[EBB Sightings] Elegant Terns

[EBB Sightings] Elegant Terns

Phila Rogers
Wed Aug 30 13:13:15 PDT 2006
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    Dear Birders:
    
    Before taking off my boots or hanging up my daypack, I wanted to let 
    everyone know who might be interested about the Elegant Terns that have 
    congregated along the Bay shore at the Emeryville Crescent.
    
    This fog-free morning at 7:30 a.m. on the outgoing tide, I joined experts 
    Charlotte Nolan and Bob Battagin for one of the final census of the year. 
    >From our starting point along Powell Street near Water Gate, we could see a 
    solid line of white edging the shore on the far side of the crescent. 
    Through his scope, Bob identified the birds as Elegant Terns.
    
    After surveying the closer-in birds -- a variety of shore birds but few 
    birds on the open water -- we drove around to the south side of the crescent 
    (along the approach to the Bay Bridge toll plaza) for a closer look.
    
    We parked at the edge of the dead-end road full of construction activity and 
    walked out across the marsh.  What a cacophony!  Bob estimated that there 
    were at least a thousand birds.  Impressive enough, but then a Red-tailed 
    Hawk cruised by and the birds arose in a blaze of white -- a dense river of 
    white -- that swirled about until by some signal known only to them, they 
    settled back down.  None of the birds appeared to be fishing, content for 
    the time being to just hang out as a tight-packed group where personal space 
    seemed to be defined as a feather apart.
    
    I learned from my companions that this 'post-breeding dispersal' is 
    characteristic of Elegant Terns and soon they will be returning south to 
    where they bred and then on as far south as Peru for the winter.
    
    Looking up Elegant Tern in my first bird book, a 1941 copy of Roger Tory 
    Peterson's "A Field Guide to Western Birds," I discover that Peterson 
    devotes only a few lines to the tern, listing the bird as a rare species 
    found in the fall along the coast south of San Francisco.  In another 
    example of "nothing stays the same," Elegant Terns now are found in the fall 
    as far north as Washington state.
    
    Another thing:  This particular piece of marsh has an interesting historical 
    context as there are still a couple of old shanties sagging on their 
    pilings.  Narrow down your vision to the salt grass, yellow-flowered gum 
    weed, pickle weed, pilings and shanties and you are transported back to an 
    earlier time.
    
    About getting there:  Take the last East Bay exit and then turn sharply 
    right before the bus(?) ramp. Park among the trucks and maybe let the 
    workers know what you're up to.
    
    Phila Rogers 
    
    


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