Bird of the Week … Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee, Kennesaw GA – Ed Konrad

It is  very exciting to see and  identify a new bird. While walking along boardwalk 1 at North  Beach on Seabrook Island in May, I heard a bird singing quite loudly. It sang; drink your teeaaa, along with a long trill at the end.  I stood for a long time under the tree and finally I was rewarded with seeing a bird perched high in a tree. It had a black hood, reddish brown flanks , and white belly. It also had a white patch on its’ wing. I used a bird app and came up with a couple of possibilities. At first I  thought it might be a Orchard Oriole. Then I listened to songs on the app of the oriole and knew that was incorrect. Finally, I identified it as an Eastern Towhee by matching the description and song on the app.  The female is chocolate brown instead of black.  I later found out that it was high in the tree singing in order to attract a female.  The next week I saw it in the same area high in a tree singing. A week later I saw it again, this time on the ground under a bush. I discovered that Eastern Towhees eat insects and seeds from the ground. An interesting fact is that it scratches in leaf litter to find food while doing a type of backward hop.  Additionally, they are a sparrow. Next time you hear a bird singing , be patient and keep looking and you just might be rewarded with a look at a bird; a most wonderful sight.

Article Submitted by:  Lydia McDonald
Photographs by: Ed Konrad

Bird of the Week … Osprey

I think he’ll be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature.
Coriolanus Act 4 Scene 5

Osprey, Seabrook Island – Ed Konrad

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is one of the most widely distributed birds in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica. Its breasts and belly are mostly white with some dark speckling; the female tends to have more of these darker feathers. The adult male is also slimmer and has narrower wings. White extends into the wings creating a mottled effect; the back is brownish black. The head has a distinctive white crest. Its face is bisected by a dark eye-stripe; and, check out those glowing yellow eyes checking you out. Its sharp hooked beak, while more slender than the eagle’s, gets the job done very well. When aloft the wings appear fairly white from below and are relatively long (50-71inches) with a bent wrist. Wing beats are slow and heavy, interspersed with glides giving the flight pattern an identifiable bounce.

Where the Osprey really shows its individuality are its uniquely adapted talons. The foot pad is rough and the toes can be held with three forward and one back or with two forward and two back. No other raptor has these characteristics which enable the osprey to catch and hold onto the slippery fish that are its main diet. Also aiding food sourcing are long legs, closable nostrils that keep out water during dives and dense, oily plumage to repel water.

The Osprey’s habitat is near bodies of water such as rivers, estuaries, salt marshes, and lakes where it can find fish in the 5-16 inch range. Prey is sighted about 30-130 feet above water. It hovers over its target and then plunges feet first capturing its fish. It has a good success record– usually scoring one in four attempts. The fish is held head first for the ride home (better aerodynamics!). Osprey will eat small mammals, reptiles and carcasses if no fish are available.

Osprey form pair bonds, usually mating for life. The male performs a vigorous sky dance as part of the mating ritual and then provides most of the heavy nest material—branches, twigs, sticks. The nest is lined with smaller twigs, bark, moss and grasses with the female putting in the finishing touches and rearranging things. Pairs use the same nest year after year, adding new material each year. Nests have been known to grow to seven feet wide and five feet deep and be used for as many as seventy years.

Typically, there are three eggs with both members of the clutch incubating the eggs for 38-43 days. They hatch over a period of days, establishing a pecking order that kicks in when food is scarce. The female stays with the hatchlings; the male brings home the ‘menhaden’ until the chicks can be left alone. Some studies report fledging time 44-59 days, others 8-10 weeks. In North America, great horned owls, bald eagles, and golden eagles are the only predators of osprey and their eggs where nests are built safely in tall trees or man-made platforms. Life span is typically 7-10 years, but some can survive for 20 years or more.

The formidable appearing Osprey has a high-pitched voice with a chirping song that can rise in intensity when threatened.

Osprey numbers were perilously low in the 1950-60’s due to shell-thinning and poisoning from pesticides. After DTT was banned in 1972, the population has continued to increase, especially throughout the eastern U.S. The proliferation of artificial nesting sites has also helped their comeback.

Osprey male & female, Bear Island WMA – Ed Konrad

A majority of North American Osprey winter south of the U.S border, but here in the Carolina Lowlands we often see them all year. A pair has taken up residence near the green of Hole 3 on Ocean Winds, and nesting pair on Mallard Lake and another has been nesting on the vacant corner lot at SIR and The Haulover. The latter two often bring their sushi to the pine trees in our yard. Let us know if you have seen any other Osprey nests on Seabrook Island!

Article Submitted by:  Donna Lawrence
Photographs by: Ed Konrad & Charles Moore

Bird of the Week … Who am I?

Guess who’s coming to dinner…?

This bird is bringing takeout in its distinctively adapted talons. It’s often seen around Seabrook on lofty perches enjoying a solitary feast.

Make a guess by posting on the comments and watch for our Bird of the Week article on Sunday!

Bird of the Week … Northern Mockingbird

Thomas Jefferson with his Mockingbird Dick.

Well, not sure any of you guessed this, but our 3rd President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, had a pet Northern Mockingbird named “Dick.” He actually had several Mockingbirds at various times, but Dick was the only one he mentioned by name in his diary and apparently was his favorite. Jefferson often left the cage open in the White House and allowed him free range of his office (now the State Dining Room). Dick would perch on Jefferson’s couch or shoulder and sing or take a piece of food from Jefferson’s lips. When Jefferson played his violin, Dick would pour out his songs.

Northern Mockingbirds

Northern Mockingbird – Ed Konrad

Although maybe not the prettiest of all birds, Northern Mockingbirds certainly make up for looks with their beautiful extended repertoire of songs. These birds sing endlessly, and can learn up to 200 different songs. Both the male and female sing and can mimic many other bird calls, other animals and even mechanical sounds. There is a mockingbird near my house and he sounds exactly like a Red-tailed Hawk. Many of us have been fooled by these comical birds as they imitate Blue Jays, Orioles, Killdeer, frogs, dogs and even squeaky wheels. They tend to repeat phrases 2-6 times before shifting to a new sound. Unmated males will are the most insistent singers and may sing late into the night.

Northern Mockingbird – Charles Moore

Northern Mockingbirds are common on Seabrook Island year round. They are a medium sized bird that has gray upper parts with black and white wing feathers. Its tail is long, gray and edged with white. Its underside is light gray/white, their bill is black and the iris is yellowish-orange. They have prominent white patches on the wings that are especially visible in flight. These birds measure between 8-11 inches long and weigh 1.4-2 ounces. The sexes are similar although the male is heavier than the female.

These birds are generally monogamous. They breed in the spring and early summer on Seabrook and the female has 2-6 blue green eggs with brown splotches. The female incubates the eggs for 2 weeks and when they hatch, both male and female will assist in the feeding.  

Northern Mockingbird – Charles Moore

Northern Mockingbirds are omnivores. Their diet consists of insects, crustaceans and a variety of arthropods, especially beetles, ants, bees, wasps and grasshoppers. They also eat fruits and earthworms. You usually find them on SI foraging on the ground, on top of hedges, in open areas and forest edges. These birds are bold and territorial when defending their nests and will even attack intruders like cats, dogs, humans or other birds that venture too close.

Northern Mockingbird – Charles Moore

The lifespan of a Northern Mockingbird in the wild is eight years.  The Northern Mockingbird is the state bird of Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida and Arkansas.

Article Submitted by: Flo Foley
Photographs by: Charles Moore & Ed Konrad

Bird of the Week … Who am I?

Presidential Pets

Most U.S. Presidents have a pet, including several who owned birds.  Do you know which local bird species named Dick was owned by one of our Presidents?  Use the comment section to leave your guess!  Extra points if you can name the President too! (And don’t cheat and use Google!!!)

Watch for our article on Sunday!

SIB Members Bird the Midwest During Spring Migration

Recently, we had a mini-version of SIB converge in Ohio! While we did not see each other, we were all there at almost the same time. Nancy Brown and Flo Foley were on a 12-day Wings Birding Tour, Judy and Dean Morr visited family for Mother’s Day in Mercer County and Ed and I did an impromptu trip, on our way home from a family visit in NY, to iconic Magee Marsh and surrounding area for the Biggest Week in American Birding festival for the migration of warblers. 

Aija & Ed’s Birding Experience

Ed and I arrived on a cold, windy, drizzly day and the birding was spectacular! Magee Marsh is a thin strip of land where the migrating birds stop to rest in their migration from South and Central America across Lake Erie into Canada and points north. I had heard about the festival previously, but until you see the spectacle of thousands of birders with their binoculars and cameras stalking totally oblivious warblers on a mile long boardwalk, you would not believe it. It was quite a show and often times all you heard was the sound of camera shutters going off. The hungry birds were close and plentiful, a photographer’s and birdwatcher’s dream. 

Ed and I found 27 warbler species on the whole trip in MD, NY, OH, KY and TN and we got many spectacular photos! Highlights were the Blackburnian, Magnolia, Nashville and Bay-breasted, which are all pretty difficult to find in SC during migration. Yellow Warblers were like gnats in OH, seemingly everywhere, even one on nest! At one point we had 6 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in one tree. It’s an event not to be missed and if you ever have a chance to go, take advantage of it. 

Judy Morr’s Birding Experience

When I moved from Ohio 35 years ago, I wasn’t in to birding.  In preparation for my Mother’s Day visit, I used eBird to give me some information:

  • I used the “Explore a Region” within “Explore Data” to find where the Hot Spots were in Mercer County Ohio.
  • Within “Explore a Region” I went to “Target Species” and again selected Mercer County Ohio but limited it to the month of May.  This provided me with a list of birds seen in Mercer County in May that were NOT on my Life List.  I printed this list.  It was sorted in frequency seen which was helpful.
  • The most fun thing was seeing the “Top eBirders”.  The leader by far in both submitted checklists and number of species was the same person.  I decided to see if I could talk to this person to get more information.

Since eBird doesn’t provide email address of participants, I used Google on the person’s name and town. BINGO!  The second “result” was an article from the local newspaper with headline: “Love of birds pays off for local teen”.   A 14 year-old boy had come in runner-up for the second consecutive year in a national photography contest for birders.  I found the mother on Facebook so I messaged her with my name and asked if her son would be willing to go birding with me to show me his favorite places and birds.  Being a small town, I suspect she recognized my unusual last name.  She immediately responded that he would be honored.  Long story short, they live down the street from my in-laws and the boy’s maternal grandfather was a golfing friend from 35 years ago.  When we talked to finalize our outing, the mother asked if her 14 year old son could accompany the now 16 year old.  I had a date with two young gentlemen!

The birding was great too!  On the way to the grocery on Saturday, I stopped by the ball field that was one of the Hot Spots.  In just a few minutes, I saw seven species, three which were on the earlier mentioned Target Species (Solitary Sandpiper, Nashville & Magnolia Warblers).  

My teenage guides were terrific.  They discussed the best places to go based upon my target species list and decided our itinerary.  The second stop was the jackpot!  In less than 2 hours, I added 8 birds to my life list (Warbling Vireo, Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, and Tennessee, Mourning, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided Warblers).  I also re-saw two of three from Saturday.  The list was 62 birds, including 16 warblers.  It was definitely Warbler Week in Ohio.  Due to our fun at the second site, we had to skip the last site so the boys could get home in time to mow the yard.  The father greeted us upon our return and invited me to call the next time I came to Ohio.  I plan to do so!

Flo Foley & Nancy Brown’s Birding Experience

Jon Dunn after autographing his book for a young avid birder, Magee Marsh – David Edgar

This is our third bird tour with Wings Birding Tours Worldwide.  This tour, “Spring Migration in the Midwest,” is lead by Jon Dunn, a lifelong birder who is co-author of the 6th and upcoming 7th National Geographic Society’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America, among other books and videos. The trip accommodates only seven participants and is such a popular trip, we booked it a 1 1/2 years in advance!  The major goal for most people who take this trip are the Eastern Wood-Warblers.

Nancy Brown & Flo Foley, Magee Marsh – Flo Foley

We met our group in Florence, Kentucky on May 10th and began birding that afternoon by visiting Capability Farm in Versailles, Indiana.  This 400 acre farm began a conversion into quality wildlife habitat six years ago and it was a fabulous place to bird with numerous habitats! We traveled through Kentucky looking for several specific birds we may not see in the more northern territory of our trip, like the Swainson’s Warbler and the Henslow’s Sparrow, both life birds for us.  We spent two nights at the Shawnee Lodge in southern Ohio before traveling north through Columbus to spend three nights near Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Crane Creek and Magee Marsh.  What an amazing area!  We arrived at the end of the festival so we avoided most of the crowds seen by Ed & Aija earlier that week. We added another five life birds to our list in this area (Connecticut Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo, American Woodcock & Black-billed Cuckoo).  And we’ll always remember standing in the parking lot looking into the sky to watch hundreds upon hundreds of Blue Jays migrating past.  We counted at least 2,000 birds in less than 30 minutes!

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Tawas Point – David Edgar

Our group continued north for three nights in Tawas City, Michigan. Besides our first Greater Scaup, we were thrilled to identify a Fork-tailed Flycatcher at Tawas Point State Park.  This migratory tropical bird is from southern South America and seemed to make a major error in navigation to end up in northern Michigan.  Our final destination was to Mio, Michigan for hopes of seeing the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler.  With approximately 5,000 birds remaining, it has a very specific habitat nesting in dense young Jack Pine forests growing on a special type of sandy soil. Visit the USFWS site to learn more about this fascinating bird. We got great views of several males and a female Kirtland’s Warbler.

In total, we saw 216 bird species on our trip including 10 life birds and ALL 38 Eastern Wood-Warblers.  In addition we saw numerous mammals, reptiles and butterflies. Our group of eight people got along fabulously riding more than a 1,000 miles in a 12-passenger van to see birds of a life time. Jon was an outstanding guide with expert knowledge and friends in every corner who would assist with locating birds for us!  At times, it was truly a successful “wild goose chase” (or more accurately, a Wood Warbler chase)!

As you can see, there are many ways to bird! You can bet all of us always travel with a pair of binoculars and often research the birds that will be common in an area before we arrive, even if birding isn’t the primary reason for our trip!

Submitted by:  Aija Konrad, Judy Morr & Nancy Brown
Photographs by:  Ed Konrad, Nancy Brown, Flo Foley and Others