Shorebird nesting season on Wrightsville Beach is unfolding more successfully than expected, given disturbances at the bird sanctuaries located on both the north and sound ends of the island.
Lindsay Addison, coastal biologist with Audubon North Carolina, said four shorebird species are actively nesting on the south end.
Black skimmer chicks began hatching the first week of June. Audubon will count the chicks after they fledge in early and mid July. Two pairs of oystercatchers yielded one chick each and two pairs of common terns are nesting again after they lost their first chicks to fire ants.
Addison said fire ants are attracted to egg white stuck on the chicks immediately after they hatch, and since ants are natural residents of the dune system, bird volunteers can only react to harm inflicted by the ants.
“You find chicks with ants all over them. If they’re still alive, you can remove the ants and place the chick a little distance away but there’s not a way to prevent the ants from finding the chicks in the first place,” Addison said.
Addison suspects willet pairs have also nested on the south end. She said they hide their nests but the parents’ regular appearance at the posting suggests they are tending nests.
Some least tern pairs attempted to nest at the south end even though the open, sandy habitat they prefer was dredged away during the beach renourishment project. No nests were successful.
“We went from having over 250 nesting least tern pairs at the colony last year, and almost 600 least tern pairs in 2012 to having seven nests that failed within two days of them being laid,” Addison said during a June 25 phone interview.
Some least terns also attempted to nest in the Mason Inlet Waterbird Management Area on the north end of the island.
“We haven’t been monitoring that area so I can’t say categorically that it hasn’t produced any fledglings but any reproductive effort there would be really low due to conditions,” Addison said.
The waterbird management area was created as a requirement of the 2002 Masons Inlet relocation permit. Audubon monitored nesting bird activity there until 2013, when some monitoring requirements were suspended while the county works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to permanently alter requirements.
“We haven’t asked them to report on the number of nests and eggs. We have asked them to go out there regularly and have someone that’s capable of identifying nests to make sure that the posting encompasses those nests,” said Kathy Matthews, biologist at the Fish and Wildlife Service, during a June 26 phone interview.
On June 24, Matthews surveyed the site with corps officials to determine if recent county maintenance efforts brought the area into compliance with the permit. Both entities have been working with the county throughout bird nesting season, requesting additional posts, string and signage to ensure north end visitors are aware of the nesting birds.
Matthews said the groups asked the county to add more posts following the June 24 visit, including posts to enclose a least tern nest found outside the posted area.
Matthews said the groups did not actively look for nests inside the posting.
Layton Bedsole, county shore protection coordinator, said the county added posts and signs to the area but did not enclose the nest because they did not know where it was. He said county and corps officials plan to meet on site July 10 to secure approval for the work and locate the nest.
Bedsole said he hopes increased beach traffic during Fourth of July weekend will notice and adhere to the signs.
Addison said Audubon volunteers will stand watch over the south end bird sanctuary during the holiday weekend to keep an eye on the area and introduce beachgoers to the chicks.
“That’s what the volunteers want, to have these fun encounters with people where they’ve never seen a chick … and then they do and it’s like a whole other world. They get pretty excited,” Addison said.