Monday, May 29, 2017

Happy Memorial Day

It's a busy weekend at the beach.  We had a very successful Bird Walk this morning.  There are new Least Tern chicks running around and more arriving each day.  Since parking is a challenge during this holiday weekend here are some photos and a video to let you enjoy these babies from the comfort of your home.

New Least Tern Chicks (with one on the way)

Click on the link above to see a short video clip of two new Least Tern chicks with their parents.  Look closely and you can see an unhatched egg and the parent settling down to wait for #3!

Hope you can get out to see them soon... but meanwhile

Least Tern family with a Common Tern sitting on a nest in the background

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Our Photographers Tell Stories

The Wrightsville Beach Bird Stewards include many excellent photographers.  Here is a sample of some of their photographs that help tell our stories.

You can see chicks and eggs camouflaged in the sand with the shells. The need for posting the area is so obvious when you see how difficult it is to see these sweet chicks and eggs.

Skimmers fill the sky and the shoreline.
(photos from Christine Budres)

A willet family has been seen running around the beach. 
(photos by Bill Segur)

The Common Terns are nesting and flying (upside down?) 
(photos by Bill Segur)

Least Tern (front), Common Tern (middle), Skimmer (rear)

Least Terns in flight
(photos by Bill Segur)

American Oystercatchers
(photos by Bill Segur)

with band

without band

And here are some Least Tern chicks from photos taken during last week's nest check. 
I hope this encourages you to come out to the south end of Wrightsville Beach and enjoy the show.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017


Lindsay, Michelle and Marlene conducted a nest census yesterday morning between rain storms, and we have 167 Least Tern Nests and 157 Black Skimmer nests!

They spotted some adorable brand new Least Tern chicks and took pictures to share with you!

Look below for eggs camouflaged by beach debris.
(Photo by Jacquelyn Lindner)
Here is a picture of a Common Tern nest (rear) next to a Black Skimmer nest (front) so that you can see the different styles!

Black Skimmers are still incubating their eggs.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Our Least Terns Participate in UNCW Research Project

(article from Cape Fear Audubon Society's Spring 2017 newsletter, The Skimmer)

Robert Oliver Snowden is a student doing some interesting research on the Least Tern, for his Graduate Thesis. Robert’s hometown is Eugene Oregon and he got his undergraduate degree from The University of Puget Sound, Tacoma Washington. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in 2012. He is now doing his research in the Biology department under Dr. Raymond Danner, a fairly new ornithologist at UNCW.

Robert wants to understand the nesting behavior of the Least Tern and to do this; he has devised a unique method. Using a 3D printer he replicated a Least Tern egg. Actually he created many exact replicas of the egg. An individual “fake” egg is made of bio-degradable plastic and is the correct size and shape of the Least Tern egg. The eggs are painted to replicate the Least Tern’s egg. He has placed a temperature sensor inside each egg which is capable of recording thousands of data points. The temperature is recorded every 3 minutes along with date and time. With the help of our Lindsay Addison, he placed eggs in 10 nests at the south end of Wrightsville Beach and plans to place some more The fake eggs are now in place and he reports that the Terns are sitting on eggs OK so far. He is also spending time at the beach monitoring the activity of the nesting Terns. He will be able to correlate this activity with the egg data. He has also arranged to get the environmental data for the beach area where he has the eggs, i.e. the temperature, wind etc. and will also correlate this data along with the other data. He will remove the fake eggs after the real eggs hatch and there are chicks.

Least Tern nest with Fake Logger egg. 
Which one is it?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mating, Nesting, Waiting

Lots of mating to be seen...

Common Terns Mating (video)

Lots of nesting behavior as future moms and dads bring fish to the parent sitting on the eggs...

one Black Skimmer trying REALLY hard to impress a future mate with his fish offering....

and meanwhile we are only days away from seeing new chicks on the beach...

a glimpse of what is coming
(photo from 2012)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Good News to Share

Lindsay, our NC Audubon biologist,  just completed her nest check this morning and we have great news to report.

American Oystercatchers – 

We knew we had five pairs and we now officially have five nests too!  Remember…a scrape is just a “scrape” until there are eggs in it.  Eggs make the scrape a “nest”!  Exciting!  We have records of Oystercatcher nests at the south end going back to 2011 and we have never exceeded 4 nests!

Black Skimmers – 

The Skimmers are laying eggs and incubating!  On Thursday we counted 266 adult birds in the colony!  Courtship behaviors and mating continues!

Common Terns – 

We have 9 nests!  You can see the Common Tern nests behind the Least Tern nests and before the Skimmer “neighborhood”!

Least Terns - 

Least terns have been arriving in big numbers!  We counted 160 adults sitting on nests and incubating eggs.  Fish presentations and mating continues in the posting and on the beach.  TIP: If you watch a Least Tern return to the colony with a fish, you may also see the bird feed its mate on the nest. Very sweet!

Now that we have nests here are some coming attractions...

American Oystercatchers

  • 1-4 eggs
  •  Buffy gray, usually speckled with dark brown
  • Nests attended by two females and one male may have 5-6 eggs
  • Incubation is by both sexes, 24-28 days
  • Young: Downy young leave nest shortly after they hatch
  • Both parents feed young for at least 2 months after hatching, although young may attempt to forage on their own well before parents stop feeding them
  • Age at first flight about 5 weeks.

Black Skimmers

  • 4-5 eggs,sometimes 3, rarely 6-7
  • Variable in color, whitish to buff to blue-green, marked with dark brown
  • Incubation is by both sexes (male may do more), 21-23 days
  • Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation
  • Upper and lower mandibles of young are same length at first, so they are able to pick up food dropped on the ground by parents
  • Young wander in vicinity of nest after a few days; if danger threatens, may attempt to look inconspicuous by lying flat on beach, even kicking up sand to make a hollow to lie in
  • Able to fly at about 23-25 days.

Common Terns

  • 1-3 eggs
  • Variable, buff to pale blue or olive, marked with brown and black
  • Incubation is by both parents (female may do more), 21-25 days
  • Young: Leave nest after a few days but remain nearby, are fed by both parents
  • Age at first flight about 22-28 days; may remain with parents another 2 months or more
  • One brood per year, rarely two.

Least Terns  
  • 1-3 eggs, perhaps rarely more
  • Buff to pale green, blotched with black, brown, gray
  • Incubation is by both sexes; female may do more in early stages, male more later
  • In very hot weather, adult may dip into water and wet belly feathers to cool eggs
  • Incubation period 20-25 days
  • Young: Leave nest a few days after hatching, find places to hide nearby
  • Both parents feed young
  • Age at first flight about 19-20 days; young may remain with parents another 2-3 months
  • One brood per year, sometimes two in south.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

It's a Busy Time at the South End of Wrightsville Beach

I spent 7 hours observing the activity at the South End of Wrightsville Beach yesterday (5/8/17).

There was never a moment of boredom as I witnessed ...
  • courting behavior as a hopeful male offered a fish to a potential mate
  • scrapes being created for future nests 
  • pairs already incubating eggs 
  • endless flying back and forth from the channel bringing in fish 
  • skimmers resting in their comical prone positions
  • common terns chasing least terns to get them to drop their fish and then swoop down for an easy lunch
  • the blue sky suddenly filled with hundreds of black and white birds
  • the sudden appearance of a quartet of oystercatchers and a solitary oystercatcher in the surf with several dozen sanderlings
For this blog I'm going to let the pictures do the talking....

Black Skimmer (< click to view video)

A Busy Beach (< click to view video)

Least Tern 

Top to Bottom: the more you look the more nesting terns you can see,
Least Tern with marker (LT 20 = Least Tern, 20th nest marked),
a trio of Least Terns nesting in typical colony formation

L to R clockwise: an egg can be seen abandoned, a very LARGE fish snack,
a nesting Least Tern with marker

Least Terns sharing a fish
photo by Jackie Lindner

Common Tern

photos by Bill Segur

photo by Jackie Lindner

American Oystercatcher

Black Skimmers

Black Skimmer creating a scrape for a future nest
photo by Jackie Lindner

Time for a rest!
photo by Jackie Lindner

Remember to Look UP!

photo by Bill Segur
Lindsay (NC Audubon Biologist) will be updating the number and types of nests soon. But don't wait to come out to the colony to enjoy one of the best shows around!