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