First off, I wanted to apologize for not posting more consistent updates regarding the status of the nesting shorebirds on Bear Island throughout the duration of the summer. However, in my last couple of weeks here I intend to summarize the work that I have done this summer and discuss the shorebird management plan for Hammocks Beach State Park moving forward into this winter and the nesting season next summer. In this blog post, I will describe which species of shorebirds nest on Bear Island and why it is important to protect them as well as what my daily work schedule is like.
As many of you know, Bear Island serves as a nesting site for a variety of shorebird species including least terns, common terns, American Oystercatchers, black skimmers, Wilson’s Plovers, willets, and the critically endangered piping plover. Other than piping plovers, many of these shorebird species are listed as threatened or endangered primarily as a result of habitat loss caused by human settlement and pollution. Therefore, monitoring these shorebird species during the nesting season, which occurs approximately between April 1st and August 31st, is essential for determining how best to conserve these animals in the future.
Although Bear Island as part of the North Carolina state parks system will never have buildings constructed on it, ensuring park patrons are aware and respectful of the nesting shorebirds is important because both the nests and the birds themselves are easily susceptible to human disturbance. For instance, dogs allowed to roam the beach freely can break the eggs while people walking too close to the shorebird area can scare the birds and cause them to abandon their nest. Since some of the shorebird species that breed on Bear Island will only lay one nest per season and will not re-nest if their eggs are destroyed, it is critical to minimize the effects of humans on the nesting shorebirds, particularly given that predators and environmental factors such as thunderstorms alone are enough to make some shorebirds abandon their nest.
Based on the shorebird conservation goals of Hammocks Beach State Park, my daily work schedule is designed to collect as much data and information about the nesting shorebirds on Bear Island as possible. Bear Island contains two primary shorebird nesting sites, one located at Bear Inslet and the other at Bogue Inslet. Typically, I will spend approximately two to four hours at each side of the island monitoring the nesting shorebirds. When I am in the field, I use both my binoculars and a large field scope to locate birds sitting on their nests. Once I have determined where a new nest is, I enter the bird area and record various types of data. For instance, I note the GPS location of the nest, how many eggs are present, and physically mark the nest with a colored stake and a number so that I can identify and find it again, an example of which is shown in the picture of the least tern nest above. While I spend a significant portion of my time looking for new nests each day, I also check on each existing nest daily to look for any changes such as predator activity or nest loss. Lastly, at the end of the day I spend about 30 minutes entering data in an Excel spreadsheet on my computer, which allows me to track the changes in each individual nest throughout the summer.