Nesting season is beginning to gain momentum, and so far we are have two Wilson’s Plovers nests and two Oystercatcher nests for this season here.
Former naturalist, Abby Sterling is starting the second field season of her two year Master’s project which involves monitoring nesting Wilson’s Plovers and American Oystercatchers here on Little St. Simons Island. She is also monitoring field sites on Little Cumberland and the north end of Cumberland Island. Abby’s project looks at nesting and fledging success as well as a variety of nest site characteristics to try to determine if different habitat features can be used to predict nest success and areas of high productivity.
Last year on Little St. Simons, we found 97 Wilson’s Plover nests, and had a little more than a quarter of them hatch. Of the 25 nests that hatched, there were a total 55 chicks, all of which were banded. The leading known causes of nest failure were washover from tides, avian predation, and raccoon predation. We had 17 American Oystercatcher nests, four of them hatched and we had seven chicks survive to fledging! The leading known causes of failure were washover from tides and raccoon predation. On Cumberland Island, on just the northern-most two miles of beach, there were 89 Wilson’s Plover nests and five oystercatcher nests found. The plover nest success rate was 5.6 % and none of the oystercatcher nests hatched. The leading causes of known failure on Cumberland were tidal overwash and coyote predation. On Little Cumberland we found 27 nests, had seven nests hatch and banded 17 chicks. There was only one Oystercatcher nest found, which washed over and failed.
We found nests quite far back on the beach in some cases, well behind the primary dunes. Other nests were located in the wrack line, which reiterates the importance of beachcombers staying below the wrack line on the wet sand during nesting season. Plovers nested out in the open sand, in wrack and in many cases, tucked into the vegetation. The data hasn’t been analyzed yet, but it will be really interesting to see if there are any relationships between these observations and nesting productivity.
This year Abby’s technician on Little Cumberland, Nathan Cross, found the first Wilson’s Plover nest on the tip of Cumberland on March 23. It has already been lost, but he has since found a second nest that remains active and we found our first one here on April 1st.
Both the Oystercatchers and the plovers are showing signs of nesting. Since the middle of March they’ve been paired up and defending territories, but over the past several days we’ve been seeing many more scrapes created by both species. We do have pairs of Wilson’s Plovers quite vocal at all three beach access points (Mosquito Creek, Main Beach gazebo and Sancho Panza), and so its best to stay on the paths and below the wrack line when on the beach. Beach Pond is also an active area with several plover pairs and an Oystercatcher pair.