While many shorebirds and seabirds nest on Deveaux Bank, we only have 4 possible nesters on North Beach. They are the Wilson’s Plover, the Least Tern, the Willet and a possible pair of American Oystercatcher. (The answers to Friday’s teaser are at the end of this article). Shorebird and seabird nesting is a fragile enterprise and success is fraught with peril since a nest is often nothing more than a shallow scrape in the sand. We have a designated nesting area on North Beach, but birds can’t read and often choose other areas and are subject to high tides and predators.
The Wilson’s Plovers have been exhibiting courting behavior on our beach this spring. Males have been vocal and territorial with each other while courting females. They lay eggs in a small scrape in the sand and try to camouflage their nest. If you get near a bird that is vocal and feigning a broken wing, steer clear of the area. It means they have a nest nearby.
Least Terns are the smallest of the SC terns and have a black-tipped yellow bill. They have a very funny courting behavior where a male brings a small fish to the female and she either accepts the fish of rejects it. We have photographed this many times on North Beach. They will actually “dive bomb” you if you get near a possible nest. Last year, there was evidence of Least Tern nesting on the “highway” part of the cut, but unfortunately SC DNR found evidence of coyote tracks near the possible nests. There have been several endeavors to actually make Least Tern nesting areas on coarse sand and pebble covered roofs or abandoned docks in Charleston to give them a safe environment for nesting. The results are promising.
A pair of American Oystercatchers (including our reliable banded U5) may also have had a nest on Seabrook. They are often seen together on our beach. Their nest is also a scrape in the sand, usually further back in the dunes. The use their feet to make a scrape and line it with shells, pebbles and wrack. It is often susceptible to high tides.
Several pairs of vocal Willets have also been observed on our beach which could indicate a nest. Willets nest back in the dunes and also on the ground. They have a piercing call and also use a broken wing display to draw attention away from their nest.
On Deveaux Bank, the colonial nesters abound. Colonial nesting means nesting in large groups of the same species. Brown Pelicans, Black Skimmers, Royal Terns, Gull-billed Terns and Sandwich Terns all nest in large colonies. I have never personally observed these birds on nest, but Dana Beach’s book on Deveaux Bank has wonderful pictures of the spectacle of the large colonies of nesting birds. The Brown Pelican nesting colony is the largest on the Atlantic Coast.
If you see anything that you suspect as nesting activity, give the birds lots of room. Respect the posted nesting area. Keep your pets on a leash, and out of the “No Dogs Allowed” area completely, as well not allowing dogs to go above the high tide line in any area. Don’t force feeding birds near the water to fly and give them lots of room to feed. Don’t litter on the beach, nor feed the birds human food. If you see trash, pick it up. Birds can ingest or feed their chicks plastic items they mistake for food.
Beach nesting coastal birds are among the most threatened of all migratory birds. Of the 51 species that breed in North America , 43%, or 22 species, are declining in population. Audubon South Carolina has a program called “Let ’em Rest, Let ’em Nest” – a way of co-existing with coastal birds.
Article Submitted by: Aija Konrad
Photographs by: Ed Konrad
Answers to Friday’s Teaser: