Birds of the Inlet celebration available for viewing

Last week we published a recap of the Sea Island Shorebird Festival. One of the events was the Birds of the Inlet celebration. If you were unable to attend the celebration, a video of the evening is now available. The presentation highlights the importance of Captain Sams Inlet as the centerpiece of the Kiawah- Seabrook- Deveaux complex. Janet Thibault of SCDNR focused on the dynamics of inlets and why they are so crucial to shorebirds. Melissa Chaplin of USFWS spoke about the importance of the inlet to endangered Piping Plovers who overwinter here. Manomet biologist, Abby Sterling, PhD, described how nesting American Oystercatchers, like our resident U5 and mate, depend on these resources, and PhD candidate, Maina Handmaker, presented her ground breaking research on the largest known Whimbrel roost which exists on Deveaux Bank.

Watch the Birds of the Inlet Celebration.

Video compiled by Alan Fink.

In search of a Northern Bobwhite

Northern Bobwhite – Jennifer Jerome

In late April, a Northern Bobwhite was reported at CawCaw. It is the only quail native to the eastern U.S., where populations are declining sharply. The All About Birds site states “Despite their sharp population decline, it’s still possible to find Northern Bobwhite in fields, rangelands, and open forests over much of their range.” This isn’t really the habitat for CawCaw so I thought it was likely a misidentification. Then it kept being reported.

King Rail – Jennifer Jerome

This week, Melanie Jerome, Joleen Ardaiolo and I decided to go “twitching”. Wikipedia defines Twitching is a British term used to mean “the pursuit of a previously located rare bird.” In North America, it is more often called chasing. We weren’t sure if we were searching, chasing or twitching but we knew we wanted to see it. While there, we also hoped to see the King Rail that had been seen on our “rare bird” list for Charleston County for the last few weeks.

On Wednesday we arrived at CawCaw shortly after they opened. We were pleased to meet Mike Harhold as we arrived and he agreed to join us on our search. Since we didn’t know where in the park the Northern Bobwhite had been seen, we thought the most likely area would be the back corner near the waterfowl enpoundment. We chose to get to that area via the swamp trail and boardwalk. Shortly after seeing the Prothonotary Warbler (check that off the list), we encountered another walker with binoculars and camera. She said she had “just seen” the Northern Bobwhite over near the Osprey platform…the opposite side of the park from our guess. But birding in the swamp was great! We continued on our way and saw the Red-headed Woodpecker (check), the Hairy Woodpecker (check) and a great view of two Yellow-billed Cuckoo (check, check). As we got out on the dikes, two Swallow-tail Kites flew over (check). When we got to the area by the Osprey nest….no Northern Bobwhite. This is also near where the King Rail had been reported. No luck with that either. We had “dipped out”. (In Audubon’s Birdist Rules of Birding, they state Missing a bird you’ve traveled to see, or ‘dipping,’ can be a disappointing experience. It’s also a birding rite of passage.) It was an enjoyable day of birding in great weather so although disappointed, we weren’t discouraged. We had identified 49 species for the day.

Looking at our calendars and the weather, we decided Sunday morning would be a good time to try again. This time, Jennifer Jerome and Walter and Jackie Brooks agreed to twitch with us. We actually arrived before the gates were open. We had agreed we’d go directly to the “known location” but of course we’d have to bird along the way. We saw some birds on one of the dikes which we tried hard to make into a Bobwhite but they flew before we could confirm. Jackie and Jennifer got pictures for verification when they got home but we thought they were probably Mourning Doves (they were). Jennifer and Judy caught a glimpse of the King Rail but it went into the reeds before the others could see it. We walked the dikes back and forth and finally we decided to try “one more time” at the “known location”. As we approached the designated corner, we met a gentleman with binoculars and a long lens camera. When asked, he said “yes, the Bobwhite just went in those grasses and the King Rail was still moving in the reeds”. We were close! With his help we first got a great view of the King Rail feeding on fiddler crabs. As we left that site, he pointed out where the Northern Bobwhite had come out of the grasses. So two successes for the day.

Jennifer and Judy continued through the swamp and saw more good birds including a Barred Owl near the parking lot. In addition to a great walk after the storm, 47 species were seen. Jennifer and Jackie caught some of these in pictures.

Submitted by: Judy Morr

Boat-tailed Grackle released

Juvenile Boat-tail Grackle and cage mate – Carolina Wildlife Center

Baby birds sometimes need human help to become independent birds in the wild. Chris Derajtys of Carolina Wildlife Center of Columbia recently contacted SIB on Instagram regarding her desires to release a rehabilitated Boat-tailed Grackle on Seabrook Island while she was visiting for Memorial Day Weekend.

Joleen Ardaiolo and Judy Morr were able to witness the release. As we walked onto the Fiddler Cove Dock, a brethren Boat-tailed Grackle welcomed the new arrival. Chris removed the bird from its carrier and after giving us photo opportunities, released the young bird. It quickly flew away, circling and then disappeared into the marsh grasses. All indications were it would quickly adapt to life in the Seabrook Island marsh.

Of course we had questions about this bird and the process which Chris enthusiastically answered.

  • The young bird came to the Carolina Wildlife Center (CWC) via the Center for Birds of Prey. This occurred when the two centers did an “exchange” of birds when it was determined the other facility could better service the birds after the exchange. Although the Carolina Wildlife Center handles many songbirds at their facility, they have no regular transport from the Charleston area to Columbia. If you rescue an injured songbird, contact CWC at their hotline (the injured animal hotline: (803) 772-3994) to see if transportation can be arranged.
  • The young bird was too young to be living in the wild. CWC had numerous fledglings in their care including a Common Grackle which became the cage mate for the Boat-tailed Grackle.
  • Baby birds come to CWC in various stages of growth. Some young birds must be fed every half hour. This time of year, they have so many young birds it takes a full time person to make the rounds feeding the hungry hatchlings. As the birds mature, the frequency of food is diminished and food is left in the cage so they can feed themselves.
  • When the songbirds are ready for release, they CWC does a soft release from the outdoor aviaries they are in. They open a large door so they can fly out of the aviary. If they “choose” to leave they are released, if they don’t by the end of the day they stay a bit longer until CWC tries again. Unfortunately, Boat-tailed Grackles don’t live in Columbia requiring an alternative release strategy. Since Chris was to visit her inlaws, Seabrook Island became an ideal location.
  • The Boat-tailed Grackle traveled in its carrier in the backseat of Chris’s car. It traveled well and spent the windy/raining Friday night in its carrier on SIB member Pat Derajtys screened porch. When the weather briefly cleared, it was ready to go and the release was a success.

Chris also explained that CWC works with many other animals

  • They have many opossums in their care but because of the unusually high number of baby opossums brought into the Center for care this Spring, the facility is now can only accept injured baby opossums.
  • CWC has recently seen a large increase in turtles that have been hit by cars – please be turtle aware during this time as year as many are crossing roads looking for mates or looking for places to lay eggs. Seabrook Island does have these turtles (such as box turtles and yellow bellied sliders) in addition to the sea turtles we often talk about in our area.
  • The Carolina Wildlife Center website has a great page for rescue advice for Birds, Fawns, Non-venomous Snakes, Opossums, Rabbits, Rabies, Raccoons, Squirrels and Turtles.

Check out the Carolina Wildlife Center’s website ( for information on donations and volunteer opportunities including transport volunteers.

Submitted by: Judy Morr

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
Length: 22-29”; Wingspan: 40”
 It’s a Little Blue Heron in what is called “first year” plumage.

Molting Little Blue Heron - Bob Hider
Molting Little Blue Heron – Bob Hider

When a Little Blue is immature (i.e., during the year in which it is born), it is totally white. Until a birder has mastered the characteristics of our local white egrets, it is easy to confuse the Little Blue with one of those waders. In its second spring, it begins to molt into its slate blue coloration, and, during that change, it appears mottled as the picture shows. By the end of the summer, it will have its more typical warm purplish-brown head and neck and otherwise dark gray-blue body. The two characteristics that it does maintain are its bluish green legs and black-tipped bluish bill.

The Little Blue Heron is common on Seabrook. It inhabits both fresh water ponds and salt or brackish water wetlands. It’s not unusual to find one standing among the reeds on the edge of Palmetto Lake searching for a meal. It can also be found on a dock, staring intently at the marsh below. As an adult, it tends to be solitary as it forages for small fish, crustaceans, frogs and aquatic insects. It stands quite still often with its bill pointed downward waiting patiently for its prey. For this reason, they can be difficult to spot.

In contrast, the pure white immature Little Blue Herons are often found feeding with groups of egrets and other herons which probably protects them somewhat. Eight were counted simultaneously on a Seabrook dock and in the nearby marsh this spring. When observed with such a group, their slow-moving behavior distinguishes them from the more active egrets even though they are very similar in size to the Snowy Egret.

Little Blue Herons are gregarious breeders, nesting in bushes over or near water. During the spring and early summer, they are part of the flocks on Jenkins Point along with the ibises and egrets there. In its write-up on this species, Cornell Lab of Ornithology states, “A courting male points his bill straight upward, suddenly extending and retracting his neck. Little Blue Herons of both sexes, when courting, may occasionally grasp, pull, and shake branches while simultaneously erecting the feathers along their head, neck, and back…. Little Blue Herons and neighboring colonial birds have a pronounced impact on their nesting habitat—stunting the growth of vegetation by harvesting nest material and sometimes killing trees outright by the accumulation of guano.”  This is true on Jenkins Point.

Here are more pictures of Little Blue Herons in their full immature and adult plumages.

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

Article submitted by: Marcia Hider / resubmitted 2022 by SIB
Photographs provided by: Bob Hider and Carl Helms

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.

Healing Power of Nature

Black-capped chickadees in hand. Photo by Amelia Buchanan

Dick Wildermann, one of the original members of the Seabrook Island Birders (SIB), recently wrote a short story about a little bird and a boy in a park, and the healing power of nature. It’s called Little Bird Park and you can read it here.

About the Author:

After serving as a U.S. Naval Aviator in the late 1960s, Dick Wildermann received a master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.  He spent his career as an environmental analyst and program manager in the public and private sectors, overseeing assessments of major federal projects, including offshore oil development.  

Dick worked for several years in the mid-1970s for Charles Fraser on Hilton Head Island.  It’s there that he and his wife, Marg, came to love the natural beauty of Lowcountry barrier islands.  They bought a Racquet Club Villa in 2005 for vacations, and since 2014 they have lived full time in their home on Privateer Creek Road. 

Dick is a climate activist and has had articles published in the Charleston Post and Courier and other local publications.  His book Wildlife on a Warming Earth was recently published and is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites and should soon be available at local bookstores. 

Sea Islands Shorebird Festival Recap

The Sea Islands Shorebird Festival was held May 11 & 12 on Kiawah and Seabrook Islands to celebrate the large number of shorebirds, including the threatened Red Knot, that use our beaches. A group of organizations interested in shorebird conservation worked to organize the festival. Representatives from Seabrook Island Birders Shorebird Steward Program, the Kiawah Conservancy, the Town of Kiawah, South Carolina Department of Natural of Resources, US Fish & Wildlife Service, SC Audubon and Manomet focused on the importance of Seabrook and Kiawah Island beaches, Captain Sams Inlet, and Deveaux Bank as critical habitat for migrating and nesting shorebirds.

Featherfest – Lesley Gore

Long-time birders and newcomers to shorebirds enjoyed activities including a Birders Breakfast hosted by SC Audubon, bird walks at Beachwalker Park, the east end of Kiawah and North Beach, and the Feather Fest, a family-friendly fair of artists, photographers, kids activities and children’s book authors.
On Thursday evening, Kiawah Conservancy hosted the “Red Knot Reception”. Benjamin Clock presented a new documentary about Red Knots and Felicia Sanders, SCDNR Coastal Bird biologist described her research on the migration and population status of Red Knots.

Birds of the Inlet – Lesley Gore

On Friday evening, Seabrook Island Birders hosted “Birds of the Inlet” to highlight the importance of Captain Sams Inlet as the centerpiece of the Kiawah- Seabrook- Deveaux complex. Janet Thibault of SCDNR focused on the dynamics of inlets and why they are so crucial to shorebirds. Melissa Chaplin of USFWS spoke about the importance of the inlet to endangered Piping Plovers who overwinter here. Manomet biologist, Abby Sterling, PhD, described how nesting American Oystercatchers, like our resident U5 and mate, depend on these resources, and PhD candidate, Maina Handmaker, presented her ground breaking research on the largest known Whimbrel roost which exists on Deveaux Bank.

Thank you to everyone who made this event a success!

Submitted by: Mark Andrews

What an Owl Knows: New Insights into the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds

Jennifer Ackerman is an award-winning science writer and speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of The Genius of Birds, The Bird Way, and the forthcoming What an Owl Knows, to be available in mid June, 2023.

Smithsonian Associates is offering an evening lecture via Zoom with Jennifer Ackerman on Monday, June 26, 2023 from 6:45 pm to 8:00 pm ET. The description of the event is below:

For millennia, owls have captivated and intrigued us. Our fascination with these mysterious birds was first documented more than 30,000 years ago in the Chauvet Cave paintings in southern France. With their forward gaze and quiet flight, owls are often a symbol of wisdom, knowledge, and foresight. But what does an owl really know? And what do we really know about owls?

Scientists have only recently begun to understand in deep detail the complex nature of these extraordinary avians. Some 260 species of owls exist today, and they reside on every continent except Antarctica, but they are far more difficult to find and study than other birds because they are cryptic, camouflaged, and mostly active in the dark of night.

Jennifer Ackerman, author of the New York Times bestseller The Genius of Birds, pulls back the curtain on the nature of the world’s most enigmatic birds as she explores the rich biology and natural history of owls and examines remarkable new scientific discoveries about their brains and behavior.

To register for this evening event (cost $20 for Smithsonian Associates members or $25 if not), click below:

Ackerman’s book What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds (Penguin Press) is available for purchase. To pre-order her book visit:

Join SIB: Beyond our Backyard: Bears Bluff Fish Hatchery

Friday, June 2, 2023 7:45 am – 11:00 am (Walk starts at Bears Bluff at 8:30a)
Location: Meet at SI Real Estate Office to Car Pool to Bears Bluff Fish Hatchery
(Google maps says 45 minute drive)
Bears Bluff Fish Hatchery: 7030 Bears Bluff Rd, Wadmalaw, South Carolina
Max: 15
Cost: Free to members, $10.00 for guests

Located on Wadmalaw Island, the Bears Bluff National Fish Hatchery (BBNFH) has a self-guided tour our group will take around the perimeter of the 31 acre facility. We will not only see examples of the South Carolina Lowcountry’s natural habitat but also see work being accomplished by staff at BBNFH. We will walk across a previously impounded estuarine area which is naturally reverting back into coastal marshland as well as a freshwater pond where birds, turtles and alligators are often visible. Two boardwalks offer a unique perspective and will allow guests “to get in the marsh without getting dirty”. The self-guided tour offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the estuarine ecosystem while experiencing some of this area’s most breathtaking scenery. Opportunities abound for bird watchers and wildlife enthusiasts. Visit the Bears Bluff National Fish Hatchery website to learn more about this location. A map of the site is below.

When we visited this location in June 2019, we saw 32 species. On a recent scouting visit, Jennifer Jerome reported 34 species including shorebirds, raptors, woodpeckers and songbirds. That visit didn’t include an Indigo Bunting or a Blue Grosbeak which Merlin heard but Jennifer couldn’t find.

If you are not yet a 2023 SIB member, you must first become a member by following the instructions on our website: You may bring the form and your dues to the event. Or you may pay the Guest Fee of $10.

Once you are a member, please register no later than Wednesday, May 31, 2023. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter the day prior to the event.

SIB celebrated Global Big Day

May 13 was a perfect day to go birding and be a part of Cornell’s Global Big Day. Cornell has indicated that over 150,000 checklists were submitted worldwide in eBird for that day identifying over 7,600 species. 76,482 of those checklists were in the Lower 48 of the US showing 664 species.

Osprey with lunch – Jennifer Jerome

Seabrook Island Birders participated both individually and with organized bird walks. My personal favorite checklist submitted to SIBBig eBird list was by Jennifer Jerome. She reported 16 species at her home. Most impressive was an Osprey that landed in a tree in her backyard. The Osprey was still wet from his successful hunting. He brought a good size Large Mouth Bass and enjoyed his lunch in Jennifer’s tree.

Ibis in flight – Alan Fink

Our organized bird walks on Seabrook Island resulted in 66 species reported on 5 bird walks. It would be hard to select a highlight from each walk. The family of Brown-headed Nuthatch visiting the suet feeder at the Crab Dock would be one of the highlights of the 28 species seen. Shortly after we started our walk around Palmetto Lake, a beautiful flock of White Ibis flew over with the sun glistening off their wings and bodies.

Piliated Woodpecker – Alan Fink

A total of 26 species were seen during this pleasant walk including a family of four Piliated Woodpeckers. After lunch, we reported only 18 species at Jenkins Point but they were special as we saw a nesting Glossy Ibis and then on Nancy’s Island had a glimpse of foraging Whimbrels. Unfortunately, no picture was obtained of the Glossy Ibis because we were afraid of the “little” alligators in the lagoon and the Whimbrels were obstructed by marsh grass.

Mark Andrews led us on an educating walk on North Beach where 28 species were seen. We saw more Whimbrels but it was good to see the variation of the Eastern Willet and the more common Western Willet. We also saw Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers and Sanderling. But how can we not mention American Oyster Catchers, Ruddy Turnstones, courting Least Terns, Red Knots, Black-Bellied Plovers or Wilson’s Plovers. The counts may not have been huge but it was a great afternoon.

The day officially concluded with 6 ladies walking along Bobcat Trail and Six Ladies Trail. Painted Buntings were plentiful but were only one of the 19 species seen or heard. I ended the day with a sunset visit at Boardwalk 8. Laughing Gulls were swooping everywhere with a conservative estimate of 300 counted when the look towards Deveaux was included. The highlight for me was the low fly-over of a mature Bald Eagle…a good conclusion for a good day.

SIB members participated in Big Day in places other than Seabrook Island. In Pennsylvania, Bob Mercer visited 5 different locations and recorded 87 species. Now that is a BIG DAY! He saw several birds we don’t see on Seabrook Island including Mute Swans, Perigrin Falcons, and 16 different species of warblers. Most of these warblers were seen at his previous nature center where he started his day at 5:30am.

Don’t forget to share your eBird lists with SIBBig. You can still share for anytime this year….our list is getting impressive.

Submitted by: Judy Morr

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Kites: Mississippi vs Swallow-tailed

Mississippi Kite – Ictinia mississippiensis
Length: 14″ Wingspan: 31″ Weight: 10 oz

Swallow-tailed Kite – Elanoides forficatus (endangered in South Carolina)
Length: 22″ Wingspan: 51″ Weight: 12 oz

Living at a beach community, I’m sure many people are accustomed to looking at kites in the sky along the beach – you know, the kind that Ben Franklin used.  But have you ever looked up to see either of these birds?

Mississippi Kite (left) & Swallow-tailed Kite (right) - Ed Konrad
Mississippi Kite (left) & Swallow-tailed Kite (right) – Ed Konrad

Both of these birds, the Mississippi and the Swallow-tailed Kites, can be seen on Seabrook Island and both within the past two weeks!  We’ve seen a Mississippi Kite pair flying over the community garden and over the marshes.

The two species look quite different from each other and are quite unmistakable from other birds.  Swallow-tailed Kites are large but slender and buoyant raptors. They have long, narrow, pointed wings, slim bodies, and a very long, deeply forked tail. The bill is small and sharply hooked. Swallow-tailed Kites are a sharp contrast of bright-white head and underparts and gleaming black wings, back, and tail. From below, the wing linings are white and the flight feathers are black. Its most unique characteristic is the elongated, forked tail (hence its name).  This large raptor is built like a glider with huge wings and small streamlined bodies. They rarely flap their wings; instead soar effortlessly, changing course with minute adjustments of their distinctive forked tails.  The species is now listed as endangered in South Carolina.

Mississippi Kites are a slender and much smaller raptor with long, pointed wings. The tail is fairly long and square-tipped. The strongly hooked bill is small and delicate.  They are an inky mix of gray and black, lightening to pale gray-white on the head and in the secondaries of the wings. The wingtips and tail are black. Juveniles are streaky, with brownish chests and underwings, and banded tails. Though known for their graceful, acrobatic flight, Mississippi Kites also spend time foraging on the ground and in shallow water.

Both species of kite feed on the wing, snatching dragonflies and other insects out of the sky and eating them while still in flight. They may also feed on small amphibians such as frogs, large insects, crickets, small birds and small mammals including bats. Swallow-tailed kites inhabit mostly woodland & forested wetlands near nesting locations. Nests are built in trees, usually near water. Both male and female participate in building the nest. Sometimes a high-pitched chirp is emitted, though the birds mostly remain silent.  Mississippi Kites breed in scattered areas of the southern and central United States, using very different habitats depending on the region. East of the Mississippi River, they nest in mature, diverse, low-lying forest—especially tracts that are large and unbroken but have nearby open habitat, such as pasture, cropland, waterways, country roads, or small lakes. They nest in almost any tree species, as low as a few feet off the ground to more than 115 feet high.

Both kites are creatures of the air, spending most of their day aloft and rarely flapping their wings. They tend to circle fairly low over trees as they hunt for small animals in the branches. At times they soar very high in the sky, almost at the limits of vision.

Swallow-tailed Kites once nested in 21 States. By 1940 after a sudden decline the Kite’s range shrunk to 7 States, from South Carolina to Texas. The species nesting habits have made the swallow-tailed Kite difficult to study. Researchers must come to them and climb high in Loblolly pine to observe nests. Nesting adults and their young are subject to predation by Great Horned Owls. They migrate North in the Spring across the Gulf of Mexico and can be swept off course by storms. During migration they may form large flocks.  Read this fabulous article featured in the April/May 2016 issue of Nature Conservancy.

If you see kites – researchers want to know about it. You should always document your bird sightings in eBird.  In addition, The Center for Birds of Prey, located in Awendaw, SC manages & tracks log sightings of the Swallow-tailed Kite. Visit for more info. The website guides you through a series of questions about the location, number and activities of the bird or birds sighted.

A group of kites has many collective nouns, including a “brood,” “kettle,” “roost,” “stooping,” and a “string” of kites.

Look for both species of Kites in South Carolina during the spring and summer breeding months over swamps, marshes and large rivers. Besides Seabrook Island, Caw Caw Interpretive Center is a great location to view kites.  They nest high in the loblolly pines.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about these birds visit:

Notes from photographer Ed Konrad:  “These photos were taken at Skeen’s Farm, Glenville GA, which is an incredible place to see the Kites up close and in action. A very memorable photographic day. We see Kites at Caw Caw, and on the way to Seabrook in Allendale SC and at a cattle farm outside of Augusta. But not up close as at this farm.”

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.

Submitted by Nancy Brown with information from Janice Watson-Shada.
Photographs compliments of Ed Konrad

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