North Beach Nesting Area Update: June 12, 2021

It has been a little over three weeks since the last blog post about the SCDNR-posted nesting area out on North Beach. Much larger dunes now cover the front two-thirds of the space closest to the signs and the lagoon behind it has shriveled in size with the high winds and the the lack of appreciable rain since early April. 

The wind and drifting sand were responsible for the loss of the first Least Tern nests that we saw April 30th and the king tides of late May reached the wrack line where another couple nests were lost. Nevertheless, the Leasties have re-nested. Janet Thibault assessed the situation on June 2. It’s hard to count the nests between the dunes but she thought that we might have about 12 pairs trying to nest. Some of the nests are just along the front signs. 

Our Shorebird Stewards check each day, but still no chicks. Please stay back from the signs. Of course, the terns will remind you with their dive-bombing and loud calls to keep your distance. Once the chicks are born, it will be important to watch where you walk especially any where there might be some bit of shade- a pile of wrack, a footprint or a tire track.

Photo of Least Terns with ghost crab

We also have two pairs of Wilson’s Plovers nesting inside the signs – one pair at each end. The Wilson’s will often be seen early in the morning hunting for food in the front wrack line or standing guard on a dune ridge. We have not seen chicks yet.

Photo of Wilson Plover

The most exciting news is that the American Oystercatcher 5U and his family have thrived. The chicks are almost four weeks old. Their bills are growing and becoming colorful. They have been out foraging on Tagelus (short razor) clams on the edge of the lagoon. 

(Photo of AMOY chick eating Clam with 5U at 2 1/2 weeks)

The parents still bring other food and shepherd them under plants when threats appear. The chicks may only be another week or so from flying (30-35 days) but will stay with their parents for another month or more after they fledge.

(Photo of AMOY family at three weeks)

The shorebird steward literature talks about the Umbrella Effect, where what we do to protect Threatened/Endangered species like the Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers extends to other species of concern like American Oystercatchers. This year the North Beach nesting area has done just that- U5 & his mate are well on their way to fledging chicks in the protected dunes with the mutual aid of the Least Terns to turn back the predators that cost them their nests in previous years.

Article and photos by Mark Andrews

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