The tourists are filtering out of the beach towns and the air is turning cool, signaling the passage of summer to fall. Most of the coastal birds that nest in the state are moving south, and this year's busy summer nesting season is on the books. Every year, Audubon North Carolina manages 19 islands and beach sites for nesting birds. Five field staff and over 70 volunteers helped to monitor nesting birds, protected them from disturbance, and enjoyed observing the annual journey from egg to chick to fledgling.
This year's biggest project was the twelfth statewide colonial waterbird census. It documented more than 67,000 nests from more than 20 different species all along the coast. This effort, coordinated by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) and assisted by Audubon North Carolina, is a recurring effort dating back to the 1970s when Dr. James Parnell and other biologists first began studying waterbirds in the state. Long-term data is valuable, though difficult to come by, because it provides information on population and geographic trends that can inform conservation decisions.
In a typical year, about one in three colonial waterbirds nesting in North Carolina are found at sites managed by Audubon North Carolina. Species that particularly relied on Audubon sanctuaries this year included the Brown Pelican (47% of statewide nesting on Audubon sanctuaries), Great Egret (24%), White Ibis (65%), Royal Tern (22%), Sandwich Tern (35%), and Black Skimmer (15%).
When not working on the census, staff continued to monitor American Oystercatcher nesting. While continuing to manage Audubon sites at Ocracoke Inlet, Lea-Hutaff Island, and the Cape Fear River, we also assisted the North Carolina Coastal Reserve with its new bird monitoring work. Technician Brooke Milligan followed 33 pairs on Masonboro Island and watched four chicks fledge.
Ongoing predator control is slowly improving productivity on the island. Meanwhile, bird stewards on Wrightsville Beach found that fledging success was down at the site this year, as a beach renourishment project disturbed the area in the middle of the nesting season. However, two oystercatcher chicks fledged from the four pairs that attempted to nest there. One chick, banded CKN and pictured below, worried everyone watching when it sustained a leg injury and spent a week limping. Happily, it recovered and now it's with the local oystercatcher flock that roosts on docks along the Intracoastal Waterway.
Finally, though Audubon North Carolina focuses on bird management, we also monitor sea turtle nesting on Lea-Hutaff Island. This year, the island received one of the first (laid May 24) and one of the last (laid August 27) nests in the state. Nests are still incubating, but so far 355 loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings have made it to the ocean.