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.


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