A Cotillion of Terns

Taji Allen and I led a group of 20 birders (some of whom were experienced birdwatchers and some of whom were doing it for the first time) on a Beginning Birding and Sunset walk on October 24th, at Oakland's Middle Harbor Shoreline Park.

Birders on the lookout! (Taji Allen)

Birders on the lookout! (Taji Allen)

About an hour in, we looked out over the water, focusing on the exposed sandbars at low tide, and the various sandpipers and egrets who were feeding there. Binoculars raised to our eyes, noted the various ways these birds meticulously fed - a Snowy Egret, slowly stalking for fish in the shallows, a Marbled Godwit plunging its sensitive beak deep into the mud to feel for invertebrates - it was a fun, relaxing show you'd see anytime shorebirds are out looking for food.

We soon noticed, however, several Forster's Terns fly in front of us, their eyes focused on the water below, looking for a vulnerable fish. Soon one dropped and dove straight into the water like a bullet. Then another. For the next few minutes, over 15 Forster's Terns (apparently a group of terns is called a "cotillion") circled and dove right in front of us, marking the dramatic high point of a great birdwatching afternoon. 

A Forster's Tern ( Sterna forsteri ) dives for a fish. (Tony Iwane)

A Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri) dives for a fish. (Tony Iwane)

I've been birdwatching many times at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park and have never seen such a show. Allow me to be a bit corny here, but it's for moments like this that we get outside and explore the natural world. There's always the possibility that something new or amazing or exciting will rear its head - all you have to be is open and observant. OK, corny thought over.

Taji Allen and I had a great time with everyone on Saturday and we're planning on having more walks at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park throughout the winter and we hope to see you out there! Dates will be posted on our Events page soon!

A species list of our bird walk can be found here.

- Tony Iwane