Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." - John Muir

Nature has been providing some incredible "aha moments" at the southern end of Wrightsville Beach and we have some amazing photographers out there capturing it all to share with us!

“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.” ~Henri Cartier-Bresson

This week I'll let the pictures do the "talking".

(photo by Kathy Hannah)
This Willet was making its presence known by calling and diving at anyone nearby.  If you see any of the birds upset please respect them and walk a bit farther from the postings.

This particular Willet was concerned because the chicks were nearby.
Willet Family
 (photo by Michelle Frazier)
Willets at the water's edge
(photo by Michelle Frazier)
These Willet chicks were seen a bit TOO close to the water last week. When a wave seemed to be taking one chick out into the sound one of our Bird Stewards went into the water to rescue it. That is Bird Stewarding at its BEST.

The big news this week is the arrival of our Amerian Oystercatcher chicks

(photo by Sharna Tolfree, NC Audubon Staff)
(photo by Sharna Tolfree, NC Audubon Staff)
One of the chicks has been seen coming out of the dunes and staying close to a parent to keep cool under a hot sun.

(photo by Laura Scullin)
American Oystercatcher Family Portrait
(photo by Bonnie-Jeane Berg)
This is NOT a four legged Oystercatcher. Just a chick seeking shelter.
(photo by Kathy Hannah)
Another American Oystercatcher family has three chicks.
Can you spot the third chick?
(photo by Michelle Frazier)
Meanwhile the Common Terns, Least Terns, and Black Skimmers are busy courting, mating, and defending their nests. 
Least Tern brining a fish to a nesting mate.
(photo by Don Ellison)
Common Tern attacking a marauding crow.
(photo by John Sutton)
Black Skimmer not happy with crows in the nesting area.
(photo by John Sutton)
Least Tern chasing a Common Tern.
Common Terns seem to enjoying taking the path of "least" resistance
and try to take a fish from a Least Tern rather than catching their own.
(photo by Mary-Ann Walton)
The sky is filled with birds!
(photo by Mary-Ann Walton)
The choreography of the Black Skimmers is a marvel to behold!
(photo by Bonnie-Jeanne Berg)
Least Tern with the catch of the day.
(photo by Bonnie-Jeanne Berg)
Common Tern on a marked nest.
(photo by Kathy Hannah)
While we are all eagerly awaiting the arrival of new chicks, our amazing team of Bird Stewards is constantly maintaining the postings at the nesting area. 
(photo by Bonnie-Jeanne Berg)
So if you haven't had a chance to get out to the southern end of Wrightsville Beach yet... GO

Friday, May 22, 2015

We Have Chicks! , 5/21

It seems I can't write this blog fast enough for the action on the beach. This update arrived just hours after I finished the previous entry.....

Get those cameras ready!!!  

Willet chicks were seen Thursday morning.  Below is a picture that a NC Audubon staff member took when they were in the nest.  Notice that they were new enough that the parents had not removed the egg shells yet, but their feathers were dry.....probably 1 day old. (A reminder that ONLY NC Staff members may go into the postings!)

Here are the WIllet chicks. A third was just out of the nest so it's not pictured.
(photo by Lindsay Addison)

The first oystercatcher nest has hatched as well, but those chicks are usuallly well hidden. However they were on the beach Thursday morning, so you just might get a chance to see them this weekend!

 Black Skimmers are still just beginning to lay. As of Thursday there were three nests. 

The Least Terns are coming along. They lost some nests in the rainstorm. Most had one egg and they probably weren't incubating yet, so they may not have sat on them (they don't incubate in earnest until they complete their clutch), or perhaps they got flushed off for some reason and the eggs were rained on. However, there are many new nests that are doing well. Ideally the colony will be well established and the birds will be very into sitting on their nests by the weekend.

A note about the posting. On the southeast corner, just before you get to the front, a small group of terns has started nesting. They are close to the edge of the posting and we can't expand it any farther. They should be fine but photographers or birdwatchers who may be on the correct side of the string can still cause the birds to flush or walk off the nests. Staying back from the string 10 or 15 feet will make a big difference, and we can still birdwatch or take photos from very close. If you watch the birds and notice that they are not settling down and doing the behaviors they were doing before you or someone else came close to the string,  step back. 

See you on the beach!!!

Lots of Action on the Beach, 5/19

The 4 American Oystercatcher nests are still doing very well with some “starring” (Tiny star-shaped fractures appear at large end of egg 2–3 days before hatching.) starting on some of the eggs.  The little cracks on the egg shells by the chick are evidence that we will have chicks very soon!

We have over 200 Black Skimmers busy with courtship activities, scraping and hanging out at the south end.  One nest has been located so far but we anticipate more this week!

Black Simmers resting on the beach.
At times they appear to be asleep (or dead) as they relax.
(photo by Laura Scullin)
An example of "mobbing" behavior exhibited
when the birds are protecting their eggs and/or chicks.
These Willets paraded through the Black Skimmer colony.
The Common Terns are incubating eggs.  Eight nests have been found each of which have 1-3 eggs. One Common Tern nest is visible on the sound side and the Common Terns are often seen perched on the postings warning beach-goers to keep their distance.

The Least Terns are busy with courtship activities and many have nested and are incubating eggs again following Tropical Storm Ana.  Over 100 Least Terns have been seen recently at the south end.  They are nesting in the highway area, along the side dunes and at the point. The nests on the side dunes are easy to see from outside the posting with or without optics!

During courting, the male will offer the female food
in hopes of gaining her choice as a mate.
Some of the females appear to be quite picky!
The courtship continues!
I'm hoping this is a nest! 
Only 5 Least Terns here, but there are hundreds on the beach.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Least Tern Surprise

The wind was a challenge yesterday but we anchored our chairs in the sand and sat awhile. We were watching this one Least Tern who kept returning to a spot just a few FEET in front of us. Surprisingly she seemed to be rejecting offers of fish from eager males.  

If there is any doubt as to how well camoflauged these eggs are on the beach, take a look at the photos I took of her. We NEVER saw this egg while we were sitting there! I could not believe my eyes when I uploaded the pictures just now.

Monday, May 11, 2015

May 4-11 / A Week of UPS and DOWNS and BACK UP

It has been a rollercoaster ride of events at the bird colony on the south end of Wrightsville Beach this week.

May 4


There were four pairs of Oystercatchers and now four Oystercatcher nests!!!  NC Audubon staff were able to band one of the Oystercatchers.  The newly banded Oystercatcher has a green band that reads CKX in white letters. Keep your eyes open to find our new resident.

Over 300 Black Skimmers were counted in Masonboro Inlet during last week’s bird survey and there were well over 230 in the posting yesterday.  The Black Skimmers are in the early stages of courtship and are beginning to make scrapes and you may see them kicking sand.  Jen Johnson was at the colony last night and actually took some pictures of a few pairs mating.  Love is in the air on the south end of Wrightsville Beach!!

photo by Jen Johnson

What appears to be our first Common Tern nest has been spotted on one of the front dunes. The nest is easy to see from the beach!

Weekly Bird Walks

Here are photos from our first weekly Bird Walk. Make sure you remember to schedule a visit (or several visits) during the nesting season. The walks are held every Monday morning, leaving at 9 a.m. from the gazebo at Public Access 43, on the south end of Wrightsville Beach.

May 6

Although the focus of the nesting colony is Least Terns, Common Terns, Black Skimmers, and Oystercatchers, there is always a chance to see other species hanging around. A Gull Billed Tern (easy to identify because of its thick black bill) paid a visit last week. Other recent visitors included (from top left, clockwise) Black Bellied Plover, Killdeer, Sandwich Terns, and Royal Terns.
May 9

As reports of Tropical Storm Ana hitting the Wilmington area increased, concerns for the birds nesting in the open areas of beach caused alarm. On Saturday Nancy Fahey shared.... "I thought everyone would be glad to see the colony hunkered down and safely hanging out near the dunes. The birds knew just how to ride out the storm! They all had their backs to the wind, plus the natural curve of the inlet gave them some protection from the worst of the onslaught. Mother Ocean was kickin' up her heels and showin' her beasty side this moring!"

May 10 

The 4 American Oystercatcher (AMOY) nests were still going strong as of Friday, although one nest lost an egg for reasons unknown.  Because the oystercatchers like the Common Terns are nesting in and among the dunes, they were above the extra high tides from Tropical Storm Ana.  

The Black Skimmers (BLSK) are still in the early stages of courtship, scraping and hanging out at the south end, and in fact 200-300 of them rode out Ana hunkered down among the dunes.

The Common Terns (COTE) have begun nesting.  NC Audubon staff found nine nests on Friday which had 1-3 eggs.  At least three nests were visible from outside of the posting.   Unfortunately, some of these nests may have been lost due to heavy rains from Ana. 

On Friday, NC Audubon staff also had found about 20 Least Tern (LETE) nests in the front of the posting.  We counted 98 LETE adults on the south end. 


Unfortunately, on Sunday morning the entire front area of the posting… up to the dunes …had been overwashed during the night.  Although Ana was not a strong storm…it was slow moving…allowing it to push more water in front of it onto the land…via waves.  All of the least tern nests and decoys were washed away as a result.  :(


On Saturday the newly formed Least Tern colony was in good shape with about 20 nests and a lot of courtship activity, as seen in the first two photos. However, over night, the high tide associated with Tropical Storm Ana overwashed the front of the posting clear to the dune line. When staff returned to check again between rain bands, unfortunately, the area was indeed entirely overwashed. The nests (and the decoys) were all lost. The oystercatchers, fortunately, all have high ground in and among the dunes so it's likely their eggs will be fine. The Common Terns, which had also just begun nesting, may have lost some nests also due to heavy rain. It's early in the season, though, so we expect renesting, and even in Ana, the Least Terns were still fish feeding and roosting on the beach with the skimmers.

May 11

Although the colony took a big hit from Ana, after this morning's bird walk there is great reason for hope. New Least Tern decoys are already in place and creating a "try, try again" attitude!  
Marlene Eader demonstrates Least Tern nesting habits
Black Skimmers in Abundance and Making Lots of Noise

Bird Stewards and Guests on Weekly Bird Walk

New Decoys Already Attracting Least Terns

And as we watch the birds.... they are keeping their eyes on us!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Some Great Publicity (and a correction)

The Wrightsville Beach Bird Stewards are honored to be featured in an article written for this month's SALT Magazine.

But one important correction!

The weekly Bird Walk is held each Monday NOT Friday.