SIB Travels: Birding for Warblers

Kirkland’s Warbler – male

On April 22 2023, while eating dinner with friends at the Seabrook Island Club where we talked about our great trip to Panama, the question was asked, “What’s next?” Eileen popped up with conviction, “Magee Marsh in Ohio.” Magee Marsh hosted the annual Greatest Week of Birding festival from May 5 to May 14, 2023. In my job, where the busiest time of the year was the month of May, we were unable to even think about enjoying this experience despite the many accolades.

Knowing that next year we will be taking a spring trip to Texas. I replied, “It will have to be this year.”

We talked with some friends back in PA and NJ and the die was set. Since I had an obligation on May 13 and our friends were to spend Mother’s Day with their mother, we opted to leave on May 15 and return May 23. We set off on the eight-hour drive to a house we rented in Oak Harbor, OH with high expectations as Birdcast predicted heavy migration.

Magee Marsh is famous as a warbler magnet; a place warblers settle down to power up before making the trip across Lake Erie. Prior to leaving, I checked ebird to see what birds people saw between May 1 and May 13. Because of the festival and the many tour groups visiting, eBird had almost 4,000 lists submitted for that one location in just 2 weeks. When we arrived at Magee Marsh at 6:40 AM, seeing a boardwalk full of people, everyone looking for birds did not surprise us.

Birds from first morning

Besides being a migrant stop, the wonder of Magee Marsh is how the birds are close and low, great for photography. Someone would spot a bird and everyone nearby, friends and total strangers, would shuffle over trying to get a sighting. The birds came, some skulking in the bushes and others putting on a show. Many singing their distinctive songs alerting the savvy birder to look for that species. We spent 4.75 hours traversing the 1.18 miles. It was that awesome. That first morning we found 71 species of birds including 19 species of warblers. In addition to the warblers, some highlights included: a Virginia Rail about 15 feet away feeding leisurely, an extremely well camouflaged American Woodcock unmoving in the marsh, an Eastern Screech Owl tucked up in a branch, a Philadelphia Vireo (a bird rarely seen in Philadelphia), and a beautiful Scarlet Tanager.

Birds from first afternoon

From the boardwalk, we went up to their Migratory Bird Center and took a short (.65 mile) walk clocking 34 species and 10 species of warbler (nothing new).
That afternoon, we returned to Magee Marsh’s boardwalk. We soon realized we were seeing or hearing similar birds in places seen or heard earlier, and that the light was much better for photography. In 2.5 hours and 1.28 miles, we recorded 54 species. We found 15 species of warblers and I got good pictures of 8 species of warbler. We ended the day with 82 species with 22 of them warblers, including Prothonotary Warbler, Canada Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Palm Warbler, and American Redstart. They say 33 species of warblers are possible, so we did really well that first day.

During dinner at a restaurant along the shoreline of Lake Erie, a northeaster came screaming in with a vengeance changing the placid waters to an ocean in a storm. This did not bode well for the next day.

Birds of Second Day

With temperatures in the low 40’s and winds in the high teens, we opted to explore some nearby areas: Howard Marsh, Metzger Marsh, and Ottawa NWR. At the refuge, we looked forward to exploring their wildlife driving tour from the warmth of the car. To our disappointment, the drive is only open on weekends. These stops provided opportunities to find water and shorebirds and we found 72 species of birds. Including Trumpeter Swans, a species the local refuges were there to protect. That afternoon, we could not resist returning to the Magee Marsh boardwalk. Many of the same birds were hanging around waiting for better weather. This time, instead of seeing a single Virginia Rail a few feet from the boardwalk, she was accompanied by 8 recently hatched babies—aww. The Screech Owl had moved up one branch, the American Woodcock was still in the exact same place, but she (assumption) had turned around. We speculate she sat on a nest. An unexpected treat was a Common Nighthawk perched on a branch high up in a tree.

Once again, the light was great, and I got a few great photographs, including a close up of a Northern Parula and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Third Day Birds

The next morning, the winds were still from the east and migration the night before light. So, we traveled to Pipe Creek Wildlife Management area in hopes of adding a few more species. Shortly after arriving, we watched in amazement as a Great Blue Heron swallowed an immense fish. Here we were able to find the reported Purple Gallinule, the first one ever seen in the area, and a Wilson’s Snipe.

We could not resist another visit to Magee Marsh for more birds and more stunning photos now that we had an idea of which birds would be found at various stops. We ended this day with 79 species of birds. Our total for the trip so far 121 species.

Bay-breasted Warbler

Friday, May 19, 2023, or last day in Ohio demanded one more stop at the Magee Marsh Boardwalk. The night before brought in southwest winds which should bring in more birds. Our 3.75 hours netted us 74 species. Interestingly, most of the regulars were still sitting near their “regular” spot. We were able to find some new arrivals like flocks of Blue Jays, an Alder and an Olive-sided Flycatcher. We left Ohio with 127 species, 33 of which I was able to photograph including a stunning Bay-breasted Warbler.

Our new destination was Mio, MI, 4.5 hours away and the epicenter of the Kirtland’s Warbler habitat.

Despite the threat of rain, we joined a guided Kirtland’s Warbler tour offered by the US Forest Service. The tour started with a 45-minute movie detailing the challenges faced by Kirtland’s Warblers, a species recently removed from the endangered species list. Then we studied a map of the area to understand the Forest Service’s work. Our guide also pinpointed a few places where we might locate some of the more challenging birds to find. Our first stop on the tour produced three Kirtland’s Warblers, though all were in bad light and at a distance. The second stop was much better! We got excellent views of both a male and a female and we added number 23 warbler species to our trip. That afternoon, a trip through Amish Country netted some field species like Eastern Meadowlark and Bobolink.

A side trip took us to a location where we might find a Golden-winged Warbler. One was heard at a distance, but we never saw it, but since I count heard birds that became warbler number 24.

The next morning, on our last day of birding, a quick stop produced warbler species number 25 when a Pine Warbler belted out its song, plus a surprise for us Barred Owl singing in the distance. Our destination was a place where our forest service guide said we should stop and listen for Ruff Grouse. The spot did not disappoint! The grouse would drum about every 10 minutes. Another recommended stop at the Luzerne Boardwalk proved beautiful and birdy with 32 species including a few very vocal Winter Wrens. What a big song from a small bird.

We revisited the Kirtland’s Warbler location hoping for better light for pictures. It was worth it!

The final afternoon included a self-guided tour provided by the US Forest Service. One stop produced a strange bird song. I was certain it was a Golden-winged Warbler, but the song seemed different than any I had ever heard. We used the app Merlin to check it out. Merlin agreed, but it also flagged a Blue-winged Warbler, which would be relatively rare in the area. We never saw the bird and since the sonogram on our recording closely matched one of the sonograms found in the field guide, we recorded it as a Golden-winged Warbler. Since we never got a good visual on the bird, we will never know, but we can speculate that maybe we had either a Brewster’s or Lawrence’s Warbler (hybrids between Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warblers).

Being our last evening, our travel companion Rick went outside of the cabin we rented to listen for Common Nighthawks. Shortly later, he came in and said, “I heard something weird. It sounded like a pump.” That got me out of the chair and out feeding the mosquitoes to confirm he was listening to an American Bittern, a great last bird for the trip!

Our final total: 152 species within 28 checklists and a total of 35 species photographed. What a trip!

Submitted and photography by Bob Mercer

Ask SIB: Mating Behavior of Terns

Several years ago and for several years we used to see a mating ritual among a class of terns in mid Spring. We saw it down at the point by the beach club but they would also appear over our Sealoft villa. The ritual was something like this. A female (I assume) tern would take off and start climbing and be quickly joined by two other terns (I assume males). She would do really intricate maneuvers- barrel rolls, inside-outs, etc. and the two pursuers tried to copy her. After several minutes of this she somehow would indicate her choice and the rejected bird would fly away. Then the couple did even more extraordinary maneuvers, diving, climbing, rolling, etc. and covering a lot of air space from the beach club out to over the Sealofts and back. They were always in perfect sync with one slightly behind and to the side of the other. It was extraordinarily beautiful, better than any ballet.

Questions: Is this standard behavior for a certain class of terns? Does it go on wherever these terns mate or is it peculiar to our coast? Which terns are these? What month are they most likely to do this?

Thanks for your feedback

Andy Allen


Without knowing which species of tern Andy saw, it is challenging to make a definitive statement. Yet, Andy did provide some useful clues with his careful observations. To start at the basics, there are five species of terns likely to breed on or near Seabrook Island: Royal Tern, Forster’s Tern, Least Tern, Sandwich Tern and Gull-billed Tern.

Two of these species, Gull-billed Tern and Least Tern, tend to make more horizontal flights during pair bonding. So, we will rule out those species.

Forster’s Terns generally nest in the marshes, so we may want to rule out the Forster’s Tern, though it is worth understanding how they interact during pair bonding. The Royal Terns and Sandwich Terns nest on Deveaux Bank.

Most species of tern perform flights called “Dreads.” This is where a whole flock lifts up and flies around, not just because of a nearby predator, but as part of pair bonding and colony cohesion. The Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, and Sandwich Tern have courtship flights described as “High Flight.”

What I believe Andy is referring to would be the “High Flight” behavior. That leaves the three species, Royal, Forster’s and Sandwich Terns. Here is how the scientists who wrote the pages for these terns on Birds of the World describe the variation in each species “High Flight.”

Forster’s Terns – Ed Konrad

Forster’s Tern: “Two terns (sometimes 1 with fish) begin circling ascent in “jerk-flying” (Baggerman et al. 1956) manner (wings angled back with pause [jerk] at bottom of downstrokes, wing beats at faster rate [3–4 beats/s] than normal flight [2–3 beats/s]) up to 200 m. At highest point, leading tern starts gliding descent in Aerial Bent Posture (beak pointed downwards, black cap tilted away from other tern, wings held above horizontal); second tern performs Pass (gliding low over first tern) and adopts Straight Posture (beak forward, head tilted so black cap points away from other tern), initially fast and steep; Pass may be repeated. High flight may begin from ground or from flight. Terns may be silent or utter calls during Ascent. Fish-carrying tern most often the individual performing Aerial Bent Posture. After landing, if first tern was fish-carrying individual, that individual feeds the other during Posturing or Parading (see below; MKM).”

Royal Tern, Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island – Ed Konrad

Royal Tern: In High Flight, one, presumably male, spirals upward, giving Advertising-Call, pursued by ≥1, commonly 2 individuals. During ascent, leader also gives Aack Calls, as do pursuers. Where >1 pursuer, these may pair off and continue own High Flight. Fish sometimes passed between 2 flying birds that have paired off, one dropping it a short distance to other below. Third may join and replace one of 2 original participants or cause 2 to break off aerial courtship. At peak of ascent (≥100 m), leader initiates downward glide, closely followed by pursuer. Both describe spiral descent during which Pass Ceremony may occur, as in Sandwich Tern. High Flight may last up to 25 min and lead to ground courtship, but pair more often retires to fish or to loafing flock to rest, preen, or bathe. Aerial courtship diminishes at hatching time, but occurs throughout breeding season.

Sandwich Tern, Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island – Ed Konrad

Sandwich Tern: Usually aerial display follows ground courtship. An unmated male flies around a flock of loafing birds, usually carrying a fish and vocalizing in advertisement. He may alight on the ground near the flock and raise head and bill while calling, with wings held away from the body and crest raised. When female approaches, male takes off in an aerial “bent posture,” with head and bill pointed toward the ground and back arched. Female may or may not follow male into “high flight” display, and other birds may join in. Aerial courtship consists of ≥ 2 birds ascending in a circle for one to several minutes; at the apex, one bird breaks into a fast downward “glide,” often after several false starts. In the glide, the birds fly close together and trailing bird may overtake lead bird.

The short answer to Andy’s questions are as follows.

  1. This is a standard behavior of many tern species.
  2. It goes on wherever terns congregate.
  3. The above descriptions lead me to believe that the birds Andy refers to are Royal Terns (though his assumption is about sex is wrong) as the behavior he described more closely matches that of the Royal Tern, though Andy did not mention if the birds were noisy or not.
  4. The Forster’s and Royals are already here. The Royal Terns are pair bonding and setting up nesting territories in early April into May. The Forster’s Tern is mid-April to mid-May. The Sandwich Tern, which should be arriving in the next couple weeks, would be displaying in late-April to early-May. I do have to add that the first Least Terns, a SC Species of Concern should be arriving on Seabrook Island in about a week. Least Tern numbers grow through May. Each year, we have high hopes that a colony will once again establish itself on North Beach. Be sure to watch the antics of this species, but stay well out of their way so as not to disturb them!

One of the joys of living on or visiting Seabrook Island is being able to watch the birds and the bird behavior. We would love to hear from people who observe any of the above behaviors.


Buckley, P. A., F. G. Buckley, and S. G. Mlodinow (2021). Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus), version 1.1. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

McNicholl, M. K., P. E. Lowther, and J. A. Hall (2020). Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Shealer, D., J. S. Liechty, A. R. Pierce, P. Pyle, and M. A. Patten (2020). Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

  • – Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

Trip report: SIB visits Bear Island and Donnelly

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.

Tundra Swans at Bear Island – Bob Mercer

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.

Text and photos by Bob Mercer

Ask SIB: “Why do Birds Knees Bend Backwards?”

Wood Stork – photo by Alan Fink


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.

Wood Storks sitting near a pond on Seabrook Island – photo by Bob Mercer

– Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

SIB Travels: Arizona in August

Bob Mercer recently shared the information below about their birding trip to Arizona in August.

Who in their right mind would go to Arizona in August? A birder. I have birded in Arizona on three other occasions. Years ago, my first trip was in mid-September. My second trip happened in March. In 2017, Eileen and I spent 5 weeks exploring the birds in Arizona from mid-September to mid-October. Even after spending that much time, there were still a lot of birds we missed. Apparently, by mid-September many of the birds leave Arizona or go quiet and are difficult to find and March is too early.

So, when a young friend of ours, Rachel, said she was going to go to Arizona at the time the Arizona Audubon Society has their birding festival, Eileen and I decided to spend nine days with her on a birding adventure the second week of August. Several surprises awaited us. First, August is monsoon season in Arizona. Expecting a dog biscuit dry desert, we could see rain and hear thunder every day. Fortunately, we only got caught a couple times. To our amazement, the desert was green!

Being familiar with many of the birding hot spots in Arizona, we decided to forgo the expense of joining the festival groups and set off on our own. For those of you who know me, you may know I keep two life lists. One is the accumulation of over 40 years of birding. The other is the birds I have reported on ebird, something I did not start until I retired and then not seriously until late in 2017 (after our 5-weeks in Arizona).

Our itinerary included Saguaro National Park and Wilcox Lake (our best chance for water birds) the first day. Then we spent 2 nights at Cave Creek Canyon at the base of the Chiricahua Mountains. From there we visited the East Fork of Cave Creek, The George Walker House, and Rustler Park. From there (after a short stop at the Portal Impoundment), we swung down to Sierra Vista Arizona where we visited several locations with hummingbird feeders (Ash Canyon B&B and Ramsey Canyon Inn) and took a few short trails. That night we settled into an Airbnb in Green Valley Arizona. That became our base of action for the rest of the trip. From Green Valley visited the Tubac area, the Patagonia area, Madera Canyon, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and Mount Lemmon. During this whirlwind trip, we created 45 ebird lists and recorded 146 species of which 31 were ebird lifers and 12 were totally new life birds for me. It is getting really hard to add life birds in North America, so this was outstanding!

The following are some of either my better pictures from the various locations or some of my lifers.

Continue reading “SIB Travels: Arizona in August”

Seabrook Island Shorebird Steward Program

Seabrook Island Shorebird Stewards Return to the Beach!

Daily, starting on March 1, 2022, Seabrook Island beachgoers may see Shorebird Stewards like Seabrook Island resident Tim Finan on North Beach. Shorebird Stewards educate people about the various shorebirds that use the Seabrook Island Beaches. All shorebird species are in decline and need help. Shorebird Stewards explain why shorebirds use the Seabrook Island beach and why beachgoers should “Share the Beach- Give Them Space”.

The Seabrook Island Shorebird Steward program is looking for more volunteers. Starting in March until July, stewards spend 2 hour shifts on the beach. The schedule is flexible and a scheduling website makes it easy to find times to fit anyone’s schedule.

Stewards don’t have to be a skilled birder. During the training program, participants learn shorebird identification, how to use our optics, and how to be a good steward. The training consists of a 2-hour classroom session plus on-beach field training.

People interested in becoming a Shorebird Steward can register here ( To prevent bots from invading the site, registration requires several steps. All new Stewards should attend an SCAudubon led training on February 19, 2022, starting at 9:00 AM in the Oystercatcher Community Room or watch a recording of the presentation. All Stewards new or returning, need to participate in one of the many scheduled field training dates (details to be provided to those who register). For more information or to join us for a North Beach bird walk, please contact:

Free Virtual Evening Event featuring SC-DNR Felicia Sanders

The public is invited to enjoy a zoom presentation by Felicia Sanders on “Hemispheric Flights of Migratory Shorebirds” on February 16, 2022, at 7pm. Felicia has been active in shorebird conservation and research for over thirty years. Her talk draws on her many years of banding and tracking shorebirds including her 5 trips to the Arctic. She will also focus on the technology that allows scientists to track the migrations of many shorebirds that stop to rest or refuel on Seabrook: Red Knots, Whimbrel, Dunlin and others. 

Ask SIB: What Bird of Prey is This?

Patricia’s Question:

On Monday, January 31, 2022, this is the scene found by Patricia and Page Schaefer in their driveway on Seabrook Island, SC.

Cooper’s Hawk with it’s prey, a Tricolor Heron
Photo by Patricia Schaefer

Identifying hawks can be confusing, so we asked our resident naturalist Bob Mercer for his opinion.

Bob’s Response:

“I would say it is an adult female Cooper’s Hawk. Why do I make that identification? The bird is an adult accipiter as evidenced by the red barring across the chest and gray body. Accipiters are bird hunting specialists.  These features get us down into the family of hawks.

“What is the difference between a Cooper’s Hawk and a Sharp-shinned Hawk? Two obvious features for birds standing or perched are size and the heaviness of the legs and feet. A Sharp-shinned Hawk ranges in size from 10 to 14 inches with the average weight of a male weighing about 0.2 pounds and about 0.3 pounds for a female. A Cooper’s Hawk’s size is between 14 to 20 inches. The average weight of a male is about .75 pounds and a female about 1.24 pounds. Usually the female hawks are larger than the males. From the picture one can see this is a big bird with heavy legs and feet. That would make it a Coopers Hawk. A Sharp-shinned Hawk would have skinny legs and feet. The clincher is in its diet! Tricolored Herons are between 25 and 30 inches and average about 0.9 pounds. Assuming this was a small Tricolored Heron, the accipiter had to be a big bird to even attempt something that large. Hence my identification as a large female Coopers Hawk.”

Please be sure to Ask SIB if you have a question about the birds!

Ask SIB: Eastern Bluebird Winter Behavior

On January 9, 2021, Andy wrote SIB, “Today we saw maybe half dozen blue birds and one was sitting on the entry hole.  Isn’t it early for them to be nesting?  Has the warm weather put them off schedule?”

Eastern Bluebird – photo by Bob Mercer

The questions are relatively easy to answer. Yes, it is too early for them to be nesting, so they are not “off schedule” due to the weather. As usual, the questions lead to another question; what are the birds doing?

Since Eastern Bluebirds are year-round residents in our area, one can watch the full range of behaviors. During the winter months, bluebirds can gather in flocks of up to 20 birds. These flocks consist of one or more family units. In really cold weather, a flock of bluebirds may all cram into a single cavity, presumably for shared body warmth. Pair bonding for bluebirds can happen anytime between November and March.

This photo of an Eastern Bluebird entering the box and the female watching perfectly captures some of the courtship behavior–wing droop tail spread. Photo by Nancy Brown

During the courtship and nesting period, the flocking behavior disappears. Once a pair settles on a territory, they work hard to drive away all competitors including their siblings. 

It is difficult to know exactly what Andy observed, but one can make an educated guess. Since he saw a half dozen birds, he observed a winter flock. The bird sitting at the nesting hole most likely was a male bird checking out the box for its potential. 

Once a male makes a choice, he will then attempt to attract a mate or to solidify his relationship with his current mate. According to the Cornel Lab of Ornithology website Birds of the World, the male goes through a very predictable pattern of behavior. The male institutes a nesting demonstration display where he perches at a hole holding nesting material with his wings drooping and his tail spread wide. He looks around, presumably to make sure his intended is paying attention, and then look in the hole. The next step is to rock back and forth into and out of the hole before going in the cavity. Once in the cavity, he will stick his head out still holding the nesting material. Leaving the material in the cavity, he then hops out near the hole and does a wing waving display. The female entering the box cements the pair bond. 

People with bluebird boxes they can view, or who have cameras trained on a box, may be lucky enough to watch this behavioral sequence. 

Nesting on Seabrook Island usually begins around the first of March. The Seabrook Island Birders sponsor a bluebird box monitoring program. Volunteers have a route where they check a series of boxes once a week to monitor if birds use the boxes and nesting success of failure. Anyone interested in helping is encouraged to contact the Seabrook Island Birders.

Be sure to read tomorrow’s article discussing the installation and monitoring of a birdhouse with an outside WIFI camera!

Gowaty, P. A. and J. H. Plissner (2020). Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Ask SIB: “Are Red Knots at North Beach?”

Fred Whittle recently sent a question to Seabrook Island Birds. He asked, “Are Red Knots at North Beach now?  Thought I saw them on Sunday afternoon.”  

Photo taken of Red Knots and other Shore & Seabirds by Mark Andrews on 12/28/21.  Notice the misty view, as there was a thick marine layer with visibility of only around 50m date day.

The quick answer is yes. Mark Andrews recently reported 300 birds at the end of North Beach. That leads people who like birds to a host of other questions. First and foremost, “Why are they here?” Instinct drives much bird behavior. The hard-wired drive to migrate makes birds leave the far north long before conditions become untenable for life. Some but not all of the eastern race of Red Knots, Calidris canutus rufa, migrate from the Central Canadian Arctic to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. With studies being done by scientists and observations like birders on Seabrook Island, much has been learned about Red Knot migration habits and much more still needs to be discovered. Knots spend winter in four regions:

  1. Southern coast of S. America, mainly Tierra del Fuego
  2. Northern coast of S. America, mainly Maranhão
  3. Western Gulf of Mexico, mainly the Laguna Madre
  4. Southeast U.S./Caribbean, mainly FL to NC

Evolution created these four regions as ways to protect the populations. Each location offers advantages and disadvantages—e.g. long or short distance to travel low or high parasite exposure. Unfortunately, a evolutionary new risk has arisen in these ancestral wintering grounds—humans. Development along the migratory route and probably climate change stress the migrants. 

The work being done by SCDNR, University Of South Carolina’s Senner Lab, and our local birders strive to understand if the same birds each year hang around South Carolina or are they stopping here on their way to Florida or farther south. We do know that the numbers of Red Knots slowly increase as the season passes into spring. We do know that many of our birds spend time in Florida and when they arrive here, they may stay several weeks of even months before flying on to either New Jersey’s Delaware Bay or directly to the southern tip of the Hudson Bay.

In May, birds with flags indicating that they were banded in South America show up on Seabrook Island. They join up with the birds already here before they all depart sometime before Memorial Day.

For all these birds, the arc along the South Carolina coast provides a critically important stopping area where they can pack on the fat before tackling the long flight to the Arctic and the arduous task of raising the next generation.

When you see people out on the beach taking pictures, recognize that the photographers want far more than pretty picture, they want clear images of the tiny flags on the bird’s legs. Once scientists receive these flag codes, the scientists can start to build a better understanding of the migratory patterns of the Red Knots.

When you are on the beach, remember, “Share the beach – give them space!” If you have questions or are interested to learn more about the SIB Shorebird Steward team, please send and email to: or complete this form.

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