20 January 2017

Shorebirds absent last Friday, 2400 strong on Monday

Mon 16 Jan 2017

It's been a busy couple of days for me on Bulls Island. Last Friday 13 Jan 2017 I was out with the USF&WS biologists and volunteers running a couple of routes of the annual mid-winter Bald Eagle (BAEA) survey and today I was back out to conduct our ongoing waterfowl/shorebird survey. On Friday's BAEA survey we (Ford Mauney, Jerry Tupacz, Wil Christenson, and I) motored up the Intracoastal Waterway from Garris Landing to Cape Island just north of the Cape Romain Lighthouses and counted 6 Bald Eagles (including 4 mature, 1 immature, plus 1 of unknown age). Returning to Garris we then started a second route out to and through Bulls Island and counted 2 BAEAs (including 1 mature plus 1 immature). 

Through the Cape Romain NWR we also tallied numerous individuals of several different species including many Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Buffleheads, American Oystercatchers, Willet, Short-billed Dowitcher, Ring-billed Gull, Common Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, and Horned Grebe. On Bulls we also surveyed for waterfowl; good thing we weren't surveying for shorebirds too because we were completely skunked at the shorebird hotspot on Bulls, i.e., the oceanfront saltwater marsh at Jack's Creek. It was, however, low tide so the usual massive flock of shorebirds had many, better places to be. The tide was so low, in fact, that we spied two, new-to-us, exposed sandbars off of the North Beach that had attracted numerous gulls and pelicans to rest. I am so routinely on Bulls at high tide (as part of the International Shorebird Survey, ISS, protocol) that I very rarely see the island at low tide.

I was joined by Cathy Miller, Carl Miller, and Virginie Ternisien for Monday's waterfowl/shorebird survey. We had the luxury of a F&WS Whaler that allowed us to set our own schedule. We found that all the shorebirds that were absent on Friday's survey had returned to the oceanfront marsh at Jack's. I estimated the mixed shorebird flock there to be 2400 strong with fully 2000 of those being Dunlin. Our eBird checklist for Monday's survey is online at: 

Also present there were 6 Piping Plovers, including two that sported bands or flags. Carl Miller took these photographs of "KK," a Piping Plover carrying the black flag bearing the letters "KK." We saw KK on Bulls at least 4 times last winter and now again this winter. The bander, Cheri Gratto-Trevor, wrote to me on 12 Jan 2016 that KK "…is one of our eastern Canada birds--band93917, banded as an adult female on 10 June 2014, at Fatima Beach, Magdalen islands, Quebec." The other banded PIPL was "O,Yb:X,G" translated as an Orange flag above L ankle, Yellow over light blue band below L ankle: metal above R ankle, Green below R ankle. We first saw this PIPL on Bulls on 3 Dec 2016. From the bander, Alice Van Zoeren (also the bander of Old Man Plover): "The other plover [O,Yb:X,G] you saw is also from the Great Lakes. This one hatched in 2015 at Muskegon, MI. He returned to breed in 2016 in Illinois near the Wisconsin border at Illinois Beach State Park. It was an exciting expansion of nesting plovers back into historic nesting territory."

Jack's is full of Ruddy Ducks, Buffleheads, and Gadwalls along with a smattering of other waterfowl species. The water there remains relatively high, apparently too high to allow for final dike construction, at least at the moment. There was also apparently a salt water intrusion, likely when the dike at Old Fort failed during Hurricane Matthew (7-8 Oct 2016) that helped raise the water level in Jack's and left the salinity at 16 ppt. Upper Summerhouse Pond is at 2 ppt, every other survey site is at 0 ppt (i.e., zero ppt). 

Our next survey will be our annual 2-day overnight survey on Bulls at the end of January. Spaces for that survey have already been claimed.


05 January 2017

"...Nature, red in tooth and claw...," and recycling

Tues 3 Jan 2017

I've been counting Bulls Island for the Charleston Christmas Bird Count since the 1970s and was pleased to do so again yesterday. We had a wonderful group of four including Felicia Sanders (who graciously hauled us out to the island and back in her boat), Chris Snook, and Starr Hazard. Starr and I have very fond memories from prior CBCs of Felicia floating her Boston Whaler into the saltwater marsh grasses while chasing the three marsh sparrows; Felicia pulled that same trick again yesterday and we had Saltmarsh Sparrows and Seaside Sparrows so close that we didn't need binoculars to see them well. We also had Peregrine Falcon, American Oystercatchers, Common Loon, Western Sandpipers, Red-breasted Mergansers, and numerous Horned Grebes from the boat.

Starr and I counted the south half of the island and sent Felicia and Chris off to count the north half. We began walking around the picnic grounds, checked and recorded the weather data (temperature and rain fall), and looked up at the right moment to witness a mature Bald Eagle clutching a prey species fly into the top of one of the majestic live oak trees in front of the Dominick House. This Bald Eagle was more accommodating than even the raptors from The Center for Birds of Prey that have been trained to fly to specific perches. I quickly scoped this eagle-and-prey and was surprised to determine that the prey was a Tricolored Heron! I knew Bald Eagles would take fish and fowl, American Coots and Common Gallinules specifically, but wasn't aware that their diet included wading birds. Watch this short video to see yourself, but be prepared for the bloody content what with nature being "…red in tooth and claw…" (see below). It also vividly reminds me of Rudy Mancke's message of recycling, of taking Tricolored Heron and turning it into Bald Eagle.

Though that turned out to be the best highlight of the day, it wasn't the only one. Immediately after leaving the Bald Eagle to finish his meal, I joined Starr along a wet edge of the picnic grounds where he had found a large, mixed flock of warblers, sparrows, flickers, blackbirds, one Cedar Waxwing, and robins. Among that group was an Orange-crowned Warbler that I got two quick views of but that Starr, unfortunately, didn't get eyes on. Not to be overshadowed by all this avian activity, we also watched a fox squirrel move around the lawn. 

Lunch on the beach on Bulls is always a treat for me, even when the heavy overcast sky clears to bright overcast leaving the low winter sun to glare harshly off both sea and sand. (This great value of lunch out in the field, especially with the best of friends, has been reinforced through my association with the local Robert Lunz Group of the S.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club; lunch breaks are enjoyed by all on Sierra Club outings.) Through thin fog we did spy one Red-throated Loon among many gulls and Brown Pelicans that were mostly following a near-shore trawler. Hurricane Matthew (7-8 Oct 2016) washed away about 10 m of the dune line there but the island adapts and persists. (Check out Bob Raynor's blog posting "Adaptation" at http://www.raynoronthecoast.com/ for another recent accounting of the island and the beach, specifically, including several photos.)

We made it down to Price's Inlet and found many hundreds of shorebirds on the sand bar out in the inlet between Bulls and Capers Island. Unfortunately we were much too far away to fully identify any but the largest species. There was evidence, at least to my eye, that this sand bar might be growing taller if not larger; I couldn't make out any vegetation but there was a piece or two of driftwood high up on top of the bar. I hope that the numerous boaters who frequent Price's Inlet during warmer weather will respect the isolation of this sand bar so that, perhaps, it may develop into a good resting spot for shorebirds.

Our eBird checklists for the day are online at:


Nature, red in tooth and claw...
The line...comes from Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850. The quotation comes in Canto 56 (it is a very long poem) and refers to man:
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed