Nesting on Sunset Beach – 2017 Edition

The Spring of each year….

….along the Carolina Coast promises a season of rebirth and renourishment. The gulf stream begins its mission of warming our coastal waters, the browns and grays of the marsh slowing turn to brilliant greens and the birds come back to rent a spot along the shore to give birth and help continue the fragile balance between humans and nature. The Carolina barrier islands are a temporary home to a number of migratory shorebirds such as willets, plovers and American oystercatchers. One of the areas that they have chosen to ‘borrow’ from us for their nesting is the East end of Sunset Beach and one of the most spectacular shorebirds is the American oystercatcher. We’ve made it a habit each Spring for the last few years to make our way down to the East in hopes that the birds would once again grace our shoreline. Each year they have done that and remarkably they manage to nest and give birth in just about the same spot each year. 

The dunes on the East end have been ravaged by numerous storms over the last few years. We’d estimate that in the vicinity of 100 yards of dunes that extended from the tip of the East end have been lost to storms. Where once stood 6 to 1o foot dunes is now just flat land. The storms have dramatically altered the flow of water in and around Tubbs Inlet and created many new monstrous sand bars.  Oystercatchers once nested atop the dunes at the point but in recent years, especially last year, their nests were found on flat land on the ocean side of the dunes. Last year there were 2 nests on the shore, one of them quite clearly below the high water mark opening up the potential to be washed away with the tide.

Wilson Plover posing for us!

It was with high anticipation that we started to make our visits to the inlet a few weeks ago in hopes of seeing new life come back to the beach. We noticed a handful of Wilson Plovers scurrying around the dunes but no sign of oystercatchers until yesterday! It was a damp, dank,  gray, drizzly kind of day and the beach was empty and quiet with little sign of any activity until I made it down to the point and suddenly I heard that unmistakeable sound of the American oystercatcher. Once I heard him (her), it was an easy task to spot that brilliant orange bill. I think that I have learned over the years that once they spot a potential predator (me!), they do their best to lead you away from the nest which is what I thought this bird was doing with its feverish scurrying around the dunes. I obliged him and followed him around trying to get some photos.  We made tracks through a wide swath of sand when suddenly just a few feet ahead of me was a nest! For those of you who have never seen an oystercatcher ‘nest’….it’s not a nest! It is merely a shallow depression in the sand in which the eggs are laid. The adults take turns sitting on the nest protecting the eggs from predators and the hot sun. Generally while one of the adults is sitting on the nest, the other acts as a ‘sentry’ at a spot away from the nest warning intruders not to tresspass! As soon as I spotted the nest, I took my photos and high tailed it out of their so that he (she) could get back to squatting! (You’ll notice I’m usuing he and she interchangeably simply because unless you saw the birds mating, you have very little way of determing the sex of the birds. Here is some great info re: their sex)

There were 3 eggs in this nest. Last year there were 2 nests, one with 3 eggs and one with 2. Hopefully in about 3 weeks we’ll see 3 of the cutest little chickies motoring around with adults close by showing them the ropes. It’s quite a sight to see! Obviously, if you make your way down to the nesting area, stay a safe distance away from the nest, especially if the adult is sitting on it. Once they sense a predator they leave the nest. Repeated instances of this can be detrimental to the hatching of the eggs. Here are some of the photos of the birds….hope you enjoy them. Click on any of the photos to view full size and feel free to share as you wish or send a photo as a *Free* E-Card by clicking on the link in the photo.

 

He was really squawking at me fearing I’d find the nest

Are you lookin’ at my butt?

Notice 2 things…the shallowness of the ‘nest’ and how well the colors of the eggs blend in with the surroundings.

After she knew I was no danger, she went back to sit on the eggs.

 

Here are some additional nesting photos. Hope you enjoy!

 

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