A Rare Duck & Special Piping Plover – SI in December!

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

Summer on North Beach – Reddish Egret, Spoonbills with Dolphins, and more!

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!

Reddish Egret – North Beach
Roseate Spoonbill, Bottlenose Dolphin strand feeding – North Beach

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!

American Oystercatcher – North Beach

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.

Black Skimmer and Piping Plovers – North Beach

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:

https://www.facebook.com/islandnaturetrust/posts/2590419404352616?comment_id=2596419787085911¬if_id=1569514538465736¬if_t=feed_comment

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).

Royal Tern and Snowy Egret – North Beach

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.

Gull-billed Tern – North Beach

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!

Article by Aija & Ed Konrad, photos by Ed Konrad

SIB Learning Together – North Beach
Juvenile Tricolored Heron – Palmetto Lake

A Rare Visitor to SC

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.

Article by Aija Konrad, photos by Ed Konrad

An amazing morning at North Beach!

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!!!

Article by Aija Konrad, photos by Ed Konrad

Wintering Piping Plovers – July banded sightings

Aija and I send photos of banded Piping Plovers that we spot on North Beach to Alice Van Zoeren, Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team, so the researchers know the whereabouts of their wintering birds. Great Lakes Piping Plovers are Federal Endangered. They have orange flags, and then other various color bands, to identify them. Alice reports back to us interesting info from their breeding area. From this info you can see the researchers’ dedication, and the challenges the Piping Plovers face.

The three banded Piping Plovers below, spotted on North Beach July 24-25, were the first we’ve seen this year on their journey south to winter after breeding. Remember, there are less than 70 breeding pairs remaining in the Great Lakes area endangered population. These three are very special guests indeed! We learned from Alice…

“This is a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, MI, breeder. He began breeding in 2018 at Platte Point. This year Platte Point is under water and he moved about two miles north. He fledged two chicks.” (Bands: Left leg – orange flag, red/green bands. Right leg – silver metal, yellow bands)

“Hatched 2010 at Sleeping Bear Dunes, mouth of Platte River. She began breeding in 2011 at Manistee MI. In 2012 moved to North Manitou Island, where she’s been breeding ever since. She had a rough summer this year. She and her mate lost all the newly hatched chicks from their first attempt to an unknown predator. They put in a second nest, but it was quite late and they headed south before the eggs hatched.” (Bands: Left leg – orange flag, two black bands. Right leg – silver metal, blue bands)

“Hatched 2017 on North Manitou Island, MI. He returned to begin breeding in 2018 at Wilderness State Park MI.” (Bands: Left leg – orange flag, black/blue bands. Right leg – silver metal, green bands)

In July we spotted three other Piping Plovers that weren’t banded. The one in the right photo is a “first year bird”, a juvenile hatched this year making its first trip south to winter. Note the differences to the left photo of mature birds – juvenile has black bill, partial collar, paler plumage.

Some of our July Piping Plovers may remain at Seabrook for the “winter” until they head back north next spring to breed. Others may have stopped here to rest before continuing to wintering beaches further south. Aija and I will keep an eye out, and let you know if any of the three banded Great Lakes Piping Plovers remain as our guests for the next 8 months. Plus others we spot from the Great Lakes or Atlantic breeding areas. Look for the Piping Plovers too, and please give them space to feed and rest. They can be feeding anywhere along the shore to right of Boardwalk #1, or left of Boardwalk #1 all the way to the point.

Piping Plover, Seabrook Island North Beach, to left of Boardwalk #1

Article and Photos by Ed Konrad

Piping Plovers are here!!!!!

They’re baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!, said a July 16 email from Melissa Chaplin, Biologist, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “They” are the Piping Plovers, returning from northern breeding areas. Plovers breed April to June in three US and Canada population areas – Great Lakes, Atlantic coast, and Northern Great Plains. In July they migrate to southern Atlantic and Texas coasts, and the Bahamas, to “winter” until the following spring.

Atlantic (green flag, photo above) and Great Plains Piping Plovers are Federally Threatened. Great Lakes plovers (orange flag, photo above) are Federally Endangered. The Great Lakes were once home to 800 pairs of Piping Plovers. Today, less than 70 nesting pairs remain, due to nest disruption by development, predators, people, dogs, weather.

In addition to providing habitat for Piping Plovers that pass through during fall and spring migration, South Carolina hosts a number of Piping that remain here to winter. To better understand the challenges they face, and our responsibility to protect them, a view of their full year cycle is helpful.

In April, Piping Plovers leave their wintering grounds, and head to the northern breeding areas. After mating, they typically lay a clutch of four eggs. The nest is a small scrape on the beach, usually in an area with small stones that camouflage the eggs. Both parents participate in sitting on the eggs. Chicks hatch in June and into July.  During the first weeks after hatching, chicks are unable to maintain their own body temperature. They spend much time tucked in under their parents’ wings staying warm. They can run about and feed themselves within hours of hatching. It takes 3-4 weeks for them to be able to fly.

On a recent July trip across the country, Aija and I stopped at Whitefish Point in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. We found three volunteers watching over a nest of Piping Plovers and learned that day was the possible hatch date. The nest was in stones on the beach, covered with a wire cage to protect it (photos above). This year there was only one nesting pair at Whitefish, as opposed to multiple pairs in previous years.

The volunteers were concerned that the male had not been seen for over 3 hours, which was unusual. As we watched, the female (photo below) would get up from the nest to chase a Killdeer and Semipalmated Plovers, leaving her nest exposed. Suddenly a volunteer saw a crack in one of the eggs! We all watched closely with the scope and one chick hatched! (photos below) We left the beach with the thrill of witnessing a hatch, but with worry that without the male, the female would not be able to keep the chicks warm and sustain her brood.

Later we learned from Alice Van Zoeren, researcher with the Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team, two of the four eggs hatched successfully. Thankfully, the male returned. When the chicks were banded, both adults were still there, and the two chicks were doing well.

Another interesting story on the huge challenges Piping Plovers face in their breeding grounds was on the Chicago shores of Lake Michigan this spring. For the first time since 1955, Piping Plovers in Chicago have hatched chicks. The adult plovers arrived at Montrose Point, one of the city’s best birding locations, in early June. Lake Michigan’s rising waters took the pairs’ first three eggs. But on a second try, there were three new Piping Plovers roaming the shores of Lake Michigan! This story became even more amazing when organizers of a concert that would have attracted 20,000 people to the beach was canceled to protect the chicks!

So, for three months of the year dedicated biologists, researchers, and volunteers work incredibly hard, despite all the many risks the birds face, to ensure Piping Plovers have a chance to successfully breed. Then they do all they can to help the chicks grow and get strong to start the next part of the life story – heading south to winter. From here the Piping Plover protection responsibility shifts to us and the southern beaches for the next 9 months.

In mid-July, the plovers head south to their wintering grounds, where they remain until the following spring. Last week Aija and I spotted five Piping Plovers on North Beach. Three had orange flags, all endangered from the Great Lakes population (photos below).

On their winter territories, Piping Plovers follow a predictable routine. As tides ebb or recede, plovers are on exposed tidal flats or sandy shores to feed on tiny crustaceans and marine worms. They typically spend most daylight hours foraging along the shore , and then at high tide retire to high beach areas to rest (photos below on North Beach). In March and April, just prior to their return north, Piping Plovers molt feathers on their heads and breasts, regaining their forehead and neck bands. The base of the bill changes to orange. Then the cycle begins again!

The Piping Plover wintering season now begins at Seabrook Island! And with their arrival, comes our responsibility to protect them so they can remain healthy and strong for next spring’s return north to breed.

Please make a difference when you’re on North Beach by following these simple steps:

  1. Keep away from birds.  When you see a flock give them space.
  2. Don’t force the birds to fly. If birds are calling loudly or taking flight – step back immediately.
  3. Follow Seabrook’s beach rules for dogs. Shorebirds will be anywhere on the beach including the dogs off leash zone. Please don’t have your dog chase any birds! Our shorebirds’ survival is not a game.
  4. Be a good steward. Learn about our shorebirds and their needs and share the word. Shorebirds are one of the many natural treasures of Seabrook for us to understand, enjoy, and most importantly protect.

Article by Aija and Ed Konrad. Photos by Ed Konrad – taken on Seabrook Island North Beach and Whitefish Point MI.

Information from Great Lakes Piping Plover website: https://www.greatlakespipingplover.org/

Seabrook Island Shorebirds – Red Knot, Wilson’s Plover, Least Tern – Protection, Education & Research

(As published in the June edition of The Seabrooker)

Seabrook residents and visitors love nature! We’re enthusiastic to volunteer for Turtle Patrol, or come to Seabrook to view dolphins, but how many of us stop to appreciate the incredible shorebirds on our beaches?

Red Knot, Seabrook Island (Ed Konrad)

To the untrained eye shorebirds look the same. Most of the year they’re plain but take on colorful plumage as they get ready to breed. Some call Seabrook home, but many migrate through to breed further north like Red Knots. Some arrive and stay to nest, like Wilson’s Plovers and Least Terns. Most shorebird populations are declining, some significantly. Our beaches provide excellent locale to feed and rest, and recent research shows how important Seabrook Island is for survival.

Red Knots: To help us see shorebirds in a new light, Seabrook Island resident Mark Andrews has teamed up with SCDNR wildlife biologists and Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) to educate Seabrook beachgoers. Andrews has spent hours talking with folks on the beach since April. His focus has been protecting Red Knots.

Why Red Knots? Knots are a marvel! Most birds migrate from southern winter grounds to northern breeding areas within the same continent. Knots fly 9000 miles from Patagonia on the tip of South America to the Canadian Arctic, traversing the Western Hemisphere!

Many knots will stop here on their journey, exhausted from using most of their fat reserves. They feed all along the beaches of Seabrook, Kiawah, and Deveaux to restore their strength. They feed on the Donax, better known as coquina clams, little mollusks all along shore. When horseshoe crabs arrive to spawn in late April, knots feed on horseshoe crab eggs as well. Having adequate food and undisturbed opportunities to feed are essential for their long journey north, successful breeding, and survival.

Red Knot populations have declined significantly, 75% since the 80’s. They’re classified as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This spring we have seen about 4000 knots moving between Seabrook and Kiawah. SCDNR has determined we have the largest single flock on the east coast, which makes our birds very important for the survival of the species.

The SCDNR team has tagged our knots with nanotags that transmit the birds’ location to towers along their migration route. In 2017, 19 NanoTags were affixed to Red Knots during banding at Seabrook. When the data was collected, the scientific community was shocked to learn that all the knots were not flying to Delaware Bay to feed on their way to the Arctic as everyone had thought. Rather, many were stopping here, and then going directly to the Arctic. This spring Red Knots have been tagged on Deveaux Bank, and SCDNR researchers should get this data in late summer.

As his project has progressed these last few weeks, Andrews has begun to hear, “Are the Red Knots on the beach today?” from his fellow beach goers – which he then knows that the knots have made new friends.

Critical Habitat Nesting Area: At the eastern end of North Beach before you get to the Kiawah River, there is a special area marked with SCDNR yellow signs that demarcates a nesting area that is closed to both humans & dogs. This is a very special place where two SC Threatened Species nest – Wilson’s Plovers and Least Terns.

Wilson’s Plover, Critical Habitat

Wilson’s Plovers are robin sized birds with heavy bills and a dark collar across their white breasts. About three pairs of Wilson’s nested in the nesting area last year. So far in 2019, we have counted a similar number of pairs. You will often see them feeding along the tidal lagoon in front of the nesting area early in the morning or at sunset.

The Least Tern is a seabird, smallest of terns at about seven inches long, and white with a black cap. They are often seen hovering over a North Beach tidal pool to fish and presenting fish to prospective mates as their courting ritual. Terns need large areas of dry sand beaches to nest. Eggs are laid just on top of the sand, so it’s easy for anyone to step on a nest and crush the eggs. Last year SCDNR counted 53 nesting pairs of Least Terns! They had chicks, which made it the first successful nesting year on North Beach for the terns since 2015!

Please make a difference when you’re on North Beach by following these simple steps:

  1. Keep away from birds.  When you see a flock, large or small, give them space.
  2. Don’t force the birds to fly. How close to a bird is too close?  If birds react — calling loudly or taking flight — step back immediately.  A good rule is to stay at least 50 yards away, or half the length of a football field.
  3. Respect posted nesting and feeding areas.
  4. Follow Seabrook’s beach rules for dogs. Shorebirds will be anywhere on the beach including the dogs off leash zone. Please don’t have your dog chase any birds! Our shorebirds’ survival is not a game.
  5. Be a good steward. Learn about our shorebirds and their needs and share the word. Shorebirds are one of the many natural treasures of Seabrook for us to understand, enjoy, and most importantly protect.

Article written by Mark Andrews & Ed Konrad
Photographs by Ed Konrad