A thank-you goes out to Seabrook Island Birders member Chuck Bensonhaver for submitting the article below regarding his birding experiences.
Introduction : I took up watching birds as a teenager in Lancaster, Ohio. Charles Goslin, a local enthusiast wrote weekly newspaper articles and led early morning bird walks. My best friend, Jim, and I went on many of those walks together.
I’ve continued the “sport” throughout my life. Going to college in the D.C. area, the extensive park system there and the Eastern Shore beach areas were fruitful. Then living in California for four years, the Pacific shores, Yosemite National Park and even the semi-arid areas offered other interesting birds. Thereafter, living in Baltimore MD, Ft. Worth TX, back to Ohio for over thirty years, and now on Seabrook Island full time for the last sixteen years, I am still a birder.
Seabrook Island birding
- The American Anhingas – While common in Florida, we are at the northern edge of their range. Yearly we have a pair and sometimes their offspring on Palmetto Lake. They are often confused with Cormorants, but are longer, sleeker, and have a straight bill. Cormorant’s bills are hooked. When perched with their wings spread, they show large white patches across their backs. When they swim they are totally submerged except for their neck, writhing and cutting through the water, hence their nick-name, the Snake Bird. In flight they are long, lean, and majestic.
- Cooper’s Hawks – They are a colorful mid-sized hawk with a long banded tail, blue/gray backs, black caps, red eyes and white breasts laced with fine reddish bars. For many years they nested in the pine trees at the juncture of Seabrook Island Rd. and Seabrook Village Drive. When their young were in the nests, the parents would swoop down at passers-by. About eight years ago, I heard they had sunk their talons in the skulls of two bicyclers. One of those was Allen Thompson who still lives on Seabrook. Soon signs went up for bicyclers to wear their helmets!
- Pileated Woodpeckers – In April of this year, I was awakened by a loud fluttering sound emanating from our fireplace. I thought a bird or other animal had gotten trapped in our flu. However, this went on for several weeks, so I concluded no bird or animal could survive there that long. One morning when this was happening, I went outside and put my binocular onto the metal cap of our chimney. There was a Pileated Woodpecker pecking away. A large expanse of pure metal is not a suitable place for making a nest. With a little research, I learned that this is a known phenomenon called Drumming. They are staking out their territory and/or attracting a mate.
- Purple Martins – I lived in one house growing up, i.e. for seventeen years. Neighbors had a Purple Martin house, so I was familiar with their deep purple color and swooping flight patterns. There were around twenty birds in that house. Then there is Bomb Island in Lake Murray, SC. In summer evenings, in taking a boat out, one encounters more than a million birds! It is the largest Purple Martin roosting site in North America. Our club would do well to organize a trip there, perhaps even yet this year.
- Scissor-tailed Flycatchers – In 1970 while I was serving my military duty in Ft. Worth TX, our compound had a few of these rather dramatic birds around. However, they occasionally swarm, and indeed one day they did so for us. Many hundreds of them descended into the trees and stayed for several hours. It was a din with a lot of fluttering and swooping. I suspect we had very few insects about for the next several days.
- Turkey Vulture Chicks – One day when I was about 16, my buddy Jim and I ventured into a wooded hill a few miles west of Lancaster, Ohio. We found some rock structures with small caves. There we came upon three juvenile Turkey Vultures hissing at us. Two were small but one was about the size of a full grown chicken. Their plumages were pure white. We stuck a stick in front of the large one. That’s when we learned of their major mechanism of defense, vomiting on an intruding object! That was enough to restrain us from reaching towards the bird with our bare hands and arms.
I could go on with at least a dozen other tales of ornithology adventures such as experiencing Bobolinks, Night Hawks, Cedar Waxwings, Ravens, Storks, Ospreys, Eagles, etc. However, suffice it to say that even if one is lazy, like me, about identifying birds, just put in the time. They will make themselves known and give you quite a show.
Submitted by: Charles Bensonhaver