This past weekend while walking my puppy to Freshfields along Seabrook Island Road, we were met with several groups of chatty dark gray birds! What a pleasure to see the Gray Catbirds were so active, calling and chasing each other! I also heard them while playing golf on the weekend and while driving the car around the island. I’m not sure if there are groups passing through on their fall migration, or if these individuals have been here all summer and they are just becoming more active. In any event, check out the article and video below to learn more about this beautiful chatty bird!
If you struggle with learning bird songs and calls, try starting with the “catty mew” of the Gray Catbird. Just the sound of it makes you think of a cat which will help you remember its name!
These birds are migratory, but you can hear and see them all year round on Seabrook Island. They are a medium-sized, slender songbird with a long, rounded, black tail and a narrow, straight bill. Catbirds are fairly long legged and have broad, rounded wings. They give the impression of being entirely slaty gray, however, look closely and you’ll see a small black cap, blackish tail and a rich rufous-brown patch under the tail.
The Gray Catbird diet consists mostly of insects and berries. Especially in early summer, it eats many beetles, ants, caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets, true bugs, and other insects, as well as spiders and millipedes. Nestlings are fed almost entirely on insects. More than half the annual diet of adults may be vegetable matter, especially in fall and winter, when they eat many kinds of wild berries and some cultivated fruit. To attract Gray Catbirds, plant shrubs in areas of your yard near young deciduous trees. Catbirds also love fruit, so you can entice them with plantings of native fruit-bearing trees and shrubs such as dogwood, winterberry, and serviceberry.
It belongs to the genus Dumetella, which means “small thicket.” And that’s exactly where you should go look for this little skulker. Look for Gray Catbirds in dense tangles of shrubs, small trees, and vines, along forest edges, stream-side thickets, old fields, and fencerows. On Seabrook, catbirds are regular in the myrtles leading to the beach and along estuaries and the edges of woods (the Nature Trail, etc.). If you listen for their cat-like meow you will be more likely to find them.
Like its larger cousin the Northern Mockingbird, not only does the Gray Catbird have a similar look, but they can have a large repertoire of melodies and sounds. Watch this video to hear it imitate many other bird species and even a frog!
If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:
Saturday October 24, 2020 6:00 am– 4:00 pm (sunrise 7:30am) Trip to Bear Island & Donnelly WMA Location: Meet at SI Real Estate Office to Car Pool Max: 10 Cost: free to members, $5 per guest
If you have never been to Bear Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) or to Donnelly WMA, you won’t want to miss this opportunity – it’s well worth the 60-mile one-way trip! Part of the ACE Basin, this area is perfect habitat for birds with ponds, rivers, salt marsh, freshwater marsh, mudflats mixed pine-hardwood forest and farmland. Most of the birding is done by car with stops to get out and take short walks for viewing. Bear Island closes for hunting from November 1 – February 9 each year, so this is the last chance to visit before spring. We hope the winter waterfowl will have returned including the Tundra Swan. Our old friend, David Gardner plans to join us from his new home near Augusta. Each person should bring their own lunch, snacks and beverages, as there are no restaurants in the area. Also be sure to bring sun block, bug spray, a hat, binoculars, camera and a scope if you have one.
We will ask that people wear masks while riding together and to maintain social distance and wear masks while birding. Due to COVID concerns, shared use of scopes is discouraged.
eBird is one of the world’s largest biodiversity related science projects, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by eBirders around the world. Learn about best practices to ensure high quality submissions to eBird from Keith McCullough, local eBird Reviewer and Natural History Interpretation Coordinator for Charleston County Parks. Keith will also discuss the eBird Review Process. After the presentation, you are invited to stay for a virtual “happy hour” that will encourage open discussion on recent nature observations.
The event is this Friday, October 16, 2020 from 5:00 – 7:00 pm.
During this unusual year, many of us have enjoyed taking pictures of birds while we remain socially distant. We’d like you to share your experiences with the rest of the group. Please forward your pictures to SeabrookIslandBirders@gmail.com. Include when and where the picture was taken, the photographer and if you know it, the species shown. By sending your great works to SIB, unless you indicate otherwise, you are authorizing SIB to publish them in any of the various communications SIB uses. Credit will be given to the appropriate photographer.
You can then look forward to our future posts (ie. Seabrooker, Tidelines, SIB Blog) to see other member’s birding experiences.
Bird Identification Top left: Prothonotary Warbler Top right: Rose-breasted Grosbeak Middle right: Anhinga female & male with Great Egrets Bottom left: Scarlet Tanager Bottom middle: Hermit Thrush Bottom right: Mississippi Kite
With so many birds on Seabrook Island you expect to find an occasional feather in your yard or on your walks. Identifying a single feather can be tricky. When we look at a bird we are looking at the sum of all its feather parts. Compare it to jigsaw puzzles. If several puzzles were tossed together it would be difficult to pick one puzzle piece and identify to which puzzle it belonged.
There are several resources you might try if you are interested in identifying a feather. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website (fws.org) has “The Feather Atlas.” This section includes a tool to identify feathers. Much like the Merlin app that is used to identify birds, this tool asks for you to supply certain criteria about the feather and it will list suggestions with photos of birds that meet that criteria. With their extensive database and your knowledge of local birds, your chance of successfully identifying the feather with the Feather Atlas is pretty good.
Your mobile phone’s camera can also help identify your feather. If you have the Google app downloaded on your phone, you have access to Google Lens. Check to the right of the search bar and you should see a small icon that looks slightly like a camera just next to the microphone. Click on that icon and the Google Lens camera will come up. If you take a picture of something using that camera Google will bring up similar images with descriptions from the Google database. On a personal note, I have had great success using Google Lens to identify flowers, plants, bugs, butterflies, and sometimes feathers. However, I have occasionally taken a photo of a feather and it has matched my feather photo to photos of animal print shoes or Etsy items decorated with feather images. This could, however, be the fault of the photographer.
A free mobile phone app that is strictly used for identifying images in nature is iNaturalist. This app is structured like a social network where contributions from naturalists, scientists, and those who are merely curious have created a quality database of all things in nature. When you take a photo using this app it will, like Google Lens, provide you with similar images that have been identified. The first suggestion is generally the closest match to your image. If you are confident that you have correctly identified the subject of your photo, you can identify it, share it, and become a database contributor.
When Diane and Andy Allen were left an interesting feather on their mailbox by a friend, they asked Nancy Brown if she might be able to identify the bird. By using the iNaturalist app and Google Lens, Nancy was confident that what they had was a Wild Turkey feather. It is always more satisfying when you can put a name to what you find in nature and using these recognition tools make it easier.
One important reminder – Feathers are protected. If you find a feather, study it, photograph it, appreciate it, but leave it where you found it. Under federal law it is illegal to take them home.
SIB will continue our “Virtual Movie Matinee” series using Zoom through the end of 2020. Join us on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays in October. And the best part is you don’t even have to be on Seabrook Island to join!
Once you register, we will send you a link the day prior to each event to allow you to access our Zoom live video. We will open each event with introductions and a little social time, watch the show together (generally an hour), and finish with a short discussion to get your feedback and answer questions.
Sign up for one or both here and then plan to get comfy in your favorite chair with snacks and beverages of your choice to enjoy our gathering!
Tuesday October 13, 4:00 – 5:15 PM: Movie Matinee – Earthflight – North America
Tuesday October 27, 4:00 – 5:15 PM: Movie Matinee – Earthflight – Africa
Earthflight is a British nature documentary that shows a flight from the view of the wings of birds across six continents, showing some of the world’s greatest natural spectacles from a bird’s-eye view. The BBC series was created by John Downer and narrated by David Tennant with six episodes. We will show two each month for the remainder of the year.
Earthflight: North America on Tuesday, October 13, 2020 at 4:00 – 5:30 pm
A flock of snow geese flies north and is hunted by bald eagles. Pelicans are shown gliding under the Golden Gate Bridge. In California, pelicans reveal devil rays that perform astonishing somersaults and find bizarre grunion fish that wriggle ashore to spawn. In Alaska, bald eagles swoop among brown bears fishing for salmon. On the Great Plains, cowbirds duck and dive under the feet of fighting bison. Egrets follow a group of dolphins that strand themselves to feed; millions of shorebirds rendezvous with prehistoric horseshoe crabs emerging from the sea to lay eggs; and California gulls take us to Mono Lake, where they catch alkali flies by chasing them with open mouths.
Earthflight: Africa on Tuesday, October 27, 2020 at 4:00 – 5:30 pm
Arrow-dive with Cape gannets among sharks, dolphins and whales as they join the great sardine run. Soar with African fish eagles as they discover an S-shaped living island composed entirely of lesser flamingos, and join them on a spectacular hunt. Fly with kelp gulls as they study the hunting behaviour of the greatest underwater predator of all: the great white shark. On the wings of eagles, fly through the mist-filled Victoria Falls and dive for fish in the mighty Zambezi. Follow barn swallows and white storks on their annual voyage from south Africa to northern Europe. Circle with vultures high above the Serengeti as they watch the drama of the wildebeest migration below, and discover what happens when this canny scavenger suddenly becomes prey. Among toxic soda lakes, find out what it is like to be a flamingo, vulnerable to every predator on the continent, including baboons and hyenas. Join these flamingos as they take part in one of the most beautiful dances in the bird world.
Many species of raptors make their home in South Carolina for at least part of the year, and even more pass through during their perilous diurnal seasonal migration. Join Audubon South Carolina’s Emily Davis and Jen Tyrrell to learn how to identify South Carolina raptor species as well as explore their migration habits, behavior, and conservation issues they face.
Date: Wednesday October 21, 2020 Time: 7:00 – 8:15 PM Location: Zoom Virtual Video Fee: FREE
Jennifer McCarthey Tyrrell, Bird-Friendly Communities Coordinator
Jen is a Master Bird Bander and an expert in bird biology, with a B.S. from Coastal Carolina and a Master’s degree from the College of Charleston. Before joining Audubon, Jen worked with Wild Birds Unlimited and the Center for Birds of Prey. Today, Jen spreads the word about bird-friendly communities and the benefits of native plants, and also manages bird banding and Painted Bunting research.
Emily Davis, Beidler Forest Center Manager
As an artist, data enthusiast, traveler and passionate birder, Emily brings a rich and unique perspective to her role as center manager for the Audubon Center and Sanctuary at Francis Beidler Forest. With an undergraduate degree in creative writing and fine arts from Kent State, her experiences have ranged from shadowing contemporary artists in New York City to having her own work auctioned off in support of warbler research and studies. Her background with groups such as the Avian Conservation Center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, combined with her drive for continued education, will serve her well in her role with Audubon.
On Sunday, September 10, 2020, The Post and Courier featured a fascinating article on a bird native to South Carolina called the Black Rail.
Even a non-birder will enjoy this well-written article about an elusive bird, also known as the “Ghost Bird”, that is declining in numbers, but has yet to make it on the endangered list. It is also a cautionary tale for the avid birders trying to seek the bird out.
Click here to access the article and hear the captivating account beautifully read by the author.
We certainly don’t see these individual Piping Plovers every day. We had not seen “Big VB” since September 5, but then Ed & Aija Konrad saw him on North Beach on October 7 & 8, 2020.
On October 9, 2020, I reported another of the 2020 Great Lakes captive reared pipers, who I will call “Red/Yellow” (Of,RY/X,YO). Eight of this year’s 39 captive reared birds have now been seen on their wintering grounds.
On Sunday, October 11, 2020, all three of the captive reared birds that have been resighted on Seabrook Island were foraging on North Beach: “Big VB”, “Red/Yellow” and “Joe”, who had not been seen since September 1st! We certainly hope that they stay with us for the winter!
Read more about these special birds, in an article published in The Sierra Club magazine, Sierra including Joe’s sighting on Seabrook Island.
Piping Plovers have begun returning to Seabrook! As Ed and Aija Konrad’s article in the September The Seabrooker explained, Seabrook Island hosts migratory and winter resident Piping Plovers. These birds are usually from Atlantic or Great Lakes nesting stocks of which the Great Lakes birds are the most endangered with only 75 nesting pairs left. Great Lakes Piping Plovers are intensively managed on their nesting grounds with researchers monitoring the progress of each nest and intervening by saving the eggs when it appears that a nest might be lost to high water or loss of a parent to predators.
Since early August, I have been fortunate to see and photograph eight migratory Piping Plovers with bands. Six of those have been Great Lakes birds.
We report our orange banded Piping Plovers to Alice Van Zoeren, Researcher with The Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team. On August 24th, I reported a bird with a lot of bling, “Orange flag, Green over Violet // metal USGS band and Yellow over Orange” and was certainly surprised to hear back from Alice:
This is the report we’ve all been waiting for! The first of the 39 captive-reared babies from this summer to make it south!
This little plover came from a nest at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI near Sleeping Bear Point. Its mother was also captive-reared and has had some very bad luck. For the second year in a row her mate was predated, likely by a merlin. She attempted to incubate alone, but it’s ultimately not possible. The eggs were collected, incubated at the Detroit Zoo and the resulting chicks raised in captivity until they could fly well. They were released on North Manitou Island on July 10th. On July 19th I was the monitor on the island and noticed that this chick (Known also as “Joe”) wasn’t able to hold its wings up in the normal position. It was still actively feeding and behaving completely normally so no intervention was planned. By July 19 it had fully recovered. This has happened before with other chicks. Perhaps it overdid flying and got sore muscles? I saw it on North Manitou August 10th, but by the 11th this chick, two adult males and four other fledged chicks had left the area.
It’s so exciting to hear that Joe made it to South Carolina.”
Alice Van Zoeren, Researcher with The Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team
I saw Joe four more times from August 24 through September 1st and still look for him each time I head out on North Beach. On September 5, I thought I had spotted him again but when I got a better spotting scope view, I realized it could be another of the 39 captive reared birds from this summer! The new bird with orange flag but violet over blue bands was foraging with three other Piping Plovers without bands.
I sent my pictures to Alice and heard back right away:
You’re hitting the jackpot! I was just out looking for this young bird. It’s sibling is still up here but this one was last seen here on 9/2. It made mighty good time getting to Seabrook. This is another of the chicks that was captive-reared this summer. This one came from a nest at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, near Sleeping Bear Point…about 1/2 mile from where Joe originated. In this case the adults were both first-time parents and had lost their first clutch to high water/waves. Their second nest was a late one and they just seemed to give up on incubation in favor of heading south. More experienced parents with nests started at the same time stuck it out and hatched chicks. This chick was released near the south boundary of SBDNL on 8/7. It’s only the second of this year’s captive-reared chicks to be reported from wintering territories..”
Alice Van Zoeren`
A few thoughts on observing and resighting shorebirds. Resighting is the activity of reporting the bands, tags, and flags that biologists place on birds to identify individuals. Researchers use the these observations to track migration, nesting and other behaviors, to estimate population size and to study habitat needs for these birds. Go to the Facebook link:
for more information on what the Piping Plover researchers do to protect these birds and to get a sense of the excitement we have in reporting our sightings to them.
If you are out on the beach, please remember the steward rules for approaching shorebirds and give them space to feed. They need to rebuild their fat reserves to continue their migration or to survive harsh weather.
Please walk around resting or feeding birds and learn to recognize when birds are getting nervous if you get too close. Piping Plovers run, then fly. If you chase, they will burn calories that they need to survive.
Use binoculars, spotting scope or camera with a long telephoto lens to observe the birds from a distance. While it appears that I am very close in these photos, they were taken with a long telephoto lens and cropped (magnified) on my computer.
North Beach is a federally designated Critical Habitat for wintering Piping Plovers. North Beach can be a harsh environment. All the great work the Great Lakes researchers do can be undone here by carelessness.
If you observe or photograph a banded bird, please report your observation to Seabrook Island Birders. We will send the report to the proper site and enter the sighting into the Seabrook Island registry that Ed Konrad has maintained.
Once we get get beyond the pandemic, come join us for a North Beach bird walk and get to know the shorebirds. They are another fascinating aspect of nature here on Seabrook Island.