Thursday, August 21, 2014

Shorebird Nesting Season Comes to a Close

The lead story in last week's Lumina News was an extrememly well written recap of our nesting season. The article compares the 2013 nesting season with this year's and includes a reminder that just because the nesting season is coming to a close doesn't mean there are no birds to enjoy.  Sandpipers, plovers, terns, and skimmers (and others) have already started to arrive at nearby inlets. They will be here en masse in September with peak numbers in late October or early November.

(The following article was written by Miriah Hamrick)
As nesting season wraps up at the south end of Wrightsville Beach, Audubon North Carolina is beginning to shift focus to the inlets, where the birds prepare for the long journey to winter grounds.
Lindsay Addison, coastal biologist with Audubon North Carolina, said the south end colony had a successful nesting season overall despite a loss of open, sandy habitat some birds prefer following the beach renourishment project earlier in 2014.
Black skimmers produced approximately 0.7 fledglings per pair, with a high count of 69 fledglings for 101 pairs of nesting birds. The black skimmers did not fare as well as they did in 2013, when 137 pairs fledged on average one chick per pair. Black skimmers will nest on sparsely vegetated stretches of sand, unlike least terns.

A handful of least tern pairs attempted to nest at the south end but the habitat they prefer was dredged away and no pairs were successful. In 2013, more than 250 pairs of nesting least terns settled on the south end of Wrightsville Beach.
A dozen pairs of common terns fledged a dozen chicks and two pairs of American oystercatchers on the south end fledged one chick per pair.

 Both oystercatcher chicks were banded and the Audubon team hopes to see them return in coming years.

Audubon counts the chicks after they fledge, or begin to fly.
Addison said some of the chicks and adults continue to use the posting and the area around it. One oystercatcher chick still roosts inside the posting, while crowds of black skimmer adults and chicks roost on the beach outside the posting around high tide. Audubon will remove the postings around the end of August, allowing time for the chicks to use the area to hone flying skills before moving to inlets to fatten up and rest before fall migrations.
“They’re getting the hang of it. They’re like awkward teenagers learning how to do things for the first time. This is a difficult time for the chicks,” Addison said during an Aug. 8 phone interview. “It’s good for the chicks to have a place to rest and be undisturbed.”
Addison said some shorebirds, sand pipers and plovers as well as terns and skimmers, have already started to arrive at Masons, Rich’s and Topsail inlets to feed and rest. She said the first piping plovers arrived from summer nesting grounds in the Arctic in July.
Addison said female birds are generally the first to arrive.
“The males will sort of be stuck with the teenager chicks and the female … spent a lot of energy early on, producing the eggs, so she tends to migrate first,” Addison said.
Although some birds are already checking in, the birds will begin to arrive en masse in September, with peak numbers in late October or early November before they all leave for southern winter grounds by Thanksgiving.

Addison said Masons Inlet hosted more than 2,000 black skimmers in 2013. The Audubon team will monitor the inlets weekly to count the birds.
The birds are fun to watch but Addison warned against disturbing them, even with actions as simple as making them scatter while walking down the beach or disrupting feeding.
“It doesn’t look like much is happening but you’re taking up a little of that energy that they need, and if everybody takes a little bit, then they might not have any left over for themselves,” she said.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Weekly Friday Bird Walk with Guest Photographer

This morning the bird stewards outnumbered the guests! But we were able to watch a large colony of black skimmers and their LARGE chicks on the beach. All of this week's photos were taken by LAURA SCULLIN!

And a guest at the gazebo.... a beautiful five lined skink...

Only a few walks left before the nesting season is officially over and our birds have all left for Central and South America. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Green Herons Galore and Spectacular Sunsets

Although the focus of the Wrightsville Beach Bird Stewards is the nesting colonies of local shorebirds, there are lots of other surprises to enjoy.

Green Herons Congregate at Inlet

One evening I observed over a dozen green herons flying around at the end of the parking lot. They seemed to be everywhere!
one of two green heron chicks in parking lot nest

                                       Green heron chick ( photo by Michelle Frazier)

The trees seemed to be filled with a convention of green herons.

Sunsets at Masonboro Inlet

If you've never been to Masonboro Inlet when the sun is setting, it's time to go!

Colony updates

(update from Marlene)...



As you are aware, the Black Skimmers seem to prefer the ocean side of the colony now.  We are not sure why that location is more desirable, but one theory is that there is no vegetation to hide predators and the sand is softer and makes it easier to make scrapes for roosting.  Just a guess!

Speaking of predators, several bird stewards have observed the remains of several chicks that appear to have been predated by a Great Horned Owl. 

There were three Black Skimmers incubating eggs last week but it appears that crows that were observed harassing them on Thursday may have forced the parents to abandon their nests.  It was challenging for the black skimmers who were incubating eggs because they were alone on their nests in the highway area.   The other skimmers that could potentially make an appropriate “mob” against the crows were on the ocean side and not close by to help.

After an official bird survey of the south end on Tuesday (7/29) between 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM a total of 327 adult Black Skimmers and 66 fledglings were recorded at the colony.

Sixty six fledglings is considered good productivity for 101 nests.  We were able to band 33 of the black skimmer chicks over the last couple of weeks.  The parents keep those chicks well hidden!

Adult Black Skimmer posing for our blog.

Someone said I have to fly to Central America in a few weeks,
so I'm resting while I can.

This quartet seems ready to break into song!

Black Skimmer colony on the ocean side

"How to Skim" lesson for skimmer fledgling

adult and fledgling skimmer at shoreline

This fledgling has got it!!!!

What are you looking at?


It appears that CKK and parents are doing very well and leaving the colony regularly for feeding.

CKN aka “Kent” and parents are seen regularly at ocean side with the flock of Black Skimmers and at the shoreline.  Kent was spotted flying a short distance a few days ago.


Marlene saw a Common Tern chick yesterday just in front of the dunes on the ocean side.  The parents are vigilant in keeping people away from it.  It is still brown and downy…and cute!  It appears to be hanging out with two young Black Skimmer chicks…  Look for the Common Tern parents that are roosting on the posting.

Common Tern fledglings are flying everywhere!

When you are at the colony, please look out for fishing line and fishing gear which can entangle one of our birds or chicks and cause major harm.  Several stewards have reported finding fishing line…and it seems to be happening every day.

The bird stewards look at the chicks and adult birds throughout the colony and check their legs for possible fishing line.  Would you please help with this effort?  If you see a bird entangled in fishing line and not able to fly, please notify a bird steward so they can get help to untangle the bird.

Remember to tell your friends, neighbors and family about our blog and Friday morning Bird Walks.  If your friends want to know what you have been doing all summer, invite them to the Bird Walk!!


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lots of Skimmers, a Growing Common Tern Chick, and a Walk on the North End

LOTS of skimmers have been hanging out on the ocean side of Masonboro Inlet and the fledgling chicks have been busy learning to skim along the beach.

Skimmers gather on the beach
(photo by Laura Scullin)
Skimmers outside the posting, enjoying the beach
(photo by Laura Scullin)
Adults are still bringing in fish for their chicks.
Skimmer chicks flapping their wings
a hop, skip, and a jump = almost flying!
It was fun watching the chicks chowing down among the adults.
seemingly insatiable appetites
graceful flights
Around sunset the dozens of adults were flying in from the sound.
good comparison of chick and adult Black Skimmer
on the right a skimmer chick is practicing skimming

This chick is still too young to fly.

 Last week we had two brand new common tern chicks on the sound side of the inlet. It must have been a busy week of feeding because the chick has almost doubled in size.
The chick hangs out in the shade of the dunes on a hot day.
The adult common tern chick is still quite vigilant.
feeding time
a family portrait
common tern chick posing for a picture
 Early Sunday morning I took a walk on the north end of Wrightsville Beach... and what to my wondering eyes should appear......


 and Royal Terns (with one Sandwich Tern on the left)

These three Royal Terns would have posed for hours!