On two outings to North Beach this week, we observed some amazing teamwork by ducks, wading birds and gulls. It made me think of a show my now 14-year-old grandson and I watched when he was a toddler, called “Wonder Pets” where they sang a little catchy little tune about cooperation and teamwork. The words are “what’s gonna work? Teamwork! what’s gonna work…Teamwork!”
The teamwork we observed was 12 Red-breasted Mergansers swimming close to the shore in the old inlet, diving for food. Five Snowy Egrets were running along behind them, looking for anything they could find that the mergansers had stirred up. And in between, were 3 Bonaparte’s Gulls hopscotching over all of them, picking anything off the surface they could find. They were all working together in feeding off whatever each species could stir up.
This behavior is called “mutualism”, feeding off the efforts of the other species. The ducks would then look for whatever the egrets had stirred up with their feet. The second day we were there, 3 Tricolored Herons joined in the mix. It was amazing to watch such cooperation and I couldn’t stop humming the little “teamwork” song!
Throughout the morning, which started with a beautiful sunrise, our good old friend American Oystercatcher U5 and its significant other were around us. First saying good morning at the lagoon in beautiful early morning light, then feeding at the old inlet as we watched the “teamwork”, and finally flying overhead to say goodbye as we were leaving the point.
We had heard the Red Knots are here!!! Sure enough, a flock of just over 200 were resting at high tide at the point, then took off in their spectacular flight. Our days on North Beach always include a lookout for Piping Plovers. “Red/Yellow”, the Great Lakes Endangered captive raised plover, looks to be quite at home at Seabrook for the winter – at its favorite feeding spot along the lagoon with 4 other unbanded pipers.
On January 4, 2021, Seabrook Island Birders participated in our most productive annual Christmas Bird Count ever! A record number 114 species, and we suspect a record number of individual birds with nearly 6,500. We had 10 teams of birders hitting Seabrook Island “hotspots” of Jenkins Point, Palmetto Lake, North Beach, Creek Watch, Camp St Christopher, SIPOA/Club horse pasture and maintenance area, Crooked Oaks and Ocean Winds golf courses, and Bohicket Marina. In addition our team consisted of seven feeder watch homes sighting 65 species and 279 individual birds. We walked 26 miles, drove 3.3 miles and rode in golf carts 9.8 miles for 77 people hours of effort! Amazing!
The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a census of birds in the Western Hemisphere, done annually done Dec 14 to Jan 5 by volunteer birdwatchers, and administered by the National Audubon Society. The first count began Christmas Day 1900, when Frank Chapman, ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History in NY, proposed it as an alternative to hunting birds on Christmas. Audubon and other organizations use data collected to assess the health of bird populations, and to help guide conservation action. Our Seabrook Island CBC is part of the larger Sea Islands CBC done on Seabrook, Kiawah, Johns and Wadmalaw Islands.
In addition to our CBC being an important contribution to Aubudon and understanding and protecting our birds species…we all had a great time! Here’s some memorable moments from some of the Seabrook Island Birders.
From Judy Morr, “It was a fun day, with the highlight being the sightings of so many Purple Finches on Seabrook. I had seen them before at Caw Caw but never on Seabrook. It was fun making sure we had the correct identification versus House Finch. Another “frustration “ was trying to find the nuthatch when there were so many robins chattering away.”
Nancy Brown was with Judy for the day, and really liked “Hearing and seeing the Red Breasted Nuthatch on Old Wharf Rd. – which is pretty reliable to hear.” It’s also a stunning bird to see if you’re fortunate to spot it! Nancy also commented on the non-stop texting between the teams to see if certain species were found, and asking “I just saw this bird but can’t identify for sure, can anyone help???!!!”
Patricia Schaefer was “most excited to see both the male and female Baltimore Orioles today because they have only recently started coming again to our feeder after having noticed them being seen in nearby cities. We were glad they showed up for the count!”
Lesley Gore also was thrilled with the Baltimore Orioles – “The day of the CBC, I eagerly waited to see which species would show up to my bird feeder. At first it was the usual visitors – Carolina Chickadees, Chipping Sparrows, Carolina Wrens, Tufted Titmouse and Cardinals. Then, a new visitor – with brilliant orange and yellow plumage underside and black and white wings! Yes, a Baltimore Oriole. My first ever time of attracting one to my feeder. So excited to see one! After a few sips of sugar water, a bite of orange she flew away with a beak full of strawberry preserves! My new visitor did not come again that day. There’s always tomorrow!”
Bob Mercer too was amazed at the Robins before heading to Camp St Christopher and the marina. “The morning started with an almost non-stop river of American Robins all headed up the Stono River. The numbers were astronomical and undoubtedly the total count for the day is an underestimate. Wandering around, occasionally lost, in Camp St. Christopher, I kept running across new species. Some of the treasured finds included the Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrows, 12 Wood Ducks, and 7 species of warbler. My day ended at the marina watching Marbled Godwits fly up Bohicket Creek.
Aija and Ed Konrad walked 21000 steps on North Beach, and were “out on the beach by dawn on a beautiful morning, greeted by and startled on the boardwalk by a very large buck! Our best moment was seeing over 17 “salty” sparrows on the old inlet. We’ve never quite figured out where they hide on a high tide, and found them in a dry grassy area to the left of the marsh. A thrill to see so many, but it’s a “now you see ‘em, now you don’t bird”, up and back down into the marsh grass in a flash!”
Ed is always entertained looking for interesting photo subjects, and “capturing a Bufflehead and the Red-breasted Mergansers take flight was a fun challenge. We enjoy searching for our Piping Plover winter guests. Today there was a wonderful trio huddled in the sand, and the Great Lakes banded/endangered “Red Yellow” was still with us and staying safe on North Beach!”
Thanks to everyone that participated! You can see what a fun and productive time we all had! Article by Ed and Aija Konrad
Well, this is an article that has been written and rewritten three times since the beginning of March when all this started. How easy it is in these trying times to have a long list of “things to do” and not get to them. Hours flow into days, days flow into weeks, and weeks flow into months. Junk drawers to sort, closets to clean, years of old photographs to organize…oh, maybe tomorrow.
Our therapy has been birdwatching – a soothing and fantastic pastime that you can do alone! As Ed and I stayed close to home since early March when all this started, we’ve spent endless hours walking and hiking. We’ve made it a game to see how many bird species we can identify.
Ed challenged himself to see how many species he could photograph. He’s up to 171 now with a Swallow-tailed Kite, a nice companion to the Mississippi Kite we saw in May. He calls it the 2020 Pandemic Birdathon! Considering I recorded 182 species on eBird during this time, not bad for my hubby the photographer!
Early March was pretty scary. Local parks in our town closed and we couldn’t go for walks. So, we found places near home with few people and out of the way trails. Some early discoveries were following the progress of a breeding Osprey pair, being thrilled when a Broad-winged Hawk circled overhead, and being patient to not just hear but to find and photograph the elusive vireos.
Another destination was country roads with cattle ponds that are an eBird hotspot and magnets for migrating shorebirds, totally without people! A special visitor was a rare Wilson’s Phalarope that gave us great looks. Bobolink were spectacular in the spring flowers. And who would have guessed we’d see a Snowy Egret and Cattle Egret, so common at Seabrook, in the GA pastures! It was like a box of chocolates each time – we never knew what treat we would get.
With all the traveling we’ve done through the years to bird and photograph, we’ve not stayed put long enough to really appreciate our feeders. We border a Corps of Engineers property, and the variety of migrating and breeding birds was a wonder. Brown Thrashers and Gray Catbirds were daily visitors to the feeders, and nested in the woods along with an elusive Wood Thrush we discovered. Scarlet Tanagers and Great Crested Flycatchers graced our trees.
Our favorites to the feeders were the migrating Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. In April we started with two, and grew to ten!!! They came consistently for over three weeks!! We photographed as many as eight at one time, but we know there were at least ten by their different plumages. They waited patiently for us on the deck at 6:45 each morning to put out the feeders. We became good friends with these striking birds, and were sad when they decided to fly north to breed.
Searching for migrating warblers was like a scavenger hunt, and we found 23 total from March to June. These are always a challenge for Ed to photograph – they don’t sit up and pose. Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky, Worm-eating were some favorites. We found Cape May and Blackpoll Warblers in our backyard, have these always been here? AND… an ever-elusive life bird for us both, the Connecticut Warbler found by a birder in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta!! Whaaaatttt??? We made tracks immediately to the city!
There’s a theme in this article about taking more time, being patient and really absorbing the nature around us on our walks. We’ve heard friends say that this is a positive of the pandemic. In May and June we carefully hunted for nests -Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers with chicks were treats. And while we were out there, we began to photograph and identify spring and summer wildflowers – an interesting challenge too. PlantNet and iNaturalist Apps will identify things for you from a photograph on your phone.
So that is our story during this unsettling time. Solace in our birds and the beauty of nature.
To view Ed’s photos of our 2020 Pandemic Birdathon, click or cut and paste to your browser this URL for Ed’s Flickr page. The 171 species are on pages 1 and 2 of the “Photostream” homepage, and also in the first Album.
Early Wednesday morning, Ed and I were treated to the sight of two beautiful Reddish Egrets actively feeding on North Beach. It’s a thrill to see one Reddish Egret at this time of the year, but two is fantastic! They are not common birds here in the Low Country, so it is always a great day when you see one. It’s the rarest wading bird in North America.
Mark Andrews has been spotting the Reddish Egrets since about mid-July, which is when they typically arrive. They stay with us into early October. The SC coastline is an important belt of coastal habitat for them. They breed south of us in FL, LA and TX. Our birds are migrants from “post breeding dispersal.”
Reddish Egrets are best distinguished by their feeding behavior, which involves spreading their wings to shade the fish and then running, spinning and flapping while chasing the fish through shallow water. Ed and I call it “dancing.” Seeing a Reddish doing its dance is like dangling a bright shiny object in front of Ed, photographing it will amuse him for hours! Lol!
They love to fish and feed in large tidal pools on the beach, and these were in the large tidal pool closest to the ocean.
People often mistake a Reddish Egret for a Tricolored Heron or a Great Blue, so you have to look carefully for that shaggy, rusty neck and chest and gray body, with no white on the bird. The juvenile birds are a pale chalky color, which was what we had today. To see the difference, the photos below are of today’s juvenile and the mature Reddish we saw on East Kiawah Beach on Tuesday.
In these stressful times when we’re staying close to home, how about a trip across the US? This week Ed posted our 2019 birding trips on his Flickr site. A memorable trip was our month-long driving tour in July 2019 from Atlanta to the Oregon coast, a combination of birding and following the Lewis and Clark trail!
After some birding in Michigan, we headed west and followed Meriweather Lewis and William Clark on their trek across North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon to the Pacific. Then back home through California, Nevada, Utah and the Midwest. Ed is an avid history buff, so this was definitely on his bucket list. I was a bit wary of a driving trip of that distance. But I have to say, it was a wonderful experience for 29 days!!! We visited many wonderful National Parks, including Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota (what a fabulous sleeper), Yellowstone in Montana, Crater Lake in Oregon, and Redwood in California.
To follow our journey on Flickr, here’s the URL:
Some Flickr navigation tips:
The home page that comes up is the “Photostream” – a chronological view of all our birding trips with the Lewis and Clark trip first. When you get to the bottom of each Photostream page, click to the next page to keep the story going.
To see the name of the bird, or a caption, place the mouse pointer over the photo. And if you’d like to view the photos in a Slideshow instead, click the button above “Clark” on the Photostream.
On the Photostream home page you’ll see tabs under the banner. Click on “Albums” and you’ll see all our 2019 trips. Including an album of the many birds we’ve spotted and photographed throughout 2019 on Seabrook Island. There are also albums of my 2018 US Big Year, and our many other wonderful trips through the years.
So, if you need some diversion, or something to lull you to sleep at night, take a look at our birds. Enjoy!
On Saturday, Feb 29, a group of 12 SIB birders made the trek down to Bear Island and Donnelley WMA in the ACE Basin. It was a beautiful sunny day, but very windy and quite cold. We all persevered and did well, despite the gusty winds. Mary’s House Pond at the entrance to Bear Island was drained low and filled with hundreds of shorebirds. There were many beautiful American Avocets feeding in the water, which we continued to see all morning long. Some were even beginning to have hints of their tan breeding colors. Glossy Ibis made an appearance several times and 2 Osprey were busy tending to a nest.
As we began our caravan through the property, Brown-headed Nuthatches gave us great views. Belted Kingfishers rattled their call several times during the day. Throughout the property, we saw hundreds of ducks, mostly Gadwall and Northern Shovelers, with both Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal mixed in. Tree Swallows worked all the impoundments. A perched Bald Eagle gave great looks at Hog Island. We had a total of 7 Bald Eagles for Bear!
At Donnelley it was fairly quiet in the afternoon. Seven Roseate Spoonbills sat huddled from the wind in a tree. We had great looks at a Blue-headed Vireo and ended the day on a high note with a beautiful Red-headed Woodpecker perched against the blue sky, which our leader Bob Mercer was able to even get into the scope for all of us! A great finish for a group of tired and happy birders!
We tallied 65 species for Bear Island and 61 for Donnelly. Links to the checklists are at:
We had a fun week of December birding all around Seabrook! On Jenkins Point we were greeted by 2 Roseate Spoonbills, the number has since grown to 5. Nice to see a flash of pink in the winter landscape. Black-crowned Night Heron numbers are growing, at least 15 squawking their way between the 2 ponds on Jenkins Point Rd. Hooded Mergansers floated on the first pond, working in tandem with a Tricolored Heron and a Snowy Egret to stir up a meal on the far shore!
At the water treatment area, we found a rare (on EBird) Long-tailed Duck. The first night I saw two, but only one seems to remain. This is a rarity for the Charleston area, so very exciting to see! I have had one previous sighting on Seabrook for the CBC, out on the old inlet. Bufflehead numbers were increasing with about 35 one evening!
On North Beach, Marbled Godwits were seen every day, working the large tide pool near the bend, along with Black-bellied Plovers and Ruddy Turnstones. Semipalmated Plover and Dunlin numbers were in the hundreds. A nice surprise was 12 Red Knots, one with a band!
Ed and I did our usual beach prowls for wintering Piping Plovers. On a very foggy day we spotted 4 plovers. But Ed’s usually great photos were a foggy mess. One PIPL had an orange band, with maybe a gray band too? We sent photos to our friend, Alice Van Zoeren, Great Lakes PIPL Conservation Team in MI. Alice replied, “could the band be purple, is there a number?” And if yes, it could be “very exciting!” Purple? Exciting? We’ve never seen a PIPL with a purple band in all our years of looking! We were back out the next day, a beautiful morning, and spotted 8 PIPL. Then there it was in the middle of the beach – our banded “purple” with the number 31!
Here is Alice’s info on this PIPL: “You’ve proved it! This is the chick, we named “Little V”, from our Point Betsie MI nest. It’s the only one that fledged from this new 2019 nesting area. It’s a very busy and narrow beach just south of the Point Betsie Lighthouse. You can see us banding it on this Chicago Tribune video! https://www.chicagotribune.com/ed257930-fef2-4c7f-8e72-3450…
“Some of this video is of us catching and banding another brood, but this chick is the one in my hand, and running off while Steph chants “survive, survive”. Guess it worked.”
Be sure to watch the above video link from Alice – highlight the link and copy to your browser, turn on the audio when video loads. What a special story about our endangered little winter guests, and the challenges they face! What a special visitor to Seabrook Island!
Other banded Piping Plovers we’ve seen are returning winter guests at Seabrook. Black Flag 2K from Prince Edward Island, Canada, has been spotted now Sep and Dec 2019, and Nov 2018. SCDNR also spotted 2K on Devaux Bank in October. And last month we resighted this Great Lakes banded PIPL for the fourth time – Oct, Sep and Mar 2019, and Nov 2018.
These sightings and stories highlight the struggle these tiny Piping Plovers face to survive. Remember, PIPL that breed in Atlantic US and Canada regions are Federally Threatened, Great Lakes region are Federally Endangered with only 71 breeding pairs remaining. They’re with us for nine months a year, as wintering guests, or stopping by as they head to/return from beaches farther south. Our critical habitat is thriving, and we’ve been regularly seeing four to eight PIPL on any given day. Usually around the large tidal pool in the critical habitat – along the shore or resting on the beach. But they can be anywhere along the shore, so please give them space to feed and rest!
Article by Aija and Ed Konrad, Photos by Ed Konrad
It was a great summer for birding North Beach! Some days it was literally a cast of a thousands…terns, gulls, skimmers, oystercatchers, and a nice mix of shorebirds. Most birds gathered at the bend toward the inlet on a sandbar. My favorite time to go is just before or after high tide, when the birds are pushed in for good views. Once they start to disperse it is hard to see them on the distant sandbars. Often when we walked out to the beach, we were greeted by Painted Buntings…singing, calling, and near the end of the summer perched on grasses eating seed.
A late summer favorite is the Reddish Egret. We’ve been seeing one, sometimes two, on North Beach for many years. Each time we spotted this year’s Reddish it stayed for a couple of hours in the large tidal pool – giving us great looks of it’s feeding behavior “dance” – running through shallows with long strides, staggering sideways, leaping in the air, raising one or both wings as a canopy to shade schools of small fish seeking shelter in the shade, and then catching its meal!
Roseate Spoonbills and dolphins strand feeding are always two amazing sights on Seabrook. But it’s rare to see both together! Ed first spotted four Spoonbills at the far end of the North Beach lagoon. Next came the dolphins, strand feeding first at the point and then swimming to far end of the lagoon right in front of the Spoonbills. Ed was a good distance away, but was ready with his camera anticipating a strand feed. Then it happened! Roseate Spoonbills and dolphins strand feeding in the same frame!
On Sep 24 we had a high count of 73 American Oystercatchers! What a thrill to see so many together. Marbled Godwits were present, often on the edge of the larger tide pools, probing the sand with their long bills. Colorful Ruddy Turnstones roamed the shore. Black-bellied Plovers and Wilson’s Plovers hung out near the end of the inlet. Black Skimmers were abundant, often in the hundreds and always fun to see skimming the water’s edge.
Piping Plovers are here to “winter” – some staying for the season, others just stopping by as they head farther south. Then next spring they’ll return north to breed. Here’s a cool coincidence. Ed and I spotted these two banded PIPL on the same day last fall on Nov 9 – orange flag Great Lakes breeding region, and black flag 2K Atlantic Canada region. A birder colleague spotted these same two PIPL on Sep 9 on North Beach! So they’ve been seen together twice on the same day at Seabrook – last fall and this summer!
So maybe these two have decided again that Seabrook is a great place to spend the winter! These year to year “resightings” show how well our Critical Habitat is developing for Piping Plovers and other shorebirds.
2K breeds at Prince Edward Island, Canada. Here’s their Facebook post about his whereabouts south from the info we reported. The researchers are very happy that he’s doing well at Seabrook! Click on this link:
Please give our Piping Plover guests space to feed and rest. Remember, they’re Federal Endangered (Great Lakes Region) and Federal Threatened (Atlantic US & Canada Region).
Osprey prowled the beach looking for fish, often coming up with a good catch. Once, we witnessed an eagle stealing a fish, mid-air, from the Osprey. I have literally seen the eagle in pursuit, making the Osprey drop the fish and the eagle catching it in mid-air! Terns were abundant, with Royal in the greatest numbers. Caspian Terns with their large red bills and grating calls stood out. Sandwich, Common, Least and Forster’s Terns were in the mix.
It’s always a thrill to see the Black Terns as they migrate through, often speckled and mottled, changing from the black summer plumage. Gull-billed Terns patrolled the dry sand of the “highway” with their plunge-dives mid-air for crabs and insects, never diving in water.
We had several walks on the beach this summer, one SIB walk that had over 25 birders led by Arch McCallum. Thanks to Mark Andrews for bringing wine, a very nice touch for the evening bird walk! Ed and I also hosted a Carolina Bird Club walk for many folks from SC and NC who marveled at our wonderful beach with it’s bounty of shorebirds. So many great spots to bird on Seabrook! The closing picture is of three beautiful young Tricolored Herons on the platform at Palmetto Lake…always fun to see a species where the juvenile is even brighter than the adult. Good birding to all!
A few days ago, Ed and I went up I-26 N, to the Goose Creek/Hanahan exit to see some rare visitors to SC…two Limpkin. A Limpkin is a large wading bird, that on a quick look can look like a juvenile White Ibis or a giant rail. They are rarely seen outside of the tropical wetlands of Florida and South Georgia. It is a large, dark brown bird with distinctive white speckles and a large, bent, orange bill. It walks slowly in shallow water in wooded and brushy swamps, in this case the west side of the Goose Creek Reservoir, where there is a canal with two islands and some wetlands. The birds search for apple snails and other mollusks. Limpkin have a very loud, otherworldly cry that can be heard mostly at night.
These birds were spotted by the homeowners in the Otranto subdivision. They had been there about a month before a homeowner told a birding friend, who put them on Facebook and subsequently EBird. Since August 2, a steady stream of birders has come to the neighborhood to see them. Ed and I were very much hoping the birds would stay until we got to Seabrook last week and they did! Limpkin have been appearing in SC and GA the last few summers. Always exciting to add a new “life bird” to a state list! We’ve seen Limpkin before, and Ed says these two are his best looks and photos of the species.
What a great morning at North Beach. Ed and I saw our first Reddish Egret of the season for Seabrook down near the point, dancing away! We spotted four Piping Plovers on the shore at the dolphin stewards area. One had orange bands, endangered from the Great Lakes Area. We learned from our researcher friend in MI that this one “is a young bird hatched this summer on Cat Island, Green Bay, WI. Good to see that it’s made it safely south!”
Then a group of 5 dolphins gave us several wonderful looks at strand feeding! While watching the Piping Plovers and dolphins, a Bald Eagle appeared and stole an Osprey’s fish in flight!!!
Doesn’t get any better than this! Just another day at Seabrook Island! And I’ve used an exclamation point after almost every sentence!!!