I wiped away the weeds & foam. / I fetched my sea-born treasures home... Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Nature Notes _ Shore Birds

I preen, I dance, I sing....

Hi everyone! It is chilly but the shadblow is blooming on the dunes and marsh sides so I know it is now May. What, you ask, is shadblow?here We also call it dune hawthorne. It is a bush with dark stunted branches and creamy white/ pink puffy flowers, like a Japanese woodcut.

May also means the birds are nesting. My  rhododendron is being hotly fought over by the established mockingbird couple and a pair of rare and so pretty cardinals. [both ''rare'' as I do not usually have songbirds here.].

And you all know how I love my beach birds, right? Every day I run out to  the beach to check on them: are they here?!? Are they nesting? Laying eggs? Look closely...see all the tiny footprints and the tuft of grass, a clam shell? Signs of a plover nest!
Click to enlarge all photos.

My favorite oystercatchers are here and seem unfazed by the changes in their beach. This little lady is determined to put her nest on HER spot even though her spot was washed away during H. Sandy.

The tuft of sand and grass to the far right is all that remains of her dune. [she is walking away to hide her nest, just above the red flag to the left.]

I am pretty sure that her internal GPS has told her this is her nesting place and the fact that it is 10 feet lower than it once was does not bother her in the least.


 Her eggs are a warm pale beige with brown spots....

This is another nest that is located behind the new dune-building fencing.

I followed the bird one day as she scurried all the way from the shoreline where she was feeding, back to this hidden spot. Perhaps almost a quarter mile from the water's edge!

I have never seen a nest here because prior to this spring this area was hiden in high dunes, accessed for photos from the back scrubby  foredunes and pine ground cover area, i.e. high bround.  This pathway used to have a high dune boardwalk, permanent, with huge pilings set into the sand. Swept away by the storm. This is very near where I found that wrecked boat or ship last November...

 Or she may be a new resident. She looks serene and proud!

 Her eggs are palest blue, size of a very small chicken egg.


The threesome who lives to my east has not decided on their nest yet...but the rest seems in place, scattered across the open beach.
Then there's the famously protected and coddled piping plovers. So far four cages have appeared.

This one has been in this exact spot for years....

Even though it is in a flood zone and has been washed away some years. [they are endangered  partly I think because they do not seem to learn.]

May  2012, same view, remnants of a high tide:

The outer dunes are gone, but the area is fenced for the plovers and the much-despised- by-us terns. These simple post and string fences keep people out and over each summer, vegetation grows there, the dunes rise. This actually takes way from the piping plovers' habitat as they will not nest in vegetated dunes where they cannot see prey coming. And their babies are tiny pompoms of fluff the size of golf balls! They  are not feed by the parents but are taken immediately to the shoreline to feed on whatever tiny things the plovers eat. The parents will not nest in high dunes that the babies cannot climb over and out of. So we are seeing new nests in higher areas where they hopefully will be above the tideline.

No layers of dunes means no swales or vernal ponds...so no dune toads or spring peepers, no mallards. Nowhere for our rare pair of willets to nest. No blackbirds nesting....

I saw paw prints that I had hoped were signs of Ratty the Muskrat. But I only saw them one time, he too needs a wetlands habitat and probably relocated to the bay's saltmarsh.


Below: the peeps or sanderlings are still here and feeding. They will nest soonin the highest Arctic Circle above Alaska!

I don't have  a photo but a friend of mine has a swan nesting in his H. Sandy debris! Can you imagine? I hope I get to see it. He says the eggs are the size of small footballs,lol.

Do you like to birdwatch, too? When I was a little girl we set out yarn and string and dryer fluff for the birds for their nests. My mom made it so exciting, to see a sparrow with my red yarn in his beak. Funny how childhood tradtitions form one's life...



           gone to the beach....

PS one more bird..the first motif on my Sunshine quilt! The wing in the photos is wring, great to be able to see with a digital camera.....



  1. Okay, I left a comment and evidently something ate it.

    Funny that you mentioned putting yarn etc out for birds' nests. Today I nearly ran a red light in town, watching a sparrow flying low across the street with something about 1" wide and 4 times the bird's length trailing along behind him like a pennant from an airplane! Made me smile - also made me glad it wasn't a busy street!

    Love all the pictures. I hope you get to see and photograph the swan and nest. Be careful you don't get too close when the swan is around - they can be very bad-tempered! I knew someone with a pair of black swans, they were nasty things!

  2. Lizzy, I love your photos of the shore birds. i haven't checked our beach, but I hear the terns are nesting comfortably in our small dunes as well.
    The Turtle's nesting is a big deal here. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium sends out a Ranger every morning to check for new nests and to put up fencing to protect them.
    Also, there are warnings to residents to keep lights that shine onto the sands low or off so as to not confuse turtles. especially the hatchlings when they appear.

    I'll try to get some photos of that this year, if possible.


  3. I love traipsing down the beach with you! The little things you see and make note of are wonderful!

    When I was a kid, half of our street was paved, the rest was dirt. I could only tell two types of tracks in the dirt - quail and road runner! Amazing what you can see when you are looking!!!


  4. It's funny how they nest out in the open like that. How long do they have to protect the eggs before they hatch? Sure seems like an iffy situation. I love bird watching though we don't get many varieties around here since we don't have a lot of trees for them. When I go to the walking path, I see more and that's not very far away but there's grass and other vegetation for them. Have a wonderful weekend. Tammy

  5. Tammy, the shore birds seem to have evolved in such a way that their eggs are exactly the color of the sand and camouflaged.Presumably this evolved eons before human came to the beach! Why do they then lay their eggs in tidal zones tho? So the babies can make it the ocean edge? Also nesting in open spaces lets them see approaching predators.

    The oystercatchers do not stay on the nests, tho the plovers do remain, tho both mates sit on the eggs, take a turn etc. The incubation is I think 28 days for plovers & oc. The [arctic, least, royal] terns also nest right on the sand in huge vicious colonies. They nest above the flood line tho. Terns feed their young and I see them 24 hours a day, brining sand dabs , small minnow-y fish, from the salt marsh! Exhausting....



Thank you for taking the time to write a comment here.