Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Return of the Alien

Don't get excited....anyone from outside the USA is an ALIEN here. That includes me. I visited here in February, 2014.  And I returned on.....

March 11, 2015 2:30-6:00 PM Huntington Beach State Park (Murrells Inlet, South Carolina).

Sunny, some fog,  light breezes with stronger gusts, 21C.

On the causeway, which brings people out to the island on which is the majority of the state park,  people have an excellent view on both sides of the lagoon between mainland and island.  The salt marshes and ponds usually host a good variety of waterfowl, wading birds and shore birds.

I didn't expect the above bird, from features and shape, waterfowl.  It is usually found out on the ocean or in the Great Lakes, not feeding inshore with Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Ducks, The lack of markings did baffle me, though I did conclude it was one of two species of sea ducks called Scoters. My friend Jon confirmed it is a female White-winged Scoter with no white!  There is another smaller Scoter called a Black Scoter, and a third called Surf Scoter. Many Scoters swam on this day out in the ocean beyond the beaches.  This one decided to take a break. Lucky for me.  We usually do not get this close to them.

After conferring with the Park Naturalists and Rangers, I walked the 1.5 miles along the beach to the jetty at the far north end of the Park.  I was told this stretch hosts nests of two rare
plovers, Piping Plovers and Wilson's Plovers.  The latter hadn't been seen yet, but two of the former overwintered.  Nesting begins in the third week of March, so this was a good opportunity to see them in advance of nesting. The Rangers put up barriers around the nesting areas beginning on March 15, and patrol regularly after that.
On the walk out to the jetty (which marks the channel into Murrells Inlet), I found the usual Laughing Gulls, Bonaparte's Gulls and Forster's Terns, pictured above and below.
Not only do the Forster's Terns and Bonaparte's Gulls hang out together as shown above, but they also fish together, as shown below. I initially assumed this flock of hunting birds was made up of only terns, but it "terned out" that Bonaparte's Gulls and Forster's Terns have identical prey and hunting methods, and are hard to identify when they are mixed. The photo below shows three terns diving in concert with a Bonparte's Gull, the bird closest to the bottom.

Not too far down the beach I was honoured by the presence of one of the two overwintering Piping Plovers.  I sat down on the beach and the bird continued to hunt for food, coming closer to me.
The rounded features, and tiny black-tipped bill make this Plover by far the cutest of the Plovers! And one of the rarest, due to human pressure on their beach habitat, dogs, and ATVs.

I didn't expect to find a Giant Water Bug or Beetle in this salt water habitat.  most are 100% freshwater creatures. We all know the Giant Water Bug, a very large 5 cm. insect found in freshwater ponds. The one pictured above is a Coleoptera, a beetle, not a true bug.  And, one species of Giant Green Water Beetles, Dytiscus marginicollis, is found in salt water, on the Pacific Coast!

After some painstaking research, it appears that this 30 mm adult is a Predaceous Diving Beetle,  Cybister fimbriolatus, which has a large range, from Florida into Canada. I could find no reference which includes these beetles as marine predators.
There were many (I counted ten in one small area) of these familiar birds in the surf near the jetty. It doesn't look familiar?  That's because during their winter ocean visits, much like other Canadians, they change their plumage! Or, rather, their plumage changes.  This is a Common Loon.
Busycotypus canaliculatus (Channeled Whelk), the most common of the 4 Whelk species of Gastropods in South Carolina
Having decided to get deeper into the creatures found alive and dead on South Carolina's beaches, I obtained a copy of the:

A Guide to the Common Invertebrates,

Plants and Natural Artifacts of the South

Carolina Seashore
Susan T. DeVictor

David M. Knott

Stacie E. Crowe
I highly recommend this publication.
Using "The South Carolina Beachcomber's Guide, I found that the crab pictured above is a Mottled Purse Crab, Persephona mediterranea. The carapace measures up to 2.5 inches (close to this one). This is not a "beach crab". It lives in the salt water up to a depth of 55 metres.

More to wants to walk on the beach at 9:30 PM.  NO winter here......