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Boobies at Avalon Beach

A breakwall at Avalon Beach, on the New Jersey shore. No, I didn't see Snooki, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, or any other oddities from the cast of Jersey Shore. But I did see birder and longtime Cape May resident Amy Gaberlein, who graciously toured me around some of the southern New Jersey hotspots. I was over in the general vicinity of Philadelphia to give a talk, and what's a couple more hours to get to the shore, and some of the best birding on the East Coast?

Birds galore were floating, flying, and diving in the cold Atlantic waters at the end of that breakwall, and I had some fun attempting to commit some of them to pixels.

Just about everything with feathers that frequents the ocean likes sushi, including this Royal Tern, who has just caught a fish. The bigger Herring Gull also likes fish, and is engaging in a bit of attempted kleptoparasitism. It's gone all jaeger on the tern, trying to get it to drop its hard-earned meal.

The big tern eventually shook its pursuer, and soon wolfed down its scaly treat.

The terns, scoters, and other avian seafarers were fun, but it was these behemoths that drew me to stand at the edge of the ocean, camera at the ready. Northern Gannets! We saw hundreds of them in this area, and occasionally one would venture near enough that I could get (so-so) images with my 500 mm lens. This are the boobies of the North Seas, shunning the tropical waters of their brethren and flourishing in frigid North Atlantic waters.

As I write this, a juvenile gannet is present off Cleveland in Lake Erie. It showed a few days ago, and has been thrilling scores of Ohio birders. They're major rarities in these parts; Ohio gets one every few years. The young birds are mostly brown - the bird in these images is an adult, with mostly white plumage punctuated with black wingtips.

Northern Gannets are BIG. That cylindric torpedo-shaped body is a touch over three feet in length, and its wingspan is six feet. The whole thing weighs nearly seven pounds. That's a heckuva air-to-surface missile, which is just what gannets are. This bird has spotted a fish, far below, and is in the initial stages of squaring off to launch into a spectacular dive. Gannets will bomb the water from heights of up to 150 feet.

The gannet prepares for impact. It's probably going nearly 60 mph at this point, and hit the drink a split second after this photo was taken. Its momentum will carry it up to 15 feet under the water and into the unsuspecting school of fish. I imagine the high speed entry of a giant gannet into the tranquil underwater world of the scaly crowd causes quite a stir. The victim probably scarcely knew what hit it.

Like a perfect 10 from Greg Louganis, the gannet's dive just leaves a slight flume of water.

Before long, the gannet bobs to the surface, digesting its meal. A truly spectacular way to earn your bread, to be sure.


Mark S. Garland said…
Oh man, I wish I'd known you were in the neighborhood! Glad you had a good visit, the ocean is terrific at this time of year.
Too bad you were in TX courting an Amazonian Kingfisher, Mark... ;-)

The shots came out fabulously, Jim!!!
Brent Kryda said…
Any interesting Pitch Pines in the area?

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