Birding in the time of Coronavirus – our therapy…

Well, this is an article that has been written and rewritten three times since the beginning of March when all this started. How easy it is in these trying times to have a long list of “things to do” and not get to them. Hours flow into days, days flow into weeks, and weeks flow into months.  Junk drawers to sort, closets to clean, years of old photographs to organize…oh, maybe tomorrow.

Our therapy has been birdwatching – a soothing and fantastic pastime that you can do alone! As Ed and I stayed close to home since early March when all this started, we’ve spent endless hours walking and hiking. We’ve made it a game to see how many bird species we can identify.

Ed challenged himself to see how many species he could photograph. He’s up to 171 now with a Swallow-tailed Kite, a nice companion to the Mississippi Kite we saw in May. He calls it the 2020 Pandemic Birdathon! Considering I recorded 182 species on eBird during this time, not bad for my hubby the photographer!

Early March was pretty scary. Local parks in our town closed and we couldn’t go for walks. So, we found places near home with few people and out of the way trails. Some early discoveries were following the progress of a breeding Osprey pair, being thrilled when a Broad-winged Hawk circled overhead, and being patient to not just hear but to find and photograph the elusive vireos.

Another destination was country roads with cattle ponds that are an eBird hotspot and magnets for migrating shorebirds, totally without people! A special visitor was a rare Wilson’s Phalarope that gave us great looks. Bobolink were spectacular in the spring flowers. And who would have guessed we’d see a Snowy Egret and Cattle Egret, so common at Seabrook, in the GA pastures! It was like a box of chocolates each time – we never knew what treat we would get.

With all the traveling we’ve done through the years to bird and photograph, we’ve not stayed put long enough to really appreciate our feeders. We border a Corps of Engineers property, and the variety of migrating and breeding birds was a wonder. Brown Thrashers and Gray Catbirds were daily visitors to the feeders, and nested in the woods along with an elusive Wood Thrush we discovered. Scarlet Tanagers and Great Crested Flycatchers graced our trees.

Our favorites to the feeders were the migrating Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. In April we started with two, and grew to ten!!! They came consistently for over three weeks!! We photographed as many as eight at one time, but we know there were at least ten by their different plumages. They waited patiently for us on the deck at 6:45 each morning to put out the feeders. We became good friends with these striking birds, and were sad when they decided to fly north to breed.

Searching for migrating warblers was like a scavenger hunt, and we found 23 total from March to June. These are always a challenge for Ed to photograph – they don’t sit up and pose. Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky, Worm-eating were some favorites. We found Cape May and Blackpoll Warblers in our backyard, have these always been here? AND… an ever-elusive life bird for us both, the Connecticut Warbler found by a birder in Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta!! Whaaaatttt??? We made tracks immediately to the city!

Connecticut Warbler – Centennial Olympic Park, Atlanta GA

There’s a theme in this article about taking more time, being patient and really absorbing the nature around us on our walks. We’ve heard friends say that this is a positive of the pandemic. In May and June we carefully hunted for nests -Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers with chicks were treats. And while we were out there, we began to photograph and identify spring and summer wildflowers – an interesting challenge too. PlantNet and iNaturalist Apps will identify things for you from a photograph on your phone.

So that is our story during this unsettling time. Solace in our birds and the beauty of nature. 

To view Ed’s photos of our 2020 Pandemic Birdathon, click or cut and paste to your browser this URL for Ed’s Flickr page. The 171 species are on pages 1 and 2 of the “Photostream” homepage, and also in the first Album.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/edkon/

Article by Aija Konrad, Photos by Ed Konrad

Our March Osprey with chicks in June Lake Allatoona GA

Prothonotary Warbler Sighting on Loblolly Lane

On Tuesday evening July 28, 2020, around 7:00 pm while having dinner on my porch with my family, I noticed a small bright yellow bird in my birdbath. I am pretty familiar with the yellow birds that show up at my feeders and birdbath and from the moment I saw it, I knew this bird was something different. The bird almost glowed in the dusky evening. I was able to grab my binoculars and get a good enough look so that I could text my birding group with a description of the bird to get their opinions of what it could be. The bird was warbler sized, solid bright yellow, with blue/gray wings, round black eyes, and a fairly long (for a warbler) gray beak. There were no other markings on the bird except possibly some white on the underside at the back of the bird near its tail.  

Male Prothonotary Warbler – photo by Jackie Brooks

With my bird guides and bird identification apps out, I was able to eliminate all my group’s suggestions of the yellow birds that would be typical for this area. As someone who is fairly new to birding, I was hesitant to insist that I had seen a Prothonotary Warbler in my birdbath, but I couldn’t find anything else that fit the description. 

On the third evening that it visited I was able to get a picture and a video of the bird with my iPhone camera. They were far from great pictures, but I was able to get validation from two experienced birders. Matt Johnson, the center director for the Francis Beidler Audubon Center, and Aija Konrad, who is one of our resident birding experts on the island, agreed that this was probably a Prothonotary Warbler. However, it would be nice to have undeniable proof that I had a Prothonotary Warbler visiting my birdbath. 

Finally, on the fourth evening I enlisted my fellow birder, neighbor, friend, and most importantly, photographer, to sit and wait with me. Sure enough, right at 7:00pm, the male showed up for his evening bath. Jackie Brookes was able to get some wonderful photos. We were so excited for the successful sighting of the male Prothonotary Warbler that we almost missed the female Prothonotary Warbler that came in for her time in the bath. 

The Prothonotary Warbler is normally seen in the spring and summer when they migrate to swamp forest areas in the southeast to nest in tree cavities. In our area, you would have to take a trip to the Beidler Forest Audubon Center near Summerville, the Audubon Swamp that is part of Magnolia Plantation, or Caw Caw Interpretive Center to see Prothonotary Warblers. They have rarely been spotted on Seabrook Island. In one of the descriptions I read, it says that they are sometimes seen around ponds that have standing water. My house does back up to one of the ponds/lagoons in the “Lakes” district on Seabrook Island. Matt Johnson said that the warblers may have moved out to Seabrook from their breeding grounds further inland to fatten up for their migration south. He also mentioned that having fresh water available for the birds is so important and attracts birds to your yard that otherwise might not visit. 

Put out a birdbath and keep your eyes peeled for a bright yellow bird. It would be outstanding to add this species to our list of regular visitors. 

Article written by Joleen Ardaiolo
Photos contributed by Jackie Brooks

Birding Lingo

image from everythingbirds.com

Every hobby has its own slang and unique terms.  Birding has more than most.  I thought it would be fun to share some I use or like:

Terms I commonly use:
  • BINS (or Binos): Binoculars.
  • Butter Butt: Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • CBC: Christmas Bird Count
  • LBJ: Little Brown Job – Any small, brownish bird that you have not been able to identify is often referred to as a LBJ. Many LBJ’s are sparrows, as the female or immature sparrows can be difficult to identify, even for the experts.
  • LIFER (or Life Bird): A bird species you have never seen before in your life. A lifer allows a birdwatcher to add a tick to their life list.
Continue reading “Birding Lingo”

Reddish Egrets – North Beach

Early Wednesday morning, Ed and I were treated to the sight of two beautiful Reddish Egrets actively feeding on North Beach. It’s a thrill to see one Reddish Egret at this time of the year, but two is fantastic! They are not common birds here in the Low Country, so it is always a great day when you see one.  It’s the rarest wading bird in North America. 

Mark Andrews has been spotting the Reddish Egrets since about mid-July, which is when they typically arrive. They stay with us into early October. The SC coastline is an important belt of coastal habitat for them. They breed south of us in FL, LA and TX. Our birds are migrants from “post breeding dispersal.”

Reddish Egrets are best distinguished by their feeding behavior, which involves spreading their wings to shade the fish and then running, spinning and flapping while chasing the fish through shallow water. Ed and I call it “dancing.” Seeing a Reddish doing its dance is like dangling a bright shiny object in front of Ed, photographing it will amuse him for hours! Lol!

They love to fish and feed in large tidal pools on the beach, and these were in the large tidal pool closest to the ocean.

People often mistake a Reddish Egret for a Tricolored Heron or a Great Blue, so you have to look carefully for that shaggy, rusty neck and chest and gray body, with no white on the bird. The juvenile birds are a pale chalky color, which was what we had today. To see the difference, the photos below are of today’s juvenile and the mature Reddish we saw on East Kiawah Beach on Tuesday.

Article by Aija Konrad, photos by Ed Konrad

Follow-up: Least Tern Nesting on North Beach

                     

To follow-up on the article from June 19, 2020 that announced that Least Terns, a Threatened Species in South Carolina, had nested on North Beach, we are sorry to say that those Least Tern nests were lost in a series of heavy rains in early July. Despite the rain, the Least Terns tried repeatedly to re-nest only to be flooded out again. 

We have continued to monitor their progress daily but the Least Terns seem to have abandoned any nesting for this year. Accordingly, South Carolina Department of Natural Resource biologists decided that the temporary yellow-sign posted Nesting Area can be removed from the beach near Captain Sams Inlet. The permanent Nesting Area/Wintering Area behind the lagoon will remain posted. 

Thank you for your help in protecting these birds. Maybe next year!

Article and photo submitted by: Mark Andrews

Nesting Anhingas – Part II

You may remember the “Ask SIB” story published on June 14th with questions about the Nesting Anhingas on Jenkins Point Road. At that time, Valerie Doane, along with others, had observed a breeding pair of Anhingas bullying the Great Egret away from a nest. On July 3rd, Valerie sent Bob Mercer a follow-up question:

You had answered in a post on the SIB website the questions I had regarding the Anhinga/Egret squabble & nesting area at the Jenkins Point rookery. Thank you. I have a couple more questions if you don’t mind. I’ve sort of adopted the Anhinga mating pair and check on the nest daily. Every two days it seems the pair trades-off sitting on the nest. No chicks yet though. I’ve been watching the nest since May 30. Perhaps they were building the nest back then in prep for mama to lay the eggs, but it still seems like an awfully long incubation period. Is it possible the eggs won’t hatch, and if so at what point would the pair give up and abandon the nest?   Thanks very much Bob. 

Valerie Doane

Bob sent Valerie this reply:

Continue reading “Nesting Anhingas – Part II”

Bird Sighting: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck

Have you seen this bird on Seabrook Island this summer?

Photo of a Black-bellied Whistling Duck taken by Lynn Maney-McIntosh on the roof of her garage on the evening of July 7, 2020.

If not in person, you might have seen the photos that appeared in the July 2020 edition of The Seabrooker (page 13). This is a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and they have been seen this summer in the marsh near the 17th green of Ocean Winds, at Camp St. Christopher, and as in the photo above on the garage roof of Lynn Maney-McIntosh in the 3100 block of Seabrook Island Road. This species has also been seen this summer at Kiawah River Estates, Kiawah River Development and on Kiawah Island.

The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is a beautifully marked bird with longish legs and neck, chestnut back and chest, black belly and underwing, electric pink legs and red bill. When it flies you can easily see the bold white stripe on top of its wings. They can nest on the ground or in tree cavities, more recently taking to nest boxes. They are a very noisy waterfowl and do sound like they are whistling. Listen for this noise.

In recent years, their range has been expanding north. This explains why there are more sightings documented in our area in eBird.org, a system which documents bird distribution, abundance, habitat use, and trends through checklist data collected by millions of people across the world.

You should be on the lookout for them perching around shallow ponds; walking in the short grass of lawns and golf courses; and especially in agricultural fields, where these large ducks eat lots of grain. They feed nocturnally, so watch around sunset for large flocks to begin flying out to fields from their roosts. Or just look up on your roof like Lynn did!

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck photo taken by Lynn Maney-McIntosh in her backyard on July 5, 2020.

Change of Pace: Birding During a Pandemic

Note: This article, written by Joleen Ardaiolo, first appeared in The Seabrooker, July 2020.

Great Horned Owlet by Dean Morr

Birdwatching can be a solitary hobby, as you certainly don’t need a birding group to compile a list of every bird you locate during a year. However, on Seabrook Island, birding activities and programs held before the pandemic had become quite the social events. The more activities, the merrier! The more participants, the merrier! 

Continue reading “Change of Pace: Birding During a Pandemic”

Ask SIB: Why is this Northern Cardinal Doing This?

This is a common question we receive from Seabrook Island Birder (SIB) members! Have you ever seen this behavior at your home?

We have a female cardinal that continues to try and get into the house. Generally 3-4 times a day she flies up the window sometimes she perched on the sill looking in. This has been going on for over four months.

Christine Dennis

For starters, rest assured the bird is not trying to get into the house. During the breeding season, birds aggressively attempt to drive off intruders of the same species. This is an instinctive behavior and not something the bird can control. What you are experiencing is a bird that sees its reflection in your window and instinctively attempting to drive the intruder away. The process follows a pattern. First the bird sees its reflection. Thinking it is an intruder, it displays a warning posture. Needless to say, the reflection responds with the same threat. This quickly accelerates to a full out attack. This is not something the bird can understand or learn not to do. 

The solution is to change the reflectivity of the surface the bird is attacking. This is easier said than done! There are several things you can try, none of them visually appealing. Some people have had success with strips if different color paper taped on the inside of the window  to break up the image. Completely covering the reflective surface on the outside works, but it also blocks the window. Installing screens will break up the reflection and soften the blow if the bird does hit the window. Finally, some people tie moving objects, pie tins, ribbons, etc., around the area to create movement that scares the bird away.

All that said, the bird will not hurt itself, will not break or damage the window, and will stop eventually when the breeding season ends.

Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

Thanks to dlinnehan, we found this video on YouTube which provides great footage of both male and female North Cardinals attacking their own reflection.

Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) welcome questions from our community of birding friends! If you have one, just fill out the form on our website or send us an email!

Summer Virtual Movie Matinee Series

With the heat of the summer and the need to still social distance, Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) has scheduled a “Virtual Movie Matinee” series using Zoom!  Join us on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays in July and August!  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, two, three or all four here and then plan to get comfy in your favorite chair with snacks and beverages of your choice to enjoy our gathering!

Join us for Beak & Brain – Genius Birds from Down Under on Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 4:00 – 5:30 pm

The Keas of New Zealand are the only parrots that live in snowy mountain areas. They like testing their brains, solving puzzles and challenging tourists: they unscrew bottle-tops, dismantle windscreen wiper blades and tear open rucksacks.

Watch the trailer here.

Join us for Peregrine Falcon Lord of the Skies on Tuesday, July 28, 2020 at 4:00 – 5:30 pm

While hunting, the Peregrine Falcon can reach speeds of over 90 miles per hour. During its aerial displays, it holds the all-time speed record of 242 miles per hour. It’s not surprising that this powerful bird of prey has conquered the planet and can be found on the five continents. Worshipped, dressed up and trained for prestigious hunts, this powerful and beautiful bird has long fascinated us.

Join us for The Saga of the White Tailed Eagle on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 at 4:00 – 5:30 pm

The sea eagle was once widespread throughout almost all of Europe and graced the coats of arms of many different countries. During the 19th and 20th centuries it was driven to the brink of extinction by hunting, the increased use of pesticides and the destruction of its habitat. This touching animal drama recounts the true life story of one individual bird, observed over the course of a year. Beginning with its birth in a lowland forest in Central Europe the film team follows the eagle’s first outing with its brothers and sisters and subsequent distant migrations to places as far away as Scandinavia. Finally it chronicles its dramatic lead poisoning, recovery and resettlement in a nature reserve.

Join us for Owl’s Odyssey on Tuesday, August 25, 2020 at 4:00 – 5:30 pm

A female barn-owl’s home is demolished and she seeks a new place to live. Flying through forests and grasslands, she meets common owl species in Central Europe, some she can co-exist with, others she must shun. This documentary is a beautiful display of what owls mean to humans; how they fly and hunt; why they’ve been associated with death. The owl finally finds a new home, as the guest of a barn owl family, in time to see the new clutch of young following their mother on their first majestic flight.

Watch the trailer here.