Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fade to Black: Migration Continues

Heidi and I made it back to the Marathon Treatment Ponds this morning.

**Remember, this is on PRIVATE PROPERTY in which you have to drive through Private Property to reach it. We have been granted access.  Should you feel the urge, if you are out here, gently contact Heidi.  Our contact info remains on the side-bar.**

While there were sadly no ducks on the ponds beyond the "Mexican" Mallard residents, we did have Western Sandpipers (Calidris mauri), a Least Sandpiper (C. minutilla), and a calling, circling Baird's Sandpiper (C. bairdii).

All nice birds, but otherwise not much going on.  So we trekked south to check the mesquites for any warblers or other migrants.  Nothing much happening.

Walking back to the truck, which ultimately takes us back past the ponds, we had a quick glance at a fast-moving and different shape.

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)

This is a young bird, what is often referred to a "1st Year" bird.  That is, it is in its first calender year of existence.  It hatched earlier this year from locations that could be as far north as the Northwest Territories, Canada.

Most Black Terns winter in South America, though some will do so as far north as the coast of SW Mexico.

Basically, this young bird has a long ways to go yet; well beyond north Brewster County, TX.

As we watched this entertaining and beautiful young bird, Heidi astutely pointed out that "it has yet to see the coast.."
Let's hope it does, but migration is no fairy tale.

Should this young tern make it back to its species' spring/summer breeding grounds, its plumage will be mostly black, with sooty-gray wings, and a section of white from lower belly to vent.  A gorgeous bird.

As members of Family Laridae go (Gulls, Terns, Skimmers), this is a fairly small species with an average wingspan of around 24 inches.

Those are, after all, mesquites in the background, not Sequoias.

Most terns are plunge-divers. They "plunge-dive" for food.  This young Black Tern kept diving down, but pulling up right before the water's surface.


This species also feeds on flying insects.

While not bad forage-value for sandpipers and dabbling ducks, these water-treatment ponds hold little-to-no food for a plunge-diving tern.

The distances some birds must travel during spring and fall migration are astounding.  Certain tern species are among the longest.

Here's a rough range map for the Black Tern:

Remember, this young bird dropped down to these treatment ponds after we already had been out there for perhaps 45 minutes.

It is on the move.

We were, of course, super-excited to see this individual in our corner of the Chihuahuan Desert this mid-morning.
However, again, this young tern has a long, long ways to go.

As we can all use a little bit in this life, and some more than others, we wish it:

Good luck.
Buena suerte.

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