Dark Green UP, also known as “UP Bird,” has joined the inscrutable ranks of Arnie and the other backpack-shucking oystercatchers. He, too, has dropped his transmitter, but not before checking in a last few times from the maze of marshy islands and sandbars near Bardens Inlet between South Core and Shackleford Banks. When last seen, UP was near a small tussock called Sheep Island, probably foraging along the edges of the Spartina (a type of marsh grass). We took a trip up to Cape Lookout National Seashore to check out his environs, look for the transmitter, and see if we could sight the bird himself.
It was rather gray day, but there was a pleasantly cool breeze and the water-and-landscape at the juncture of Back Sound and Core Sound is spectacular. The Cape Lookout light looms over the southern end of South Core Banks, there are extensive marshes to explore behind the barrier islands, and wandering among them are the famous wild ponies. The result was that at times we could look out from the boat and see simultaneously a Great Egret hunting in the marsh, a chain of ponies swimming across the channel, and the lighthouse blinking above.
And then there were the oystercatchers. At the suggestion of Jon Altman, a biologist for Cape Lookout National Seashore, we picked our away across shoals to the back side of Shackleford Banks, an area where the oystercatchers prefer to roost at high tide. It didn’t take long to spot a flock of 30 to 40 oystercatchers hugging the shoreline while nearby the ponies, which had just swum across from another island, rolled in the sand. As we headed over to look for bands, another motorboat passed near the flock, flushing them to a small sandbar that the tide had not yet covered. So we diverted towards it. But, two kayakers emerged from an adjacent lagoon and paddled directly towards the island. Unfortunately, they too came too close to the flock, causing them to flush a second time.
The birds wheeled upwards, surveying their options for an undisturbed roost. They drifted down to their choice spot: a small island that was already covered in hundreds of Marbled Godwits and a stretch of wiry Distichlis (salt grass). They settled out among hundreds of other roosting shorebirds: the godwits, Black-bellied Plovers, Willets, Short-billed Dowitchers, and the occasional Whimbrel.
Although we could see very few legs among the flock due to the vegetation and the distance we had to keep to avoid flushing the flock again, it is very likely that UP was among the group. Jon Altman will keep looking for UP (and the other South Core Banks bird, CF7) on his regular surveys, and with luck we will see UP again.