Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Skimmer School in Full Swing

Update from Thursday, July 23


Black Skimmer adult feeding juvenile
(photo by Kevin Giannini)
Juvenile Black Skimmer resting in the sand.
(photo by Kathy Hannah)
This is the time of the nesting season to truly appreciate the dedication of the Black Skimmer parents to train their young.  The frequent heat index of >100 degrees makes it a critical time for the skimmer parents to get their chicks to the water, and the “chick parade” is being enjoyed by many stewards and beachgoers.

photo by Mary-Ann Walton
The Black Skimmer parents organize themselves to begin this process.  Several adults stand at the water’s edge while other adults spread out in the sand area between the posting and the water… facing each other.  The parents call the chicks and the chicks (as a group and in a row!) walk between the adults that were facing each other to the water.  Up to 78 chicks were counted in the first parade…and this often continues throughout the day.  Last Sunday, there were 122 chicks/fledglings at the water!

Video on YouTube
Black Skimmers on Wrightsville Beach

Some of the fledglings have been flying with a parent and watching the parent model skimming the surface of the water… SKIMMER SCHOOL is happening. A couple of fledglings have been seen over the water as they fly back to the group over calmer water and SKIM!

Juvenile Black Skimmer landing after a successful flight!
(photo by Kevin Giannini)
Adult Black Skimmer demonstrating "skimming".
(photo by John Sutton)
Juvenile Black Skimmer practicing "skimming"
(photo by Kathy Hannah)

A couple of Black Skimmer chicks have been trying to use the “beach condos”. One skimmer chick was seen completely in one of the structures, and another was only able to get his head in!  The adult stands by the condo with the chick.


We have a variety of sizes of chicks of the Least Terns because of re-nesting.  All of the nests that had been being monitored have hatched so there are no new nests to report. 

photo by Kevin Giannini 
photo by Kevin Giannini
photo by Mary-Ann Walton
photo by Michelle Frazier

Chicks have been spending the days finding shade wherever they can….by plants, squeezing in the condos, and in the shade of the signs on the posting.  A couple of chicks were digging scrapes in the condos to make more room for other chicks!  As many as 4-5 chicks have been seen in a single condo!

Shade from condo (photo by Laura Scullin)
Shade from plants (photo by Kathy Hannah)
Shade from parent (photo by Kathy Hannah)
Shade from postings (photo by Kathy Hannah)


Our two Oystercatcher chicks CP2 and CP3 are doing very well and are continuing to grow.  We might see them flying soon!

photo by Kathy Hannah

Black Skimmers on Wrightsville Beach

Friday, July 17, 2015

Chicks Everywhere!

We are halfway through the Wrightsville Beach 2015 nesting season.  Most of the chicks are already learning to fly and some are even finding their own food.  Many Black Skimmer and Least Tern fledglings can now be seen along the shore lined up with their parents.  They all put on a great show!

Black Skimmers and Their Fledglings (video)

Here are some photo highlights from my time on the beach last Wednesday, 12-3 p.m.

Black Skimmers

Least Terns

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Colony (and Bird Stewards) Survive the Fourth of July

I was on the beach last Saturday (July 4th) from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.  It was a busy day full of lots of entertainment inside and outside of the postings.  The wind caused the colony to become the unintended target for several misguided beach/soccer balls as well as some LARGE beach flotation devices.  But everyone worked together and we were able to not only keep the chicks safe but also had lots of opportunities to share our nesting birds and chicks with new people who were visiting for the holiday.

Here are some highlights from the last two weeks.....

As the chicks are growing they are eager to explore areas outside the postings and sometimes still need help getting back.

Lindsay Addison taking a picture of a well camouflaged chick outside the postings.

Clockwise from the top left:
Lindsay Addison (NC Audubon biologist) being warned out of the colony by an annoyed Common Tern/
resting (or exhausted) skimmer chick in sand/
Skimmer chick being returned to colony/
Least tern chick being returned to colony
(photos by Jen Johnson)
When you visit the colony you will see that many of the chicks are already flying and learning to catch their own fish dinners!
Flying Least Tern Fledglings
(photos by Catherine Cloud)
Least Terns
"Condos" continue to protect Least Tern chicks from the sun and heat.
(photo by John Sutton)
Ghost crab being "discouraged" from sharing the beach with the terns.
(photo by John Sutton)
Least tern chicks doing what they do best.... being adorable!
(photos by Kathy Hannah)
Enjoy the fluffy, small least tern chicks
before they enter their "fledgling" stage.
(photos by Kathy Hannah)
Common Terns
Common Terns competing for a spot on the posting
and a "soft landing" on the beach
(photos by John Sutton)
Fledgling (on the left) with Common Tern parent.
These fledglings are HUGE!
(photo by Kathy Hannah)
Black Skimmers
Cute AND entertaining Black Skimmer chicks
photos by Kathy Hannah)
a few Black Skimmers were still sitting on eggs/
Skimmer chicks camouflaged in the sand and hiding in the grasses
(photos by Kathy Hannah)
American Oystercatchers

The two banded American Oystercatcher chicks continue to be seen both in the postings and exploring the shoreline with a parent.  In addition beachgoers are frequently "entertained" by the sight and sounds of large groups of American Oystercatchers flying overhead.  The explanation for this behavior (from NC Audubon biologist, Lindsay Addison) is.....
" ... piping and flying around behavior is similar to territorial behavior seen early in the nesting season. These birds engaging in the piping flocks are probably birds that have failed for the season (lost nests or chicks) but still have some hormones pinging around in their systems that tell them to be territorial, do displays, and generally make a nuisance of themselves (or so might say the pairs still raising chicks). Hormone levels are generally controlled by photoperiod (day length), so as the days lengthen, the territorial behavior wanes, but it will be another month or so before they settle down for good into cordial winter flocks."
photo by Jen Johnson
Two Surprise Visitors

On July 3rd a banded Black Skimmer was seen in the front of the posting. It was wearing a metal federal band. Thanks to Mike and Melody's scope and good light and good luck, the band number could be read from outside the posting. It was banded July 3, 2013 as a chick. Now this year, it has a mate and two downy chicks! Later in the afternoon, there was only one adult near the bush where the chicks had been hiding out and it was sitting down, so who knows if this is the banded bird or not, but it could be. One of the Common Terns with fledglings was fussing overhead.
photo by Lindsay Addison
Several migrating Black Terns have been stopping by the colony.  This is a "life bird" for many of us!
photo by John Sutton
Monday Bird Walks

Our Monday morning Bird Walks (leaving from Beach Access #43 every Monday morning at 9 a.m.) continue to be very successful.  If you haven't had a chance to join us, you are in for a treat!  If you've been on a walk before, come back because there is always something new to see.
Clockwise from top left:
Bird Walk guests and Bird Stewards sharing a scope/
Marlene demonstrating how Least Terns protect their eggs/
There is always something exciting to see out there!/
Entertaining (and informative) signs along the postings
(photos by Laura Scullin)
Black Skimmer, Common Tern, Least Tern lined up on the beach
(nice of them to cooperate and stay still for this photo)
(photo by Kathy Hannah)
Royal Tern Banding

A group of Bird Stewards had a great adventure last Thursday as they gathered along the Cape Fear River to band these Royal Terns. 

Our thanks to Don Ellson who was able to document the experience with his photos and description of the process!

Clockwise from top left:
Gathering chicks on the beach/
One stubborn mother won't budge/
Arriving at the corral/
Driving down the beach
Clockwise from top left:
Into the corral/
In the corral/
My baby must be hungry by now!/
Which one's my baby?
Clockwise from top left:
Beginning the banding process/
 Banding a baby/ 
Banding 101 session /
Crimping an older chick
And a Thank You to...

1) The Lumina News for another great article about the colony

Black Skimmer Nests Reach Record High at Wrightsville Beach

2) Marlene Eader for representing the Wrightsville Beach Bird Stewards so eloquently at the National Audubon Society Convention in Washington, DC this weekend.

photo by Lindsay Addison
3) John Vorisek for capturing this beautiful photo of a rainbow over the colony!