Ask SIB … American Robins

Once again, this winter there is a lot of discussion about American Robins.  Below is a series of Q&A’s to share with all our readers.

American Robin – Ed Konrad

Question:  We’ve seen a flock of American Robins in the edge of scrub on the north side of Jenkins Point Road. Isn’t it early for them to be coming thru? We usually don’t see them until late February. (Submitted by: Andy Allen) Continue reading “Ask SIB … American Robins”

Ask SIB – Why are there so many Killdeer this winter?

Killdeer – Ed Konrad

Question:

A few of us have noticed numerous active Killdeer across the island. In fields, on the golf courses and along the side of the road. We don’t remember seeing so many in past years. Any explanation? 

Answer from Judy Morr & David Gardiner:

Killdeer Frequency in Charleston County 2016-2018. Data source: eBird.org

As we were doing the Audubon Christmas Bird count last week, we commented there were more Killdeer than usual.  Using the Abundance chart in eBird (rather than frequency) it appears the Killdeer are here a little earlier than usual.

I don’t have definitive explanations of why there seem to be so many, but just like the American Woodcock coastal migration during freezes, I suspect the Killdeer are seeking more thawed ground when they first arrived during the deep freeze we had, and then chose to stay around.

Even though we had a deep freeze, the coastal islands typically will stay above freezing for longer than inland, due to the ocean and even then the salt in the air helps keep ground from freezing when it does dip below 32 degrees. This is only conjecture, not based on documentation.

To learn more about the Killdeer, read the blog we wrote a year ago.

It was a cold and windy morning …

I believe Snoopy (apologies to Charles Shultz) would likely start this story “It was a cold and windy morning.”

It was indeed a cold — 28 degrees — and windy morning when we ventured outside to join David Gardner on a Learning Together birding walk. The initial site was the Island’s gardens and maintenance areas. Ten had signed up to accompany David; six showed up; and four finished.  Fortunately we enjoyed bright sunshine and much of the time we were sheltered from the chilly wind.  

Continue reading “It was a cold and windy morning …”

SIB Wants Your Feedback!

The Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) is entering its third year of operation. The group’s mission is “watching, learning and protecting” the incredible variety of birds that inhabit SI throughout the year.  Your responses to the survey below will help us better serve you in fulfilling this mission.  The questions will help determine what programs and activities SI residents would like to see made available in the future.

PLEASE complete the SURVEY now!

Thank you!

SIB Executive Committee

Presentation on the Risks of Offshore Oil Drilling

SIB Members – although you may have seen this announcement from other sources, we wanted to be sure our members had a chance to see and attend this important forum.

It was announced on January 4, 2018, that the Federal Government will open nearly all of America’s offshore waters to oil and gas drilling, despite concerns of the Pentagon and coastal communities such as ours. Peg Howell will address this important issue to our community.

Peg Howel

Ms. Howell is a petroleum engineer, former oil rig supervisor, and now a leader in the Lowcountry’s opposition to oil drilling off our coast. She will provide a presentation at the Lake House about why coastal communities are once again fighting to protect our harbors, beaches, and marine waters from big oil.

DATE: Tuesday, January 30, 2018
TIME: 4:00 pm
PLACE: Seabrook Island Lake House – Live Oak Hall

To register for the event, click here.

For more information contact: seaislandsactionnetwork@gmail.com.

Plan to join us, and bring a friend! Everyone is welcome.

-Submitted by Marg Wildermann 

Impromptu Backyard Birding at Boat Ramp

Melanie Jerome used the Seabrook Island Birders group mailing list to announce an impromptu Backyard Birding at her home next to the boat ramp.  You can subscribe to SIB’s Google Group Emails to hear about impromptu bird walks, bird sightings on Seabrook or to ask a question to a wider group – click here and then click on “Subscribe to this group”.

It was a brisk 33 degrees when we began birding at 7:30am. Nine enthusiastic birders had responded to Melanie’s invitation.  It was an enjoyable morning of birding with 29 species being seen.  Three photographers were available to capture the moment and the birds.

We were greeted by one of our many visiting Killdeer.  From the Jerome’s deck, the group had good views of numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers (Myrtle Warblers) and identified a Pine Warbler and a Palm Warbler.  A Downy Woodpecker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Hooded Merganser were also among the birds seen.  As we walked down to the boat ramp for a different view, the row of coffee mugs told another part of the story.

From the boat ramp, we saw a Tricolor Heron at the bend of the creek.  Soon a Little Blue Heron flew in to join it.  The Snowy Egret joined the party to make a trifecta.  About that time, a river otter was seen swimming down the creek.  Not a bird but still a fun sighting.

Bluebird on scope – Marie Wardell

Since we had abandoned the deck, an Eastern Bluebird came to investigate that area.

Bluebird on Coffee Mug – Dean Morr

It perched on the scope, a coffee mug and the umbrella as it made it’s way to check out the bluebird house he may consider home in a couple months.

Coopers Hawk – Marie Wardell

From the boat ramp, a pair of Coopers Hawks flew overhead as did four Red-breasted Merganser, and a Fish Crow.  In the trees over the Creekwatch Pool, American Robins and Cedar Waxwings were seen flying in flocks.

Four Year Old Eagle – Charley Moore

 

When the Bald Eagle flew over, Bob Mercer was able to educate us that he knew it was a fourth year “immature”.  He knew this because the head and tail had started to turn white but it had not yet reached the coloration of a mature Bald Eagle.

The combination of a variety of good birds and the companionship of other birders made a good morning gathering.  Thanks Rob and Melanie for hosting us.

Hooded Merganser 1
Red-breasted Merganser 4
Double-crested Cormorant 4
Brown Pelican 2
Great Blue Heron 2
Snowy Egret 3
Little Blue Heron 1
Tricolored Heron 2
Turkey Vulture 2
Cooper’s Hawk 2
Bald Eagle 1
Killdeer 2
Forster’s Tern 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 6
Fish Crow 1
Carolina Chickadee 2
Tufted Titmouse 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Eastern Bluebird 12
American Robin 65
Northern Mockingbird 6
Cedar Waxwing 30
Palm Warbler 1
Pine Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) 20
Northern Cardinal 1
House Finch 2

Submitted by: Judy Morr

SIB Member Profile – Donna & Jim Lawrence

Donna & Jim Lawrence

Jim and Donna Lawrence, natives of New Jersey, made Seabrook Island their home five years ago for two reasons:  the beaches and the wildlife.  They are neither golfers or tennis players.  He had enjoyed sailing and is a licensed Bareboat Captain.  From childhood, each had spent plenty of time on the Jersey beaches.

Donna attended Boston University, but graduated from Stockton University with a degree in Literature/Language. For the greater part, she made a career as a volunteer for various organizations as well as raising one son. A major segment of her volunteer time was with the League of Women Voters where she produced publications, prepared grant requests, and served on County and State Boards of Directors.

Jim, who graduated from Boston College, also received an ROTC commission in the U. S. Army. Given an opportunity to select his preferred assignment station, in exchange for an additional year of active duty, he agreed and chose Germany. (Better than Asia.) This required another decision. As Donna put it: “We had to get married.” As he soldiered, she worked within the schools, including some teaching.

After service time, they returned to New Jersey where Jim had a long career in communications with various of the changing units of AT&T as that organization reacted to government actions and the changing telephone business — and this was before cells.

As a kid, Jim’s family adventures to the Jersey beaches put him in touch with shore birds, but they were not a serious interest.  All shore birds were called sandpipers without any further definition.  As adults, they expanded on his birding experience.  Several vacations were also enjoyed on Seabrook Island starting about 1995.

Following Jim’s retirement, Seabrook was chosen as their new home (goodbye snow) and they moved here in 2012. The residence they selected on Wood Duck Place backs to the estuary which then extends to the egret rookery on Ocean Winds #4. With the water, extensive trees and shrubs, and their multipart bird feeders — seeds, suet, jelly, and hummer nectar — a wide variety of birds are attracted.  From Hooded Merganser to Pileated Woodpecker (see Jim’s great photo) to White-throated Sparrow. Fantastic backyard!

Pileated Woodpecker outside the Lawrence’s home.

He got immersed in Exchange Club, Vets on Deck, and SINGH in their new environment. Her LWV duties continued after their move, but as they wound down the two of them got involved with Turtle Patrol.  In spite of all they were doing, neither could resist the opportunity to be in on the ground floor of a new proposed birding group. Donna, in particular, became part of a nine person committee which created Seabrook Island Birders in November 2015. She took on the duties of Hospitality.  This involved the refreshment table at periodic member’s meetings as well as assuring SIB participation in various Island events such as SIPOA/Club annual meetings, 4th of July parade, Earth Day, etc.  All with Jim as her #1 aide.

By the way, their picture, taken in front of the beautiful 2017 Christmas tree, includes a special ornament.  Approximately on a level between their lips, hangs a Wood Duck.

Submitted by George Haskins 

2017 SIB Year End Review

The second year for the Seabrook Island Birders was a busy year. The organization grew to 248 members. There were 5 “quarterly” evening events with an average of 87 attendees.

  • February 22 Patrick McMillan: Lives and Biology of Hummingbirds
  • April 26 Rudy Mancke: The Natural History of Barrier Islands
  • June 28 Felicia Sanders: Migratory Shorebirds at Seabrook Island
  • September 27 Sidney Gauthreaux: New Ways to Study Bird Migration
  • November 30 Year End Review / Game Night

During the past year, 85 SIB members participated in one or more of the  39 activities during which 170 unique species were seen .

  • Shorebird Training focusing on Red Knot was our most attended activity
  • 8 Backyard Birding activities at members’ homes
  • 6 activities at Camp St. Christopher supporting their outreach program
  • 81 species seen at Bear Island was biggest day
  • 39 species seen on North Beach on March 29
  • Participated in “global” activities
    • Christmas Bird Count on January 4, 2017
    • Great Backyard Bird Count on February 17-20, 2017
    • Global Big Day on May 13, 2017
    • Red Knot banding with Department of Natural Resources
    • Marsh Sparrow banding with Aaron Given
    • Hawk Watch at Center of Birds of Prey
  • SIB now has its own eBird account to track species seen

During these activities, an estimated 1,800 Red Knots was the most of one species seen in a given day. The top five most frequently seen species were:

#5 – Great Egret (27)
#4 – Tufted Titmouse (33)
#3 – Northern Cardinal (35)
#2 – Carolina Chickadee (36)
#1 – American Crow (44)

Four members “competed” to identify the most species on Seabrook Island in 2017. A total of 201 species were identified with David Gardner leading with 194 unique species.

All of this was communicated to our members via various means:

A thank-you goes out to the 2017 Executive Committee of:

  • Nancy Brown
  • Flo Foley
  • George Haskins
  • Carl Helms
  • Dori Helms
  • Marcia Hider
  • Melanie Jerome
  • Ed Konrad
  • Donna Lawrence
  • Lydia McDonald
  • Charley Moore
  • Dean Morr
  • Judy Morr
  • Charles Russo

Welcome to the new Executive Committee for 2018:

  • Nancy Brown
  • Tom Fox
  • David Gardner
  • George Haskins
  • Carl Helms
  • Dori Helms
  • Melanie Jerome
  • Ed Konrad
  • Charley Moore
  • Dean Morr
  • Judy Morr
  • Janis Skeffington
  • Carl Voelker

A full report of our 2017 activities can be seen by launching this document: Seabrook Island Birders – EOY 2017.  We have some great events planned for 2018! We hope you will continue to support SIB by joining and participating in our events during 2018!

Snowy & Cold “Christmas Bird Count” a Success!

CBC – Nancy, Aija, Judy, SI Water Treatment Facility – Ed Konrad

On Friday, January 5, 2018, Seabrook Island Birders participated in Audubon’s 118th Annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on the Sea Islands as we counted birds on our frozen, snow-covered island. We sent people to the beach, Camp St. Christopher’s, Palmetto Lake, Jenkins Point, Bohicket Marina, the water treatment and maintenance areas, and backyards!  For a day that started at 21 degrees with ice and snow, more than 20 people participated and saw 112 unique bird species, just missing last years record of 116 species. We hope even more people will join us a year from now for the 2018 Christmas Bird Count on our quest to beat the Seabrook Island record of unique bird species. And possibly beat the record for Kiawah Island too!

Read below about our adventures and enjoy our photos!

The Backyard Birders

A record 11 families took part in the backyard birding for a total of 20 hours, recording 44 unique species, including five not seen elsewhere on the island. These included the Baltimore Oriole, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Black-and-White Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and a Swamp Sparrow.  Special thanks to our Backyard Birding participants:

  • Jackie Brooks
  • Paul Giardino
  • Lucy Hoover
  • Melanie & Rob Jerome
  • Christina McHenry
  • Charley Moore
  • Dean Morr
  • Patricia Schaefer
  • Carl Voelker
  • Marie Wardell

North Beach
(Aija & Ed Konrad, David Gardner)

CBC Aija and David, North Beach – Ed Konrad

What a crazy experience, birding on our beach in frozen solid sand and snow!!! That was the start of our morning on the North Beach CBC. David Gardner, Ed and I headed out on a beautiful wintry day after our big snowfall for a most unusual CBC that would yield 59 species. 

On the way out to the point, we got all the “salty” sparrows near the old inlet. Seaside, Nelson’s and Saltmarsh were out in good numbers on an almost high tide. A surprise was flushing 5 Clapper Rails from the grasses, some almost underfoot! Looking toward the cove, that is the old inlet, we saw excellent numbers of ducks. A surprise was a group of 8 Northern Shovelers, not commonly seen at Seabrook. Buffleheads won in numbers with Redheads and Lesser Scaup next. But the prize duck was a first time for Seabrook Island, a Long-tailed Duck! This is a great duck for our island.

Shorebirds were plentiful down on the point, with the most exciting find, a group of 5 Piping Plovers huddling in the snow on the beach. There were over 250 Dunlin and a large group of 56 Black-bellied Plovers. Oystercatchers, Marbled Godwits, a lone Whimbrel and Ruddy Turnstones were among the highlights. We finished the day with 59 species on North Beach…a CBC in the snow, one to remember!

Camp St. Christopher
(David Gardner, Justin Johnson, Lauryn Gilmer, Nathaniel Hernandez)

A team of four staff on Camp St. Christopher observed 42 species over a period of four and half hours and through four miles of beach, woods and ponds.  Highlights included:   230 Red-winged Blackbirds, 405 American Robins, once again, all three marsh sparrows (Saltmarsh, Seaside and Nelson’s), 42 Scaup seen from the beach and a Barred owl that flew past the window while Justin Johnson ate his breakfast.

The Rest of Seabrook Island
(Judy Morr, Aija Konrad, George Haskins,
Nancy Brown)

CBC Mtce Area – Painted Bunting – Nancy Brown
CBC – Mtce Area – Red-shouldered Hawk – Ed Konrad

The sun was shining nicely off of the snow but it was a brisk 20 degrees when we began our search in the SIPOA / Club Maintenance Area and the Water Treatment Facility.  33 species were seen in this area including four Ruddy Duck, 13 Bufflehead and one Ring-necked Duck.  The surprise of this stop was seeing two olive green birds with a yellow chest.  Who would think on a snowy January morning we would see Painted Bunting?  The day also ended with a brief return to this area where 13 species were observed including the expected Hooded Merganser which had joined the other ducks. This time, the surprise was an American Woodcock in the tree line between the SIPOA / Club Maintenance Area and the Community Garden.  Both visits included Brown Thrasher and Eastern Towhee scratching under a bush looking for bugs among the leaves and snow.

CBC Palmetto Lake – Western Kingbird – Nancy Brown

It had warmed to the mid-30s as we got to Palmetto Lake where 30 species were seen.  Although a sighting of Killdeer is not unusual, it was unusual that we observed numerous Killdeer at each stop throughout the day.  Also at Palmetto Lake we saw the expected various Heron and Egrets.  The prize “find” at this stop was seeing the Western Kingbird that was first observed on Tuesday and continued at various locations around the lake through Friday.  During CBC, it was walking the path near the tennis courts side of the lake.  We returned to Palmetto Lake later in the day and spent more time near the playground and on the nature trail.  There the 24 species seen included seeing a Golden-Crowned Kinglet and a Blue-headed Vireo.

A drive down the various streets off of Jenkins Point resulted in 22 species being seen with three Tricolor Heron being the first of this species seen for the day.  Since the golf courses were closed, the survey of that usually prolific site was done looking at the cart path and ponds near the Sealoft Villas.  This brief stop resulted in nine species including a Belted Kingfisher, a good view of two Wood Storks and as we were leaving, a Coopers Hawk cooperated and landed on a nearby chimney.  While making the drive back to Palmetto Lake, the trip was delayed while waiting for 17 Wild Turkeys to complete their crossing of Seabrook Island Road near Fox Lair.  Surprisingly, this was the only siting of Turkeys during the our various birding sites.

Once again, thank you to all the participants of this years Christmas Bird Count!  Even with the delay of a day due to snow and ice, the team did a fabulous job in searching out some great birds!

Article submitted by:  Aija Konrad, Judy Morr, Nancy Brown
Photographs by:  Ed Konrad, Charley Moore, Dean Morr, Nancy Brown

Cooper’s Hawk

The designation Birds of Prey covers a wide range (from eagles to falcons) of our feathered population, as will be evident during the upcoming Seabrook Island Birders’ evening event on January 31st (Click here to learn more or register).  Within that range, are three species identified as Accipiters. Accipiters are defined as short-winged hunters, with relatively long legs and tails, which are extremely adept at high speed attacks on small birds and mammals — often from concealed perches.  Ambush is their forte.

One of these three, the Cooper’s Hawk, is common on Seabrook Island.  The bird has a length of 16.5 inches and a wing span of 31 inches.  This is smaller than its cousin the Northern Goshawk (21 and 41 inches, respectively), but larger than the similarly marked other cousin — the Sharp-shinned Hawk (11 and 23).  For comparison purposes, the ever present Red-tailed Hawk is 19 inches long and with a 49 inch wing span. Below is the comparison of the Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned.

When Roger Tory Peterson published the first handy-sized Field Guide for birders in 1934, the Cooper’s was called a Chicken Hawk and the Sharp-shinned a Sparrow Hawk.  Changing names on bird species has always been a challenge for the bird watching community.

All juvenile accipiters have banded tails, brownish backs, and a tendency to streaked breasts.  The adult male Cooper’s Hawk has a bluish-gray back and cap, plus a speckled orange breast.   His flap-flap-glide flight pattern provides rather stiff wing beats.  In contrast, the Sharpie’s wing beats are quick and snappy.  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Separating Sharp-shinned Hawks from Cooper’s Hawks is one of the classic birding challenges.”   

Favorite hunting sites for Cooper’s are the many bird feeders which birders display — and he is not interested in the seed therein.  My usual observation finds them sitting, very erectly, on roof tops from which there is a great view of potential prey below.  Last Spring there was a juvenile which seemed to make his home around the Island House.

A few years ago, there was a nesting pair of Cooper’s Hawks within The Village residential area of the Island.  The male was known to make high speed passes over the resident’s heads as they walked around their community.  Was he concerned for the safety of his new family or practicing flight techniques?

Several of our members have recently provided photographs of Cooper’s Hawks.

Submitted by George Haskins
Photographs by Ed Konrad, Marie Wardell & Carl Voelker