American Birding Podcast



#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.