Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Black Skimmer Rynchops niger

Black Skimmer
The main bird that we went to photograph at Nickerson Beach was the Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger.  The reason for this is the tool largest colonies in New York, a located 17 miles apart, one at Breezy Point in the Queens and the other is on Nickerson Beach.  Except for a few skimmers that breed in Massachusetts, New York represents the northern breeding limit for this bird.  The black skimmer will form mixed species colonies with least or common terns.  Although the federal status of black skimmers show them not to be listed, but in the state of New York, they are species of special concern.  What makes the black skimmer unique is it's bill with the lower mandible longer than the upper and compressed laterally which remind you of a knife blade.  Black skimmers use the bill to forage by skimming the surface of the water with the bill.  Partly, some birds and when they contact a food item they snap the bill closed capturing the object.  We were lucky and were able to observe the skimmers feeding and the one thing that I noticed was that the skimmers at times with submerged their whole head.  Skimmers feed on small fish, such as killifish, menhaden, bluefish, sand lances, needlefish and mummichogs.  Because the black skimmer field spike tactile method, it allows the skimmers to forage in low-light conditions.  In fact, it was early morning and late afternoon when we observed the black skimmers bringing fish back to feed their young.  Looking over the skimmer colony, we did observe a number of juvenile black skimmers, but there were many more black skimmer chicks then juveniles.  Normally, in New York, the skimmers will lay eggs starting between mid-May and early June and in Massachusetts, they will lay their eggs in mid-June.  Black skimmers usually will a 3 to 4 eggs in a typical nest and start incubating as soon as the first egg is laid.  This will give a brood of different size chicks.  Both parents share the responsibility and incubating the eggs.  Incubation takes 21 to 26 days.  After approximately 2 days, the black skimmer chicks are able to run, hide and crouch when a predator approaches.  Skimmer chicks are swift and determined runners.  One minute to look at them and the next minute they are gone.  The chicks like to hide in the depressions in the ground, which can be surrounded by grasses.  Prior to feeding the fish to the chicks the adult black skimmer will land away from the chicks and tenderize the fish.  It is surprising how big a fish that these little chicks can eat.  Initially, the chicks bill is of even size, and as they grow older, the lower mandible increases in length over the upper mandible.  In other interesting event that occurs, is the not infrequent fights between two adult black skimmers.  What causes the fight is when a skimmer starts the land in an area near where another black skimmer has chicks and that black skimmer starts Chase the one that tried to land and they have a chase in the air.  At times, one skimmer will bite the other skimmer.  It is an enjoyable watching the aerial combat and fun trying to capture it in camera.

Black Skimmer Silhouette in Dawn's Early Light
Black Skimmer Blur

Black skimmers Skimming

Black Skimmer Skimming for Food

Black Skimmer Skimming for Food

Black Skimmer Preening

Black Skimmer with Fish

Black Skimmer with Fish

Black Skimmer Feeding Fish to Its Chick

Black Skimmer Chick Begging for Food

Black Skimmer Chick in Hollow in the Ground

Black Skimmer with a Chick under Her Wing

Black Skimmers Fighting

Black Skimmer Being Chased by Another Black Skimmer