When last we checked in with the flock of tracked oystercatchers, Tropical Storm Karen was taking aim at Oreo’s winter home. As the Karen neared land, however, it weakened to a tropical depression. Despite this positive turn of events, the system continued to affect weather from Florida to Virginia all week. All of the six oystercatchers probably felt its effect, but we know three did.
First, before Karen’s arrival, Oreo spent some time exploring the area surrounding Cedar Key. She took a flight east about 40 miles to the Crystal River area, then returned to Cedar Key where she continued to prefer to spend time on a long, irregular system of oyster bars called Corrigan’s Reef. But, she didn’t stay long. She made a shorter 20-mile flight north to a town called Horseshoe Beach, where oystercatchers also roost in large numbers. She has remained there since, but not without short forays west and east of the main roosting area, a long jetty that juts out from Horseshoe Beach. During the passage of Karen’s remnants, Oreo seems to have stayed in the area of that jetty, possibly taking advantage of its relatively “high ground” while extra high tides overwashed other areas.
To contrast Oreo’s peregrinations, CFX, has stayed within about 3 miles of Mark Bay, an oyster-filled expanse on the west side of Capers Island. Once he made what was for him a long trip south to the next island in the chain, Dewees Island. But, he didn’t stay long. He was back on Capers Island in no time. Mark Spinks of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources reported strong, gusty winds that would have also kept CFX and his flock hunkered down during the worst of it.
Last but not least, we saw Orange Green during the stormy weather that rolled through this week. Orange Green lost his transmitter, but since he hasn’t left the Rich Inlet area, we still see him occasionally, roosting with other oystercatchers. That was the case on Wednesday, when we found Orange Green and 19 other oytercatchers hanging on to a narrow strip of sand on the north end of Figure 8 Island. Large breakers were rolling in from the Atlantic, and the 30-mile-per-hour winds combined with the high tide brought them crashing onto the spit Orange Green and about 100 other shorebirds were sheltering on. While the swash washed over the beach and into the sound, the flock kept their bills tucked and found small tufts of vegetation and hillocks of sand to stand behind. The wave action created billows of foam that collected against the spit and created quite the dramatic scene, as can be seen in the photo to the left. Orange Green and his fellow shorebirds are just visible as black dots.
With the storm system came a 20-degree drop in North Carolina temperatures. This means that all warm-blooded wildlife must burn more calories to maintain their body temperatures. So Orange Green and the other oystercatchers probably ate a little more than usual this week, when they were able to forage. During high tide, which was over a foot higher than normal this week, roost sites for all birds were limited, as many of their usual locations were submerged by the tide or overwashed by the waves. Also, some foraging sites may not have been exposed at low tide. These conditions are more challenging than usual, but Orange Green and the other oystercatchers had it better than any migrating birds encountering the storm. Tired out from a long flight and in need of food to rebuild their body weight, species like the Dunlin and Sanderling, may have faced some long nights as they waited for the weather to improve. But, as the weather improves and the storm moves on, the oystercatchers we can still monitor all appear to be doing fine.