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 call.

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:

Republished from June 2016
Article originally 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.

What’s to See on North Beach…and Beyond?

Aija on North Beach

Aija and I spent a week at Seabrook in August, and despite the heat, we birded and shot photographs on North Beach. Of course! So, what’s to see on North Beach mid-August – through Aija’s binoculars and my  camera lens? Like any time of the year, always interesting sightings!

The striking American Oystercatchers are wonderful to see, especially a larger flock moving around from the point to the SCDNR nesting area. We were on the lookout for our old friend U5, and his mate and juvenile. The family treated me to a nice “through the lens encounter”. Mom and juvenile were together foraging, then each gave their little call. I heard the return call to my far left, and there’s U5 doing a magnificent flyby!

Piping Plovers are back from breeding up north. We resighted eight, two were banded. We reported the orange flag plover to researcher Alice Van Zoeren, Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team, in Michigan. Alice emailed, “This is your friend Red/Yellow; he lost his yellow band over summer. He and mate fledged two chicks successfully at Sleeping Bear Dunes on North Manitou Island this summer. Their territory was 2 miles away from the main nesting area, so we got lots of exercise checking on them each day! Glad he’s made it back to Seabrook!”. Red/Yellow is one of the captive raised PIPL Mark Andrews spotted last October He stayed with us through the spring and is back!

 We learned from the researchers at the Virginia Tech Piping Plover Program that the green flag Piping Plover “2E1 was banded as a pre-fledged chick at Fire Island National Seashore, NY, on 6/2/2021. This is the first observation since banding.” This is 2E1’s first trip south, so like Red/Yellow, maybe will stay with us all wintering season too! Why not, Seabrook is a safe and wonderful place!

Between trips to North Beach, we headed down Route 17 to favorite spots – Bear Island and Donnelly WMAs. The targets were Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites that are seen this time of year. These graceful birds soar and swoop very fast in search of bugs, so photographing them is a real challenge, I wasn’t pleased with this trip’s quality, but the photos show the “moment” of the kites catching then gobbling insects while in flight. A terrific surprise at Bear Island was coming upon a Least Bittern sitting up on the marsh grass, and “posing” for us for a long time. This elusive bird usually skulks deep in the  grass, it’s rare to get looks like this!

Back on North Beach the Black Skimmers gave me a nice beach landscape shot. Small groups of Short-billed Dowitchers and Black-bellied Plovers hung out, some still with breeding plumage.

Least Terns, and Royal Terns with juveniles begging for food, rested in the protected nesting area. A favorite tern – the graceful Gull-billed Tern, buzzed my head while I was photographing shorebirds. We wondered why as breeding season is over. But then we realized they were catching insects in midair, or maybe looking for small crabs on the ground! These beauties don’t rely on fish for their diets like their ocean-diving cousin tern species.

Royal Tern

Seeing what’s up on Jenkins Point is always fun. Aija knew a Yellow-crowned Night Heron had been hanging out on Old Wharf Road. This was unusual, as Jenkins Point is a place for the Black-crowned Night Heron. My trusty birding buddy was right as usual. I always wonder, would I ever get these photos without Aija’s expertise?

Article and Photos by Ed Konrad

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Learning Together-Ocean Winds Golf Course

Learning Together on Golf Course-Ocean Winds
Monday, August 30,2021 8:30am-10:30am
Birding on Ocean Winds Golf Course
Location: Meet at Island House (Golf Course Parking Lot next to Spinnaker Beach Houses) for ride along the golf course in golf carts.
Max: 20
Cost: None for members; $5 donation for guests

The Seabrook Island Club closes one course a day each week and allows Seabrook Island Birders to use golf carts to travel the course with our members to bird. Join us for a morning of birding by RIDING in golf carts for at least 9-holes on Ocean Winds golf course. We expect to see a large variety of birds including Egrets, Herons and birds of prey. We will also see and hear some of the smaller birds like Tufted Titmice, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and some of the many warbler species. We can also expect to see Eastern Kingbirds, Great-crested Flycatchers, Orchard Orioles, Summer Tanagers, Mississippi Kites and more!

As always, be sure to bring your binoculars, hats and sunscreen. Water will be provided.

If you are not yet a 2021 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $10 by following the instructions on our website: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/contact/join-sib/. Or you may pay the Guest Fee of $5.

Please complete the information below to register no later than Friday August 27, 2021. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on Sunday, August 29th.

SIB birding from Golf Carts – Jackie Brooks

SIB “Bird of the Week” – American Redstart

American Redstart  –  Setophaga ruticilla
Length:  5.25″;  Wingspan:  7.75″;  Weight:  0.29 oz.

American Redstart (male) - Ed Konrad
American Redstart (male) – Ed Konrad

While the American Redstart is a wood-warbler and part of the Parulidae Family, it is the only warbler species in the Setophage Genus.  David Sibley, in his Field Guide to Birds index, does not list it among the warblers, but alone under Redstart.  They do migrate, in treed habitats, along the SC coast line.  My only sightings have been in New York and Massachusetts.  This is a very colorful, mid-size warbler with what The Cornell Lab of Ornithology calls “a fairly long, expressive tail.”

An adult male could be described as a Halloween bird.  It has a black head and back with splashes of orange on the wing tops, along the sides under the wings, and, in a unique pattern, on the tail.  The colors are similar to the Baltimore Oriole, but in a very different pattern of orange on a bird that is 3.5 inches longer than the redstart and weighs 1.2 ounces.  An adult female American Redstart has a gray head and the color splashes are more yellow.   The larger Blackburnian Warbler also displays orange, but only on the throat.

Typically, warbler behavior is to always be on the move.  This makes it difficult to differentiate among those of similar coloration.  The flashier redstart is incredibly active as it darts about, colorful tail fanned. to flush insects from their hiding places.  The insects are then chased in short flights and plucked from the air.  Their winter habitat (Central America, Cuba, and the northern countries of South America) is tropical and at lower to middle elevations of woodlands.  In migration, they tend to stay within protected treed areas as opposed to the open coastal plain.  The breeding habitat, which extends from inland South Carolina to Canada, would normally be somewhat open wooded areas of primarily deciduous trees.

The Seabrook Island chart of bird species shows the American Redstart as an occasional visitor.  Our live oaks would seem to fit their habitat preference.  Local experience indicates there’s a better chance of observing them from late August through October (fall migration).  We saw them at Palmetto lake last fall and SIBirder Joleen Ardaiolo saw one in her backyard last week.

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

Article submitted by:  George Haskins originally Oct, 2016(reposted)

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.

Fall Migration has started!

When it’s 90 degrees in the shade, it’s hard to remember the birds are already preparing for winter and have started their migrations south. For those of us on Seabrook Island, this means we loose our summer residents, Painted Buntings, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Green Herons to name a few. Amoung those arriving will be Palm Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Northern Flickers. It is also a time when birds are flying through from their summer residences up north to as far south as South America. Many of the warblers are in this category.

The good news is all this coming and going means great birding opportunities. Since it’s hard for amateurs like to know when birds are coming through, I like to reference two web sites.

Close to home, Aaron Given publishes a daily blog of the birds they capture at the Kiawah Island Banding Stations. I know when these Kiawah banding stations are seeing a species, it’s a good chance they are on Seabrook as well. Since I don’t visit the site daily, it has a nice feature that allows me to page back to previous posts to see what has been captured on prior recent days. To learn more about the Kiawah Island Banding Station, visit the blog Aaron wrote for us last year.

Another helpful site can be used anywhere in the country. BirdCast is powered by Cornell Lab, Colorado State University and UMassAmhert. The site provides bird migration forecast maps that show predicted nocturnal migration 3 hours after local sunset and are updated every 6 hours. It also has a local migration alert tool to determine whether birds are passing overhead near your city tonight! This site doesn’t tell you which species are migrating but will give you an indication if there has been a recent influx of migrating birds.

Watch the Seabrook Island Birders blogs, activity page and calendar to see when the group will have organized activities during bird migration. You can also subscribe to the SIB Google Group. This group is then available for you to send an “impromptu” email asking others to join you in a search or other members would notify you when they are going out.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Nesting on Seabrook Island

In late July, a friend called asking if Ruby-throated Hummingbirds nest on Seabrook Island. She was pouring a glass of wine and saw a hummingbird hovering near a tree outside her kitchen window then spotted the nest in easy view. So the obvious answer is yes….Ruby-throated Hummingbirds breed between March and July. The female lays 2 eggs which are incubated for 10 to 14 days. The chicks leave the nest when they are 18 to 22 days old with the mother continuing to feed them until they are 22 to 25 days old.

We became frequent visitors to our friend’s kitchen with Dean taking photographs of mother hummingbird sitting on the nest and her feeding two young ones. Soon these babies will be fledging.

For more about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, read the blog below which was originally posted in April 2016.

Submitted by Judy Morr

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird:
Family – Trochilidae
Species – Archilochus colubris
Length: 3 – 3.75”; Wingspan: 4.25 – 4.5”; Weight: 0.1 oz

(Submitted by Ron Schlidge)

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Bob Hider
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Bob Hider

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummer known by most Easterners and has a range that covers most of eastern North America.  Both sexes have glittering green crown and upperparts, and the underparts are grayish to white.  Males have black faces and a deep red to orange-red throat or gorget.  The humming of its wings is clearly discernible from a distance.  Their wings beat up to 75 per second. 

They feed primarily on nectar but take some insects and spiders, also sap from sapsucker drill wells.  In courtship flight, males make a huge 180-degree arcs back and forth, emitting a buzzing sound at its lowest point.  Males often arrive on breeding grounds well ahead of females.  These birds are strongly attracted to the color red as are many other hummers. 

The nest of the hummingbird is very small and made from soft plant down, fireweed, milkweed thistles and leaves.  They are a solitary breeder and generally lay two white eggs the size of a pea with incubation 11 to 16 days by the female. Altricial young stay in nest 20 – 22 days and are fed by the female. They have 1-3 broods per year.

Ruby-throated Hummers feed on red columbine in spring; salvia, trumpet or coral honeysuckle, and bee balm later in the year. They also fed on jewelweed, phlox, petunias, lilies, trumpet creeper, Siberian peatree, nasturtium, cone-shaped red flowers and sugar water.

You can mix your own sugar water by using a  4:1 ratio of water to sugar (ex:  2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of sugar).  Red food dyes added to sugar water may harm birds.  Always replace the sugar water in your feeders at least once a week and maybe more in the hot days of summer.

A group of Hummingbirds has many collective nouns, including a “bought”, “glittering”, “hover”, “shimmer” and a “tune” of hummingbirds.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are common on Seabrook in the summer. They can be seen over the beach, amid the dunes, and in the myrtles along the boardwalks.  They are also around the estuaries and edges wherever they may find nectar-producing plants and small insects.  If you have a home you might try a feeder – they will come.  A very few might spend the winter.  A feeder in winter might also attract other vagrant species such as the Rufous Hummingbird or Black-chinned Hummingbird.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

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

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.

Join SIB to bird Kiawah River

REGISTER NOW

Sunday, August 15, 2021 8:00am-11:00am
Learning Together at Kiawah River
Location: Meet at the “bridge” entering the property from Betsy Kerrison
Cost: None for members; $5 donation for guests

Tricolored Heron and Roseate Spoonbill at Kiawah River – Mary Van Deusen

Another chance to check out birds that can be found on this varied habitat property. We expect to see a large variety of birds including Double-crested Cormorants, Egrets, Herons, Osprey and other birds of prey. If we are lucky, we will see an eagle and osprey duel over a fish. We should also see and hear some of the smaller birds like Tufted Titmice, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals. On previous visits we have observed Loggerhead Shrike, Common Gallinule and Red-headed Woodpeckers, all species we don’t often see on Seabrook Island. We will drive to various locations on the property and then walk for better birding observations. Although we will be getting out of our vehicles at times, we hope our vehicle air conditioners will make this an enjoyable August activity.

As always, be sure to bring your binoculars, hats, water and sunscreen. We ask that all participants wear a mask when unable to social distance if they are not vaccinated.

If you are not yet a 2021 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $10 by following the instructions on our website: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/contact/join-sib/. You may bring the form and your dues to the event. Or you may pay the Guest Fee of $5.

Please register no later than Friday, August 13, 2021. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on Saturday, August 14th.

“Welcome American Oystercatcher Chicks DY & DZ” – SIB’s August Article in The Seabrooker

In case you don’t receive it, or haven’t had a chance to read it yet, we hope you will enjoy Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) contribution to The Seabrooker’s August 2021 edition. The full-page story this month:

  • Resident American Oystercatchers Raise a FamilyLearn about U5 and his mate and how they successfully hatched and raised two young this summer on Seabrook Island! We hope chicks DY and DZ will return to our beaches for many summers to come!

Thanks to Mark Andrews for all his time spent stewarding on our beaches and for sharing this story. Thanks to the many photographers who have taken pictures of U5 and his mate over the years and for the photos from this summer, including: Mark Andrews, Glen Cox, Melanie Jerome, Ed Konrad, Patricia Schaefer and Janet Thibault. Lastly, thanks to Ed Konrad who serves as our graphic designer of the contributions to The Seabrooker.


And don’t forget, to learn more about SIB’s Shorebird Steward Program, open up this QR code (this Quick Response code is a bar code which will open a webpage when a phone camera is focused on it.)

Podcast from BirdNote: “Bring Birds Back”

Illustration: Tenijah Hamilton with birds. Text: BirdNote Bring Birds Back. Listen now!

Bring Birds Back is a new podcast about the joy of birds and the ways that humans can help them—through simple, everyday actions. Follow the journey of host Tenijah Hamilton as she falls in love with birds and learns that they’re in trouble. As Tenijah speaks with bird experts from all walks of life, together you will learn how to bring birds back. Listen online or through your favorite podcast app.

This podcast is sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

We Need You! (resent with link)

Click here to fill out the form and within a few days one of our SIB Executive Committee members will contact you to discuss your interest – it’s that easy!

As you may know, Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) are residents, renters and guests of Seabrook Island, SC, who have an interest in learning, watching, and protecting the incredible variety of birds and habitats that are on our beautiful island. Our organization is in its 6th year of operation and we now have more than 300 members who are enjoying our activities, programs and communications.

Whether you’ve been a long time SIB member or are new to Seabrook and the birds we enjoy, we are looking for volunteers.

We need people with a variety of skills who have as little or as much time to assist us. Here are some ideas:

  • Do you like to write and/or research? We are looking for people to help with our blogs and articles.
  • Are you a photographer? We always need great photos and short descriptions to share with our members.
  • Do you enjoy planning, organizing and/or working with spreadsheets? We have “behind the scenes” work that needs to be done so we can offer all our events.
  • Are you interested to learn about websites and blogs? It’s easy whether you are interested in developing new skills or can teach us a few things.
  • Want to share your knowledge about birds? We are always looking for people to help lead our walks and events both on and off island.

Whatever your talent and/or interest is, and no matter how much time you have to give, we can certainly find a position for you to help our group! The committees most in need of volunteers are:

  • Activities Committee:  Plan & coordinate workshops, bird walks and bird count activities for members.
  • Communications Committee:  Write stories to be used in SIB Blogs, Tidelines and The Seabrooker.  Update Facebook posts and Twitter.  
  • Program Committee:  Plan & coordinate SIB Quarterly Programs for membership.
  • Executive Committee:  Join the SIB board to assist with the overall strategy for our organization, take a role as President, VP, Secretary, Treasurer, lead and/or participate on committees.

Click here to fill out the form and within a few days one of our SIB Executive Committee members will contact you to discuss your interest – it’s that easy!