Article originally appeared in the Lumina News.
Bird enthusiasts flocked to Wrightsville Beach Public Access No. 43 Monday, June 22 for a free guided tour of the south end’s bird colonies. The walk was led by the Wrightsville Beach bird stewards — a group of Audubon Society volunteers that help protect nesting shore birds.
“We’re in the sixth year now of this being a strong nesting site for a bunch of different shore birds,” said Michelle Frazier, a bird steward. Frazier and her daughter often help lead the bird walks.
“They nest right on the sand, so we walk around the perimeter of the postings. … When you think of a bird nest, traditionally the first thing that pops into your mind is something made with sticks — something you notice. These are just little indentations in the sand with eggs that look just like the sand.”
Frazier also described the species of birds that nest on the island.
“The top four — the least tern, the black skimmer, the common tern and the American oystercatcher — are all in there building nests,” Frazier said, pointing to the dunes. “We’ve got some willet, too. They’re kind of secretive, though.”
Frazier entertained the young children in the group by letting them build a model least tern colony in the sand.
“They’ll kind of sit in the sand and make a tiny hole; that’s called a scrape. That’s where they’ll put their eggs if they decide to build a nest there,” she said. “It just kind of looks like a heel print in the sand. As soon as it has eggs in it, we call it a nest.”
Frazier said the various bird species come from parts of the Caribbean and South America to nest in eastern North Carolina.
“They start arriving in April,” she said.
Building nests and evading predators aren’t the birds’ only challenges.
“When you think of birds sitting on a nest, usually you think of them keeping their eggs warm so they can hatch. Out here, they’re keeping their eggs cool enough so they’ll hatch,” Frazier said. “Instead of sitting right on them in this sort of weather, they’re standing over them and creating shade. In the really extreme heat, they’re flying out to the water and getting their breast feathers wet and bringing the water back and dripping it on the eggs or chicks to keep them cool. You’ll be seeing that kind of behavior today.”
The bird stewards provided spotting scopes for tour goers to get a closer look at the birds in the dunes.
Frazier and her daughter Katherine have been volunteering with the bird steward program for four years.
“I really like the way Audubon and the Wrightsville Beach community are working together to make sure it’s successful year after year,” she said.
The weekly walks take place 9-11 a.m. each Monday until the end of August.
The bird stewards also offer free private walks throughout the week.
“We’ve had family reunion groups come in for walks,” Frazier said.