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May 23, 2017 11:08 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Birds On The Beach

Two interesting birds were found on the beach this week by East Hampton plover monitors. The Northern gannet was brought to Dr. Jonathan Turetsky’s office for examination.  MARK GUTZMER MARK GUTZMER
May 23, 2017 2:42 PM

While monitoring plover and tern nesting sites last week, East Hampton Town Natural Resources Department staff happened upon two interesting and quite beautiful birds on the beach: a Northern gannet and a least bittern.The gannet, a large fish-eating seabird sporting a six-foot wingspan, “...virtually never rests on land away from nest site,” according to my Sibley’s Bird Guide. It was found on the ocean beach, alive but very weak, and was taken to local veterinarian Dr. Jonathan Turetsky’s office for examination. Although the initial exam found no obvious problems, it did not survive.

In North America, their nesting sites are limited to a handful of rocky cliffs much farther north in the Canadian maritimes. Their range includes Greenland, Iceland and the eastern North Atlantic where they nest in similar habitat found on the coast of France and north to Norway.

Northern gannets are commonly seen off Long Island following schools of baitfish into which they “plunge dive” from heights of 150 feet. These spectacular beak-first dives can carry them quite a distance underwater. They are most common off Montauk Point in fall and early winter, feeding on river herring and other baitfish moving through the area to their offshore wintering sites. The adults of this very distinctive species are all white with black-tipped wings.

The dead least bittern was recovered from a bay beach. When I first saw the small, heron-like bird I thought it might be a green heron, but the size, approximately 12 inches in height, did not match up well, nor did some of the plumage. Stumped, I sent some photos to Steve Biasetti, Eric Salzman and Frank Quevedo, all very knowledgeable birders.

Both Steve and Eric responded right away that it was a male least bittern, a very rare bird for Long Island. Of course, we don’t know exactly where this specimen was when it died, but Biasetti mentioned that he’s never seen one on Long Island, and Salzman stated that it’s one of the “toughest birds to find out here,” adding that, “it’s probably more common than we think but it’s very secretive.”

The least bittern species account found in the latest edition of Bull’s Birds of New York State concurs with Salzman’s latter comment. “There is a distinct possibility that this species was under-reported during the Atlas period because of the bird’s secretive nature and the difficulty of exploring the interiors of some extensive marshlands.”

This is a species whose habitat requirements include large expanses of marshland. Draining, filling and other marsh alteration projects have diminished their habitat, and the least bittern has been recommended for inclusion on the NYSDEC’s list of Species of Special Concern.

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