Friday, June 8, 2007

The Challenge of Low Tide

June 7, 2007. Low tide was at 8 a.m. today. This created a problem for me logistically. You see, we have six to nine foot tides here along the Georgia coast. This means that at low tide, the habitat is exposed and the birds are spread out across the wide expanse of complex marshes, making it harder to predict where the birds will be feeding. Under these conditions, going to the beach first would not have been productive at all; it would have been better to go to the south end around mid tide, but that would have put us out on the hot beach in the middle of the morning.

These kinds of tide levels make me fall back on experience. After years of birding here, you learn to read the signs, and that has to be done in the field, not the day before when you're making plans! It is truly living in the moment. So when I met Diane and Amy, I warned them that this was going to be a challenging Ramble. This was their first time to trek for birds so they were excited to see how this challenge would play out.

yellowlegs in marsh
It was intriguing to watch beginner luck kick in; hard-to-see birds were popping out at almost every stop! We did find one Roseate Spoonbill way out in the marsh, and along with the spoonbill, there were two Black Skimmers skimming along behind it. The Loggerhead Shrike was nowhere to be found, but instead, a Great Crested Flycatcher was on the tree, calling and flycatching. This is a bird that is often very elusive, so I was trilled!

The next stop was the Glory Boardwalk, which is located next to the soccer field at the south end of Jekyll. This boardwalk was named in honor of the 1988 movie Glory, and was built to create a safe path for the movie crew to get out to the beach from the field staging area. (The movie company worked very hard to be environmentally sensitive as well.) The last scene in the movie, where the valiant troops are charging down the beach, was filmed south of the boardwalk. At this stop I was after one bird: the Wilson’s Plover that nests north of the Glory Boardwalk. We did see a female who was obviously directing our attention away from the male and the nest. We left her to her job and were rewarded with great views of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers being chased by a male Northern Parula! Whoa! This was turning out to be a pretty good morning!

We topped it off with two male and two female Painted Buntings at the campground. When I pointed out the calling Pileated Woodpecker, Amy expressed an interest in seeing the bird, so we walked in the direction of the call. Just as I was warning them that these birds could be hard to find, one flew into the tree just in front of us! That was impressive in and of itself, but then a second one flew in and landed! Amy (as well as the rest of us) was elated!

We finished the morning at the Amphitheater. The majority of the Wood Stork’s nest made it through Saturday’s rains from Tropical Depression Barry. Unfortunately, one of the dead pines that had at least three nests was gone, and there appeared to be a few pairs of adults just listlessly hanging around together; could these have been the pairs who lost their nests? This just points out the fact that life in the wild is not easy. Then we moved on to find that the Anhinga had made it through the storm: there was at least one still sitting tight on a nest. The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron sitting near the Amphitheater was the finishing touch on this challenging Ramble.

On the way off the island I stopped by the entrance to Jekyll, and sure enough, there were two Gull-billed Terns sitting out in the marsh! These elegant birds were a good way to end the June 7th Ramble.

With Jekyll’s birdlife on my mind, good birding!

Thank you Mary Beth for stepping in and being my editor!

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