Friday, January 14, 2011

Shorebirds in Cancun: Laughing Gull, Sandwich Tern & American Golden Plover

A Laughing Gull in its winter plumage; Cancun, Mx; 12/19/10.
In the past I have not paid particular attention to gulls, terns, sandpipers, plovers and other smaller shorebirds, so on my first trek out to walk the beach in Cancun, I made a point to take as many pictures of these types of birds as I could, with hopes of identifying them in their photos later. At least I knew the basic difference between a gull and a tern, and a sandpiper. I just didn't know the specific species of each.  Being in Mexico along the seashore should give me the oppurtunity to start learning.

In today's blog, I'll show photographs of three new shorebirds to add to my life list.  The first oppurtunity came quickly, as there were several Laughing Gulls foraging in the sand and seaweed for small marine life and insects on the beach. They were not shy, so I could get quite close to take a photo. They are very oppurtunistic feeders and will feed on whatever is available including handouts from humans and disgards from fishermen. Laughing Gulls are very common along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and from March - Sept, while in breeding season, their heads will be completely black and their bills will turn red ( ). But being in December and not in breeding season, their beaks will turn black and they will lose the black feathers on their head, and just sport some grayish smudges along the backs of their heads and near their eyes (Above).

An American Golden Plover on a Cancun beach; 12/19/10.
The second shorebird I encountered was the American Golden Plover (Above), which makes one of the longest migratory journeys of any shorebird. It spends its summersin the Arctic tundra of Alaska and Northern Canada and migrates to the grasslands of central and southern South America. I am lucky that I probably caught it in the middle of its migration. Although in winter it is fairly drab, its breeding plumage is very striking with a black face and belly and a white swoop starting at its eye brow and curving around to the back of its head and toward its breast. ( ).

A Sandwich Tern flying over the caribbean waters near Cancun, Mx; 12/19/10.
The third shorebird I observed my first morning was a tern (Above), that was dive bombing the water looking for fish (Below). I was lucky enough to get a couple of pics before it flew away. I, of course had no idea what type of tern it was until I looked at my photos later and compared therm to all the tern pictures in my Sibley Field Guide to Eastern North American Birds.  The black band behind its eyes and the black bill with the pale tip were the key marks which helped me identify it as a Sandwich Tern.

A Sandwich Tern getting ready to dive bomb the waters for its next meal, Cancun, Mx; 12/19/10.
Sandwich terns are found year round along the Gulf Coast, and in the summers it will fly a bit north along the Atlantic Coast lines of the Carolinas and Virginia. In the summers, its breeding colors change slightly by sporting a completely black crown ( ).

Iguana of the day, Isla Mujeres, Mx; 12/20/10


~Val said...

I don't think I've seen the Sandwich Tern before. I love his black mask. Nice BIF photo! :-)

Anonymous said...

The tern does not look like he fits in w/ the seagull family...he is a beauty w/ that black mask! I love how you captured him in flight, what great clarity!

I am enjoying your iguanas...this one looks like a statue lol

Anonymous said...

Great images Jon!