Sunday, October 9, 2011

Walking With One Wild and Wacky Willet on Folly Beach

Beach Morning Glory -- June 27, 2011

      One late June morning, I decided to take my morning walk to the North end of Folly Island (some say the East end).  To clarify for those who are more directionally challenged than am I, this is the area of the old Coast Guard Station which today is known as Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve, a designated wildlife sanctuary.  It is a favorite place here in the Lowcountry for the romantics who enjoy spectacular views of the old Morris Island Light, for the history buffs interested in visiting old Civil War sites and pirate hideouts and for the fishing folk who like to cast among the rocks of the jetties here.  And naturally, we birders love it for the birds!  For the protection of the natural areas, you are limited to birding from the road in the wooded areas which are full of our common birds.  But from there, in the summer months, you can also easily catch a glimpse of Barn Swallows and Painted Buntings.  You might also have an occasion to spy or hear a Common Ground Dove.   In June, you can visit the beach and watch the nesting Wilson Plovers, Least Terns and the Willets. The nests are not easily detectable and actually far more birds nest on the uninhabited Morris Island across the inlet as it is less disturbed by man.  But you still can watch the Least Terns fishing in the inlet and the Wilson Plovers and Willets are found on the beach on Folly inside the inlet and are easily observed from a respectful distance.

A Wilson Plover seen early in my walk -- June 27, 2011
       My goal as usual was to walk vigorously in the early morning in order to get some  exercise.  But it is hard indeed to leave the camera and binoculars at home even when the primary goal is exercise.  I tell myself that I am still burning plenty of calories, even if the wildlife and photographic opportunities are slowing me down, because of the weight of the big lens.  Ha, Ha, Ha!

       One of those photographic opportunities manifested early in this walk as I spotted two dueling Atlantic Ghost Crabs.  It appeared that the larger one had already gone through several battles as he was missing a claw and a leg on his left side.  Eventually, the two perceived me as a greater threat and both scurried down the hole over which they were dueling.  Hmmm, I wonder what happened down there....

Dueling Atlantic Ghost Crabs -- June 27, 2011

The grasses along the dunes are full of young House Finches at this time of year.

House Finch -- June 27, 2011

        After photographing the House Finches, I continued down the beach in the inlet area away from the ocean following the course of Lighthouse Creek towards the marshes of James Island.  There is a very long, somewhat narrow strip of a dune line here until it eventually terminates at the junction of Lighthouse Creek with the creek that flows from behind Folly Island.  It makes for a beautiful long walk to the end and would be great for exercise if I could just concentrate on the vigorous walking rather than the wildlife! 

          As I passed an over-wash area, I spied some Wilson's Plovers and approached hoping to catch a shot.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, I heard the high-pitched and agitated cry of a Willet.  I looked up to see one flying towards me.  She looked like she meant business.

Willet -- June 27 , 2011
It was pretty obvious that I must have been close to her chick(s) hiding somewhere in the marsh.  I quickly took a few rapid-fire shots and began to retreat from the over-wash area.

Willet determined to drive me off -- June 27, 2011
Her cries brought out some reinforcements as four more Willets arrived to circle around me as I continued my retreat back towards the water.

I am not one to want to stress wildlife so I hurried down the beach toward my destination (to the end of the dune line at the intersecting creek) wanting to leave this Willet's territory so that she would calm down and tend to her chick(s).  But apparently, her territory was bigger than I anticipated as she continued to follow me and circle me for my dastardly intrusion.  She would land on top of the dune and continue to fuss as I moved down the beach.

After I had gone 20 yards, her recruits seemed satisfied and left.  But this Willet was not yet happy and she continued to follow, fuss .....and land on top of the dune and fuss.  I confess that I did stop briefly for a few quick shots but I really did not want to continue to stress out this poor creature.

So I hurried down the beach with Willet in pursuit and circling.  Finally, after walking 100 yards, the Willet was gone and I relaxed my pace, amazed that she considered her territory to be the length of a football field.  I reached the end of the dune line, paused to admire the view and then turned to head back, and there was my Wild & Wacky Willet, protesting again my very existence.  Back up the beach, she finally tired of pursuing and fussing once I got past the site of my original intrusion.  Phew!  Poor crazy bird.  I felt bad for being the culprit causing all of her stress.  How unlike the Willet that we had inadvertently flushed off of a nest with a hatching egg on Dewees Island at the beginning of May!  That bird simply flew off and waited quietly for us to leave before returning to her egg.  Here is the post on that day on Dewees -- my very first post!.  

As I worked my way back towards the ocean, I was able to capture this shot of two Snowy Egrets fussing over a fishing territory.

        In spite of my vigorous walk up and down the dune line with my wild and wacky Willet, I was not really yet ready to leave.  Seeing a small family of Wilson's Plover, I sat quietly at the water's edge, hoping that this threesome would eventually overcome their timidity and head down to the mudbank in front of me to feed.  Sure enough, the curious youngster ventured forth first.

Young Wilson's Plover -- June 27, 2011
The parents were more cautious and seemed only willing to approach because the youngster had preceded them. 

Adult male Wilson's Plover -- June 27, 2011
Female adult Wilson's Plover -- June 27, 2011
             While sitting on the beach watching the Wilson's Plovers and this beautiful Tri-colored Heron.....

Tri-colored Heron -- June 27, 2011
I noticed these curious sand insects crawling around.  They were about .5 inch in length and, aside from their white coloring, they looked a bit like our famous Charleston roaches (aka Palmetto bugs)!  I later learned from my bug men (see the previous post), that this bug is likely a subspecies of the Eastern Beach Tiger Beetle

Eastern Beach Tiger Beetle

       What an interesting foray into nature that day proved to be!  All of it was made more interesting with the antics of the critters observed, especially my poor Wacky Willet.  With camera in hand, my pauses to observe are naturally longer, and the photos themselves are revealing!  For example, I had not noticed the missing claw and leg on the larger crab until I edited my photos!  Though I may sometimes exercise less vigorously when carrying my camera, I am more observant and learn more about the natural world in which we live.  So on cloudy days, I can leave the camera gear at home, sometimes... 

1 comment:

  1. C'est magnifique! Merci pour tes articles et photos. Folly me manque!!!