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 (sib.wildlifepreservationservices.com). 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: sibstewards@gmail.com.

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. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.easblu.01

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: sibstewards@gmail.com or complete this form.

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