North Tybee Beach 9/3/12

I walk along the gray shore of Tybee Island, headed towards the plethora of individual birds that fit into myriad species that lie just ahead on the sharp corner. As I walk, Gulf Fritillaries glide and Cloudless Sulphurs flutter all around me, hopping from one morning glory to the next. Sea oats sway in the wind, giving them a hook shape. Small waves soothe my mind, crashing consistently to a slow beat on my left. I finally arrive at the corner of the beach bustling with bird activity. I immediately start scanning the multitudes of Black Skimmers, Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls for signs of shorebirds, Caspian Terns, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls. Sanderlings scurried along the shoreline, probing the soft sand with their tuxedo black beaks that contrast so well with their gray sand-colored body. It is almost as if they are playing “tag” with the waves; they run closer to the ocean when the waves recede and then hurry back from where they came as the next wave comes tumbling down. A few Caspian Terns and Sandwich Terns are spotted mixed in with the 75 Royal Terns. The Caspian Terns stand taller than all the rest of the terns, boldly sporting a dark orange-red beak. The Sandwich Terns, on the other hand, are dwarfed by the Caspian’s. They are even smaller than the royals and have a distinctive black beak with a yellow tip. Ruddy Turnstones trudge along with a black band around their breast, strong, orange legs and stout beaks, looking for debris to flip over to find food. Next, some of the first American Oystercatchers of the season seem to have returned to Tybee. These shorebirds stand the tallest on their pink stilt-like legs with their long, orange, flat knife-like bill that they use to pry open oysters. We scan the gulls to find a few Ring-billed, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the mix but no Great Black-backed are to be found. At last, the smallest bird on the corner is seen, a Semipalmated Plover. They exhibit a more walk and peck on the surface foraging behavior rather than running along the shore and probing like a Sanderling. Therefore, the size of their bill is significantly smaller. Brown Pelicans glide over the ocean in brigades, searching for fish to dive on and surprise. All the while, Royal Terns return from the sea, holding the catch of the day in their mouths. But their hard work is squandered when the others take to the sky and bully the fish out of the poor birds beak. The fish (probably mullet, killifish or another minnow) crashes to the ground and the remaining terns begin squawking, displaying and fighting over it. Alas, in the midst of this all, I spot a Ghost Crab who has momentarily ventured from his hiding spot. This all happened last Monday when I went birding with my fantastic mentor, Diana Churchill. I had a blast (as I always do) and can’t wait to go back!

Birds (33 species, 0 lifers):
Laughing Gull 75
Brown Pelicans 200
Royal Tern 100
Black Skimmer 75
Willet 10
Common Tern 1
House Finch 1
Northern Mockingbird 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Carolina Chickadee 1
Eastern Bluebird 1
European Starling 1
Mourning Dove 2
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 1
Osprey 2
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Caspian Tern 4
Ring-billed Gull 2
Sandwich Tern 5
Herring Gull 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull 3
Semipalmated Sandpiper 2
Belted Kingfisher 3
Snowy Egret 1
American Crow 1
Green Heron 1
Rock Pigeon 5
Northern Cardinal 1
Cooper’s Hawk 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Great-crested Flycatcher 1
Boat-tailed Grackle 5

Butterflies (5 species, 3 lifers):
*Cloudless Sulphur
Gulf Fritillary
*Long-tailed Skipper
*Giant Swallowtail

Wildflowers (4 species, 3 lifers):
*Butterfly Pea
*Coastal Morning Glory
*Cat’s Whiskers
Fiddle-leaf Morning Glory

Other Plants (2 species, 1 lifer):
Sea Oats

Long-tailed Skipper
Cat’s Whiskers
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Herring Gull
Royal Tern
Black Skimmer
Fiddle-leaf Morning Glory
Sea Oats
Coastal Morning Glory
Butterfly Pea
Cloudless Sulphur