Aug 09 2012
Last weekend we spent four days at Cape Cod where I had the opportunity to see piping plovers and least terns, two birds that are extremely rare in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Both species are endangered because they nest on the ground on sandy beaches, the same places where humans like to own property and spend their vacations. At the Cape, nesting areas are roped off above the water line and dogs are prohibited off leash (or prohibited altogether).
During our stay people and birds coexisted peacefully. Some people, like me, were fascinated by the birds.
At Ridgevale Beach the least terns were numerous and vocal at low tide. Several immature terns were still being fed by their parents even though they could fly. The youngsters waited on the sand, immobile and camouflaged, while mom and dad hunted for food.
Their parents flew over the water looking for finger-length silver fishes. Sometimes they hovered above, waiting for the perfect moment to dive and snag a fish.
Zip! As soon as a tern plucked a fish out of the waves he flew around the area giving a loud, continuous, 4-note call, “Gotta fishy! Gotta fishy! Gotta fishy!”
Eventually he flew back to land with a flourish of upraised wings and present the fish to his youngster. Sometimes the youngster just blinked and looked away. He wasn’t hungry! The fish were that plentiful last weekend.
When the colony found a big school of fish they were all in the air, flying swiftly, carrying fish, calling “Gotta fishy, gotta fishy, gotta fishy.”
Their voices carried so far that I often heard least terns before I reached the beach.
(photo by Steve Gosser)