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.
Submitted by: Sally Boudinot