F 23 Feb 2018
We had a special two day, overnight survey on Bulls this past Monday and Tuesday, 19 to 20 Mar 2018. John Cox and Kent Bedenbaugh were able to join me for what is always a more relaxed and enjoyable survey effort capped off by an overnight stay in the Dominick House on Bulls. We weren’t the only birders on the island though as the house was full of shorebird researchers, a couple of whom are staying in the house from January through April and about a dozen of whom were there for a few days and nights attempting to net and band shorebirds. John, Kent, and I watched the sun set across the marsh (John and Kent both saw the green flash through their binoculars, I missed seeing it without my binoculars) then we watched the sun rise over the Boneyard Beach the next morning. Over the two day survey we tallied 80 species of birds.
The Tufted Duck (TUDU) has been seen by several other birders and is being listed on eBird checklists as a “continuing bird at this location.” We were fortunate enough to see the TUDU from three different vantage points around Jack’s Creek: from the Old Fort, from the elbow of the emergency dike oceanfront at Jack’s, and from the Observation Deck at the terminus of Sheepshead Ridge Road. Each time the TUDU was easily located floating, apparently contentedly, with Ruddy Ducks and an occasional Lesser Scaup. Scopes were needed to confirm the duck’s identity, but we could easily see the TUDU with binoculars as being different from the other ducks. Most of the Lesser Scaup that the TUDU was associated with when we originally located it appear to be gone. Seems somewhat early for waterfowl migration, at least according to the calendar, but this is why we tally the birds in the first place. I’ve begun looking at the big picture of six years of survey data and will next look at waterfowl in Jack’s trying to get a specific handle on spring migration dates. I’m hoping that the TUDU will hang out in Jack’s until the next survey.
I was pleased to get a fair look at the shorebirds for the first time this winter. Having missed several survey dates in both December and January, and then being distracted by the Tufted Duck in early February, I’ve missed shorebird surveying opportunities since November. I was disappointed to find absolutely no shorebirds on the North Beach on Monday. We did see a few Black Scoters and Northern Gannets in the waters off the beach plus numerous gulls, terns, and pelicans on Bird Key Bulls Bay (the sand bar in Bulls Bay off the North Beach), but nothing at all on the sands of the North Beach itself. I believe that this is the first time in my survey efforts that the North Beach had no shorebirds of any species or number. It’s not the high tide shorebird roost that it used to be. The beach itself appears to recovering nicely from the effects of Hurricanes Matthew and Irma offering good shelling, slowly growing dunes and vegetation, and its usual constant shoreline flux.
There were fair numbers of shorebirds, however, in the oceanfront saltwater marsh at Jack’s. The shorebird researchers, about a dozen of them, were on site in that marsh setting up drop nets trying to net some of the shorebirds. Fortunately we were able to survey the shorebirds present before they were ready to drop their net. I don’t think that we interfered with their effort nor do I feel that they interfered with our effort. We did tally two Piping Plovers, both banded birds that we’ve seen on Bulls before, and a Wilson’s Plover along with the expected Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers, and Semipalmated Plovers. Unfortunately for the banders the birds didn’t cooperate; the birds didn’t walk under the net set, refused to be corralled towards the net, and ultimately flew off to the beaches as the tides were dropping thus exposing apparently good feeding grounds.
On Tuesday morning, after watching the sun rise over the Boneyard Beach and after looking, unsuccessfully, for the TUDU again in Jack’s (from the Observation Deck), we spent about an hour birding the grounds around the Dominick House, one of my favorite birding locations. In that hour we tallied 26 species including a White-eyed Vireo. The highlight of Tuesday’s survey was a large, loose raft of Black Scoter off the front beach (though not in the defined survey area proper). Both Upper Summerhouse Pond and Lower Summerhouse Pond were slow birding, so we spent much of that time looking at all the American alligators hauled out enjoying the warm February day.