Sunday, May 22, 2016

It's Official.... We Have Chicks!

Thursday, May 19
The first clue that it was chick time came on Thursday morning when a visitor from Maine took some great photos of new Least Tern chicks. He got some great pictures just the way we like to see them...chicks with a parent. When chicks are photographed alone, many times they are stressed. 

photo by William Roberts 
photo by William Roberts
photo by William Roberts

Friday, May 20
Early Friday morning four of our Audubon Staff/Bird Stewards conducted an official nest census inside our postings. Conducting a nest census involves stewards and biologists systematically and very carefully walking through the entire colony with a dowel rod scraping the sand beside them….walking from the posting to the dune and counting nests between their mark in the sand and the person’s mark next to them.  Once they get to the dune, the the number of nests they counted in that section is called out and tallied.  The stewards then move down to the next area and repeat the process covering the entire colony.  Obviously this is stressful for the birds, so the census is conducted at dawn and only very experienced stewards are able to do this so we can complete this effort as quickly as possible.

Friday's nest check brought some welcome news. Below are two pictures of brand new least tern chicks taken inside the postings during the nest check. In addition to finding our first chicks, 349 least tern nests were counted! This means it is only a matter of days (hours?) before least tern chicks will be seen running all over the beach.  The Common Tern (14 nests counted) and Black Skimmer chicks won't be far behind.

photo by Lindsay Addison
photo by Michelle Frazier
Saturday, May 21
A call was received on Saturday telling us that chicks were seen outside the posting.  When I went to investigate, it turned out that several Willet chicks had somehow gotten separated from their parents. This Willet chick was "rescued" by a parent who then dropped it several times before the chick was finally seen running back into the dunes.
parent picking up a Willet chick
Willet chick (only dazed) on the beach after being dropped by parent
parent and chick together again
chick running back to safety
Two other Willet chicks were not as lucky. One was founded washed up on the beach and another wandered into Least Tern territory and was attacked as a predator.  Tough time on the beach for me. But I don't think we could have done anything more.  

Meanwhile, on a much happier note, Least Tern chicks are visible on the beach being fed, hiding under a parent and sometimes just hanging out on the beach.

This is a great reminder of how camouflaged the chicks can be.
Do you see both chicks in this picture?
Least Tern chick by parent about to take refuge.
Going, going
Chick being fed
photo by Don Ellson 
photo by Don Ellson
photo by Don Ellson

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Fifth-Graders Make Protecting Birds Their Cause

The 5th grade classes from Wrightsville Beach Elementary School have been studying the nesting colonies at the south end of Wrightsville Beach for several years.  As a part of this project they design imaginative, colorful, informative posters that the Harbor Island Garden Club then make available as signs for the postings that protect our nesting birds.

This weekend over 36 new signs were hung along the symbolic fencing that protects our birds.  So the next time you're on the beach you can enjoy the students' art show while our birds put on their own "performance art" show!

How many Bird Stewards does it take to hang a sign? :)

Our newest signs.....

We Have Lots of Birds!

Birds have been arriving all week and we have much more nesting activity at our posting area now. Black Skimmers have been showing up daily.   On Saturday, 5/7, over three hundred were counted!   Skimmers are coupling up, making scrapes and mating!  No eggs yet, but should be soon!

photos by Laura Scullin
Lindsay Addison, our National Audubon biologist, did an official nest check on Sunday, 5/8.  “Nest checks” are what biologists do to monitor productivity within the colony.  You may see some “tongue depressor” markers within the posted area by some nests that identify specific nests. For example., if you see one marked LT 25 that means she has documented that particular Least Tern nest as her 25th on her log sheet.  Each week she will monitor the activity within that particular nest and record it along with all the other nests she has marked. 

Common Tern, nest #5

Here is some specific data as a result of Lindsay’s nest checks….

On Sunday, Lindsay saw three Common Terns nests (scrapes with eggs) in the small dunes in the front of the posting.  On Monday I2 more were located on the high dunes and Monday evening, several Bird Stewards were able to see a Common Tern egg in the nest with the parent standing next to the nest!  It looked like a brown rock!

Least Terns are numerous with well over 232 nesting counted on Saturday morning. We have nests everywhere!!!  We anticipate an official nest census sometime next week.

We have 3 pairs of American Oystercatchers that have nested (eggs) as well as some immature Oystercatchers at the colony.  We are so happy to finally have a third nest!

photo by Laura Scullin
We have also had some great visiting birds come to the South End, including a Black Bellied Plover in breeding plumage, a Wilson’s Plover, as well as a huge flock of Royal Terns and Sandwich Terns.  Up to 150 Common Terns visited the colony and were hanging out at the water’s edge one morning.  A pod of dolphins was even observed in the surf. Absolutely beautiful!

photo by Laura Scullin

We lead bird walks for the general public (and stewards!) every Monday morning at 9 AM at Beach Access 43 from now through Mid-August.  We just meet by the Gazebo…. Invite your friends, neighbors and family to join us!

photo of by Laura Scullin

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Least Terns on Wrightsville Beach

One of the more successful shore birds that nest at the south end of Wrightsville Beach is the Least Tern. They are the smallest of the American Terns. Their weight averages a mere 1.1 - 1.6 oz.

These birds return to Wrightsville Beach from Central and South America in April and begin their breeding by offering a fish to a potential mate.

Sometimes she says, "Yes!"

Least Tern nests are very shallow and minimally scooped out. Here is a link to a short video I took this afternoon showing a Least Tern clearing an area before creating a scrape.

A Least Tern laying just below the surface of the sand is probably on a nest. Today there seemed to be nesting Least Terns all over the beach!

This Least Tern is sitting on a nest. One egg can be seen if you look closely. The eggs are speckled and generally blend well with the sandy surface.

Since the incubation period is 20-25 days we expect to have baby chicks by the beginning of June. Mark your calendars!

Here's a preview of coming attractions...

Monday, May 2, 2016

Love Is In the Air (and on the beach)!

Every day seems to bring a new sign of a very successful nesting season at the south end of Wrightsville Beach. Birds have been arriving all week and we have much more activity at the nesting area now. 

Black Skimmers have been arriving daily. One of our Bird Stewards was at the beach April 30 and counted 276 Black Skimmers!   Skimmers are coupling up and we witnessed several mating!

photo by Krystyna Ochola
photo by Laura Scullin
photo by Laura Scullin
photo by Laura Scullin
photo by Laura Scullin

Common Terns have also arrived.  We have seen four pairs of Common Terns over the weekend in the front small dunes.
photo by Don Ellson
photo by Don Ellson
photo by Don Ellson
Least Terns are numerous with well over 200 seen in the air at one time.  It appears that we have several nests (scrapes with eggs) on the ground that are being cared for by parents. And there is a lot of courting activity as we watch the male least terns offer a fish to potential mates.
photo by Laura Scullin
We have 2 pairs of American Oystercatchers as well as some immature Oystercatchers at the colony.  We have one nest. 
photo by Krystyna Ochola

photo by Laura Scullin
photo by Laura Scullin
This Willet seems to be standing guard over the colony from one of the posting signs.
photo by Krystyna Ochola

Meanwhile I am determined to learn to take photos this summer using my scope and iPhone.  Here is my practice shot taken during this morning's Bird Walk.  It seems to be a steep learning curve for me!
Photo by Kathy Hannah