Teamwork on North Beach!

On two outings to North Beach this week, we observed some amazing teamwork by ducks, wading birds and gulls. It made me think of a show my now 14-year-old grandson and I watched when he was a toddler, called “Wonder Pets” where they sang a little catchy little tune about cooperation and teamwork. The words are “what’s gonna work? Teamwork! what’s gonna work…Teamwork!” 

The teamwork we observed was 12 Red-breasted Mergansers swimming close to the shore in the old inlet, diving for food. Five Snowy Egrets were running along behind them, looking for anything they could find that the mergansers had stirred up. And in between, were 3 Bonaparte’s Gulls hopscotching over all of them, picking anything off the surface they could find. They were all working together in feeding off whatever each species could stir up.

The 12 Red-breasted Mergansers, with Bonaparte’s Gulls joining the team!

This behavior is called “mutualism”, feeding off the efforts of the other species. The ducks would then look for whatever the egrets had stirred up with their feet. The second day we were there, 3 Tricolored Herons joined  in the mix.  It was amazing to watch such cooperation and I couldn’t stop humming the little “teamwork” song! 

American Oystercatcher – our old friend U5 and mate.

Throughout the morning, which started with a beautiful sunrise, our good old friend American Oystercatcher U5 and its significant other were around us. First saying good morning at the lagoon in beautiful early morning light, then feeding at the old inlet as we watched the “teamwork”, and finally flying overhead to say goodbye as we were leaving the point.

Red Knots are here!!! Flock of over 200 on North Beach point.

We had heard the Red Knots are here!!! Sure enough, a flock of just over 200 were resting at high tide at the point, then took off in their spectacular flight. Our days on North Beach always include a lookout for Piping Plovers. “Red/Yellow”, the Great Lakes Endangered captive raised plover, looks to be quite at home at Seabrook for the winter – at its favorite feeding spot along the lagoon with 4 other unbanded pipers. 

How our morning on North Beach started!

Article by Aija Konrad, photos by Ed Konrad

Interactive Bird Songs

This graphic was done by some really smart people at Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (MN-DNR). Although there are several birds that you likely would never see here on Seabrook Island, we think most of them you may know from spending time in the northern areas of our continent, either by their appearance or their song. Click on the photo and you will be directed to the MN-DNR website where you can click on a bird and hear it’s song.

Illustration courtesy of Bill Reynolds. All recordings courtesy of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Ask SIB – Size of Opening for a Carolina Wren Nest Box

QUESTION: Every year Carolina Wrens nest in my front and backyard, either in the hanging plants, generic birdhouses I’ve received as gifts, etc. This year I bought some wren houses from Woodlink but the opening is only 1″ round. In googling it, I see “expert” sites contradicting themselves – recommending 1 1/8 or 1 1/2 or larger, depending on whether attracting House Wren, Carolina Wren, etc.) Anyone know what size I should enlarge it to?

Anonymous

ANSWER: Good question, which is my statement any time I do not know an unequivocal answer.

I do know that Carolina Wrens are opportunists nesting in cavities or any tight area like a planter as Mary has experienced, crotch of a tree, old pair of pants hanging in a garage (personal experience), or vine tangles. They can nest in a box with a 1 inch hole or a box up to a 1.5 inch hole, the recommended size for the Eastern Bluebird or larger. Most places recommend a 1 1/8 inch hole for Carolina Wren and 1 inch for House Wren. One of the primary reason for having a small hole is to prevent House Sparrows and European Starlings from using the nest. Neither of these species are an issue on Seabrook Island.

Choosing a larger hole opens up the potential for a variety of species to use your box.

Regardless of the size hole chosen, one may find that the House Wren will eventually usurp the box, most often filling it to the brim with sticks so the box cannot be used by other birds. Unlike the Carolina Wren, the House Wrens have a strong preference for nest boxes and more open, less shrubby areas.

One of the way to manage and encourage Carolina Wrens is to be ready early in the season. They should be laying eggs by mid-March. The House Wren will not be laying eggs until the first of May. This behavior allows the Carolina Wren to have its first brood prior to the House Wren even starting. The Eastern Bluebird starts in Mid-February.

Hope this helps.

Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

Ask SIB – Little Yellow Birds!

I’m hoping you can help me learn how to distinguish between an immature and/or female Pine Warbler from an immature and/or female American Goldfinch.  Stated differently which is the Pine Warbler and which is the American Goldfinch? Last week I held back my Feeder Watch bird count for several days in order to do a little research before I submitted the count.  When I did finally submit I identified them as all American Goldfinches but now I think they were Pine Warblers or perhaps a combination of both as there were groups of five and six at one time.  I have consulted iBirdPro, Sibley and Merlin as well as several other on-line sources.  My head is spinning; these feathered friends have many similar characteristics this time of year. 

I know that the males of both species are bright yellow but it’s the immature and/or female of both species that is driving me nuts as they both seem to have a muted olive whitish coloring although I think the goldfinch has black or at least darker wings.  One source states that pine warblers have two white wingbars on each side but unless they are in flight I can’t always visualize both bars.   Anyway I’m aware there’s a huge list of identifying characteristics, including the bill, which I’ve tried to utilize to definitively id the species but not having the best of luck. 

What distinguishing features do you use to discern the difference between these two species?  Are the photos that I’ve attached Pine Warblers?  I resized the photos in order to send via email but if the resolution is poor once you zoom let me know and I’ll resize larger. 

Valerie Doane, SIB Member

Fun challenge, but easy when you know what to look for. American Goldfinch are in the finch family, so their bill is thick and conical, designed for eating seeds. The pine warbler is a warbler. Its bill is thin and tweezer-like, designed for picking insects off leaves and bark.

While both have wing bars, the wings of the goldfinch are darker. Pine Warblers also tend to be loners while goldfinches tend to hang around in groups during the winter months. American Goldfinches tend to feed by grabbing a perch on the feeders and not moving until they are satisfied or chased away. The tend to be pugnacious, fighting and bickering with their neighbors on other perches. A Pine Warbler, if it visits a feeder, usually will dash in grab something and dash away. There are always exceptions.

Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

The first two photos were taken by Valerie and sent with her question. They are both American Goldfinches. Note how thick the bill is at the face and the black wings.

The photo above is a Pine Warbler taken by Valerie Doane. Note the thin bill and grayer wings.
This photo, also taken by Valerie Doane, demonstrates the group feeding behavior common to American Goldfinches.

And finally, Valerie took the two photos below and wrote: “This little guy just showed up.  Again taking the photo through the thick, glass French doors so not the greatest but evaluated the bill looks like a warbler but not a pine warbler.  A Yellow-rumped Warbler maybe?”

She is correct!

Replay of “Seabrook’s Amazing Shorebirds” and Volunteer to be a Steward

On Wednesday February 17, 2021, 80 members and friends of Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) were entertained by Janet Thibault, a Wildlife Biologist with SC DNR’s Seabird and Shorebird Program, as she educated us about the wonderful birds we can see right on our own beaches on Seabrook Island, SC. If you missed the program, you may view the replay below:

The shorebirds of Seabrook Island need your help! Many people do not appreciate how important our sanctuary is. The Shorebird Stewards Program asks you to be a volunteer to help educate people about the importance of our tiny piece of the world to the shorebirds that visit. This is not an enforcement effort, but an educational effort.

The 2021 Seabrook Island Birders Shorebird Steward Program Training session will be a Zoom meeting with Nolan Schillerstrom from Audubon South Carolina on Friday, February 26, at 1:00 – 3:30 pm. If you wish to join as a steward or just want more information, email us at sibstewards@gmail.com.

Rescheduled: Join SIB to bird Bear Island and Donnelly WMA

New Date: Tuesday February 23, 2021 5:30 am– 4:00 pm (sunrise 6:59am)
Trip to Bear Island & Donnelly WMA
Location: Meet at SI Real Estate Office to Car Pool
Max: 10
Cost: free to members, $5 per guest

Due to forecasted lousy weather for Thursday, February 18, we have rescheduled this excursion to Tuesday February 23. The good news is now some additional people may be able to join us. If you previously were unable to join us but now can, please REGISTER.

If you have never been to Bear Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) or to Donnelly WMA, you won’t want to miss this opportunity – it’s well worth the 60-mile one-way trip! Part of the ACE Basin, this area is perfect habitat for birds with ponds, rivers, salt marsh, freshwater marsh, mudflats mixed pine-hardwood forest and farmland. Most of the birding is done by car with stops to get out and take short walks for viewing. Bear Island closes for hunting from November 1 – February 9 each year, so this is an early chance to visit for spring. We hope the winter waterfowl will still be present including the Tundra Swan. Each person should bring their own lunch, snacks and beverages, as there are no restaurants in the area. Also be sure to bring sun block, bug spray, a hat, binoculars, camera and a scope if you have one.

We will ask that people wear masks while riding together and to maintain social distance and wear masks while birding. Due to COVID concerns, shared use of scopes is discouraged.

If you are not yet a SIB member, you must first become a member by following the instructions on our website: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/contact/join-sib/.

Once you are a member, please register no later than Sunday February 21, 2021. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter the day prior the event.

2021 SIB Membership

In 2020, 259 Seabrook Island Birder(SIB) members enjoyed the various in person and virtual SIB events.  Given the absence of many in person events in 2020, SIB Executive Committee elected to waive renewal fees for 2021.  If you were a member in 2020, you are automatically paid for 2021.  People not 2020 members may join for 2021 for the low $10 annual membership fee.

We also accept gifts to help fund programs like the Seabrook Island Shorebird Steward program, Bluebird Box Trail, our Speakers Series and other activities approved by the Board.  Just follow the instructions on the SIB membership form.

Do you love birding but don’t own or rent on Seabrook Island?  Off Island Guests are invited to join SIB too!

Just visit our Join SIB website page to learn more about sending a gift or membership payment.

Male Painted Bunting – C Moore

Final Reminder: “Seabrook’s Amazing Shorebirds” – Register for SIB’s Virtual Evening Program on February 17th

Seabrook Island Birder’s first Virtual Evening Program, “Seabrook’s Amazing Shorebirds,” featuring Janet Thibault from SCDNR, will be held on Wednesday, February 17, 2021 from 7:00 – 8:15 pm, using Zoom video and audio. The cost is free, however, we encourage everyone to join SIB if you are not already a member.

To attend this virtual event, please register using the link below. We will email the secure Zoom link to you the day prior to the event.

Join SIB to bird Bear Island and Donnelly WMA

Thursday February 18, 2021 5:30 am– 4:00 pm (sunrise 6:59am)
Trip to Bear Island & Donnelly WMA
Location: Meet at SI Real Estate Office to Car Pool
Max: 10
Cost: free to members, $5 per guest

If you have never been to Bear Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) or to Donnelly WMA, you won’t want to miss this opportunity – it’s well worth the 60-mile one-way trip! Part of the ACE Basin, this area is perfect habitat for birds with ponds, rivers, salt marsh, freshwater marsh, mudflats mixed pine-hardwood forest and farmland. Most of the birding is done by car with stops to get out and take short walks for viewing. Bear Island closes for hunting from November 1 – February 9 each year, so this is an early chance to visit for spring. We hope the winter waterfowl will still be present including the Tundra Swan. Each person should bring their own lunch, snacks and beverages, as there are no restaurants in the area. Also be sure to bring sun block, bug spray, a hat, binoculars, camera and a scope if you have one.

We will ask that people wear masks while riding together and to maintain social distance and wear masks while birding. Due to COVID concerns, shared use of scopes is discouraged.

If you are not yet a SIB member, you must first become a member by following the instructions on our website: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/contact/join-sib/.

Once you are a member, please register no later than Tuesday February 16, 2021. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter the day prior the event.

Charleston Audubon Society – February Lecture – Wednesday February 10

Dr Greg Kearns has been studying Clapper Rails and Sora for decades along the Patuxent River in Maryland through the Maryland-National Capital Park Planning Commission. With the new expansion of Motus Wildlife Tracking Towers in South Carolina through the work of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, SC DNR, and Audubon South Carolina and the Audubon chapter and bird club network, individuals wearing these tags have been detected along our coast, giving us a new look at the migration habits of these secretive marsh birds.

Join the Charleston Audubon Society on Wednesday, February 10th, at 6:30 pm (6:00 for socializing) to listen to these exciting new developments using the Motus Wildlife Tracking Network.

Join Zoom Meeting
https://audubon.zoom.us/j/91828734184?pwd=YS85d2o4cW9NQzdzRzFmOU1zdkYvdz09

Meeting ID: 918 2873 4184
Passcode: Rails