01 May 2017

Birds have returned to the North Beach and a brief update on Old Man Plover (see P.S.)

M 1 May 2017

Mary Kennerty graciously joined me for the Bulls Island waterfowl/shorebird survey back on 30 March 2017; apparently that experience didn't discourage her because she came back for another survey with me last Friday 28 April 2017. Like a trooper, she put up with an onslaught of mosquitoes that only yielded when we on the beaches in a good, stiff wind.

Bull's birds are still in transition from winter species through migratory species to summer species. Most ducks are gone so I was quite pleased to see a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers. A couple of migratory, I presume, Piping Plovers were on the North Beach; both were banded, one of which I also saw two weeks ago in the same location. Some Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers, Semipalmated Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, most of these shorebird species molting into alternate (breeding) plumage, remain. Numerous summer residents have arrived including Least Bittern, Cattle Egret (not particularly common on Bulls), Wilson's Plover, Black-necked Stilts, Sandwich Terns, Least Terns, and Gull-billed Terns. And migratory Semipalmated Sandpipers were present. Not yet arrived for the summer are Black Terns, Reddish Egrets, or Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.

Perhaps the best finding was that there were, for the first time in 18 months or more, many birds on the North Beach. For several years of this survey from 2012 through 2015 there used to be many, many shorebirds, gulls, skimmers, and terns to be found on the North Beach throughout the year, but for the last 18 months or so the overall number of any birds on the once thriving North Beach dropped precipitously. Mary Catherine Martin (MC), shorebird biologist with S.C. DNR who surveys the birds of Bulls Bay including Bull's North Beach, has seem similar sharp declines in birds on the North Beach. 

One of the great pleasures of birding Bull's as regularly as I do is watching and noting the changes, both subtle and dramatic, over two-week time scales. I've often commented to my fellow surveyors, speaking out loud mostly as a conscious effort to note and remember the changes that I see, that the island does change on every trip out. The North Beach has significantly accreted over the past five years though it's edges were somewhat softened by October's Matthew, but it is not obvious to me (or to MC either) why the birds seem to have abandoned the North Beach. At least last Friday there were many birds there, a rewarding observation that I hope will be repeated many more times.

A portion of the North Beach above the high tide line has been seasonally closed to protect nesting birds like Wilson's Plover and Least Tern. I've seen many similar roped-off areas along many other local beaches and sand bars. It is unfortunate that such efforts need to me made so explicitly in a National Wildlife Refuge, but people really do need such reminders. Even on our developed beaches these restricted areas provide absolutely critical habitat for beach-nesting species. Please, when you (or you as a conscientious human companion of your canine friends) come across such restricted areas on any beach, sand bar, or barrier island, respect the posted boundary and let's give the beach nesting species their best chances for nesting. It is such a small consideration on our part that means life for many species that are simply following instinctive behavior. As the signs say, "let them nest, let them rest." 

We did find several fox squirrels scattered over the island (Beach Road, Mills Road, Summerhouse Road at Upper Summerhouse Pond, and the grounds at the Dominick House). Non target birds of note included Painted Bunting, Belted Kingfisher, and Bobolink.

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

Sun 14 May 2017 4.4 ft high tide forecast at 10:40 AM
Mon 15 May 2017 4.3 ft high tide forecast at 11:19 AM


P.S. I had an email late today from Alice Van Zoeren about Old Man Plover. She says: "Your buddy BO:X,g is doing well up here [Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan]. He has a mate and they should have some eggs before long. Hopefully his missing foot won't interfere with his balance during mating. I was just out to see them this morning."

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