I was walking by the shore of the Scarborough River today, at Pine Point in Scarborough, taking pictures of worm diggers at low tide. I approached them to ask what kind of worms they were pulling out of the mud. They told me they were digging sand worms.
Then one of the diggers asked me if I knew what kind of bird that was, pointing up near the high tide mark. I squinted through my 200mm lens and gawked.
No. I have no idea what that is, I told him.
He thought it might be some kind of tern. I said I didn’t think so. He and his two friends said it had been hanging around for at least the three days they’d been digging there.
I squeezed off a few frames and said I’d look it up in my Peterson Frield Guide when I got home. And I did. As far as I can tell, It’s a black skimmer. According to my book, its a juvenile (mottled) and it’s a bit too far north. It’s range is supposed to be from Cape Cod to South America. Peterson says it’s a year round resident from South Carolina on down to Mexico. Apparently, it’s not a rare bird down there.
But I’ve never seen one and I walk on the beach with my camera often — a lot, in fact. So, it’s kind of a little thrill to see something new. I looked in on www.ebird.org and its dynamic map of bird sightings rate it at 0-2% up here, passed New Jersey.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology (www.allaboutbirds.org) lists some cool facts about this bird.
- The remarkable bill of the Black Skimmer sets it apart from all other American birds. The large red and black bill is knife-thin and the lower mandible is longer than the upper. The bird drags the lower bill through the water as it flies along, hoping to catch small fish
- The Black Skimmer is the only American representative of the skimmer family. The other two, rather similar, species are the African Skimmer and the Indian Skimmer. All use the same unusual feeding method.
- Although the Black Skimmer is active throughout the day, it is largely crepuscular (active in the dawn and dusk) and even nocturnal. Its use of touch to catch fish lets it be successful in low light or darkness.
- At hatching, the two mandibles of a young Black Skimmer are equal in length, but by fledging at four weeks, the lower mandible is already nearly 1 cm longer than the upper.
- Possibly the best description of the Black Skimmer’s bounding, head-down foraging style came from R. C. Murphy in 1936. He said they look like “unworldly… aerial beagles hot on the scent of aerial rabbits.”
This little fellah wasn’t moving much. Just standing with its head into the wind. It didn’t look hurt or sick to me. I like to think it was just resting for a dusk foraging run. I sure would have liked to see it skimming the water. I guess I’ll have to go south to see that. I hope it finds its way safely to the south soon, before it gets too cold.