Friday, June 22, 2018

Today's Lesson: Nest Check vs Nest Census

Black Skimmer nest with 2 eggs!!
(photo by Bill Segur)
We have news to brighten your day!  Our NC Audubon biologist, Lindsay Addison, conducted a NEST CENSUS early this morning.
First thing you need to know is the difference between a “nest check” and a “nest census". Lindsay has been doing "nest checks" regularly since the beginning of the season.
A nest check is a sampling of nests marked with tongue depressors at the beginning of nesting to enable the biologist to follow up on the activity of that particular nest.  A number is assigned to the nest, such as BS 02 which marks a Black Skimmer nest #2, CT for Common Tern, etc.   These labeled nests are checked on a regular basis to follow laying of eggs, loss of eggs, and anticipation of hatching.  It also enables us to determine eggs that are abandoned (nonviable) and predated by gulls or crows because they were obviously pecked.  Lindsay has been following between 16-30 nest.

Common Tern nest with tongue depressor label to the left
As you know, we have lost many nests to crows and gulls, but the Black Skimmers, Common Terns and American Oystercatchers have kept re-nesting!

         A nest census is conducted when the biologist feels that we are at the peak of nesting…which Lindsay did this morning at 6:30 AM.  Early morning is always the best time to conduct a census as the birds have rested during the night and the temperature is the coolest it will be during daylight.       
          A nest census counts EVERY nest in the colony.

And the number of nests is (drumroll, please) ….
     BLACK SKIMMERS       137
     COMMON TERNS              7

Lindsay reported that we had not lost any Black Skimmer nests since her last nest check and that the Black Skimmer nests have between 1-2 eggs.  There do not appear to be any nests with 3-4 egg clutches.  Approximately 25 Black Skimmer eggs were abandoned and another 25 or so were predated by gulls or crows.
The 3 Common Tern nests are still there from her last check and we have 4 new nests for a total of 7!!
The American Oystercatchers still have the two nests since her last nest check.
We are so happy to share this good news!  Our Black Skimmer colony appears to be the largest in the State of North Carolina this year.  
We anxiously await the arrival of some chicks!
Enjoy your weekend and we hope to see you on the beach!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Happy Summer Solstice!



Although we lost the four nests we were following on the south end, as of Lindsay’s last nest check we have 2 active nests on SWB.  We have a number of oystercatchers visiting the colony now resulting in territorial displays by the lone oystercatcher on the beach whose mate is on the nest.  At times, oystercatchers who have lost nests at Masonboro Island, for example, and have given up trying to re-nest will visit Wrightsville Beach and disturb the nesting birds here.  The piping is loud and the head bobbing displays are rather comical and fun to watch.

photo by Bonnie-Jeanne Berg

photos by Kevin Giannini

Little CP2 in the summer of '15
photo by Michelle Frazier
Some really wonderful Oystercatcher news….A lot of effort goes into banding American Oystercatchers in North Carolina with green “field readable” bands so we can follow the specific activities of a particular bird.  Yesterday Lindsay was able to recapture an Oystercatcher with the green band of CP2 on Lea-Hutaff Island.  CP2 and her mate are re-nesting with a one-egg clutch.  CP2 is a female (DNA from her feathers determined that she is a female) fledged from the south end of Wrightsville Beach in 2015…the last year we fledged chicks on Wrightsville Beach!!!  How fantastic is that!!! One of “our” chicks is now nesting in our area….!!!!   Lindsay’s dedication and hard work to capture and to band Oystercatchers in our area enables us to celebrate this wonderful event!
CP2 and CP3 being banded in '15
photo by Don Ellson

CP3 and CP2 with parent on SWB in '15
photo by John Sutton

The nesting Black Skimmers did better this last nest check and only lost 3 nests of the 16 specific nests that Lindsay is monitoring due to predation.   

Large groups of Black Skimmers continue to gather at the water’s edge to cool themselves and switch places with their mates on nests in the dunes.  There were over 250 by the water on Tuesday this week, and 232 yesterday.   The Wrightsville Beach Bird Stewards love sitting with the Skimmers at the water’s edge and chatting with people about these beautiful birds as they walk by.  Our beach visitors love hearing how the Black Skimmers migrate from South America to nest here with us!

photos by Bill Segur

The Brood-to-Be (notice eggs in nest!)
photo by Bill Segur

The Expectant Couple
photo by Bill Segur

photos by Bonnie-Jeanne Berg

photos by Bonnie-Jean Berg

photos by Mary-Ann Walton


We have 3 active nests as of our last check.  Avian predators (likely crows) have hit them hard.


It is likely that the Willets have taken their chicks towards the Coast Guard Station and Banks Channel.  We have not had any reports of chicks on the beach or caught in the inlet current this year.  Nor have we seen any aggressively protecting behavior of the Willets recently which leads us to believe that they have moved their chicks.

photo by Bonnie-Jeanne Berg

Friday, June 8, 2018

Hope Continues For Our Struggling Colony

Challenges to a successful nesting colony on the South End of Wrightsville Beach continue, but our Black Skimmers and Common Terns continue to make scrapes, lay eggs and are not giving up!  We remain hopeful!

The Black Skimmers seem to enjoy posing for pictures...
photo by Michelle Frazier

photo by Michelle Frazier

Lindsay Addison, Coastal Biologist for Audubon NC, conducted a nest check very early Tuesday morning (6/5) and here are the latest results…

The Common Terns continue to lose nests to avian predation (probably crows) but we now have 4 active Common Tern nests.  We have between 5 to 7 pairs of Common Terns at the colony.  Our most visible Common Tern nest is on the top of the dune right in the middle of the sandy opening at the inlet as you look into the posting from the string. 

 We expect chicks very soon from the first nest recorded.  This particular nest is on the sandy vegetated dune on the left among the Black Skimmer nesting area -- looking into the posting from that same spot!

photos by Jackson Travis

photo by Michelle Frazier

Our three American Oystercatcher nests that were right around hatching appear to have failed….but Lindsay found one new nest! We have seen 5-6 Oystercatchers hanging out on the beach by the inlet.
photos by Tom Hanna

photos by Kevin Giannini

photos by Jackson Travis

The 12 Black Skimmer nests that Lindsay marked last week to monitor productivity have had severe damage…Likely from disturbance.   The skimmers lost half the nests that were marked on her nest check last week which is an unusually high percentage.  Lindsay counted seven predated eggs, all probably crows because they have holes pecked in them, and 11 abandoned eggs from 9 or 10 nests.  Some of the marked nests are just empty with no eggs in sight.

photos by Kevin Giannini

photos by Jackson Travis

photos by Jackson Travis

photos by Leigh Gill

THE GOOD NEWS!  The Black Skimmers are not giving up as we now have approximately 30 active nests and the Black Skimmers are still scraping and laying eggs.   Six pairs of Black Skimmers have appeared on Masonboro Island this week… likely from the south end.

On Monday morning, 6/4, Willet chicks were seen strolling along the beach with a parent.

photos by Kevin Giannini

photos by Jackson Travis

A special thanks to the fifth grade classes at Wrightsville Beach Elementary School for designing the pictures on our postings!  They enjoyed coming to the beach to see how their signs help protect the colony.  Our shore birds gave them a warm welcome!

photos by Michelle Frazier

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Challenging Conditions for the Colony But Our Birds Persevere!

Our Wrightsville Beach South End nesting colony has been facing extreme challenges this year as a result of the dredge project removal of last year’s nesting area and predation by crows and gulls.  Nesting has been delayed because of consistent disturbance, but the birds are very committed to successfully nesting this year and continue to persevere.

Lindsay Addison, our friend and Coastal Biologist for Audubon NC conducted a nest check on Tuesday night (5/29) and here are the latest results…

The Common Terns have already lost two nests to avian predation (probably crows).  We now have three Common Tern nests.  Our most visible Common Tern nest is on the top of the dune right in the middle of the sandy opening between the dunes at the inlet as you look into the posting from the string.

photos by Mary-Ann Walton
Our three American Oystercatcher nests that were right around hatching appear to have failed. Avian predation is exacerbated by disturbance because when adults are flushed, crows or gulls will take the opportunity to come in and grab eggs or young chicks.  We thought one of the nests had hatched a chick, but we have not seen an adult Oystercatcher returning to the nesting colony with food for the chick.  If you notice an Oystercatcher returning to the colony with food, please let us know right away!

photos by Mary-Ann Walton

The Black Skimmer nesting was a little delayed this year, likely due to the changes to their habitat, and we don’t want disturbance to delay them further. As a result, we are working hard to minimize disturbance to the colony.  Black Skimmers have just started laying eggs, so incubation will last approximately three weeks.  Lindsay counted approximately 25 nests so far on Tuesday and marked 12 nests to monitor productivity.  So far, our high count of adult Black Skimmers is 246, so it will again be one of the larger colonies in the state.

Least Terns are not nesting on the South End this year but a nice nesting colony is easily viewed and photographed on the north end of Wrightsville Beach by the Shell Island Resort and Mason Inlet.
photos by Mary-Ann Walton

Friday, May 25, 2018

A Memorial Day Weekend Preview

Common Terns are incubating eggs and a new couple has chosen a spot to nest right in the “emergency” driveway just up from the police cones by the inlet.  They are easy to see and have been active with couple bonding, i.e., “feeding” activity.
Common Terns on nest exhibiting couple bonding activity (pair feeding).
photo by Bill Segur

Common Terns on nest
photo by Bill Segur

Another Common Tern nest can be seen if you look closely to the left in the dunes.

Oystercatchers are incubating eggs and two nests are visible from outside the posting.  One by the inlet and one ocean/jetty side.  Scan the tops of dunes!

photo by Bill Segur

We had Black Skimmers hanging out with the decoys this week!  There were 40+ Black Skimmers hanging out in the front by access 43.

An occasional Least Tern has been seen checking out the decoys as well!
One of these birds is NOT like the others!
Black Skimmers continue courtship and scraping on the beach and in the posted area by the inlet. 

There is a good chance that Willet chicks will soon be seen walking along the beach.  There are several Willet pairs who are making themselves HEARD as they dive at people walking near the dunes.

And if the Memorial Day crowds keep you from the beach this weekend, here is a short video of what is happening!

(click link to see video)