazzling performers taking a turn around the dance floor? Why, Terns of course!

This September, the Cape May birding community was abuzz with the arrival of a rare bird. A Whiskered Tern, which breeds in Eastern Europe and winters in Africa, had somehow found its way across the Atlantic Ocean. This is only the third appearance of this species in North America. The bird split its time between Bunker Pond and the beach for a number of days, giving lots of birders a thrill. Of course, I wanted to see it too.

140917_Cape May Point Whiskered Tern_1504aI arrived just in time for the performance. The Whiskered Tern was only there a short while, and never stopped flying. Unlike terns that dive into the water to feed, Whiskered Terns swoop low along the water’s surface where they pick up bugs. The movement is distinctive.

140917_Cape May Point Whiskered Tern_1538acs3Lots of people got great images of the Whiskered Tern; I wasn’t one of them. Here’s why it was so hard to photograph – the Tern was very far away and in constant motion. Click on this wide-angle photo and try to find it; the arrow points to it in the inset at top right.

140917_Cape May Point Black Tern_1463aAnother uncommon bird was the Black Tern, above. Again, always flying and always far away. It shares the same swoop-and-pluck feeding style as the Whiskered Tern, and they were often seen together.

140917_Osprey_1019acsOn a sliver of sand in the middle of the bay a cluster of Terns waits to take the stage. There are three different species here. The small birds are Forster’s Terns, the supporting players of the company. The large bird on the left with the orange bill is a Royal Tern. At the other end of the island, from left to right, we have a red-billed Caspian Tern, a Royal just behind him, and two more Caspians.

140926_Forsythe NWR_3357Farther north at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, the theater is an intake where the tidal water flows into and out of the impoundment.

The fishing here is great, and the Forster’s Terns take full advantage of it.

Photographing them is simply a matter of pointing your camera at them and letting them fly in and out of the frame. And they do.

Delicate little terns swirl, twirl and whirl continuously. In turn they dive straight downward and plunge under the water, to come up in a burst of spray, circle around and dive again. It’s an aerial ballet.

140926_Forsythe NWR_3380acsEntrée.

140926_Forsythe NWR_3379acsEn pointe.

140926_Forsythe NWR_3446acsPas de deux.

140926_Forsythe NWR_3398acsPas de trois.

140926_Forsythe NWR_3393aThe corps de ballet.

140923_Cape May Point State Park_2452acs 2Common Tern takes a bow, as the curtain falls on today’s performance.