Birds and Birding

Dewees Island of International Significance to Shorebirds

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International Recognition

Here on Dewees Island, we are working to preserve and maintain habitat for nesting, feeding, and resting shorebirds, and our efforts have gained us inclusion in the Cape Romain region site of hemispheric significance with WHSRN.  (Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network). It is a site of international significance because the entire region hosts more than 10% of the flyway population of American Oystercatchers and Short-billed Dowitchers. This week is the official start of the celebration.

The current Cape Romain Region has been extended to include all coastal lands from Dewees Inlet north though Yawkey Island Reserve into the Winyah Bay. The new site name for this expanded region (including Dewees Island and Big Hill Island) is the Cape Romain – Santee Delta Region. This region includes a total area of 119,440 acres. A map of the region is below.

This region is comprised of ownership of Federal – Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, State – Santee Coastal Reserve Wildlife Management Area, Santee- Delta Wildlife Management Area, Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center Heritage Preserve, North Santee Bar, Capers Island Heritage Preserve and Private – Dewees Island and Big Hill Island.

Cape Romain shorebirds resting along a dock on Wednesday, April 18, 2018

In late February, South Carolina Audubon sponsored a trip to Panama, where we had a chance to see another WHSRN site with tens of thousands of wintering birds.  Many of our birds winter in the tropics and nest in the Arctic, using Dewees as a valuable stopover along the way.

Celebrations this Week

There are a number of celebrations this week, in conjunction with DNR, and Cape Romain, and WHSRN.  On Wednesday night, we’ll be hosting that celebration here on Dewees Island.

Please join us on Wednesday at 4:30 for a social, with a presentation from 5-6 on the History of the Coast Presentation and WHSRN Dedication, with more social activities to follow.  RSVP here.

How Dewees Island supports Shorebirds

It’s part of our community culture of respecting the environment and creating habitat for birds AND people.  We provide habitat and protection for resting, feeding, and nesting birds. For more information on identification of our birds, click here.

  • Restoring water control structures in Lake Timicau. The new management plan will manipulate water levels for the benefit of spring and fall migrating shorebirds. The Lake Timicau Restoration Project is a joint effort of the Dewees Island Conservancy, the Dewees POA, Ducks Unlimited, and USFW. (NAWCA~ North American Wetlands Conservation Act.)
  • Closing beach areas near nesting sites of Wilson’s plovers and least terns to prevent intrusion by people.
  • Placing shorebird nesting education signs on beach access paths.
  • Participating in Audubon’s Shorebird Steward program to educate island residents and visitors regarding nesting sites, dog management and bird loafing areas
  • Maintaining limits on public safety use of beach vehicles on front beach during shorebird and seabird nesting periods.

Big Hill Island

Big Hill Island is a 175 acre island of Spartina alterniflora and shell rake edge bordering the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. It supports nesting American oystercatchers and fall, winter, and spring roosting shorebird flocks often numbering in the 100s. Management is primarily to close the shell rake area to human disturbance during the nesting season.

Here is the whole announcement from SCDNR.


Wilson’s Plover Survey finds chicks

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Adult male with chick

Every spring, we take a survey of nesting pairs of Wilson’s Plovers for SCDNR.  Often, there are members of the DNR staff counting with us, but they were occupied elsewhere this year.  So Judy and Lori and Lisa, one of the new sea turtle interns, walked the North end with the high tide on Tuesday, and Lori and Lisa walked the high tide on the South End on Wednesday.  On Tuesday, we saw four pairs of nesting plovers, and, to our delight, three Plover chicks. 

Here’s a link to last year’s post about these diminutive shorebirds, which nest near or above the wrack line, right in the sand.  The nest is a scrape in the sand, sometimes surrounded by bits of shell.  Both birds tend the nest while the eggs are incubating, and engage in behaviors to both warm and cool the eggs. (The females have been observed spending more of the daylight hours on the nest, while the males take the night shift.) They warm AND cool them by sitting on them (incubating), and cooling behavior can involve shading the eggs, or something referred to by Cornell’s Birds of North America site as “belly soaking,” where the adults incubate or crouch near the eggs with wet or muddy breast feathers to lower the temperature around the eggs.

They feed on fiddler and mud crabs, which is what this adult is doing in this photo.  The three chicks we found were being tended by two adult males, and the chicks are almost impossible to see.  The chicks had probably hatched that morning; they can walk 1-2 hours after hatching.  They were also in graduated sizes.  When startled, they crouch down into the sand and are almost impossible to see.

If you find yourself near agitated or peeping shorebirds, please watch your feet and back slowly out of the area.  Your presence can startle the birds off the nests long enough that the eggs can cook in the sun, or the chicks might crouch down and blend in with the hot sand, creating all sorts of danger for them.  It is best if your dogs are not near nesting shorebirds at all– the area between Osprey Walk and Willow Walk is the best place for dogs on the beach.