Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tybee Island Birding

In south Florida, we lived 10 minutes from the beach. In Savannah, we live 10 minutes from the beach. It's probably best to chalk up the parallel to happy coincidence, but Maureen and I do consider ourselves beach people. We're not often interested in going to the beach qua beach, but you can nevertheless expect to see us there every couple of weeks. Instead of catching waves and laying out in the sun, our weekend hegiras have a decidedly different (and predictable) character: they're all about the birds. And Tybee Island has some awesome birds.

An assortment of typical Tybee birds -- Willets, American Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Ring-billed Gull
American Oystercatchers
It also has awesome numbers of awesome birds. It might be an exaggeration to say that we've watched the sky darken with a cloud of Black Skimmers, but only just. To have 800 of them circle close over your heads may not mean watching the sun get blotted out of the sky, but the experience certainly eclipses any ordinary day at the beach (wordplay!).

A LOT of Black Skimmers
The Skimmers usually congregate in a tightly packed group at a sharp elbow in the shoreline. Occasionally, they'll rise up all together for no apparent reason, fly a couple of laps, and then settle back down as a unit. Other times, it's clear why they've risen up: a rascally scamp sprinting into their midst, or a bird-blind couple blithely strolls through them on their way from Point A to Point B. Both situations are annoying, but it's hard to get too upset when I know I've probably been guilty of both at different stages of my life. 


On one recent outing a family was having professional photos taken, and as we approached the elbow the patriarch would rush the birds and hurry back to his family in order to capture the skimmers swirling about in the background. It seemed a fairly indecent thing to do, and fortunately it stopped as soon as we set up scope. I will say this about non-birders, though -- they usually won't go out of their way to spook birds that others are taking an active interest in. 


And here's a bird we were definitely interested in: a Piping Plover. This lonely little guy represents 1/8000th of all Piping Ploverdom. He's hung around all winter with nary another Piping to be seen, but plenty of Semipalmated Plovers to make him feel different and awkward. Or not. I mean, look at him -- he's ADORABLE! Who could ostracize that?

Piping Plover taking his lunch to-go
Yanking a hapless invertebrate out of the ground

Standing his ground against a Sanderling

Mostly Semipalmated Plovers, with some Western Sandpipers thrown in for good measure


  1. Birding, like life, can be a real Beach sometimes. But then you take that Beach and you make lemonade, or something.

    This post generates some serious Plover envy, and I just Skimmed over the rest.

    Fun read as always Messr Martens.