For today’s blog, Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) spoke with Mark Andrews, one of the founders of Seabrook’s Shorebird Steward Program and current co-chair along with Bob Mercer. We asked Mark to share his knowledge and experience with our SIB followers. We have many new residents on Seabrook who might be interested in learning more about this program and volunteering their time and talents.
SIB: What is the Shorebird Steward Program?
Mark: The Shorebird Steward Program is a special program of the Seabrook Island Birders with an interesting history. It began in 2020, but after just a few days of operations, the program was cancelled because of Covid. I still remember Marcia Hider and Charley Moore enthusiastically towing the sign cart and scope down the beach to greet new folks. All of my efforts to get them to socially distance were for naught but neither of them had ever met a stranger!
More to your question, from March to the end of nesting season in June or July, stewards volunteer for two hour shifts on the beach each day to educate visitors and residents alike about shorebirds. Seabrook Island is a critical stopover for many migrating shorebird species like the federally threatened Red Knot. Our beach is also nesting habitat for threatened Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers and wintering habitat for endangered/threatened Piping Plovers. The shorebird stewards teach beachgoers to respect the shorebirds by giving the birds space to forage and to rest. Even small disturbances to their routine can sap the birds of the energy that they need to migrate, nest or survive the winter. The message is simple: If you see shorebirds, walk around and please keep your dog on a leash when near birds.
SIB: After getting the green light to proceed in 2021, what has been the volunteer response?
Mark: This program has grown because of the enthusiastic legacy of Seabrook Island Birders. The strong tradition of community service, of not just planning birding activities but communicating with Seabrook to educate and draw others into the fold, has carried over to the Shorebird Steward Program. We have trained 37 people to be stewards. While most are members of Seabrook Island Birders, one does not need to be a serious “birder” to enjoy stewarding. We encourage both residents and non-residents to join our program
SIB: How is the Shorebird Steward Program funded?
Mark: We are very grateful that our costs from the very beginning have been covered by grants from the Town of Seabrook Island (TOSI), South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and Seabrook Island Property Owners Association (SIPOA). These grants have covered speakers for our shorebird programs and our equipment. Our training has been provided by Audubon South Carolina. SIB has stepped in to insure the replacement cost of our scope and tripod.
SIB: How many hours have the Shorebird Stewards volunteered in the last 2 years?
Mark: The Shorebird Stewards volunteered 240 hours in 2021 and educated 768 beachgoers. This year the stewards worked 170 hours in a shorter season but still interacted with 748 people. Upwards of 60% of these interactions were with visitors in both years. This underscores that in-person stewarding a very effective method of teaching beachgoers about shorebirds.
SIB: Is the Shorebird Steward Program engaged in other projects?
Mark: Yes. Stewards have contributed to research projects being conducted on Seabrook beaches by SCDNR and United States Federal Wildlife Services (USFWS). We provided support for SCDNR’s Red Knot banding in April, a coastal Georgia to North Carolina Red Knot Survey, the US Fish and Wildlife Prey Surveys and Red Knot resighting, to name a few. In fact, the SIB Shorebird Steward Program’s operating endorsement from TOSI includes special provisions to support our research component. We are also active in an organization of other Audubon South Carolina steward programs with whom we share training resources and statistics.
SIB: Does that include coordinating with the Kiawah Shorebird Stewards?
Mark: Yes. We share the birds of Captain Sam’s Inlet with the Kiawah Shorebird Stewards who organized a series of four shorebird lectures which can be found on the SIB website. Our association with Kiawah has also resulted in an invitation for us to participate in the first ever Sea Island Shorebird Festival scheduled for May 2023. This is going to be an exceptional event. We think this is an incredible opportunity to promote shorebird conservation to our communities.
SIB: If you can dust off your crystal ball, what do you think the future might look like for Shorebird Stewards?
Mark: The Shorebird Steward Program has evolved to be a major activity on Seabrook Island. Shorebird Stewards is much like Turtle Patrol or Dolphin Watch in that we provide a material service to the community and interact directly with regulatory agencies. As shown by the number of interactions we have with visitors, Seabrook Island is prime destination for eco-tourism. The service our members provide help to make their experience enjoyable & educational while contributing to the conservation of shorebirds.
SIB: Thank you, Mark. You have provided a lot of good information to long term and new residents alike. For those of you who wish more information about the Seabrook Shorebird Stewards, please visit the SIB website.