Rockjumper Tours

aba events

#ABARare – Elegant Tern – New Jersey

On September 2, Tom Boyle discovered an apparent Elegant Tern at the Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area, known more widely as Sandy Hook, in Monmouth County, New Jersey.  Pending acceptance, this is a first state record for New Jersey. 


photos by Sam Galick, used with permission

Sandy Hook is about an hour south of New York City, off of Exit 117 on the Garden State Turnpike (toll road).  Take NJ-36 east all the way to the entrance of the park. 

The bird was initially found at the end of Fisherman's Trail, past the tidal cut with a large flock of Common Terns.  As of today (9/3) it has been seen in the vicinity of the "false hook", a tidal shoal at the tip of the peninsula.   

When looking for the bird, please be aware of the string-line fences blocking off the tern-skimmer colony on the point.  The bird can be seen well from the publicly accessible parts of the beach.

Elegant Tern has a breeding range restricted to southern California and the Baja states of Mexico, in fact 90% of the worldwide population nests on Isla Rasa in the Gulf of California.  It has a strong history of vagrancy though, particularly in the last 20 years, and is considered an irregular fall vagrant on the Pacific coast with exceptional records as far north as British Columbia.

Reports in the Atlantic are fewer, and mostly concentrated in the last 10 years.  Prior to 2001 there were only two records, in Texas (1889) and Virginia (1985), but the last decade has seen at least 5 confirmed records – most from Florida – including one from Chatham, Massachussetts in 2002, along with a small handful of possible reports and hybrids (with Sandwich Tern). 

In addition to these reports, Elegant Tern has been recorded several times in the Old World in France, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, and one amazing record from South Africa.  

More information on Elegant Tern vagrancy is available here.

The following two tabs change content below.
Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

Latest posts by Nate Swick (see all)

American Birding Podcast
Birders know well that the healthiest, most dynamic choruses contain many different voices. The birding community encompasses a wide variety of interests, talents, and convictions. All are welcome.
If you like birding, we want to hear from you.
Read More »




ABA's FREE Birder's Guide

via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Open Mic: How to talk about climate change as a young birder June 4, 2018 11:37
    One of the challenges in talking about climate change is the disconnect that people feel when hearing about things like sea level rise and their daily lives. Birders, young and old, can play a major role in bridging this gap. […]
  • Meet Teodelina Martelli, 2018 ABA Young Birder of the Year May 26, 2018 2:27
    Meet Teodelina Martelli, a 17-year-old homeschooled birder living in Thousand Oaks, California and one of the 2018 ABA Young Birders of the Year. […]
  • Meet Adam Dhalla, 2018 ABA Young Birder of the Year March 27, 2018 5:42
    Meet 12-year-old Adam Dhalla from Coquitlam, British Columbia, one of the 2018 Young Birders of the Year! Want to learn more about how you could be the next Young Birder of the Year? Registration is open for the 2019 contest now! ——– Q: Were you a birder before you started the ABA Young […]

Follow ABA on Twitter