Jekyll Island – My Second “Home”

May 23, 2013 at 4:18 am (Birds - Georgia, Georgia, Nature, Photography, Wildlife) (, , , , )

Male Wilson's Plover and newborn chick

Male Wilson’s Plover and newborn chick

I will be spending a lot of time on Jekyll Island the next six months.  I am now a volunteer for the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and will be helping people learn about the sea turtles that nest here.

Semipalmated Plovers look like Wilson's Plovers, but their bills are shorter and not all black.

Semipalmated Plovers look like Wilson’s Plovers, but their bills are shorter and not all black.

I also do cool stuff like pick up trash on the beach using the Android app to log it for the Marine Debris Tracker program.  http://www.marinedebris.engr.uga.edu/.  Many sea turtles, birds, and other critters ingest plastics and other debris thinking they are jellyfish or other edibles.  Often they cannot pass this stuff and their digestive system shuts down.  As I picked up all 28 pieces of styrofoam packing peanuts on the beach, or the party balloons and bottle caps, I thought of those sea turtles getting ready to start the next generation and knew that I helped just a little tiny bit.

Black skimmers in flight

Black skimmers in flight

Around high tide I watch shorebirds.  Yep.  I just sit and watch ‘em.  Pure heaven!  You see, this serves two purposes.  One is to keep tabs on the Wilson’s Plovers which nest on the dunes in one particular spot on the island’s southern end.  Since these birds are considered “threatened” in Georgia, and are also on the National Audubon Society Watchlist,

it is important that their nests and chicks are protected.

IMG_4622-copy

The other is to monitor the large flock of royal terns, black skimmers, and other birds that rest on this particular stretch of beach at high tide.

May 14 was my first day, and I saw a pair of Wilson’s Plovers with their three newborn chicks, and a male parent with a single chick.  Presumably mom was still hatching the rest of the eggs?  Talk about cuuuuute!  They were like little pipe-cleaner toys scurrying about while the parents tried to distract my attention with their sharp whistles.  “Look at me” they were saying.  “Not at my babies.”

Wilson's Plover newborn chick

Wilson’s Plover newborn chick

The chicks have grown so much in a week – and still all three are doing well!

Male Wilson's Plover

Male Wilson’s Plover

The main nesting area is roped off and signs warn people to stay off the dunes, but one pair has nested a little north of the protected area.  If they would just keep quiet, nobody would know they’re protecting precious eggs, but they just have to sound off when people walk by.  Of course, the female leaves the nest to do this, which leaves the eggs vulnerable to overheating or predators.  Let’s hope they hatch soon.

Wilson's Plover chick, 1 week old

Wilson’s Plover chick, 1 week old

I saw something very unusual this afternoon as I was walking to the patrol area.  A big alligator which had been basking on the beach (!) got up and walked right into the ocean.  I never heard of an alligator in salt water.  I began to think twice about ever swimming in the ocean again.  If that doesn’t deter you, there are various kinds of sharks in the water, too.  A fisherman showed me a photo of a nine-foot shark caught the day before off the St. Andrews Picnic Area beach.  Ulp.

Alligator in the ocean!  (Huh?)

Alligator in the ocean! (Huh?)

The royal terns are in full courtship mode.  Males will catch small fish and try to entice a female into being his one-and-only. They also do a little courtship dance, with crests raised high and wings cocked jauntily.  At some point they make whoopie, and they will soon be nesting on a protected spot nearby.  Royals want to be sure everybody knows where they are, so they are heard almost constantly.

Royal Terns - "Won't you be my baby?"

Royal Terns – “Won’t you be my baby?”

Rejection sucks

Rejection sucks

Royal Terns Making Whoopie

Royal Terns Making Whoopie… smaller Forster’s Tern to left

The black skimmers are one of the funniest-looking birds around.  The top mandibles of their bright orange bills are shorter than the bottom mandibles – they literally skim the water’s surface to feed on the wing.  On land they look a bit lopsided, with big heads and very short little legs.  But they are extraordinarily graceful in flight.

Flock of black skimmers

Flock of black skimmers

These birds need places to rest and congregate.  Unfortunately thoughtless people often disturb them just to watch them fly en masse.  One fool purposely rode his bicycle through the flock, videotaping them with his smart phone.  They he parked the bike and walked back and forth to scatter them again, all the while holding up his stupid little phone to record his crime.  I took photographs, which will be used in a slide show by the lady who runs the program, to illustrate illegal harassment.  (There are signs up all over the beaches, for pete’s sake.)

This is harassment.  Don't do this.

This is harassment. Don’t do this.

Another fellow walked onto the dunes behind the plover nesting area to photograph something – even though there are signs everywhere telling people not to.

Rope indicates Wilson's Plover nesting area.  Walking on dunes disturbs nests and weakens the dunes.  Don't do this either.

Rope indicates Wilson’s Plover nesting area. Walking on dunes disturbs nests and weakens the dunes. Don’t do this either.

Educating the public is another part of my job – whether it’s birds or sea turtles.  My paid job at Okefenokee, my free time on Jekyll Island.  How’d life get so good?

More about the Wilson’s Plover on the Georgia coast:  http://www.georgiawildlife.com/node/2314

Photos and text copyrighted Cindy McIntyre 2013

Camera:  Canon SX-40

Feel free to reblog

www.CindyMcIntyre.com

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2 Comments

  1. dinajohnston said,

    What a great volunteer job! Those tiny baby plover shots are priceless. We have the problem here as well with people going past the ropes. I just don’t understand it either. I can’t wait to hear what you come up against out there.

    • Cindy McIntyre said,

      Hi Dina – where are you located? I am always amazed that birds and other critters manage to raise the next generation with all the manmade obstacles in addition to the natural hazards they face.

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