Monday, June 27, 2016

Lumina News Shares Success of Nesting Colony

Staff photo by Emmy Errante. 
A least tern adult feeds its chick a minnow from the ocean June 16 at Wrightsville Beach's south end bird sanctuary.

This summer, the colony has 349 least tern pairs, 123 black skimmer pairs, 14 common tern pairs and four oystercatcher pairs. Those numbers are fairly typical, Addison said. The highest number of pairs observed was 597 in 2012, while only a few were counted in 2014 when beach renourishment dredging affected their habitat.

The four nesting bird species form a colony with what Addison called “a little bit of competition and a little bit of benefit.”

The least tern chicks hatched about one month ago, and now they are learning how to fly. They are the same size as the adults, Addison said, but don’t yet have the distinct black markings.

Most of the least tern chicks are about the same age, but a few might be younger if the parents’ eggs failed to hatch and they had to lay more. Nesting together makes it easier for the adults to defend the chicks and eggs, Addison said.

“It helps them to drive away predators,” she said, “because all the terns can get up and chase away a crow that might want to eat their eggs or chicks.”

The terns might defend their nests as a pack, but they only brood and feed their own young, Addison said. Both parents catch small fish from the ocean to feed their chicks.

Several weeks after the terns nested, the black skimmers nested, and their chicks hatched about one week ago, Addison said June 16. They nest after the terns so they can take advantage of the terns’ protection against predators.

“The terns are really aggressive defending the colony,” she said. “The skimmers aren’t as good at that.”

In Wrightsville Beach’s colony, the skimmers tend to congregate closer to the dunes than the terns do. Competition occasionally arises between the species if a skimmer nests too close to a tern.

“A skimmer can displace a tern because the skimmers are bigger,” Addison said.

Common tern chicks have also recently hatched, she added. Adult common terns are slightly larger than least terns with a solid black cap of feathers and a bright red bill.

The oystercatcher is the only species in the sanctuary that has not yet raised any chicks. The four pairs’ eggs hatched, Addison said, but the chicks did not survive.

“I don’t know why,” she said. “Usually we do have at least a few fledglings succeed.”

She’s worried human behavior might affect the oystercatchers. Unlike the other species that are colonial, meaning they nest in a group, oystercatchers are solitary nesters.

Because their nests aren’t located with the rest of the colony at the southern tip of the sanctuary, they are less obvious to beachgoers, Addison said. Postings and signs mark the entire sanctuary, but Addison said people occasionally enter the sanctuary if they don’t see any birds around.

“They’ll ignore the signs and walk under the string,” she said. “They’re disturbing oystercatchers, and that can cause them to lose the chicks.”

Beachgoers can also disturb the birds from outside the postings, Addison added. She has seen people try to feed the birds by tossing small dead fish into the sanctuary. But nesting birds only eat live fish they catch from the ocean, Addison said, so the actions of the well-meaning beachgoers only served to attract predators like gulls to the area.

Onlookers should also be aware if their presence is causing the birds to become agitated enough to fly away, she added. Even if people are outside the sanctuary, if they notice the birds taking to the air in numbers they should back away.

“If the birds fly off their eggs or chicks, a gull or a crow can come in and grab them,” she said.

Volunteers have placed tiny structures in the sanctuary in which the chicks can seek shelter from crows and gulls. Chicks will also shelter in the sparse vegetation, which protects them from both predators and heat.

If a chick or an egg is exposed to the direct summer sunlight for as short a time as 15 minutes, Addison said, it could overheat and die.

“It’s harsh out there on the beach,” she said. “Anyone who has tried to walk barefoot on the sand can tell you that.”

Addison encouraged people who have further questions about Wrightsville’s nesting birds to participate in weekly tours of the sanctuary led by Audubon North Carolina’s Wrightsville Beach bird stewards every Monday at 9 a.m.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Least Tern Chicks Have Taken to the Air

photo by Laura Scullin
Many of the Least Tern chicks can been seen by the shoreline and are busy trying out their new feathers as they learn to fly and catch their own fish dinners.

photo by Laura Scullin
photo by Laura Scullin
photo by Laura Scullin
With the heat index reaching into the 100s this week, it has been a challenge for the chicks to find shade.  They are very creative and can be seen in the vegetation, by the postings and decoys, and hiding under parents.

photo by Kathy Hannah
photo by Kathy Hannah 
photo by Kathy Hannah
photo by Kathy Hannah
photo by Kathy Hannah
photo by Kathy Hannah
One Least Tern chick was apparently not only looking for some shade but decided I needed company on the beach. This chick kept coming out of the posting and stood between my legs and under by chair by my back pack.  We shared some "special moments" before the chick finally tried out its new feathers and fluttered down to the shoreline

photo by Kathy Hannah
photo by Kathy Hannah
photo by Kathy Hannah

The Common Tern chicks are getting bigger than their parents and will be the next of our crew to take flight.
photo by Laura Scullin
photo by Marlene Eader

Meanwhile the Black Skimmer chicks are busy chasing their parents for fish and the parents are hard at work keeping them fed.

photo by Jackie and Eric White
photo by Krystyna Ochola
photo by Krystyna Ochola
photo by Jackie and Eric White

There is still a lot to see in the nesting colony. Sometimes the Black Skimmers and Common Terns engage in a bit of "turf warfare".
photo by Jackie and Eric White

And other times the Common Terns decide that the decoys make good neighbors.
photo by Krystyna Ochola

All of the chicks and their parents will find their homes a popular destination this weekend as the Fourth of July crowds head for the beach. This will be a good time for all of us to remember to "share the beach".

Thursday, June 16, 2016

With Thanks to Our Amazing Photographers

A wedding in NJ and now a visit with my dad in OH have taken me away from the beach for two weeks of prime chick time. But four of our Bird Steward photographers have sent me pictures so that I feel like I'm on the beach!   

These incredible photographs each tell a unique story. While scrolling through them try writing a caption that helps create a personal narrative for the adventures of our "bird friends" on the south end of Wrightsville Beach. 

(photo by Michelle Frazier)

(photos by Jackie and Eric White)

(photos by Don Ellson)

(photos by Laura Scullin)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Black Skimmer Chicks and other updates!

Tropical Storm….

Tropical Storm Colin dumped a lot of rain the other night and winds were strong, but the chicks seemed to weather the storm without any problem.  Chicks were with parents and gathered by the few plants, “condos” and raised areas of the sand to get out of the wind.  On Saturday night 17 chicks were all lined up in a row appearing to be shielding each other between the two larger plants at the front of the colony.  Parents patiently continued to incubate eggs while getting sand blasted by the blowing sand. 

The posting and signs withstood the winds and driving rain and no repair was needed. A very pleasant surprise! 

Nesting update…   

We are enjoying showing the public the Least Tern chicks because they are so ADORABLE and they are RUNNING EVERYWHERE!!!  Least Tern chicks are at various stages of development and the oldest ones which hatched on May 19 are busy growing flight feathers and one was seen already taking flight.  

The results of the census is that we currently have 122 Black Skimmer nests at this time and the skimmers are incubating eggs.  No chicks had hatched as of last Saturday, but Two Bird Stewards saw our first Black Skimmer chicks this morning..June 8th.  These chicks were located in the front dune area right next to a Common Tern nest #6.

Here are phtots of our first Black Skimmer chicks (thanks Don Ellson!) .

New Skimmer chicks were spotted in a family right next door to a Common Tern family on a front dune! Quite a maternity ward out there. 

A number of Black Skimmer nests had "avian predation” …eggs that had been pecked.  Several of us have observed a Ruddy Turnstone walking among the Black Skimmers and think the turnstone may be the predator.    Last year we had 175 nests.

The Common Terns have been especially protective (aggressive) since a few of the 14 nests have hatched chicks.  Some chicks were with a parent under plants in the front of the colony.  Another chick was spotted under its parent in nest CT #6.  

Common Terns have 14 nests in the front of the posting, among the Black Skimmers and on the side of the dunes.

We have 4 pairs of American Oystercatchers that have nested (eggs) as well as some immature Oystercatchers at the colony.  It appears the eggs have hatched but we have not seen the chicks yet.  A couple of pairs have been visible in the front of the colony without chicks and are displaying behaviors as if they have lost the chicks.


We meet the public at Beach Access 43 for a Bird Walk every Monday morning beginning at 9 AM until the middle of August. We had 32 guests last Monday and 18 kids so we had a great time.  Invite your family and friends to join us!