Blog Post By: Jillian Sower (Summer Sea Turtle Intern)
On June 10, Skyler and I had the opportunity to attend a fundraiser for Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, which is located on the north side of Charleston, past Mount Pleasant. Each year the refuge gets more than 1,000 sea turtle nests – sometimes over 2,000 – so they require a lot of funding to help take care of those nests. The fundraiser consisted of a tour of Bulls Island lead by Dr. Patrick McMillan of Clemson University.
The tour started with a 45-minute boat ride to the island, during which the captain of the boat talked to us about the ecology of the refuge. He talked about many of the animals that made the area their home, such as the endangered wood stork, which we later saw, and the loggerhead sea turtle.
When we arrived on the island, Dr. McMillan greeted us and proceeded to talk further about Bulls Island and the animal species that could be found there, namely horseshoe crabs and shorebirds. We began to walk towards where some turtle activity had been found. Dr. McMillan would stop every now and then to talk about the shorebirds – there were many species on the island, and he talked with us about them and about his experiences working with them. While we walked, we saw many sand dollars and perfect whelk shells.
By the time we reached the area of the turtle activity, the wind had blown away the tracks so completely that we walked right past it. Unfortunately, it was a false crawl rather than a nest.
After Dr. McMillan talked about the false crawl and about loggerheads, we had free time to walk around the island. Skyler and I walked along the shore – we didn’t go swimming because neither of us thought to bring our swimsuits…or sunscreen. We did, however, see some dolphins, and some blue crabs scuttling along the ocean floor.
On the boat ride back the captain again educated us about the wildlife of the island, while we got rained on. Overall, it was a very educational day, and the program raised over $10,000 to help take care of their turtle nests.
This week, on Wednesday, June 13, Skyler and I helped some researchers from the Department of Natural Resources with some shorebird work on Deveaux Bank off Wadmalaw Island. Deveaux is a shorebird sanctuary that is mostly closed to the public. Many species of shorebirds nest there, including gulls, pelicans, skimmers, terns, and plovers, and the species of focus for the day: willets. The goal of the day was to try to find, capture, and geotag willets, as well as find new nests.
Willets lay their eggs n nests on the ground, usually in some vegetation. They have cryptic coloration, meaning that the adults and eggs blend right into the sandy ground. They don’t attempt to escape unless you’re right on top of them or their nest, so in order to capture them we had to walk over their nests holding a mist net, so when they tried to take off, which is called flushing, they would get caught in the net. Unfortunately after a couple of attempts we only caught one bird that was already tagged, but the researchers were still able to gather some information from it by measuring parts of its body and weighing it. We also found a nest that already had two chicks. They were super cute!
Hopefully Skyler and I can help the researchers out again. It was fun to walk around the island looking for nests. It’s not something everyone gets to do, and I gained a lot of insight into the world of shorebird research. I would love to gain more experience in this area!
Sea Turtle Biologist