19 November 2016

Ducks arriving, quite North Beach, and Old Man Plover in some distress

Fri 18 Nov 2016

Kent Bedenbaugh drove down from Columbia to help with today's waterfowl/shorebird survey on Bulls Island. I was grateful that he made such a long drive to share his birding experiences. Coastal Expeditions' Captain Wil Christenson and First Mate Nick Johnson gave us their usual sterling ferry ride out to Bulls and back, and our fellow ferry passengers were all very gracious in allowing us to slowly motor by the private docks just north of Garris Landing to spot the shorebirds, gulls, and terns hanging out there. Thanks to all of the above folks for helping to make today into a great day's birding outing.

Kind of a mixed bag today: we tallied 38 species on the survey proper, 62 species on the island, and 66 species on the day. Our eBird checklist from Bulls is appended below, FYI. The best shorebirds of the day were 3 Piping Plovers; one was BO:X,g (a.k.a., Old Man Plover), one was "KK" (a black flag with white lettering), and one was unbanded. We've seen both BO:X,g and KK several times over successive winters. Read more about BO:X,g in my previous blog from 3 Nov 2016. 

Unfortunately Old Man Plover appeared to be in some distress today from a piece of vegetation stuck in one or more of his leg bands. I have contacted the bander and reported his condition; they are forwarding the information to colleagues who may be able to help. See a fuzzy digiscope iPhone photo below showing BO:X,g struggling with this particular encumbrance.

Waterfowl have begun to return to Bulls including Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Lesser Scaup, Hooded Merganser, and an unexpected Long-tailed Duck. We also had Red-breasted Merganser from the ferry. Also somewhat unexpected were Bonaparte's Gulls in Jack's Creek and a particularly high count of Pied-billed Grebes. 

I had high expectations for the gathering of shorebirds, gulls, and terns on the North Beach given the fairly high tide today, but we saw only a very few Sanderlings and the three Piping Plovers on the North Beach proper. We used to see huge mixed flocks on that point, but there have consistently been fewer birds there over recent couple of years. The Bird Key Bulls Bay (the sandbar off the North Beach back in Bulls Bay) did have numerous birds to count including an American White Pelican.

Non-avian wildlife sightings today included Atlantic bottle-nose dolphin "chasing" shrimp boats swimming directly above their lowered nets, fox squirrel, American alligators sunning, and fairly fresh dog tracks on the north beach (honest dog, not coyote, fox, or wolf, at least best I could tell). 

Looking at the tidal calendar suggests the following dates to consider for our next survey:

Sat 3 Dec 2016 5.3 ft high tide at 9:48 AM
Sun 4 Dec 2016 5.3 ft high tide at 10:27 AM
Mon 5 Dec 2016 5.2 ft high tide at 11:13 AM


Cape Romain NWR--Bulls Island, Charleston, South Carolina, US
Nov 18, 2016 9:50 AM - 3:46 PM
Protocol: Traveling
13.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Conducting the ongoing waterfowl/shorebird survey with Kent Bedenbaugh. Effort:  11.2 mi and 1 hr 30 min by vehicle plus 2.75 mi and 3 hr 55 min by foot. Weather: sunny and warm; temps 51 F to 71 F; winds very light, mostly a land breeze. Tide was forecast 6.2 ft high at 10:29 AM.
60 species (+2 other taxa)

Mottled Duck  2
Blue-winged Teal  5
Lesser Scaup  30
Long-tailed Duck  1     Scope view. Diving duck, mostly white/light head plumage but dark plumage patch below ear.
Bufflehead  35     Estimate.
Hooded Merganser  2
Ruddy Duck  10
Pied-billed Grebe  70     A fairly accurate count.
Double-crested Cormorant  204
American White Pelican  1
Brown Pelican  28
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  13
Snowy Egret  44
Little Blue Heron  10
Tricolored Heron  10
Reddish Egret  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  4
White Ibis  16
Black Vulture  3
Turkey Vulture  3
Osprey  2
Northern Harrier  1     1 female
hawk sp.  3
Clapper Rail  2
Common Gallinule  11
American Coot  25
Grey Plover  5
Semipalmated Plover  70
Piping Plover  3     One was banded BO:X,g and also known as "Old Man Plover." One had a black flag with white lettering "KK." Third was unbanded.
Ruddy Turnstone  9
Sanderling  32
Dunlin  855     A fairly accurate count.
Least Sandpiper  11
Western Sandpiper  81
Short-billed Dowitcher  77
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Willet  22
Bonaparte's Gull  9
Laughing Gull  3
Ring-billed Gull  7
Forster's Tern  35
Royal Tern  5
Mourning Dove  1
Belted Kingfisher  4
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Eastern Phoebe  5
Tree Swallow  100
Carolina Chickadee  2
Hermit Thrush  1
American Robin  30
Grey Catbird  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  6
Nelson's/Saltmarsh Sparrow (Sharp-tailed Sparrow)  1
Seaside Sparrow  5
Savannah Sparrow  1
Swamp Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  2
Red-winged Blackbird  10
Boat-tailed Grackle  55

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (/content/iss)

05 November 2016

Hurricane Matthew, last survey unblogged, island cleanup, and now Old Man Plover is back on Bulls

Fri 4 Nov 2016

It had been a month since I'd surveyed Bulls Island yesterday. I recall becoming so distracted with Hurricane Matthew rhetoric that boiled over while we were conducting our last survey on 4 Oct that I recorded our survey data, submitted the eBird checklists, then never got around to writing a blog post.  

That 4 Oct survey was fairly slow with only 32 species recorded on the survey proper. Best species were Piping Plover (no apparent leg bands or flags), Reddish Egret, and Great Black-backed Gull. Mary Kennerty and Pat Campbell joined me for that survey. That eBird checklist is available at: 

My original plans were to survey on 18 Oct; instead I helped with an island clean up effort on that same date. Between refuge employees and volunteers we had almost 20 people clearing trails from limb fall and picking up literally truckloads of litter off of the beachfront. Between the storm surge and following king tides, many trash items including plastic and glass bottles, styrofoam, shoes, and light bulbs had accumulated beachfront on Bulls. It was a good beginning effort to clean up the island but much more needs to be done as so much trash has now been washed well up into the vegetation as the beachfront continues to erode into the forest. 

We returned to surveying yesterday with Scott Davis and Richard Stuhr joining me. Coastal Expeditions' Captain Wil Christenson and First Mate Nick Johnson may have never turned off their ferry engines between regular ferry services, beach drops, and chartered groups coming and going to Bulls, yet they were invariantly gracious and accommodating to haul us out and back. I also met a couple of Irish brothers, one living in the U.S. now, who also took the ferry out to Bulls. I always enjoy birding with folks from off who will naturally find great pleasure in so many of our everyday species. I wish I could recall their names, especially since they knew of me through this blog, but I was negligent in not writing down their names. I'm glad that they finally saw a Belted Kingfisher upon returning to Garris Landing and hope that they enjoyed their day birding on Bulls. 

The birding was pretty slow with relatively few ducks and relatively few shorebird species; strangely we saw no identifiable gull or tern species on the island. Our eBird checklist from the island is appended, below, FYI. Maybe with ferry passengers being dropped off on the North Beach many of the expected shorebirds, gulls, and terns there may have been flushed prior to our arrival. Also, we had just scanned at distance a large mixed flock of shorebirds in the oceanfront marsh at Jack's Creek when they flushed, teased us by flying about at distance, then disappeared. We think that an unidentified falcon (Peregrine Falcon or perhaps a Merlin) may have flushed this flock. And Jack's Creek has enough water to completely cover the long-exposed mudflats that had attracted so many shorebirds.  

We tallied 27 species on the survey proper, 54 species on the island, and 62 species on the day. The best birds of the day were Reddish Egrets, American White Pelicans (first I've seen in many months), and a very special Piping Plover. "Old Man Plover" has returned to the North Beach. 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. We've seen him on 30 Oct 2015, 31 Dec 2015, 12 Feb 2016, and 12 Mar 2016. It was actually Mary Catherine Martin (SCDNR) who first spotted Old Man Plover yesterday; MC was doing her Bulls Bay shorebird survey while we were doing our Bulls Island survey--we fortuitously met up on the North Beach as we've done a few times before. Scott Davis has graciously shared a couple of his photos and I received the following email from the bander:

This is such good news!!!! I've been waiting to hear if he made it south. He had a bit of a rough summer. The "ladies" kept passing him by. He finally attracted a first-year captive-reared female, rather late in the season and they managed to fledge all three chicks that hatched. He gets the credit. His mate spent the first few days after hatching chasing her own chicks and attacking them. First-time parents sometimes take a while to figure things out. He's a champion dad.
Thanks for the update. You just made my day.

You may also read earlier posts and see other pictures of Old Man Plover in the following blog posts:

We had to deal with hordes of mosquitos and biting flies that were our constant companions through the whole day. I don't recall the bugs ever being worse in 4 (almost 5) years of surveys now. There were only 7.0 inches of rain recorded on the island for Hurricane Matthew, a significant under-measurement as, I believe, their rain gauge doesn't hold any more than that; I strongly suspect that more than 7 inches fell (I had 9.33 inches in my personal rain gauge downtown from that weather event). But even though there has been no rain since 8 Oct the island still has standing water that mosquitos must find inviting. The very light winds from the West, i.e., a land breeze, really didn't help with the bugs either.

Looking ahead at the tidal calendar suggests we consider the following dates for our next survey:

Th 17 Nov 2016 6.5 ft high tide forecast at 9:33 AM
F 18 Nov 2016 6.2 ft high tide forecast at 10:29 AM
Sat 19 Nov 2016 5.9 ft high tide forecast at 11:25 AM


Cape Romain NWR--Bulls Island, Charleston, South Carolina, US
Nov 3, 2016 9:36 AM - 2:29 PM
Protocol: Traveling
12.8 mile(s)
Comments:     Conducting the ongoing Bulls Island waterfowl/shorebird survey with Scott Davis and Richard Stuhr. This was our first survey since Hurricane Matthew blew through 7 to 8 Oct 2016. Effort: 10.3 mi and 1 hr 30 min by truck plus 2.5 mi and 3 hr 45 min by foot. Weather: sunny, warm, and very light breezes; temps 67 F to 79 F; W winds <= 5 mph; barometer 30.24 in Hg falling to 30.14 in Hg. Tide was forecast 5.5 ft high at 10:37 AM. Salt water likely intruded into Jack's Creek when the dike failed at the trunk at the Old Fort. Almost all, maybe all, of the exposed mud flats in Jack's Creek are now flooded with standing water, but it is not full to the brim. Some oceanfront dunes were over washed and thus flattened, but the island fared fairly well through the storm otherwise.
54 species

Wood Duck  3
Mottled Duck  35
Black Scoter  80
Pied-billed Grebe  25
Double-crested Cormorant  16
American White Pelican  14
Brown Pelican  84
American Bittern  1
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  2
Snowy Egret  8
Little Blue Heron  8
Tricolored Heron  7
Reddish Egret  2     Oceanfront marsh at Jack's, in their usual location.
Black-crowned Night-Heron  2
White Ibis  3
Turkey Vulture  11
Osprey  2
Northern Harrier  1
Red-shouldered Hawk  3
Clapper Rail  6
Common Gallinule  15
Grey Plover  4
Semipalmated Plover  920     Estimate as a very large brace of these plovers flushed immediately before we scoped to ID species and counted. May have been flushed by an unidentified falcon, maybe Peregrine Falcon or Merlin.
Piping Plover  2     One was banded: BO:X,g (a.k.a. Old Man Plover). 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.
Sanderling  19
Dunlin  405     Estimated.
Least Sandpiper  29
Western Sandpiper  417     Estimated , most in one bind.
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  3
Willet  15
Belted Kingfisher  3
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)  3
Eastern Phoebe  6
Blue Jay  2
Tree Swallow  20
House Wren  1
Carolina Wren  1
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  3
Grey Catbird  2
Northern Mockingbird  2
Common Yellowthroat  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  5
White-throated Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  1
Swamp Sparrow  1
Northern Cardinal  1
Painted Bunting  2
Red-winged Blackbird  3
Boat-tailed Grackle  42

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (/content/iss)