By Tara McIver, biological technican
People see me walking on the beach with my spotting scope, and some stop to ask me what I am doing. Although I monitor Lea Hutaff Island during the summer for nesting birds and sea turtles, I also go to the inlets to identify and count all the birds that I see. And right now is a spectacular time to see hundreds to thousands of birds that have finished nesting and are headed south to their wintering grounds! I saw over 2,000 shorebirds at Rich Inlet last week, including 36 Piping Plovers, and it reminds me of another reason fall is so special here.
The inlets are great places for these migrating birds to fatten up for their long journey and to rest. I survey Rich Inlet, New Topsail Inlet, Mason Inlet and Masonboro Inlet year-round. Rich Inlet has been remarkable for the past few weeks. You can see hundreds of Short-billed Dowitcher, terns (Royal, Caspian, Sandwich, Common and Forster’s), Sanderling, Semipalmated Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Black Skimmer, American Oystercatcher and Willet. Some of the birds using Rich Inlet in fewer numbers are Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Piping Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Tricolored Heron, Osprey, Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit and Black Tern.
Some of these birds are banded, meaning they have colored or metal bands on their legs so you can identify individual birds, find out where they came from and how old they are. For example, the other week I saw 25 Piping Plovers at Rich Inlet. Several were banded, including one that we have been seeing since 2009. It is a little female that breeds in the Great Lakes. Seeing her back again is another treat.