Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) received a copy of the winter 2021/2022 Maine Audubon journal, Habitat, from SIB member Emily Ward. Emily wrote:
I regret not being able to join the birders club in any activity before we returned to Maine – the CBC was on the one day that the weather was awful for man, beast & avian! But I did get to see Piping Plovers on North Beach along with lots of terns – both of which nest here in Scarborough, ME. I’m sending Maine Audubon’s Winter Bulletin which mentions S. Carolina. I was a Plover Monitor for a few years at our nearby beach – saw chicks hatching on July 4th – and watched them grow and then fly south – perhaps to Seabrook Island.
We hope to return next winter for a short time – it is about 10 degrees today with snow on the ground but amazing sunlight and a few hardy birds.
Emily Ward, Scarborough, Maine
A section Emily highlighted from the article:
“Many shorebirds such as the Semipalmated Sandpiper migrate through Maine on their way to nesting areas in the Arctic and wintering areas in the Caribbean and Central and South America, but there’s only one that nests on the beaches of southern Maine: the Piping Plover. Piping Plovers make a scrape in the sand for a nest, typically lay four eggs, and usher their chicks around the beach searching for insects and other invertebrates in the seaweed rack and mudflats. In late summer, they depart. But to where?
“We are still learning more every year about Piping Plover migration and wintering habitat. Many of them winter on remote sandy cays that are expansive and difficult to access. In 2012 about 10% of all the Atlantic Coast population of plovers was observed at Joulter Cays in the Bahamas—a new discovery. Now, through an intensive collaborative conservation effort, the area is on its way to becoming a National Park partially due to these recent discoveries. Nesting Maine plovers have also been found wintering in South Carolina and Georgia.”
One example of a “Snowbird” is this Piping Plover, “OJ,” whose story we shared back in 2016.
Pink Flag OJ was banded November 27th 2015 in the newly created Joulter Cays National Park, just north of Andros Island in the Bahamas. The Banding Team was from Bahamas National Trust, National Audubon, Virginia Tech and USFWS.
OJ was hanging out in Maine for the breeding season, and reported on 23-May-16 on Fortune’s Rocks Beach, Maine; 20-Jun-Pink Flag OJ was banded November 27th 2015 in the newly created Joulter Cays National Park, just north of Andros Island in the Bahamas. The Banding Team was from Bahamas National Trust, National Audubon, Virginia Tech and USFWS., Parsons Beach, Kennebunk, Maine – reported to be female nesting. Unfortunately, her nesting attempt was unsuccessful; 8-Jul-16, Laudholm Beach, Wells, Maine, in a flock of about 20 other Piping Plovers.
Our American Oystercatcher chicks have flown the Nesting Area! One of the oystercatcher parents was U5, a bird that has frequented the Captain Sams Inlet for many years. Just before they could fly, they were banded to allow us to follow their progress and to contribute to what science knows about American Oystercatcher behavior and habitat use. The many hours our SIB Shorebird Stewards spent educating and protecting the birds have paid off!
We have told the story of the North Beach Nesting Area in previous posts. Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers also nested inside the yellow signs but they struggled to maintain their nests against blowing & drifting sand. Both species re-nested, but only the Least Terns hatched chicks. In nature’s way, those chicks were probably lost to predators or tides and the colony has moved on. We never saw Wilson’s Plover chicks.
Meanwhile, American Oystercatchers U5 & his mate, hatched two chicks on May 18 that have thrived! On a rainy Sunday morning when the chicks were 26 days old, Janet Thibault, SCDNR Coastal Bird Biologist, banded the chicks with the assistance of Glen Cox & Karin King, who first spotted the oystercatcher nest, and Mark and Melissa Andrews. The chicks can now be identified from blue bands on their upper legs as, DY & DZ. Blue bands designate a bird banded in South Carolina as U5’s red bands tell us that he was banded in Georgia.
Before banding the chicks, Janet had to consider many key factors: the chick’s age, health and whether banding the chicks would provide useful information to science. Birds are banded to allow scientists to track their movements and follow them through their nesting and other behaviors. Those observations, known as resights, are collected and sent to a registry both by biologists and citizen scientists like Glen Cox, Patricia Schaefer & Ed Konrad. In the case of oystercatchers, that registry is The American Oystercatcher Working Group.
Just like the biologists, we can learn a lot from the approximately 60 resights in U5’s registry. In December 2008, U5 was banded as an adult on Little Saint Simons Island, Georgia. In his first few years, he spent most of his time on the Georgia coast with an occasional trip to Deveaux Bank or Captain Sams Inlet. After 2012, he was seen at the inlet far more than in Georgia. Then around 2016, he became a year round resident of Captain Sam’s Inlet with 23 resights by Kiawah and Seabrook residents recorded in the last 5 years. Those reports proved that our community “followed” him and gave Janet confidence that we would report DY & DZ sightings as well.
You have the opportunity to contribute to American Oystercatcher science by reporting your resights of U5, DY and DZ to this website. Please remember that resighting requires giving the birds their space – if the birds appear nervous or fly, you are too getting too close. We use binoculars, spotting scopes or long telephoto lenses on our cameras to keep our distance.
American Oystercatcher chicks often spend up to six months in their family group before joining non-breeding flocks. Apart from the quick trip from the Georgia coast to Deveaux Bank in 2009, U5 was seen repeatedly in 2010 & 2011 back in Georgia near where he fledged. With some luck, we might see DY & DZ hang around Captain Sams inlet for quite awhile, maybe with U5 and their mother!
(All resights for U5 were obtained from the American Oystercatcher Working Group Band Database. Wilmington: Audubon North Carolina; Retrieved from The American Oystercatcher Working Group Band Database Website http://www.ancperch.org/amoy/index.html)
Article submitted by Mark Andrews Photos provided by Mark Andrews, Glen Cox, Melanie Jerome, Ed Konrad & Patricia Schaefer
Many members of Seabrook Island Birders have met Felicia Sanders. She has presented an evening program and leads the Red Knot banding program on the island. The press release below details the well deserved recognition Felicia recently received.
—- NEWS RELEASE —-For Immediate Release SCDNR shorebird leader named biologist of the year COLUMBIA, S.C. (Oct. 29, 2020) — Felicia Sanders, who serves as the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Bird Conservation Project supervisor, has been named the Biologist of the Year by the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.“We are so fortunate to have Felicia as our Shorebird Project leader at SCDNR,” said Emily Cope, SCDNR’s director of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. “She truly understands the importance of developing partnerships and building support for conservation. Her hard work, passion, and gentle nature are extremely evident in her everyday activities and set her apart as a true leader in her field.”Sanders, stationed at Santee Coastal Reserve in McClellanville, received the 2020 Biologist of the Year Award Oct. 27 during the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ virtual annual conference from Springfield, Missouri.She has spent 30 years on conservation efforts for a wide diversity of bird species and began her career at SCDNR in 2001. Sanders has worked extensively with sea, shore, and wading birds as well as red-cockaded woodpeckers, grassland birds and neotropical migrants. Since 2007, she has been a tireless champion for the conservation of South Carolina’s coastal birds.Sanders has led South Carolina’s coastal bird management and built a program recognized internationally. She has established partnerships with private, government and non-governmental partners and galvanized grassroots support to protect coastal bird habitat at about 30 sites. This has often included navigating conflict between multiple stakeholders to achieve these protections. Sanders is a dedicated biologist and her research activities have resulted in coauthoring 29 scientific publications and has highlighted the importance of South Carolina during red knot migration. She has mentored numerous wildlife professionals and served on 10 graduate committees.Her many conservation accomplishments include designation of five coastal island Seabird Sanctuaries allowing beach closures to increase nesting success, and the designation of the Cape Romain-Santee Delta Region as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network Site of International Importance. Also, Sanders is an invited participant in the Artic Shorebird Demographics Network, an internationally coordinated effort with 17 partners working across Alaska, the Canadian Arctic and Russia. She is a founding member of the American Oystercatcher Working Group, a model for shorebird conservation, and coordinated the first statewide winter shorebird and Wilson’s plover breeding surveys in South Carolina.The Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA) is an organization whose members are the state agencies with primary responsibility for management and protection of the fish and wildlife resources in 15 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.For more information, visit www.seafwa.org.South Carolina Department of Natural Resources – Rembert C. Dennis Building 1000 Assembly Street, Columbia, SC 29201
Kiawah Island is located next door to Seabrook Island, SC. Did you know the Kiawah Island Banding Station (KIBS) consists of two banding sites located on private lands at the far western and eastern ends of Kiawah Island?
The Captain Sam’s Site located at the western end of the island was established in 2009 by the Town of Kiawah Island with support from the Kiawah Conservancy. The first two years was spent learning and working through the details of operating a banding station, as well as collecting baseline data to help guide future study. In 2011, an effort to standardize protocol and effort was launched. A banding assistant was hired to help with daily operations and we began to build a volunteer base.
In 2015, the Little Bear Site located on the eastern end of the island was created. This site was created as an alternate site in case banding operations on the west end need to be suspended due to development. The second site also provides for interesting comparison between two similar but different habitats. Since 2012, a crew of 4-7 assistants has been hired to ensure that KIBS can be run every day during the fall migration period. It also set the standard course for future seasons to come.
Banding conducted at KIBS will provide valuable data on the species diversity and composition on Kiawah Island. Bird banding is also a significant tool used to assess the health and demographics of bird populations. Important information such as productivity, survivorship, and movements of many species can be attained through a banding program. All banding data collected is submitted to the Bird Banding Laboratory administered by the United States Geological Survey.
KIBS is the only banding station located along the coast of South Carolina, and has grown to become one of the largest banding stations in the southeastern United States, thus providing important information on migrating birds along the South Atlantic Coast.
The major objectives of KIBS are to:
Gather baseline information on resident and migratory birds on Kiawah Island.
Collect data to enable long-term monitoring (i.e. population tends) of birds on Kiawah Island.
Monitor fall migration to determine the importance of Kiawah Island as stop-over habitat.
Assess the effects of development on bird populations.
Provide data to better manage habitat and guide future development plans.
Contribute high quality data to the North American Bird Banding Program.
This year marks the 12th consecutive year that we have been banding on Kiawah Island during the fall at the Captain Sam’s (CS) site. The Little Bear (LB) site is in its 6 year of operation. Across both sites, we have banded 54,732 birds and have had 12,930 recaptures of over 130 species.
This year’s banding will be a little different as we follow protocols and guidelines related to COVID-19. One of the more difficult changes this year is that we will not be allowing visitors, volunteers, or educational groups to come out to the banding site. We rely on volunteers especially on busy days when we need and extra hand or two to help extract birds or scribe data. We don’t host many groups but we have a few that come out each year, and will surely miss those day teaching people about the birds and the work that we are doing. I am looking forward to another successful banding season!
However, be sure to visit our blog throughout this fall to see updates and photos of the birds we band.
Article submitted by Aaron Given, Town of Kiawah Island Wildlife Biologist; Bander-In-Charge (Master Bander)
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.