Welcome everyone to Alabama Audubon’s first ever coastal blog—Scope on the Coast!
By: Sabrina Cobb
Join Coastal Biologists Sabrina and Olivia as they survey and monitor important coastal habitat here along Alabama’s shore. Coastal biologists work under our Alabama Coastal Bird Stewardship Program and collect viable data from both Mobile and Baldwin counties throughout the year. We are excited to kick off our blog during one of the most exciting and busiest times of the year here on the coast—the breeding season! Breeding season for many of our shorebird and seabird species begins in early spring, and thereafter we are non-stop, working hard to ensure breeding birds are closely monitored and that proper symbolic fencing is in place to help create the space they need for a successful season.
So, without further delay let us dive into some of the exciting finds thus far!
The return of the least terns…
On an Alabama beach not so far away, a small yet excitable tern species has arrived from its wintering home of Central and South America to catch some rays and, most importantly, make some babies. Least terns are annual visitors here in Alabama where they nest and, hopefully, raise young. Gulf coast waters here provide an abundant food supply for these fish-spearing birds. Least terns are one of our priority species here at Alabama Audubon as they are especially sensitive to habitat loss, extreme weather events, and human disturbance.
Our first encounter with the least terns this season was at a known nesting location in Baldwin County. On April 30th, Coastal Biologists and our Coastal Coordinator, Nicole Love, teamed up to fence off the area before the birds showed up; however, a couple of early birds beat us to it! We like to start our field work in the early morning to avoid exposure to high temperatures here in Alabama, but that day, the weather was perfect with a partly cloudy sky and a temperature of 73 degrees. The area we needed to fence was relatively small, which made the process easy. We used metal posts with nice signs on every other post and some bright yellow line around the perimeter to help keep disturbance to a minimum. This area is a sandy lot that is lightly vegetated and has several ponds available nearby for foraging. During our fencing, we observed five early arrivals, two of which were displaying some early courtship behavior in the form of zig-zag flight-chasing by the male.
We have surveyed this sight eight more times since this first encounter in April and last estimated 57 total least terns on the lot with approximately 35 on nests! Things have changed within a matter of only a week. It is truly amazing how fast life happens, and through diligent field work and observation, you really get a sense of how quickly things change.