Sunday, March 5, 2023 7:00am– 4:00 pm Trip to Bluff Unit National Wildlife Refuge Location: Meet at SI Real Estate Office to Carpool at 7:00 am (Meet at 2125 Fort Watson Road, Summerton at 9:00am, the Visitor Center) Max: 12 Cost: free to members, $10 per guest
Bluff Unit is part of the Santee National Wildlife Refuge located just north of I-95 on Lake Marion. The visitors center is closed but there is a Johnny on the Spot. After birding at the visitor’s center we will head to Wright’s Bluff Nature Trail. There is an overlook on Cantey Bay from which we may see a variety of wintering waterfowl including American Wigeon, Gadwall and Northern Pintail. During our walk through the woods we could see Black and White warblers, Orange-crown warblers and Brown Creepers. In the large open field we may see a variety of sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks as well as raptors. In the small ponds we should see a variety of ducks.
Expect 3 to 4 miles walk over flat terrain. Bring lunch, plenty to drink, sunscreen and bug spray. You may also want to bring a scope.
In October, we published a blog telling you about a scheduled Bird Festival sponsored by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce called Hammock Coastal Bird Festival. Melanie Jerome, Jennifer Jerome, Susan Markum and Judy Morr decided to have a “girls weekend” to participate. After finding a 4 bedroom condo, deciding on meals (the conference provided dinners), we could focus on BIRDS!
We easily agreed on which of the wide variety of tours to register. Mark, from the Chamber, worked with us to be sure we all got on the same tours. The weekend was a success with 94 species identified…Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Mute Swans, Screech Owls, and more!
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus Length: 31″; Wingspan: 80″; Weight: 152 oz.
Seabrook Island residents have a special bond with the Bald Eagle. For more than ten years, Seabrookers have followed our Bald Eagles as they nested, reared their young, lost nests due to tree age and storms, and then once again found new locations to nest. On May 7, 2020, we published “A Story of Seabrook Island Bald Eagles” written by George Haskins, an excellent history of our eagles through the date it was published.
It was in April, 2020, when Seabrook Island experienced an EF-1 Tornado (see story) and the nest on Crooked Oaks #3 came down. Since that time, most of us have wondered where did our Bald Eagles chose to nest? We knew of nests on Kiawah and Cassique, but we could never confirm a nest on Seabrook Island until earlier this month, when a few detectives put the pieces together!
First, we received a google map image from SIB member Melodie Murphy created by Jean Phillips, of a location where an adult Bald Eagle was flying carrying nest materials above Ocean Winds golf course between holes 4 & 5. We put this image out to the SIB Google Groups and on our Social Media pages, and soon heard from SIB member Lynn Miner:
“I have an Eagle taking over an Osprey nest next to my house on The Haul Over. I hadn’t seen the Osprey last year sadly, then a few months ago, Madam Eagle was flying up and down The Haul Over with huge sticks, doing a rebuild/refresh on the nest. I do see her up there moving around but not every day and she’s quiet (unlike missy Osprey). I do see an Eagle on a dead tree on Marsh Hen and of course just assume she’s mine. Not sure about eggs but that might be why she could be low and quiet in the nest.”
We sent word out about the location on The Haul Over (see map to the right).
SIB members Melodie Murphy and Tori Langen got a “tour” from Lynn. They agreed it definitely looked like the next of a Bald Eagle. Very tall tree, impossible to see into the nest. However, they believed a Bald Eagle was sitting in the nest because it began vocalizing when a Vulture flew too close! Lynn said that earlier in the day an Eagle had been visible on the sides of the nest. There is a somewhat dead tree “two wing flaps” away on Marsh Hen that Lynn says often houses an Eagle….perhaps the mate? Melodie was able to take a photo of the nest.
And finally, Glen Cox was able to take a beautiful photo while an adult sat up on the nest!
Thank you to all our SIB Detectives for solving the “Where is the Bald Eagle Nest Mystery!” You can look for the nest in a tree on the empty lot to the left of 2385 The Haulover. You can also look for the Bald Eagles resting in a tree on the right side of Marsh Hen Dr, just on the other side of Seabrook Island Road from The Haul Over.
To learn more about Bald Eagles, click “Read More Now”.
On February 16, a small group from SIB visited these wonderful Wildlife Management areas. Bob Mercer provided a wonderful trip report of the day we thought you would like to see.
Getting started at 5:30 AM is not everyone’s idea of a good time. The three people who made the effort to set out for Bear Island Wildlife Management Area were rewarded with a stunning sunrise over a foggy almost dry pond. Seeing Tundra Swans before they left the pond at dawn set the early departure time from Seabrook Island. With the pond almost dry, the only swans seen was a family unit of five birds on the far side of the road in excellent morning light. On the other hand, the herons, egrets, and ibis passed by or landed in the mudflats in large numbers. The mudflats also provided space for hundreds of shorebirds, most either backlit or far away. Those we could identify included both yellowlegs, Dunlin, and Killdeer. We would see another family unit of seven Tundra Swans later in the morning.
In the first few ponds, we spied a few Mottled Ducks and numerous Pied-billed Grebes. A pair of Bald Eagles sat close together in a tree close to the road. In the wooded sections we saw or heard many of the expected birds like the very vocal Pine Warblers.
As we rounded the corner of one pond, Ann and Shelly called out in unison, spoonbill! One lone individual in perfect light graced us with a good view. Also there, a flock of 140 American Coots clustered together slowly moved away from us. Here we found another Bald Eagle and our first Northern Shovelers.
After leaving the Pecan Grove, the pond contained our first large collection of duck—Northern Shovelers by the score. One hundred and forty or so American Avocets waded around swishing their bill back and forth feeding. Farther back were rafts of ducks too far for even the spotting scope to sort out the species.
Everywhere we stopped, we added new species. By the time we left about 11:30 AM, the list of species stood at 71 species. Nothing super rare, but still a respectable count.
The next stop—Donnelly Wildlife Management Area for a much-needed lunch and rest stop. During lunch an Eastern Meadowlark gave all a good view. We eventually saw 35 Eastern Meadowlarks rise up out of one of the fields and fly past, exciting, but not as good an opportunity to study the bird. Pine Warblers were singing everywhere in both WMAs, but we heard our first Yellow-throated Warbler in Donnelly. In the big pond, we found more Roseate Spoonbills and American White Pelicans (and at least 10 impressively large alligators).
On the way out of Donnelly, we stopped at the last big lake where a couple of Red-headed Woodpeckers gave a show.
Tallying up the list, we had 51 species at Donnelly and ended the day with a total of 81 species of birds.
Tuesday, February 28, 2023 with morning only (8 am – 11 am) Location: Meet at Seabrook Island Real Estate to carpool at 7:15am Meet trip leader Cathy Miller at the West Ashley Park (3601 Mary Ader Avenue) at first large parking lot past the soccer fields. Max: 8 Cost: Free for members; $10 donation for guests
Join SIB to bird in the beautiful woodlands of the West Ashley Park on Church Creek. This lovely city park provides amenities for sports and nature lovers alike. Here we will explore the wooded wetlands. All birding will be on foot and we will cover about 3.5 – 4 miles. The terrain can be muddy and rooted. Some trails may have standing water so wear comfortable hiking shoes that you can get wet. We will not wade through anything deeper than an inch. And, if it has not rained in a while, we may not splash through any puddles at all!
We can expect to see a large variety of waders including Egrets, Herons, Ibis, and Anhinga. Ducks such as Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, and Mallards are possible and we will definitely hear and perhaps see Red-shouldered Hawks, Turkey Vultures, our usual winter resident species like Tufted Titmice, Northern Cardinals, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees, Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-Rumped Warblers will be here in abundance. Hopefully, we will also get to see Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis, Rusty Blackbirds, Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-throated Warblers, Black-and-White Warblers, Orange Warbler, Gray Catbird, House Wrens and Palm Warblers. Though the species count may not be super high, this site is fabulously birdy. It will be a great place for a beginning birder to practice birding by ear as you will hear our local species non-stop in the morning. If you have not yet done so, I recommend downloading the free Merlin app to your phones to help you train your ears as you listen. As you become familiar with the trails in the park on this trip, you will be better prepared for exploring this area in peak migration season (Fall especially) when these woods pull in some great migratory warbler species.
As always, be sure to bring your binoculars/cameras, bug spray, hats and sunscreen. Bring plenty to drink and snacks. There are many good restaurants close-by at which to eat lunch afterwards, if you wish. Restroom facilities are available at the different athletic fields in the park.
If you are not yet a 2023 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $15 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 $10.
Please register no later than February 26. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on the February 27, the day prior to the trip. If you need to cancel, please let us know so we can invite people on the waitlist to attend.
This week, while birding on Ocean Winds, my group saw a Wood Stork sitting in a strange position as if their knees were bent in the wrong direction. Can you explain?
One of the lesson’s I enjoyed teaching to the PA Master Naturalist classes was on animal structure. In the world, certain structures exist throughout the animal kingdom. The premise being that the original design has been shaped and altered to meet the needs of animals, including humans. The term is homologous structures.
The Dictionary of Biology describes the term as: “Homologous structures are organs or skeletal elements of animals and organisms that, by virtue of their similarity, suggest their connection to a common ancestor. These structures do not have to look exactly the same, or have the same function. The most important part, as hinted by their name, is that they are structurally similar.”
To understand this image of the Wood Stork, one must look at your own feet and legs. On your foot, you have toes that bend up and down. Then note the bones of the foot which don’t bend. Next comes the ankle to provide mostly up and down motion, but it cannot bend back as far as it can up. (Go ahead, I give you permission to wiggle your toes and feet.) From there it is more solid bone up to the knee which flexes backward. Finally, more solid bone to the hip.
Next time you eat a chicken leg and thigh, notice how the joints move. The thigh is homologous to your thigh. The joint connecting the thigh to the chicken leg would be the knee and the meat on the leg would be the calf. Since little meat exists on the foot, it used to be you didn’t get chicken feet as part of your meal unless you are very poor. You can now find gourmet recipes, but I’ll pass.
Look at this Wood Stork image. Note the toes are what a bird stands on. The foot holds birds up. The ankle in this picture still rests on the ground. The knee hides under the feather. While this position looks uncomfortable to us, it is the natural arrangement of bones in birds.
Like most of us, I spent much of my 40 year professional career inside, behind a computer screen. Retiring to Seabrook Island in 2020 was an epiphany for me and my husband, Doug. There is a whole world our here! There are no lions and tigers and bears, but plenty of alligators, dolphins, and, of course, BIRDS! I will stay clear of the alligators; the dolphins never cease to amaze me, but much of their time is spent where I can’t see them. But BIRDS? Who knew? Well, thankfully, many Seabrookers know, and are willing to share their knowledge and enthusiasm.
Moving to Seabrook during the middle of the COVID pandemic proved a difficult time for meeting new friends and neighbors. My desire to get out and meet people was my first incentive to become a Shorebird Steward. While precautions were paramount, I was still able to be outside, safely at a distance from visitors, and experience the wonders of the many migratory birds that are our part-time guests. Little did I know at the time, this Shorebird Steward experience would become a very important part of my life on Seabrook.
Being a SS means having a reason to put “beach time” on my calendar. Life can get in the way of enjoying so many of our natural wonders, but signing up for a shift causes me to get beach time “set in stone”. I never regret time spent on the beach. Even if there are few others on the beach with me, I can experience the awesome power of the ocean and the wildlife dependent on it.
I enjoy meeting people! Many of those I encounter on my SS shifts are residents of SI, either full-timers out on their regular beach walk, or part-timers taking in the changes that have occurred on North Beach since their last time there. And the visitors! They are here because they love this island! Many visitors I have met have been visiting SI longer than I have been living here, and they love it! They, too, marvel at the changes, and are always intrigued at the migratory birds. Visitors who are here for the first time are mesmerized by the array of wildlife, especially birds, that have found their way to our island home. For many, it is their first time to encounter Red Knots, Skimmers, Oyster Catchers, and Least Terns. And always, those newcomers ask “Do you live here? What is it like?” And I get to share how much I love it here, and appreciate how lucky I am, as indicated by their envy!
How do I know what I am seeing? How do I answer the questions thrown my way? Honestly, I can’t always! Shorebird Stewards are given thorough training by our birding enthusiasts, headed by Mark Andrews and Bob Mercer. We have refresher courses late each winter, in preparation for the upcoming season. Remember, we haven’t seen our migratory birds since last spring, so a refresher course is quite helpful! At first, I found it helpful to sign up with a more experienced birder, so that I could observe and listen to their interactions. I soon realized that one doesn’t have to be a birding expert to create a meaningful experience for our curious visitors. The Shorebird Steward leadership team provides excellent visual aids that accompany us on our shifts, and we always encourage those with whom we come in contact to visit our website for more photos and information. It is there that one can look at the photos up close (there is usually a sun glare on our phone screen) and can get more info on migratory patterns of our traveling birds.
I have never heard of Red Knots before my involvement with the Shorebird Stewards. Since, when they arrive here, they are not red, I was a bit confused about them. But as I have learned about their notably long migration and Seabrook Island’s importance in their ability to make it to their nesting area in the far north, I have been compelled to learn more about other migratory birds. I have had the opportunity to see whimbrels occasionally on our island, and to learn about how important Deveaux Bank is to their survival. I have been amazed at our resident Oyster Catcher U5 and his mate, and got to see them take care of their eggs, watch their chicks fledge, and to have my heart broken with Least Tern eggs that have been stolen by a predator. I am curious about how the changes to our dunes from the recent flood tides and storms will impact the upcoming spring nesting season.
Lastly, being a Shorebird Steward provides me with an opportunity to increase awareness of the fragility of our shoreline habitat. While we welcome new neighbors and visitors, our very presence creates challenges for the natural world and its inhabitants. I try to kindly and with grace show others that it is possible to enjoy our wonderful island while respecting our bird inhabitants and their needs.
If any of my experiences seems like something you might be interested in, I would invite you to visit the Seabrook Island Birders webpage (www.seabrookislandbirders.org) and visit the Shorebird Stewards tab. Sign up with your spouse or a friend, or meet new friends during the upcoming training sessions. Send an email to SIBStewards@gmail.com to join the group or ask for more information. It is a rewarding experience that you will surely come to cherish.
Red Knot – Calidris canutus
Length: 10.5″; Wingspan: 23″; Weight: 4.7 oz.
One of the most exciting visitors to our beach March-May are the Red Knots. They have one of the longest migrations of any bird, about 18,000 miles round trip, from the tip of South America to the Arctic tundra where they breed. Our beach is an important stopping point as a food source for them to feed and rest on their long journey. In April and May, we can see thousands of knots in a group!
Question:There have been a large number of Yellow-rumped Warblers at my feeders this fall and winter. Over the past month I’ve noticed that when they land on a bird feeder or on a tree limb they will flutter and open their wings and flash their yellow rump. I don’t believe that they nest here so I was wondering what might be the reason for this behavior. I don’t remember seeing this behavior in years past. – Joleen Ardaiolo
Answer: The Yellow-rumped Warbler is a remarkably understudied bird particularly when not on breeding territory. Therefore, this response is somewhat speculative. The only reference I can find as to this behavior on the web site Birds of the World reads: “Yellow rump-patch often displayed during foraging and hawking; may be passive display (perhaps territorial); spreads tail as threat (Morse 1989a).”Behavior – Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata – Birds of the World
What we learn from this scant information is the birds perform the behavior you see often—no big surprise there. The purpose is speculated as being a “passive territorial display.” This may indicate that the Yellow-rumped Warblers seen at feeders use the rump patch flash as a mechanism to tell the other nearby Yellow-rumped Warblers to stay away.
While researching this question, I had confirmed what I had heard in the past. The reason the Yellow-rumped Warblers spend the winter in in our area results from their ability to digest waxes and lipids. This enables Yellow-rumped Warblers to survive on a diet of exclusively Bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica) if necessary. They will also eat Wax Myrtle (M. cerifera), Junipers, Poison Ivy and insects to name just a few of the winter foods. During the breeding season, they eat almost exclusively meats in the form of insects and other arthropods. So, these birds can frequently be seen between the beach and the forest.
While out exploring the environs around Seabrook Island, you may see a number of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting about, but notice how they do not cluster together like American Goldfinches or Cedar Waxwings. The Yellow-rumped Warbler is not that social, though they do pay attention to their nearby neighbors as to may help them find new food sources. Yet, watch long enough and you will see birds chasing each other away for where they feed. I will now need to pay attention to see if that rump flash accompanies these interactions.
Yellow-rumped Warblers are very “pishable”. I don’t know why…maybe they are just curious.
After several years of membership in Seabrook Island Birders, I still consider myself a novice. I am content to know a Baltimore Oriole from a Red-winged Blackbird. I am in awe of those with birding scopes and those who can spot a slight flutter in the trees and immediately identify an obscure bird.
I had a short conversation last week with a very knowledgeable Seabrook birder about the Carolina Wren. This bird seems to be everywhere on Seabrook and is always noisy. When I’m on my porch with my Merlin Bird ID app, I hear the Carolina Wren and Northern Cardinal more than any other bird. What is even more puzzling to me is that the Carolina Wren doesn’t always sound the same.
Within an hour of our conversation, my birder friend sent me several links. And so my education began. Here are a few fun facts I learned about the songs of the Carolina Wren. I have also included the websites I explored.
Who sings? Only the male sings. The song is a series of several quick, whistled notes, repeated as many as 15 times before changing the tune. A male may also be joined in song by another nearby male. The female may provide a thrill at the end of a song.
Why is its song so loud? Birds have a syrinx at the bottom of the windpipe where the bronchial tubes split apart into the lungs. The syrinx is surrounded by an air sac. These work like a resonating chamber to sustain or magnify sound.
What does the Carolina Wren sing? Not just one song. The male may have 27-41 different song types. Sometimes your hear “germany.” Other times you may hear “tea kettle” or “cheery.” The male also chatters and can make harsh, scolding calls.
When does the Carolina Wren sing? The short answer is all the time. While many birds sing early or late in the day, the Carolina Wren sings at any daylight hour, all year long. That means the Carolina Wren can be heard anywhere at any time during the year on Seabrook Island!