14 June 2017

A day of firsts, including likely first state record of Black-whiskered Vireo

W 14 June 2017

Irvin Pitts and Madison Stelljes, one of this summer's Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) folks working at Cape Romain NWR, joined me for yesterday's waterfowl/shorebird survey on Bulls. It was a day of firsts for everyone in the group. For Madison, who has lived her whole life here in the Lowcountry, indeed she is a fourth generation Lowcountry resident, yesterday was her first ever trip to Bulls Island, so everything was new to her. She will spend her summer at the Refuge helping with the turtle patrols, staffing the Sewee Visitor Center, doing general and odd jobs about, and, I hope, helping more with our survey. 

For Irvin, we were keeping close count of his first-of-year (FOY) sightings when we had a first-for-everyone. After that we kind of lost track of his other FOY sightings, but it must have ended up at 8 or 9 FOY sightings for him. 

We were on Alligator Alley on the dike separating Jack's Creek from Pool 3 listening for Least Bitterns and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (which we did get). Irvin then heard a persistent vireo calling from the wooded edge of Jack's Creek. He immediately thought of Black-whiskered Vireo (BWVI) that he had previously seen and heard in the Florida keys; but BWVI is a Florida species and "shouldn't be here." We compared recordings of BWVI with similar looking and sounding Red-eyed Vireo (that we of course do have here in S.C.). We thought that we were much more likely hearing a REVI with a sore throat or some other aberrant song than a BWVI. Irvin sheepishly said "You might think I'm crazy, but I really think that this is what we're hearing," and he showed me Sibley's app image of a Black-whiskered Vireo. "Then what we really need is for this bird to come out of the woods and show itself," I said. Then the bird flew over our heads and perched in a couple of trees for binocular views and photos. Black-whiskered Vireo!

Black-whiskered Vireo. Photo by Irvin Pitts.

Here is part of my description of this Black-whiskered Vireo submitted with our eBird checklist: "From binocular view, bird showed to clearly be a vireo, long pointy bill showing smooth transition from head through to bill tip, black whiskers (malar stripes) down lateral throat, yellow vent, notched tail, eye line, unmarked dorsal body and wing. First thought to sound like a slightly off REVI but kept making the 'chip chip Phillip' call." My full description of this BWVI encounter, along with an audio recording of its song and additional pictures, can be found on our eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/ebird/iss/view/checklist/S37588214. First indications are that this is a first record of Black-whiskered Vireo for S.C.; we will be submitting a full report to the state records committee soon.

Not to be outdone by that excitement the rest of our survey was also very rewarding. We had 22 species on the ferry, 68 species on the island, and 70 species on the day. Highlights included two White-rumped Sandpipers (one of which was about our very first survey bird of the morning and the other of which was exactly where we saw the same species two weeks ago on the survey), Wilson's Plover family (male, female, plus chick on the North Beach), Black-necked Stilt chick hiding in a sparse tuft of grass in Jack's, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flyover, and a Purple Gallinule (flying from Upper Summerhouse Pond to Lower Summerhouse Pond over Turkey Walk Trail). 

Mammalian species were well represented on the day's outing, too, with sightings of fox squirrels, a marsh rabbit, a raccoon, and Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. We chased a black racer snake out of the roadway and had many giant swallowtail butterflies all over the island. 

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

Mon 26 June 2017 5.2 ft high tide forecast at 10:26 AM
Tues 27 June 2017 5.1 ft high tide forecast at 11:23 AM
Wed 28 June 2017 5.1 ft high tide forecast at 12:19 PM


06 June 2017

The young'uns stole the show

Wed 31 May 2017

Pam Ford and Ed Blitch joined me for Monday's waterfowl/shorebird survey on Bulls, and we really took good advantage of having our own F&WS boat and, thus, our own time schedule. Except for some of the turtle volunteers and three kayakers who landed on the North Beach, I believe that we had the island to ourselves. It was a great way to spend Memorial Day.

While we did see some good birds, it was the very young that really got our attention. On the North Beach we watched a mother Wilson's Plover (WIPL) protect her chick from an aggressive Ruddy Turnstone. This family was really checking out a horseshoe crab, one of the very few that I've seen this year. I recall one recent May when the North Beach was so littered with horseshoe crabs that Wil Christenson and I returned 72 crabs to the ocean in less than one hour. Horseshoe crabs this year have been greatly reduced in number on local beaches making me wonder what annual cyclic variations in horseshoe crab spawning may be at work. Anyway, this one WIPL chick had found this dead horseshoe crab to be an appropriate home base from which to explore the beach. 

Wilson's Plover, mother and chick. Photo by Pam Ford

We saw 4 Killdeer chicks exploring the sandy edges of Jack's Creek under the supervision of their parents. One KILL pair was taking turns apparently incubating an egg in their "nest" immediately on the shoulder of the dike. 

Killdeer on nest. Photo by Ed Blitch

And the annual nesting of Barn Swallows at the emergency shelter at the picnic grounds also vied for our attention.

Barn Swallow chicks. Photo by Ed Blitch

But the best family show for the day came from the large pod of at least 14 Atlantic bottlenose dolphin that we slipped through when we left the island. One adult repeatedly slapped its tail on the surface of the water, another fully breached out of the water, and several young calves displayed their best synchronized swimming with momma dolphin. I've never seen such a large pod, nor had I ever witnessed the tail slapping behavior. That pod was the brightest moment in a jewel of a day on the island. 

But about the birds, we tallied 23 species from the boat, 62 species on the island, and 63 species on the day. I also had Cattle Egrets in the Hwy 17 median (used to be a common sighting many years ago but not recently), Wild Turkeys on Bulls Island Road going into and leaving Garris Landing, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos at Garris that didn't make it onto an eBird checklist. Other notable species included Piping Plovers, Red Knots, Least Bitterns, American Coot, and White-rumped Sandpiper (that was a life-list species for Ed). Our eBird checklist for the island, filled with wonderful pictures thanks to both Pam and Ed, is available at: https://ebird.org/ebird/iss/view/checklist/S37290704.

White-rumped Sandpiper. Photo by Pam Ford

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

Mon 12 June 2017 4.3 ft high tide forecast at 10:15 AM
Tues 13 June 2017 4.3 ft high tide forecast at 10:54 AM
Wed 14 June 2017 4.3 ft high tide forecast at 11:35 AM