SIB “Bird of the Week” – Clapper Rail

Clapper RailRallus longirostris
Length:  14.5″; Wingspan: 19″; Weight: 10 oz.

Clapper Rail eating a small crab on the mud flat - Ed Konrad
Clapper Rail eating a small crab on the mud flat – Ed Konrad

You may not be aware that hidden in dense cover in our salt marshes lurk a bird called Clapper Rail.  This slinking, secretive bird is a year-round resident on our island and often we only hear the loud clattering call as our clue that a Clapper Rail is even around.  Because they also rarely fly you are very lucky if you get a quick glimpse of one stalking mud dwelling prey along the edge of the marsh.

Are you familiar with the saying “thin as a rail”?  Well, this saying is attributed to the Rail’s lean body and the fact that this stealth bird has the ability to compress its body to such a degree that it can easily squeeze between stems of grass and plants almost melting into the vegetation and and barely causing a ripple.  This tactic allows them to quickly disappear to escape their predators.  Clapper Rails are so effective at maintaining a low profile that their major nonhuman predators are pike, black bass, and other predatory fish which feed on their young.

The Clapper Rail has a chicken-like appearance, with long unwebbed gray toes, strong legs and long slightly decurved bill. When it walks it twitches its short upturned white patched tail.  It has grayish brown upper-parts with vertical white-barred flanks, grayish cheeks and white throat.  Its eye color is red to reddish orange.  This bird is locally known as the Marsh Hen, Salt Water Marsh Hen and Mud Chicken.  Males are slightly larger than females but similar in coloration.

These birds feed mainly on crustaceans, aquatic insects, grasshoppers, seeds, slugs and small fish. They search for food while walking and probing with their long bills in shallow water or mud.

Nests are well built cups of grasses and sedges lined with finer material.  The nests are usually built on the highest, driest place in the marsh. During courtship the male points his bill down and swings his head from side to side.  He also may stand erect with neck stretched and bill open.  Nesting season is from April to June.

The eggs, 5-12, are creamy white with irregular brown blotching. The incubation is 20-23 days and the new young are covered with black down and leave the nest within one day to be fed by the parents.  Young can fly in about 9-10 weeks.  Both parents feed and guard the young until they are independent.  Since these rails are very territorial during feeding and breeding they can be quite belligerent when defending their nests.

A group of Rails is collectively known as a “reel” of rails.

In 1940 one hurricane left an estimated 15,000 of these rails dead in South Carolina, and in 1976 another storm killed some 20,000 in New Jersey.

Keep an eye ear out for Clapper Rails, as they live amongst us in the marshes all thoughout Seabrook Island.

Similar Species

  • King Rail: Habits similar to Clapper Rail.  Plumage is darker and more richly colored and more reddish. More distinct blackish centers on upper parts.
  • Virginia Rail: Smaller in size 9.5″L, 13″ wing span and 3 oz weight. Plumage bright reddish. Bill is more brightly colored

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

Repost of Article submitted by:  Flo Foley
Photographs provided by:  Ed Konrad & Bob Hider

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.

Learning Together-Camp St. Christopher Conference Center

REGISTER NOW

Thursday, July 1, 2021 8:00 am- 10:00 am
Birding at Camp St. Christopher
Meet at bus parking lot at St. Christopher
Max: 10
Cost: Voluntary donation to Camp St. Christopher

Explore the lakes, lagoons, paths and slough at St. Christopher. This event will have 1 – 2 miles of walking over uneven terrain. Summer should be in full swing, so we should see all the usual suspects, but will also hopefully get looks at some of our more elusive resident breeding songbirds…Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Northern Parula, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Painted Bunting.

Bring sun block, bug spray, a hat, water and binoculars. Please remember to wear your masks if you are not fully vaccinated. We are asking our attendees to make a voluntary contribution to Camp St. Christopher to help support their efforts during the pandemic.

Please register no later than Tuesday, June 29, 2021. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on Wednesday, June 30, 2021. If you need to cancel, please let us know so we can invite people on the waitlist to attend.

“Leave This Wondrous Island to the Birds”

The New York Times published this piece about the migrating Whimbrel’s use of Deveaux Bank as their nocternal roost by Deborah Cramer with photographs by Damon Winter. Deborah Cramer is a visiting scholar at M.I.T.’s Environmental Solutions Initiative and the author of “The Narrow Edge. A Tiny Bird, an Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey.” The visuals are outstanding!

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 from prior post 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.

Memorial Service for Bob Hider (1937 – 2021)

Memorial Service for Bob Hider, husband of Marcia Hider.
  Anyone who knew him is welcome!
  Friday June 25th at 11:00 in Atlantic Room at the Club

Bob was an Avid Armchair Birder and supported Marcia when she started SIB with Charley. Even before there was a Seabrook Island Birders, Bob helped with Christmas Bird Count. He also was an avid photographer who has contributed a number of bird photos to our articles and blogs. Although he didn’t participate in many bird walks, he was always willing to share the views and identifications from his back deck, overlooking the marsh. He will be missed by all.

You can read a copy of his obituary published in the The Post and Courier back in March, 2021.

Enormous flock of Whimbrel discovered on Deveaux Bank

Last night an announcement concerning Deveaux Bank was so special it was made at a special event held at the Charleston Museum to an audience filled with some of the state’s most notable naturalists. After years of monitoring and documentation, our backyard barrier island was found to be a stopover for tens of thousands of Whimbrels.

The largest-known flock of whimbrels was discovered roosting in coastal South Carolina. Andy Johnson/Cornell Lab of Ornithology/Provided

Read Post and Courier’s article about the announcement. The news release from SCDNR has even more information.

One question from the audience last night was “Where do the Whimbrel’s go during the day?” The answer was to neighboring beaches and marshes to hunt and eat. Seabrook Island Birders can attest to that. During the April 21 International Shorebird Survey on North Beach, Bob Mercer recorded 34 Whimbrel. That was considered a great number. Then on May 8, Aija Konrad reported 157 Whimbrel in the mudflats at the curve at Jenkins Point. During the May 31 International Shorebird Survey on North Beach, Mark Andrews reported 1 on the lagoon on North Beach. Most of the Whimbrels have now moved on to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.

YOU’RE INVITED: On Tuesday, June 22 at 6 p.m., join the team who made the discovery at Deveaux for a free virtual screening and panel discussion. Click here to learn more and register: http://bit.ly/WhimbrelDiscovery. As you watch the video, keep in mind the challenges the photographers, DNR personnel and ornithologists had to endure to capture the video and data.

You can learn more about Whimbrels here.

Deveaux Bank Seabird Sanctuary is closed year-round above the high-water line, apart from areas designated by signs for limited recreational use (beaches on the ends of the island, facing inland). From March 15 through October 15, some of the island’s beaches are closed for seasonal nesting of coastal birds and are demarcated by fencing. Dogs and camping are prohibited year-round. If you see violators to these rules, contact SCDNR at 1-800-922-5431.

Birth Announcement: Least Tern Chick!

Glen Cox was first to spot this chick on North Beach, Seabrook Island, SC. Mark Andrews found a second. Below is Mark’s best photo. He said, “It was only out a couple minutes then back under mom in a blink!”

Least Tern parent and chick – photo by Mark Andrews

Bird of the Week … Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee, Kennesaw GA – Ed Konrad

It is  very exciting to see and  identify a new bird. While walking along boardwalk 1 at North  Beach on Seabrook Island in May, I heard a bird singing quite loudly. It sang; drink your teeaaa, along with a long trill at the end.  I stood for a long time under the tree and finally I was rewarded with seeing a bird perched high in a tree. It had a black hood, reddish brown flanks , and white belly. It also had a white patch on its’ wing. I used a bird app and came up with a couple of possibilities. At first I  thought it might be a Orchard Oriole. Then I listened to songs on the app of the oriole and knew that was incorrect. Finally, I identified it as an Eastern Towhee by matching the description and song on the app.  The female is chocolate brown instead of black.  I later found out that it was high in the tree singing in order to attract a female.  The next week I saw it in the same area high in a tree singing. A week later I saw it again, this time on the ground under a bush. I discovered that Eastern Towhees eat insects and seeds from the ground. An interesting fact is that it scratches in leaf litter to find food while doing a type of backward hop.  Additionally, they are a sparrow. Next time you hear a bird singing , be patient and keep looking and you just might be rewarded with a look at a bird; a most wonderful sight. This bird has been seen again at Boardwalk 1 this year 2021. 

Repost from 2019 Article Submitted by:  Lydia McDonald
Photographs by: Ed Konrad