18 February 2016

Report from our 2-day, overnight survey on Bulls 11-12 Feb 2016

Th 18 Feb 2016

   I've been so busy birding I've had to wait a week before posting my report on our special 2-day overnight waterfowl/shorebird survey last Thursday and Friday 11 and 12 Feb 2016. David Youngblood and Richard Stuhr joined me for two great days' birding. We relaxed at Upper Summerhouse Pond by watching the sun set over the marsh then made it to the Boneyard Beach to watch the sunrise Friday morning. [See that very sunrise below.] In between we had chili, cornbread, and IPA beer for dinner (special thanks to my wife, Nan, for setting us up with that delicious home-cooked dinner), a Great Horned Owl hooting, star gazing from the front lawn of the Dominick House, and a good night's sleep.  Our boating and island accommodations were provided by the USF&WS folks at the Cape Romain NWR. 

   Bulls Island is wet. The ground is saturated, the swales are flooded, the intact ponds are full, the water in Jack's has gone up (due to rainfall and Pool 1 continuing to drain through the breached dike into Jack's), but we were able to navigate where we needed to go.

   On Thursday we birded the south end of Bulls and on Friday birded the north half of Bulls. We tallied 54 species on the 2-day survey proper and 89 species on the whole 2-day outing. Species of particular note included an ongoing Eurasian Wigeon in Jack's Creek, Lesser Scaup (relatively few seen this winter until now; estimated 900 on Upper Summerhouse Pond, 29 in Jack's Creek; Jack's may be too shallow to hold the interest of these diving ducks), Ring-necked Duck, American Bittern (flushed from under foot along the dike at Upper Summerhouse Pond), Green Heron, Bald Eagle (always a great sighting), Sora, Piping Plover (see special note, below), Least Sandpiper, Wilson's Snipe, Great Black-backed Gull (7 of them), and Orange-crowned Warbler. See our full eBird checklists here:

   There were many more shorebirds, primarily Dunlin and Western Sandpipers, on the North Beach than I've had in many, many months. Of even greater joy was our sighting of "Old Man Plover," the Piping Plover carrying the dry moniker of "BO:X,g" (relating to the combination of colored bands that he wears: blue over orange [BO] below L ankle, metal [X] above R ankle, light green [g] below R ankle; the colon separates L and R legs, the comma separates above and below the ankle). He hatched in 2002 at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI and began breeding there in 2005, which is when he received his current band combination (per email from Alice Van Zoeren 30 Jan 2013). This summer he turns 14 years old! Here he is:

   Since we had the time Thursday evening, we watched several Swamp Sparrows at the end of the Turkey Walk Trail dike separating Upper and Lower Summerhouse Ponds. Typical of Swamp Sparrows, these were very near the water and were actually actively picking or pecking at something apparently on the water's surface. It was interesting watching a passerine species so actively and persistently feeding in the water. Look closely and you can see some bug that one of them caught:

   About two hours before sunset I counted about 550 total waterfowl that were widely scattered across Upper Summerhouse Pond. As the sun was setting those waterfowl began tightly rafting together in the middle of the pond. I recounted and estimated 1000. They must have been coming out of hiding in the edge grasses; I surmised that they might be generating safety in numbers and keeping away from the margins of the pond where predators like bobcat, coyote, and alligators might be waiting in ambush. A fascinating sight (no…I'm not part Vulcan).

   Non-avian sightings on the survey included bottlenose dolphin (interestingly at one point floating steadily at the surface of very shallow water with blowhole exposed; we interpreted the behavior as though they were horizontally spying but they didn't have their eyes out of the water), fox squirrel (2), bobcat (2, one each day), and apparent canine tracks on the front beach.

   This was such a special treat to stay overnight on Bulls. I will be scheduling other 2-day surveys, perhaps seasonally. My thanks to David Youngblood for sharing his photos for this blog report.