Janet Thibault, our good friend and partner from SCDNR, was on North Beach Wednesday February 12, 2020, and gave us a heads up on the banded Black Skimmers she had just seen at the point. We quickly headed down the beach to check them out, rarely having seen a banded skimmer. It was a different experience for us to look for the bands…to carefully look at their legs, like we do for banded Piping Plovers but not skimmers. Aija’s usually doing a count of a large skimmer flock and then moving on to spot other shorebirds. I’m usually trying to get a photo of them skimming in the water – opening their bill and dropping the lower mandible, until they feel a fish with their lower beak. We spent a long and patient time that day – with Aija carefully spotting bands in the scope, and me then trying to find and photograph that particular banded skimmer in the flock. Now we know to look more carefully when spotting Black Skimmers! Thanks Janet!
Just wanted to pass along some re-sighting of black skimmer bands I saw while doing a Piping Plover survey at Seabrook. At high tide last week (Feb 12th) I got good looks of a flock of 170 Black Skimmers roosting on the Seabrook side of the inlet right at the far tip. I sent the resights into the Bird Banding Lab (BBL) and also emailed some folks involved in banding skimmers. Turns out two birds were banded as chicks in New Jersey this past summer. One was banded as a chick in New York this past summer. One was banded as a chick in North Carolina this past summer, and one was banded in Massachusetts in 2017 as a chick. Below are the details from the BBL reports and email clips. I just want to pass on the message that Capt. Sam’s is so important for all sorts of seabirds and shorebirds to rest and feed and spend their time. Especially these skimmers spending their first winter down here. Let’s spread the word!
Janet Thibault Wildlife Biologist South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
Two of our Seabrook Island Birder members photographed three of these same birds, along with two that Janet hadn’t seen that day. Two of Janet’s sightings we don’t have photos:
Blue H11 (right leg): Was too young to fly when banded in 2019 near Stone Harbor, Cape May County, NJ
Orange A0 (left leg): Yes, it’s a Mass bird. A0 was hatched and banded in 2017 on Martha’s Vineyard, MA. Recently, it was seen at Huguenot Memorial Park in FL (160 mi. away, straight line distance) in December 2019, so it’s moving around a bit –Carolyn Mostello
If you happen to see and/or photograph a banded bird, be sure to report it! Learn how from our website here.
Spring is an amazing and important time for our Seabrook Island shorebirds! Migrating Red Knots are here in growing numbers. After wintering with us, Piping Plovers are heading north to breed. Least Terns, Wilson’s Plovers, and other shorebirds are getting ready to mate and possibly nest on North Beach. It’s a time to enjoy the splendor of our shorebird residents and guests. And to be extra careful when on the beach – give them space to rest, feed, and nest, and follow our beach rules for dogs.
Our SC DNR and USFWS partners have been active monitoring the Red Knot flock to plan for their banding and research. We’re seeing flocks of 300 to 1,500 feeding and resting all along the shore – left of Boardwalk 1, on the sandbars, in the Critical Habitat, at the point, and back on the old inlet. There was a recent sighting of 4,000 knots on the far end of North Beach!
The knots are turning into their beautiful reddish breeding colors. It’s a spectacle when they fly, a large flock darting through the sky with a tint of red as they turn! From late March to early May they move between Seabrook, Kiawah, and Deveaux Bank. In past years Aija and I have seen over 5,000 knots on North Beach at their peak in late April. SC DNR has concluded we have the largest single flock of Red Knots on the East Coast!
Red Knot population has declined 85% since 1980, and they’re a “Federally Threatened” species. Knots have the longest migration of any bird, 18,000 miles round trip from the tip of South America to the Arctic where they breed. From SC DNR’s research and geolocator data retrieved on Seabrook and nearby beaches, they’ve determined that 2/3 of our Red Knot flock migrate directly from here to the Arctic to breed, and do not make the usual stop at the Delaware Bay. This discovery makes Seabrook Island a critical stop for the knots before their remaining 3,000-mile journey to the Arctic.
Mark Andrews, a Seabrook Island Birders’ member and Seabrook Island resident, is working on a new project with SC DNR this spring to help protect Red Knots. Mark is spending considerable time on North Beach, observing the size and location of the Red Knot flock, and educating Seabrook residents and guests about the knots. Mark’s project is to promote awareness to help our Red Knots rest and refuel for their long migration north to breed. Look for Mark on North Beach and learn about the knots!
In April we say bon voyage to our Piping Plovers (PIPL), some having wintered with us since late July. We’re seeing the last of the PIPL now, but in larger flocks of 12 or more as more southern wintering PIPL are stopping here as they head north. Piping Plovers breed in the North Atlantic, Great Lakes, and Great Plains regions. Atlantic and Great Plains PIPL are Federally Threatened, Great Lakes PIPL are Federally Endangered.
This tiny bird, now with a dark breeding color breast band, can be anywhere on North Beach – left or right of Boardwalk 1, in the dogs off lead area, feeding in the Critical Habitat low tide mud flats, or resting in the high tide rack. They need our help for the final bit of rest before heading north. The Great Lakes banded PIPL pictured above, in the flock of 12 PIPL we recently spotted, is one of only 70 breeding pairs remaining from that region.
What’s up with the yellow SC DNR nesting signs in the Critical Habitat? Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers are beginning to mate and hopefully nest! Look up into the sky and you’ll see and hear the racket of the small white terns chasing each other with fish. From a distance, look for the Least Tern courting behavior either inside the nesting area or on the shore. It’s a hoot. The male presents a gift of fish to a female, female considers to accept or reject, and like with all guys, she will often reject the gift and dart away, leaving the male – fish still in mouth – looking very foolish.
If you look carefully in the nesting area, not getting too close to signs, you may spot a couple of Wilson’s Plovers, at times chasing each other with aggressive mating behavior. Or possibly hunkered down in some rack in the dunes. Last June, Aija and I spotted Least Tern juveniles and Wilson’s Plover chicks in this habitat. A first for us in 12 years of birding and photography on North Beach! Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers are SC Threatened Species, so they need our help to nest and thrive.
Our resident pair of American Oystercatchers, one banded U5, may also be hopefully mating, along with others. We’ve been seeing U5 and its mate on North Beach for many years, they’re old friends! SC DNR thinks the Oystercatchers have nested on North Beach, although we haven’t observed nests or chicks. We’ve also been seeing the Willets in aggressive mating behavior, and they have nested here too.
Lots of activity in the Spring! Please make a difference when you’re on North Beach by following these simple steps:
Keep away from birds. When you see a flock, large or small, give them space.
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.
Respect posted nesting and feeding areas.
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.
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.
Note that the Town of Seabrook, working with USFWS and SC DNR, is in the process of improving our signs. The large buoys that washed away have been reordered. These will mark to start of the dogs off lead area, and the start of the Critical Habitat/no dog zone. There are temporary signs up now at the start of the Critical Habitat until the buoys arrive and can be installed. April is such a critical month for shorebirds, and our signs are missing or faded. So some immediate clarification was needed.
Also, please remember that the Critical Habitat line extends from the No Dogs metal sign at the high tide line straight out to the ocean. The beach and sandbars continuing past this visual line are part of the Critical Habitat and no dog zone. This is especially important in Red Knot season as knots will rest and feed on the sandbars that can be accessible at low tide.
So, when walking North Beach, look around you, observe and enjoy these incredible shorebirds. Just like 20 Seabrook Island Birders did on a recent bird walk on North Beach, tallying 40 species!
During the summer of 2017 and 2018, adult male Painted Buntings were
fitted with geolocators (a light-level tracking device) on Kiawah Island.
The birds were banded with an aluminum band on the right leg and either
a yellow or pink on the left leg. To retrieve the valuable data stored on the
geolocator, we need to recapture these birds and take off the device. If
you happen to see a Painted Bunting with a yellow or pink color band
coming to your bird feeder, please contact Aaron Given at email@example.com or call (843) 768-9166.
Below is an email request from Felicia Sanders, SC DNR, on our interest in having someone on the beach this spring to look for and report banded Red Knots on Seabrook and Kiawah Islands, and do some stewardship on Red Knots while on beach. It’s a paid position, $10/hr for April through May. Interested people can either contact SIB or Felicia directly.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) received a small grant to help protect Red Knots. It may be too late to implement this spring but thought I would see if you know the perfect candidate. We have some money to hire someone to re-sight banded knots at Kiawah and Seabrook. They would also speak to the public about not disturbing the knots while they are on your beaches (a Red Knot steward). Please read the details below. If you know of someone that would be interested, please have them contact me asap. If we find someone, we will make certain they work with local people already on the beach re-sighting and working on shorebird conservation.
SC Department of Natural Resources is seeking one field technician to assist in a re-sighting study of Red Knots in South Carolina. This is an incredible opportunity to study a species of high conservation concern on the beautiful barrier islands. Responsibilities include accurately re-sighting color bands and alpha-numeric flags of Red Knots, determining flock size of knots, some foraging observations, and data entry and proofing. This effort will primarily be on Kiawah and Seabrook Islands where thousands of Red Knots gather in the spring before they fly to Arctic nesting areas. Educating beach goers about shorebird conservation is also part of this job. This job can be full time, part time or even just on weekends. Employment ASAP (prefer April 1) to June 1, 2019.
Applicants must be able and willing to spend long days in the field, often walking several miles along the beach, and spending many hours observing birds through spotting scopes. Applicants should be willing to learn about Red Knots and other shorebirds of the east and be excellent at speaking with the public. The candidate must be able to drive to Kiawah and Seabrook so a reliable car and location near Charleston is preferable.
Salary will be $10/hour
How to Apply:
Send inquiries to Felicia Sanders SandersF@dnr.sc.gov. Position will be filled as soon as a qualified applicant is found.
Photo 9: Red Knot with leg flag and geolocator at Seabrook Island – Ed Konrad
Photo 8: Red Knot with leg flag (or band) at Seabrook Island – Ed Konrad
Red Knot Banding Apr 29 2017 on North Beach, Seabrook Island – Ed Konrad
Red Knots on North Beach at Seabrook Island, SC – Ed Konrad
As you may know, there is an active bird banding station on our neighboring island. The following information is a summary of what Aaron Given, Wildlife Biologist, provided on his Kiawah Island Banding Station blog, where you can read the full report.
The 2017 fall migration banding season at the Kiawah Island Banding Station (KIBS) ended on Thursday, November 20, 2017. We banded at two sites on Kiawah Island again this fall: Captain Sam’s and Little Bear. This was the 9th consecutive year of fall migration banding at the Captain Sam’s site with banding occurring daily during the last 6 years. This was the 3rd season for the Little Bear site which we initiated during the fall of 2015. The two sites are located at each end of island about 8 miles apart (Captain Sam’s on the west end, Little Bear on the east end). Both sites are situated in coastal scrub/shrub and high marsh habitats, however, the Little Bear site is in an earlier stage of succession. Collectively, we banded 8,393 birds and had 1,845 recaptures of 93 different species at both sites.
SIB recently received the note below from SCDNR Wildlife Biologist Felicia Sanders.
Pat Leary photographed this Red Knot, which we tagged at Seabrook Island on April 29, 2017, at Corrigan’s Reef, Cedar Key Florida on November 18, 2017. This bird probably went to the arctic to nest and now is wintering in Florida or headed farther south and just stopping a while in Florida. He saw another knot we tagged at Seabrook and one we tagged at Deveaux Bank in April 2012.
Thanks again to everyone for helping with Red Knot trapping, which is helping us figure out their migration patterns!