19 March 2017

Fewer ducks and fewer shorebirds balanced by good woodland birding

Fri 17 Mar 2017

Irvin Pitts joined me for yesterday's waterfowl/shorebird survey that started out very cold (temperatures on Bulls Island Road into Garris Landing dipped to 19 °F) and sunny. We were bundled up for our boat ride out and were not in any hurry to set a speed record in that Yamaha wind. Our birding started out on a terrific note with a very early sighting of a Bald Eagle.

We tallied 75 species on the day, 72 on the island, and 39 on the survey proper. Our eBird checklist from the island is available at: https://ebird.org/ebird/iss/view/checklist/S35231199 and is appended below. Many of the winter waterfowl appear to have left on migration. While Ruddy Ducks were one of the most numerous ducks over this winter, we saw none yesterday. Buffleheads continue as the most numerous duck, and we got nice, bright views of several other species including American Wigeon, Mottled Duck, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal, and Hooded Merganser. 

The shorebirds seemed reduced in number, too. The North Beach continues to have very few birds, though we did see two Piping Plovers there to add to the seven we spotted in the saltwater marsh oceanfront at Jack's Creek. We did not see Old Man Plover. Interestingly we had high counts of Ruddy Turnstones, Wilson Plovers, American Oystercatchers, and Sanderlings to offset our low counts of Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers, and no Western Sandpipers.

We also had fairly good woodland birding on the island. Among the warbler species we had Black-and-white Warbler, Pine Warbler, Myrtle Warbler, and Palm Warbler. We also had Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Marsh Wren, and two Sharp-shinned Hawks. 

The yellow jessamine that had been so prominent recently on the island (see pictures on my previous blog post) was still blooming but was greatly reduced in its presence. Both of the inlets draining the saltwater marshes oceanfront at Jack's Creek have greatly filled in, one reduced to a trickle and one completely filled in; perhaps the tides simply haven't been high enough to flood those marshes recently. The new dike construction continues slowly; perhaps they're waiting for the water level to drop more.

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

Thurs 30 Mar 2017 5.4 ft high tide forecast at 10:18 AM
Fri 31 Mar 2017 5.2 ft high tide forecast at 11:08 AM


Cape Romain NWR--Bulls Island, Charleston, South Carolina, US
Mar 16, 2017 9:48 AM - 5:03 PM
Protocol: Traveling
12.3 mile(s)
Comments:     Conducting the ongoing waterfowl/ shorebird survey with Irvin Pitts. Effort: 10.3 mi and 1 hr 30 min by truck plus 2.0 mi and 5 hr 10 min by foot. Weather: sunny and cold; temps 32 F to 50 F; winds NW at 10 mph; 30.40 in Hg barometer. Tide was forecast 4.8 ft high at 11:01 AM.
72 species (+1 other taxa)

Gadwall  20
American Wigeon  3
Mottled Duck  14
American Black/Mottled Duck  3     Too distant to ID to species.
Blue-winged Teal  28
Northern Shoveler  44
Green-winged Teal  4
Lesser Scaup  32
Bufflehead  91     A fairly accurate count.
Hooded Merganser  19
Pied-billed Grebe  43
Northern Gannet  1
Double-crested Cormorant  18
Anhinga  6
Brown Pelican  10
Great Blue Heron  5
Great Egret  15
Snowy Egret  24
Little Blue Heron  12
Tricolored Heron  25     A fairly accurate count.
White Ibis  30
Black Vulture  1
Turkey Vulture  7
Osprey  3
Sharp-shinned Hawk  2
Cooper's Hawk  1
Bald Eagle  2
Clapper Rail  1
Sora  1
Common Gallinule  29
American Coot  71
American Oystercatcher  4
Grey Plover  7
Wilson's Plover  4
Semipalmated Plover  141
Piping Plover  9
Killdeer  4
Ruddy Turnstone  50
Sanderling  152
Dunlin  120
Least Sandpiper  3
Short-billed Dowitcher  1
Willet  10
Ring-billed Gull  2
Herring Gull  1
Forster's Tern  14
Mourning Dove  16
Belted Kingfisher  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)  1
Eastern Phoebe  5
Blue Jay  1
Tree Swallow  500
Carolina Chickadee  1
Marsh Wren  5
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  5
Grey Catbird  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
Cedar Waxwing  9
Black-and-white Warbler  1
Common Yellowthroat  2
Palm Warbler  1
Pine Warbler  4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  65
White-throated Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  2
Swamp Sparrow  6
Eastern Towhee  1
Northern Cardinal  3
Red-winged Blackbird  8
Common Grackle  16
Boat-tailed Grackle  70

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

06 March 2017

Video update on Old Man Plover plus yellow jessamine profusely blooming

Tuesday 21 Feb 2017

I made it out to Bulls twice late last week, once for the ongoing waterfowl/shorebird survey on Thursday 16 Feb (thanks to Olivia Hirst-Wilson for helping with the survey) and once leading a Charleston Natural History Society/Audubon field trip on Saturday 18 Feb. The absolute highlight was seeing Old Man Plover, aka BO:X,g, walking on the North Beach on Saturday. This was the first time that I had seen him since early December 2016. Everyone of the 27 folks on our field trip got scope views of him. I was able to capture a brief, 5 s video of him walking. 

Even though both the waterfowl and shorebirds are fewer in number than they were in late January 2017 there were a few other highlights. Over the two trips I tallied 89 avian species. Of particular note were White-winged Scoter, Wilson's Plover, and Peregrine Falcon. 

Friday 3 Mar 2017

Chris Snook was able to join me yesterday for the ongoing waterfowl/shorebird survey on Bulls. We had the great good fortune to have our own F&WS boat for the day that allowed us unhurried access to the island. We tallied 78 species on the day's outing; our eBird checklist from the island is available online at: http://ebird.org/ebird/iss/view/checklist/S34934566.

Construction of the new dike across Jack's Creek has resumed even as the water levels have just begun to drop. That construction effort certainly kept the ducks away from the big shovel, but I don't think that it really affected the waterfowl across most of Jack's Creek. With that proviso, there has been a recent decline in waterfowl number that I personally attribute to the record-setting warm winter season. The most numerous ducks this winter have been Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, and Gadwall. While Buffleheads remain numerous, Ruddy Ducks and Gadwall were greatly reduced in number yesterday. Additionally one of the most numerous ducks in prior winters was Lesser Scaup which have been very few in number this winter. 

The North Beach has become almost completely devoid of shorebirds or, indeed, any birds, at least over our most recent surveys. We saw 1 Sanderling and 1 Piping Plover there yesterday. That was it for shorebirds on the North Beach. There were good numbers of shorebirds in the saltwater marsh oceanfront at Jack's, mostly Dunlin and Semipalmated Plovers, that included 10 Wilson's Plovers and 5 Piping Plovers (including two that were banded/flagged). 

About the same time that the red maple began budding on the island at the end of January the yellow jessamine also began blooming and, almost as quickly, dropping blooms. All over the island are carpets of dropped blooms shining like rays of sunlight reaching deeply into the shadowy understory of the maritime forest showing exactly where the vines have climbed shrubs and trees. 

A few non-avian species that we encountered included Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, fox squirrel (Old Fort Road), mosquitoes (continuing hoards hanging out in the lee of the wind), sulfur butterflies, American alligators, and pretty good shelling opportunities on the North Beach.

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

Wed 15 Mar 2017 5.0 ft high tide forecast at 10:24 AM
Thurs 16 Mar 2017 4.8 ft high tide forecast at 11:01 AM