SIB “Bird of the Week” – American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher – Haematopus palliatus
Length:  17.5″; Wingspan: 32″; Weight: 22.4 oz.

American Oystercatcher - Ed Konrad
American Oystercatchers on beach with other Shorebirds – Ed Konrad

The American Oystercatcher is a large, boldly patterned bird we see at our beach and in salt marshes. It doesn’t appear in large groups, but is often seen in solitary pairs. As indicated by it’s name, it feeds on oysters, clams, mussels and uses it bright orange-red bill like an oyster shucking knife to open it’s prey. They also probe for and stab shellfish or they carry loose shells out of the water and hammer them open with their bills.

The oystercatcher has a large black head and a large red bill. It’s back is dark brown and it’s underside is white. It has stout, dull-pink legs and a bold white stripe in it’s wings and rump when in flight. When they fly, they call loudly in a whistled “wheep.”

Oystercatchers are usually in small numbers and fairly solitary or in small family groups. Cape Romain, up the coast, has the largest wintering population of oystercatchers in the world. One winter we observed a group of 93 near the oyster beds by the Kiawah River Bridge! There are several thousand in the US and most of them breed in the Mid-Atlantic. They are an “indicator species”. This means that they can only thrive in estuaries where the water is clean. If you have a healthy population of oystercatchers, then you have oysters and the water is clean.

Oystercatchers are shy birds and sensitive to human disturbance. Their nests are a scrape in a shallow depression on the sand just above the high tide line. They line it with shells, pebbles and tide wrack and lay 1-4 eggs. Solitary pairs are known to nest at Deveaux Bank. Recently, SC DNR banded 2 young birds at Botany Bay plantation, a first at that location for the banders!

An interesting Seabrook fact is that for the past four years there has been a banded oystercatcher on our beach “U5”. We have seen him on many occasions, as have other bird watchers, and it is always fun to see that he is still around. He was banded at Little Egg Island, GA, just north of Little St Simons Island. You can observe U5 usually near the “highway” between the protected area and the cut.

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Article submitted by:  Aija Konrad
Photographs provided by:  Ed Konrad

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

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Bird of the Week … Who am I???

Every Sunday we publish a weekly “Bird of the Week” blog.  Today we want to give you a hint to see if you can guess which bird we will profile.   We hope you can get this with the clues below:

  1. This bird is frequently seen on tidal flats and the beach of Seabrook Island, generally in pairs.
  2. It has a very unique bill which is a clue to this bird’s name.
  3. You may be lucky to hear it’s “peeps” or its “display song.”.

Leave us a comment if you know or want to make a guess – and watch for the full article on Sunday morning!

 

SIB Evening Program – June 22nd: Plovers, and Pelicans, and Terns, Oh My!

Date:  June 22, 2016
Registration & Social:  7:00 pm
Program Starts:  7:30 pm
Location:  Live Oak Hall at the Lake House

Janet Thibault, Wildlife Biologist with South Carolina DNR, will be talking about the nesting ecology of seabirds and shorebirds that breed on our coast. Species description and identification as well as natural history will be covered in this talk. For more about what South Carolina DNR does for coastal birds check out this webpage.
Prior to Janet’s talk, SIB member Ed Konrad will present a series of shorebird photographs he has taken at the beach on Seabrook Island.
Membership sign-up is available at registration.
Contact us if you have questions:   SeabrookIslandBirders@gmail.com

SIB Bus Card Front 1

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull – Leucophaeus Atricilla
Length:  16.5″; Wingspan: 40″; Weight: 11 oz.

A "flotilla" of Laughing Gulls - Ed Konrad
A “flotilla” of Laughing Gulls – Ed Konrad

Swirling over beaches with strident calls and a distinctive, crisp black head, Laughing Gulls provide sights and sounds evocative of summer on Seabrook Island.  You’ll run across this handsome gull in large numbers at beaches, docks, and parking lots, where they wait for handouts or fill the air with their raucous (ha-ha-ha-ha-haah-haah-haah-haah-haah) calls.

Laughing Gulls are medium-sized gulls with fairly long wings and long legs that impart a graceful look when they are flying or walking. They have stout, fairly long bills.  Laughing Gulls are medium gray above and white below.  Summer adults have a crisp black hood, white arcs around the eye, and a reddish bill.  In winter, the hood becomes a blurry gray mask on a white head.  The legs are reddish black to black.  Immature Laughing Gulls are much browner and more subtly patterned than adults; they take 2-3 years to gain adult plumage.

Like most gulls, Laughing Gulls have very broad palates. They eat many invertebrates, including earthworms, insects (including flying ones), snails, crabs, and crab eggs, as well as fish, squid, berries, garbage, offal, and handouts from beachgoers. They occasionally eat eggs of other birds (though not as frequently as larger gulls do).  They often congregate in parking lots, sandy beaches, and mud bars. Listen for their nasal, strident calls in flight, while feeding, and at rest.  Laughing Gulls are a coastal species and are only occasionally seen very far inland.

Laughing Gull numbers were seriously depleted during the 19th century by hunting for feather trade.  They recovered well in the early 20th century, then faced some decline at northern colonies owing to competition with larger gulls. Currently some colonies face threats, but overall, the population is abundant and widespread.

They have a slow flight with deep wing beats.  Because of their opportunistic feeding, many people associate them most with their begging behavior.

These gulls are monogamous, and pairs often stay together for several breeding seasons.  They breed in colonies, sometimes with thousands of nests; sometimes associated with other species of gulls or terns. Nest site is on the ground among grass or bushes.  Nests may be among denser growth, under shrubs or vines, perhaps for protection from sun.  The nest (built by both sexes) may be a scrape in ground with sparse lining, or may be shallow cup of grass, sticks, debris, lined with finer grass.   Nests usually contain 3 olive-brown eggs with dark blotches.  Adults may continue adding to nest during incubation.  They nest, often in large numbers, on islands near the shore but safely isolated from terrestrial predators making Deveaux Bank a large nesting area.

A group of gulls has many collective nouns, including a “flotilla”, “gullery”, “screech”, “scavenging”, and “squabble” of gulls.

Laughing gulls can be seen all over Seabrook Island but especially along our beaches and begging for food at Pelican Nest Restaurant.  Although they are common sight in summer, they are an unusual sight in winter.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Article submitted by:  Judy Morr
Photographs provided by:  Ed Konrad

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

Bird of the Week … Who am I???

Every Sunday we publish a weekly “Bird of the Week” blog.  Today we want to give you a hint to see if you can guess which bird we will profile.   We think you can get this with only two clues:

  1. This bird can be seen all over Seabrook Island but especially along our beaches and begging for food at Pelican Nest Restaurant.  Although they are common sight in summer, they are an unusual sight in winter.
  2. It sounds like this.

Leave us a comment if you know or want to make a guess – and watch for the full article on Sunday morning!

 

Roseate Spoonbill Sighting on Seabrook Island Today!

Henry Fellers sent SIB two pictures from this morning of two Roseate Spoonbills feeding near Marsh Haven.

Thanks Henry for sharing with our community!!!

Roseate Spoonbills feeding alongside Wood Storks at Marsh Haven, Seabrook Island on Monday June 13, 2016 - Henry Fellers
Roseate Spoonbills feeding alongside Wood Storks and a Tri-colored Heron at Marsh Haven, Seabrook Island on Monday June 13, 2016 – Henry Fellers
Roseate Spoonbills feeding alongside Wood Storks and a Tri-colored Heron at Marsh Haven, Seabrook Island on Monday June 13, 2016 - Henry Fellers
Roseate Spoonbills feeding alongside Wood Storks and a Tri-colored Heron at Marsh Haven, Seabrook Island on Monday June 13, 2016 – Henry Fellers

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Black Skimmer

Black SkimmerRynchops niger
Length: 18″; Wingspan: 44″; Weight: 11 oz.

A "conspiracy" of Black Skimmers - Ed Konrad
A “conspiracy” of Black Skimmers – Ed Konrad

We are among a lucky few to have the Black Skimmer along our beaches. As you can see from the map below, this dramatic and beautiful bird populates only a very small portion of the United States.

Range map for Black Skimmer - you can see it is more common in South America.
Range map for Black Skimmer – you can see it is more common in South America.

Aside from its striking black and white plumage, the Black Skimmer is memorable because of its eating style. It is the only bird in America with a longer lower beak than upper. It’s this special feature that enables it to skim the top of the water with its mouth open and the lower bill slightly submerged, feeling for small fish. When one is encountered, the upper bill snaps shut to capture its prey. Because the skimmer uses its sense of touch to hunt, it can successfully forage in all types of light, and even in the dark. That’s an advantage for us human observers since we can watch at any time of day and wonder at the skimmer’s incredible ability to remain a constant distance above the water, alternately gliding and propelling itself along.

Interestingly, the newborn skimmer chick does not have the extended lower mandible. However, after only four weeks, it is visibly longer.

You will be able to pick out the skimmers on the beach in several ways. They are fairly large – 16-20″. They have a very long, low profile because of their short legs and long wings. Their wings actually extend beyond their tail feathers when they are on the ground and account for their relatively large wing span when flying. The sharp contrast of their black and white coloration and their bright red and black beaks also make them easily identifiable.

Probably one of the reasons Seabrookers can see so many skimmers is that there is a large breeding group on Deveaux Bank. As with all the seabirds, they build their nests in colonies, scratching out a shallow depression in the sand. This makes them very vulnerable in areas where beaches are heavily populated by humans. It’s to our benefit that the Deveaux rookery is so nearby.

Don’t miss seeing these unique birds – even if you have to make a special trip to the North Beach.

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Article submitted by:  Marcia Hider
Photographs provided by:  Ed Konrad

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.