The last few days, Ed and I have been birding North Beach. We were delighted to see that many of our wintering or migrating shorebirds were changing into their Easter finery! I grew up in a house of modest means, but one thing I could be sure of every Easter was a new dress for church. Made me start to hum the old song that many of you may remember, Easter Parade. I remembered most of the words, but was struck by the line “the photographers will snap us, and you’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure.” Huh??? What the heck is a rotogravure?
So I went to my old friend Google and found that it is the color magazine section of a newspaper…remember back in the day when we actually read print news? So here were some of the birds on our beach today, changing into their breeding colors! They could be featured in the rotogravure, with Ed the photographer, snapping them.
Black-bellied Plovers…turning from their drab gray winter plumage. Many of them mottled, heading toward a full black belly.
Dunlin…turning from their drab, gray winter duds, many with darkening bellies, soon to become full black bellies and more rusty backs.
Red Knots… well on their way from drab gray to a beautiful rust color.
Ruddy Turnstones…putting on their little black vests with rusty backs, from their drab brown winter sweaters.
Piping Plovers…many in breeding colors with their full black breast bands and forehead spots, with two-tone bills. The Piping Plovers we saw today on North Beach are very likely the last of our wintering guests. They’re headed north to breed, and will be back in late July.
At the March 13, 2019 SC DNR Shorebird/Seabird workshop, Melissa Chapman from U.S. Fish & Wildlife discussed sharing a bird’s “life story” as a better way of connecting people to birds. Make it personal vs. just the data. Here’s a good example of a very personal Seabrook Island Piping Plover “life story.”
Some background: When Aija and I spot banded Piping Plovers (PIPL) on North Beach, I take photos and we send to our biologist friends we’ve gotten to know: Alice Van Zoeren (Great Lakes Region), Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team, University of Minnesota; Meryl Friedrich (Atlantic U.S. Region), Virginia Tech Shorebird Program; and Dr. Cherri Gratto-Trevor (Atlantic Canada Region), Prairie and Northern Wildlife Research Centre, Saskatoon Canada.
Alice, Meryl, and Cherri like to get immediate feedback and photos on where their PIPLs are during wintering, and they reply back to us with interesting information on the PIPL’s travels. Aija and I have developed email relationships with these researchers through the years. We even met Alice two years ago when we visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in MI, where the Great Lakes Region PIPLs breed. A fascinating visit!
So, here’s the story… We spotted and reported to Alice this Great Lakes Area banded PIPL in November 2018 and again March 2019. Orange flag means Great Lakes.
Alice wrote back this week “This plover spent the winter on Seabrook. You met her before during November 2018. We don’t know when or where she hatched since she wasn’t banded as a chick, but she bred in 2018 at Grand Marais, MI and was banded at that time. She spent August 2018 at Cumberland Island, GA and then settled for the rest of the winter at Seabrook. She’ll soon be headed to the upper peninsula. We’re expecting our first plover at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore any day now!”
So here’s the point. Great Lakes Region Piping Plovers are Federally Endangered. The Great Lakes were once home to nearly 800 pairs of Piping Plovers. Today, about 75 nesting pairs remain in the Great Lakes population. Just 75 nesting pairs. This tiny banded Piping Plover bred and then flew 1000 miles south to Georgia in August. She hung around Georgia awhile until heading 150 miles north to Seabrook Island. Good choice little PIPL! Upon arriving last November, maybe she thought “this looks like a cool place to be, lots of space for foraging, big wide beach, protected critical habitat, the people seem friendly, they care about the birds and SC DNY and USF&WL are involved, they try hard to follow the dog rules. I think I’ll stay for the winter!”
So now, with our help, this little gal is about to head north to breed again. And hopefully she’ll be successful, as she’s so important as one of only 75 Great Lakes female PIPLs needed to keep this endangered population going.Pretty cool. Well done Seabrook Island for helping her rest and get strong for her long trip back north to bred! If she comes back to winter with us later this this year, maybe we should give her a name. Any ideas?
1 right = Hatchling
2-4 right = Fledgling
5-7 right =Matured
8-9 right = True Bird Nerd
Northern Parula – Ed Konrad
Northern Cardinal – Charles Moore
Carolina Wren at a birdbath – C Moore
Backyard Birds – Carolina Chickadee – Bob Hider
A beautiful Pine Warbler at the Equestrian Center – Ed Konrad
Tufted Titmouse – Ed Konrad
Painted Bunting – Charles J Moore
Yellow-throated Warbler – Ed Konrad
A male Eastern Bluebird bringing nesting material to his box – Nancy Brown
A common question is, “What is your favorite season?” Once again this year, after spending warm days golfing and biking, I still agree with my answer from two years ago – SPRING! My passion for birding is growing exponentially with my ability to identify birds, especially by hearing them. Birds make chip and call notes all year long, but many only sing in the spring when they are trying to attract a mate or defend their territory. With migration now in full swing, I love the challenge of identifying songs I haven’t heard since last spring! And best of all, listening to birds can be done while walking, biking, hanging out in the yard and golfing! In fact, I even bird while watching golf on TV! Try it today if you are watching The Masters – I bet you’ll hear many of the same birds you hear on Seabrook Island.
If you’ve gotten this far, then maybe you are interested in how to improve your skills! In researching this article I realized there are a number of great resources that can help us on our quest! The first article, Bird ID Skills: How to Learn Bird Songs and Calls, includes five tips for beginning birders: Watch & Listen, Learn from an Expert, Listen to Recordings, Say it to Yourself and Details – Break it Apart. As you listen to a song, evaluate the rhythm, pitch, repetition and tone. Some people find using Mnemonics (like the Carolina Wren’s “Germany Germany“) helpful while others may prefer the visual of a Spectogram of the sound (like the Northern Parula’s below).
The second article I found helpful is How To Listen To Bird Song—Tips And Examples From The Warbler Guide. Although this article focuses specifically on warblers, it provides a common language we can use to describe bird songs like the song quality (buzzy, trilled, clear), pitch trend (rising, falling, steady) and number of sections.
If you are interested in improving your identification of birds using their sounds, try one of these two websites to play fun games to challenge and learn bird songs.
Finally, some birders may use their phone to listen to a bird’s song/call while in the field or even to attract a bird in order to see it. Before attempting to do this, you should understand the proper method for using playback and the pro’s and con’s by reading this article: Proper use of playback in birding (Sibley).
We hope you are inspired to start increasing the number of birds you can identify by sound!
Submitted by Nancy Brown
Photos by Hider, Konrad, Moore & Brown
We published this blog in 2017, but felt it was worth repeating! We hope you agree!
You have probably noticed it sounds like a symphony of birds every time you step outside! Some birds you can hear today are just arriving to breed and spend the summer, some will pass-through, a few will be departing and others live here year round.
This Sunday, our article will focus on why birds sing and provide tips on how to improve your ability to identify birds by listening to their calls and songs. Below are the songs of nine common birds you can hear on Seabrook Island today. Can you guess who they are?
Each spring, migrants fly north, either leaving, passing through or ending their migration on Seabrook Island to breed. One of those birds who spends its spring and summer on Seabrook is the Chuck-will’s-widow. Even if you have never seen this bird, chances are if you live or spend time in the spring here, you have heard him! Last Thursday, April 4th, was our first recorded identification of the Chuck-will’s-widow by George Haskins. In fact, it was only a few days after his first “sighting” two years previous. Below is a blog we have “recycled” from April 2, 2017.
On Friday, we asked if you could identify a bird by its song. It was first reported on Seabrook Island early last Thursday morning by George Haskins. The answer: the Chuck-will’s-widow. This bird winters as far south as Colombia, Venezuela and the Caribbean and breeds in pine, oak-hickory, and other forests of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states. They tend to live in more open areas than the similar Whip-poor-will, which are not common here on Seabrook Island.
Scientist continue to learn much about the migration of birds, especially with the advancement of technology such as using radar, acoustic, electronic and optical technologies. Spring migration starts as early as January and continues into June. Birds generally take off shortly after sunset, some flying all night and landing just before dawn the next morning. Others will fly nonstop for 60-100 hours as they flyover oceans and continents. Some nights there could be hundreds of millions of birds flying over North America.
Citizen Scientists like all of us are a great resource for migration information as we document bird sightings using the Audubon/Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: eBird.org. This data is also available for anyone to view. This link will open the eBird page to view the historical bird observations for all species by month for Charleston county. For example, the Chuck-will’s-widow is shown below to arrive in April and is gone by the end of September.
You can also drill down to view a map of locations where a bird has been documented, like the Chuck-will’s-widow map below. Notice the red bubble was a sighting of a Chuck-will’s-widow documented by Aija Konrad on 3/31 near the tennis courts.
Another great website to learn more about bird migration, including a forecast each week for four geographic regions in the country, is Birdcast.info, a site created by Cornell. Below is their forecast for the Chuck-will’s-widow for the Gulf Coast and Southeast and it looks like they are right on time!
After Jun 30
Throughout April we will continue to share information related to bird migration including which birds are packing their bags to head north, which birds are arriving to breed and those who are just passing through and utilizing our island for rest and refueling.
We’ve had some cancellations so there are now openings to search for the Prothonotary Warbler at Beidler Forest. Register now if you would like to join us.
Thursday, April 11, 2019 7:45 am – 2:00 pm (Tour starts at Beidler at 9:30a)
Location: Meet at SI Real Estate Office to Car Pool to Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center & Sanctuary (Google maps says 1.5 hour drive)
Min: 7 Max: 15 Cost: $12 per person ($10 if over 65 or Audubon member), $5 Additional Guest Fee
If you have never been to Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center & Sanctuary, you won’t want to miss this opportunity – it’s well worth the 70-mile one-way trip! Matt Johnson, Education Director at the facility will be presenting at our SIB evening program on Wednesday March 27. He has offered to lead us on a guided tour while the Prothonatary Warblers are likely to be present. Last year in this same week, Matt’s tours saw 30+ species including not only the Prothonatary Warbler but also Barred Owls, 5 species of Woodpeckers, 3 species of Vireos and 5 additional species of Warblers.
As the walk ends between 12:00 and 12:30, participants may want to bring a lunch, snacks and beverages to “picnic” at the Center prior to their return to Seabrook Island as Matt reports there are limited number of restaurants in the area. Also be sure to bring sun block, bug spray, a hat, binoculars, camera and a scope if you have one.
My grandson’s 4th grade project is to raise money for the homeless people of Charleston. He is selling Eastern Bluebird houses in the Riverland Terrance neighborhood. My grandson, Leo, says this way we are providing shelter to both birds and people.
So far we have built eight in my shop. We have sold five and made an additional three for use on Seabrook Island for the Bluebird Society.
If anyone is interested in purchasing a bluebird house, please contact me using the link below.