Remarkable Birds: Highlights of an indolent, but veteran Bird-watcher

A thank-you goes out to Seabrook Island Birders member Chuck Bensonhaver for submitting the article below regarding his birding experiences.

Introduction : I took up watching birds as a teenager in Lancaster, Ohio. Charles Goslin, a local enthusiast wrote weekly newspaper articles and led early morning bird walks. My best friend, Jim, and I went on many of those walks together.

I’ve continued the “sport” throughout my life. Going to college in the D.C. area, the extensive park system there and the Eastern Shore beach areas were fruitful. Then living in California for four years, the Pacific shores, Yosemite National Park and even the semi-arid areas offered other interesting birds. Thereafter, living in Baltimore MD, Ft. Worth TX, back to Ohio for over thirty years, and now on Seabrook Island full time for the last sixteen years, I am still a birder.

Seabrook Island birding

  1. The American Anhingas – While common in Florida, we are at the northern edge of their range. Yearly we have a pair and sometimes their offspring on Palmetto Lake. They are often confused with Cormorants, but are longer, sleeker, and have a straight bill. Cormorant’s bills are hooked. When perched with their wings spread, they show large white patches across their backs. When they swim they are totally submerged except for their neck, writhing and cutting through the water, hence their nick-name, the Snake Bird. In flight they are long, lean, and majestic.
  2. Cooper’s Hawks – They are a colorful mid-sized hawk with a long banded tail, blue/gray backs, black caps, red eyes and white breasts laced with fine reddish bars. For many years they nested in the pine trees at the juncture of Seabrook Island Rd. and Seabrook Village Drive. When their young were in the nests, the parents would swoop down at passers-by. About eight years ago, I heard they had sunk their talons in the skulls of two bicyclers. One of those was Allen Thompson who still lives on Seabrook. Soon signs went up for bicyclers to wear their helmets!
  3. Pileated Woodpeckers – In April of this year, I was awakened by a loud fluttering sound emanating from our fireplace. I thought a bird or other animal had gotten trapped in our flu. However, this went on for several weeks, so I concluded no bird or animal could survive there that long. One morning when this was happening, I went outside and put my binocular onto the metal cap of our chimney. There was a Pileated Woodpecker pecking away. A large expanse of pure metal is not a suitable place for making a nest. With a little research, I learned that this is a known phenomenon called Drumming. They are staking out their territory and/or attracting a mate.

Birding elsewhere

  1. Purple Martins – I lived in one house growing up, i.e.  for seventeen years.  Neighbors had a Purple Martin house, so I was familiar with their deep purple color and swooping flight patterns. There were around twenty birds in that house. Then there is Bomb Island in Lake Murray, SC. In summer evenings, in taking a boat out, one encounters more than a million birds! It is the largest Purple Martin roosting site in North America. Our club would do well to organize a trip there, perhaps even yet this year.
  2. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers – In 1970 while I was serving my military duty in Ft. Worth TX, our compound had a few of these rather dramatic birds around. However, they occasionally swarm, and indeed one day they did so for us.  Many hundreds of them descended into the trees and stayed for several hours. It was a din with a lot of fluttering and swooping. I suspect we had very few insects about for the next several days.
  3. Turkey Vulture Chicks – One day when I was about 16, my buddy Jim and I ventured into a wooded hill a few miles west of Lancaster, Ohio. We found some rock structures with small caves. There we came upon three juvenile Turkey Vultures hissing at us. Two were small but one was about the size of a full grown chicken. Their plumages were pure white. We stuck a stick in front of the large one. That’s when we learned of their major mechanism of defense, vomiting on an intruding object! That was enough to restrain us from reaching towards the bird with our bare hands and arms.

I could go on with at least a dozen other tales of ornithology adventures  such as experiencing Bobolinks, Night Hawks, Cedar Waxwings, Ravens, Storks, Ospreys, Eagles, etc. However, suffice it to say that even if one is lazy, like me, about identifying birds, just put in the time. They will make themselves known and give you quite a show.

Submitted by: Charles Bensonhaver

SIB Member of the Month: Tori Langen

For those of you who know her, you might not be aware that Tori Langen is a birder. She’s better known as an avid and accomplished golfer and a darned good bridge player. But she also enjoys birding!

Tori says that it was probably her father who got her interested in our feathered friends. He used to call in cardinals with his whistle and Tori loved it. She was about 10 years old at the time. In fact, as it turned out, she has had several close friends through her life who were birders. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law were avid birders and her husband, Bob, also was interested, mostly in backyard birds.

Continue reading “SIB Member of the Month: Tori Langen”

SIB Member Profile: Jane Mangioncalda

IMG_3721Jane Magioncalda is a native of Queens, New York who moved south in 2003 with husband Joe Ficarra. The two met as graduate students at St. John’s University—she in law school and he in the MBA tract. Jane worked for the prestigious TIAA-CREF financial services organization for close to thirty years practicing Real Estate Law. A TIAA transfer brought them to Charlotte, North Carolina. She agreed to the move with two conditions: the New York Times and GOOD pizza had to be available.

Nine years ago, they discovered, like all of us, the wonders of Seabrook Island and they immediately settled into their part-time home in Summerwind. They share their homes with two Cornish Rex cats—Sugar and Smokey (Google the breed, it’s not your average house cat!). After retiring, she and Joe started spending more time here, especially in the summer during turtle season.

Jane is an active member of the Turtle Patrol, serving as Social Committee Chair, walking her zone twice a week, filling in as a substitute, working with PHAT (Pre -Hatching Assistance Team) monitoring nests fifteen days prior to hatch dates and participating in nest inventories.

The couple enjoy kayaking on area creeks and taking advantage of the Lake House Fitness Center. Jane participates in exercise groups, yoga and weight strengthening and plans to try the Get Ready for Golf program.

She and Joe also avail themselves of as many SINHG trips and evening programs as their part-time status allows.

Over the years, they have traveled widely often focusing on their interest in Nature. Jane says their trip to Kenya and Tanzania ranks at the top along with the Galapagos and western U.S. National Parks.

Jane is charter a member of the Seabrook Island Birders. Starting out like many us, having had back-yard feeders and a well-worn Peterson’s on the shelf, she has relished the variety of birds and learning opportunities here in the Lowcountry. Since joining SIB, she’s gone on many Learning Together ‘walks’ and other SIB activities, improving her expertise rating, in her words, from .05 to 1.0. Jane has been “encouraged and impressed by the inclusiveness and willingness to share knowledge” by more experienced SIBirders.

Article written by:  Donna Lawrence
Photo credit:  Joe Ficarra

SIB Member Profile: Carl Voelker

Carl Voelker

One of the strengths in the management of the several elements on Seabrook Island is the willingness of hundreds of its property owners to volunteer their time in serving on committees. They choose not to be in the spotlight of elective office. They do the grunt work and fly under the radar. One of these persons is Carl Voelker.

Carl’s community activities on Seabrook have been focused on addressing the Island’s environmental concerns. He has been a long time member of SIPOA’s Environmental Committee and part of various task forces and sub-committees therein. One of his early projects was helping to establish sound recycling practices in our community. Currently he is on the SIPOA Planning Committee and has been very active in the successful effort to secure our Island’s certification as an Audubon International Sustainable Community. The boards of both the Seabrook Island Green Space Conservancy and SINHG have benefitted from his participation.

A native of rural Georgia, he graduated from the University of Georgia, majoring in marketing. As an enlisted member of the National Guard, he completed US Army MP school at Fort Gordon and had several active duty call-ups while attached to units in Georgia and Texas. Following UGA, Carl began a 35-year career in sales and sales management with Armstrong Cork Company (now Armstrong World Industries). In his initial location, San Antonio, Texas, he met Simone. They will soon celebrate 44 years of marriage. The couple moved to Seabrook Island in 2006, after his retirement, and now enjoy the marsh views off their back deck. One of two adult children lives on James Island allowing him plenty of grandfathering time with his two pre-teen grandchildren.

Carl says “I have only an average working knowledge of birds, but am improving thanks to the exposure I’m getting through Seabrook Island Birders. I think most would agree that increased knowledge leads to greater appreciation. While it’s nice to observe a pretty bird or impressive tree, it is more rewarding to be able to identify the bird or tree by name and know something about the species.” He has recently joined the SIB Executive Committee and is focusing on the organization’s participation in various special Island events.

Endeavors which have brought him pleasure, beyond work and community involvement, are reading, designing and building tables and chairs, music (he once had a harmonica gig in a duo at Fischers Bar and Grill), and just being outdoors. A current passion is kayak-camping on small Southeast creeks and rivers — 15 different ones since 2004. He can also be found hitting long drives on our golf courses. Some of his furniture pieces are utilitarian (the accompanying picture shows him in an elevated deck chair with built-in foot rest which he designed and built). Others are truly works of art with which they have graced their home. Simone is an impressive artist in her own right with a wide variety of sculptures in wood, metal, marble, and alabaster. Both have exhibited in Seabrook’s art show on annual meeting weekend.

Of active people like these two is the enchanting and friendly character of Seabrook Island built and maintained.

Submitted by George Haskins
Picture contributed by Carl Voelker

SIB Member Profile: Bob & Eileen Mercer

Bob & Eileen Mercer birding at Bear Island NWR

Silver Lake Park is a 465 acre wildlife and recreational property in Bucks County, PA. Bucks County is north of Philadelphia and across the river from New Jersey. The lake within the park was created as a man-made mill pond with the 1687 building of a dam on Otter Creek. Much of what was once open water has filled with silt over the 300 plus years and is now marsh. The Silver Lake Nature Center occupies about half of the Park and includes the State’s “best protected Coastal Plain Forest,” according to County’s publicity. The recently retired (2015) Robert Mercer was, for 40 plus years, the naturalist manager for this Center.

When Bob and his wife, Eileen Mercer, were seeking a winter haven in retirement, they focused on the Charleston area which they had visited on vacations. They first spent time on the Isle of Palms. From that base, they visited other areas and stumbled onto Seabrook Island. In their research of the Island, they were attracted to the focus on its wildlife.  This is their second winter renting a Marsh Walk for three months or so. It is interesting to note that they had joined both Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) and SINHG before they set foot on our Island in early 2017. I first met Bob on a Yawkey Reserve SINHG trip that January and quickly realized he was an accomplished birder even though he was being very low key. Continue reading “SIB Member Profile: Bob & Eileen Mercer”

SIB Member Profile: Melanie & Rob Jerome

Rob & Melanie Jerome

Before, eHarmony and okCupid there were blind dates, and that’s how Melanie and Bob Jerome met more than thirty years ago. Both are Buckeyes and raised their two sons in Ohio. Rob had a career in data processing and programming. Melanie’s nursing and business degrees coalesced into a fulfilling position as a case management supervisor which she still does remotely from home.

Rob’s father was an outdoors man and imparted that avocation to him along with a familiarity of birds. Being the only boy in the family no doubt helped to build their bond. Melanie was self-taught when she wanted to learn more about the birds that visited the couple’s backyard in Ohio.

They share their love of nature and chose the best of Lowcountry living with their villa at Creek Watch. They look out over Sam’s Creek and the bountiful marsh leading up to the Atlantic; wildlife abounds. Continue reading “SIB Member Profile: Melanie & Rob Jerome”

SIB Member Profile – Donna & Jim Lawrence

Donna & Jim Lawrence

Jim and Donna Lawrence, natives of New Jersey, made Seabrook Island their home five years ago for two reasons:  the beaches and the wildlife.  They are neither golfers or tennis players.  He had enjoyed sailing and is a licensed Bareboat Captain.  From childhood, each had spent plenty of time on the Jersey beaches.

Donna attended Boston University, but graduated from Stockton University with a degree in Literature/Language. For the greater part, she made a career as a volunteer for various organizations as well as raising one son. A major segment of her volunteer time was with the League of Women Voters where she produced publications, prepared grant requests, and served on County and State Boards of Directors.

Jim, who graduated from Boston College, also received an ROTC commission in the U. S. Army. Given an opportunity to select his preferred assignment station, in exchange for an additional year of active duty, he agreed and chose Germany. (Better than Asia.) This required another decision. As Donna put it: “We had to get married.” As he soldiered, she worked within the schools, including some teaching.

After service time, they returned to New Jersey where Jim had a long career in communications with various of the changing units of AT&T as that organization reacted to government actions and the changing telephone business — and this was before cells.

As a kid, Jim’s family adventures to the Jersey beaches put him in touch with shore birds, but they were not a serious interest.  All shore birds were called sandpipers without any further definition.  As adults, they expanded on his birding experience.  Several vacations were also enjoyed on Seabrook Island starting about 1995.

Following Jim’s retirement, Seabrook was chosen as their new home (goodbye snow) and they moved here in 2012. The residence they selected on Wood Duck Place backs to the estuary which then extends to the egret rookery on Ocean Winds #4. With the water, extensive trees and shrubs, and their multipart bird feeders — seeds, suet, jelly, and hummer nectar — a wide variety of birds are attracted.  From Hooded Merganser to Pileated Woodpecker (see Jim’s great photo) to White-throated Sparrow. Fantastic backyard!

Pileated Woodpecker outside the Lawrence’s home.

He got immersed in Exchange Club, Vets on Deck, and SINGH in their new environment. Her LWV duties continued after their move, but as they wound down the two of them got involved with Turtle Patrol.  In spite of all they were doing, neither could resist the opportunity to be in on the ground floor of a new proposed birding group. Donna, in particular, became part of a nine person committee which created Seabrook Island Birders in November 2015. She took on the duties of Hospitality.  This involved the refreshment table at periodic member’s meetings as well as assuring SIB participation in various Island events such as SIPOA/Club annual meetings, 4th of July parade, Earth Day, etc.  All with Jim as her #1 aide.

By the way, their picture, taken in front of the beautiful 2017 Christmas tree, includes a special ornament.  Approximately on a level between their lips, hangs a Wood Duck.

Submitted by George Haskins 

SIB Member Profile: Marcia & Bob Hider

My dad was an avid birder. Most would find that hard to believe since he was color blind and had lost a lot of his hearing as he aged. Actually, really knowledgeable birders use other clues in identifying birds: location, season, amount and type of activity, shape, size and more, all of which require neither a color sense nor good ears.

As a kid, I thought it was a ridiculous hobby. But one day, when he was visiting Bob and me in Reston, VA, Dad set up an old TV tray outside and filled it with birdseed. Within a couple of hours, we had seen probably 20 different species. Bob and I were hooked.

Marcia and Bob Hider

We both worked, however, I with the Federal Government and Bob with his own video production company. That, and raising two kids, left us with little time to pursue birding with much gusto. When the kids left, we got more involved, often traveling to areas of the country where birds were known to frequent.

Then we found Seabrook. There was so much to do here that it was hard to choose. Initially, and for the first seven years or so, I was very involved with SINHG, as treasurer and membership chair and then with reorganizing and expanding its trip offerings. Following that, I was co-editor of the Seabrooker for several years. Also, during this period, I was involved with several other regular and special committees…and on and on.

Bob was into tennis. He and his teammates won several local and regional tournaments. For three years, he ran the Fleming Tournament where he introduced the idea of raising money for a charity. The first year I think his committee donated $5,200 to Hospice of Charleston which at that time was a non-profit organization. (This year, they raised over $40,000 for Respite Care!) And all this time, he had his photography, a hobby he pursued even as a child.

Then we both rested.

In 2015, Charley Moore suggested that he and I should start a birding club. After all, how could you not get interested in birds when there is such a wonderful variety of habitats on this little island? I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Neither Bob nor I is what I would call an avid birder. I don’t even maintain a life list which almost every real birder keeps. I have trouble seeing the birds so I resort to identifying them by ear and that’s not as easy as it sounds. Do you know that our cardinals have 53 different songs? I’m glad I helped, however, because I’ve learned a lot and met some wonderful people in the process.

Submitted by:  Marcia Hider

SIB Member Profile: Nancy Brown & Flo Foley

Nancy and Flo taking a break from birding in Botswana, September 2016

It was because of the birds that Flo Foley and Nancy Brown moved to Seabrook Island four years ago after retiring from successful careers at Verizon.

Flo has always loved nature and fondly remembers watching the pheasants in her backyard growing up in Jamaica Plain, MA. Her grandmother, who lived next door, had a pet parakeet that Flo visited daily and she always enjoyed playing with Mikey. Her dad was a real animal lover too and had multiple feeders in the yard. Flo and her dad cherished their times watching the birds together and watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom when Flo was young.

Nancy also loved the outdoors and remembers watching all the birds on the seed and suet feeders, especially during the cold Maine winters where she grew up.

When Flo and Nancy met at work 24 years ago, they were both managers at Verizon, although in different areas of the company. Flo was a Tier II technical support Engineer whose team often assisted Nancy’s team with the more technical parts of the business.  It might have been the fact that Nancy felt Flo could fix any trouble Nancy’s team presented to her that brought them together.  However, it was their love of animals, the outdoors and travel that sealed the deal.

Zoos, aquariums and birds have always been a part of their life.  Their activities have ranged from taking early morning canoe rides on the Sudbury River to watching Great Blue Herons in the quiet misty marsh, to purchasing a timeshare on Captiva Island, FL so they could visit the wading and shorebirds at Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge yearly.  They even hired a private birder in Ireland for the day and took a “Hawk Walk” at Ashford Castle’s Ireland School of Falconry, where they handled a Barn Owl and various types of Hawks.  Much of their world travels have included birding.

It was their yearly trips to Ding Darling followed by three trips to Cape May, NJ to observe the spring and fall migrations that resulted in the purchase of high-quality binoculars and a birding scope.  That is also when they began documenting their “Life List.” Flo and Nancy have volumes of bird identification books. However, now with the incredible tools available on smart phones, it is much easier to enjoy their birding hobby.  Using an app called “BirdsEye,” they can locate where specific bird species are being seen, especially those they have never seen before. They use “Merlin ID” to narrow down the identification of a species and their favorite bird guide app is Sibley’s.  Finally, “eBird” allows them to easily document the birds they identify through sight or sound anywhere they go.  Nancy even keeps a list most days she golfs, where the birds are plentiful! (You may notice she can be quite obsessive with her smartphone if you’ve ever been on a bird walk with her!)

Zazu (White-faced Gray Cockatiel) and Kiki (Pearl Cockatiel)

While living in Massachusetts, Flo and Nancy kept a 150 gallon saltwater fish tank which included soft corals, starfish, crabs and shrimp. After moving to New Jersey in 2006, they owned two Cockatiels: a White-faced Gray male named Zazu and a Pearl female named Kiki.  Both birds were fond of sitting on their shoulders to watch TV at night.  Zazu could even sing and talk!

Since retiring in 2012, Flo and Nancy have enjoyed all the birds in their backyard at Bohicket Marina along with those in all of the Lowcountry of SC. They have had the good fortune to take birding trips to New Mexico, South Texas and this past year a spring migration in the Midwest, all with a company called Wings.  They have also birded Maine and New Brunswick Canada with a well-known Maine guide.  A highlight of their life was their trip a year ago to Zambia, Botswana and South Africa.  In total, they have seen 487 of the more than 950 species in the ABA area (North America north of Mexico) but only 650 of the world’s 9-10,000 birds. They plan to add to that list in a week as they’ve hired a guide to bird Barcelona.  In 2018, they will be traveling and birding the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia.

Besides birding and travel, Flo and Nancy golf a couple times a week and became “Master Naturalists” through a program with the Charleston County Parks and Recreation in the spring of 2016.  Flo enjoys playing the piano, building ships and her quiet time drawing and painting.  Nancy is a SINHG trip leader, has enjoyed the communication role she has played for a few organizations on Seabrook and takes time for yoga.  Both Flo and Nancy volunteered to help start the Seabrook Island Birders when it formed during late 2015.  It has allowed them share their passion for birding and meet even more people on our beautiful island!

SIB Member Profile: Charley Moore

Charley Moore

Yes, I am a certified tree-hugger. I have always considered myself an environmentalist, naturalist, and biologist. Growing up in the 1950’s on a small Kentucky farm that included at one time or another nearly every animal that has ever been domesticated, I obtained an early appreciation for animals and the value and satisfaction of growing one’s own food. Fishing and hunting small game was a way of life and much of my time was spent in the woods. Being dyslectic, reading was always a chore and most learning in school was through osmosis. Needless to say, until college I was never a very good student.

The Berlin wall resulted in my spending a couple years in the Army. I then attended Eastern Kentucky University majoring in Chemistry and Biology. Seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time during spring break my Junior year, resulted in wanting to become a marine biologist. Following graduate school at the University of Delaware the next 9 years were spent studying Chesapeake Bay fish populations in the vicinity of coal fired and nuclear electric power plants for the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Moving my family (wife, Marty and two children, Wendy and Joe) to Charleston in 1977, I began my career with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as a fisheries manager. Over the next 28 years I worked to establish many of South Carolina’s current state laws dealing with marine fisheries, including establishing a saltwater fishing license. I was the Stewardship Coordinator for the ACE Basin and the National Stewardship Representative for the Estuarine Research Reserve System with reserves in all 22 coastal states.

Having worked in South Carolina’s coastal area for nearly 30 years, there was only one place I planned to retire – Seabrook Island. In preparation for retirement, in 2004 we sold our cut-your-own Christmas Tree farm which we had operated for the past 18 years on Young’s Island and moved to Seabrook Island. I retired form DNR in 2005.

The past thirteen years have been Marty’s and my best years – Seabrook Island is our idea of heaven. Where else is nature such an integral part of a neighborhood. Simply walking out your front door or taking a short walk on the beach provides a vast array of birds and other wildlife that call Seabrook Island home.

Seabrook Island’s wide variety of birds and wildlife has resulted in revitalizing my interest in photography. I have been active on the Environmental Committee for the past ten years, chaired the Deer Management Task Force, written “Wild Things” articles for the Seabrooker, grown my own vegetables, chaired the community vegetable gardens and currently serve on the Board of the Green Space Conservancy.

In October 2015, Marcia Hider and I placed a notice in the lobby of the Lake House for residents to indicated if they would be interested in forming a birding group and if they would be willing to help organize it. In two weeks seventy residents had replied positively and seven agreed to help organize such a group. Two-months later the first Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) membership meeting was held with 130 residents attending. Today, SIB with the moto “Watching, Learning and Protecting,” has over 230 members and continues to grow. I have thoroughly enjoyed serving as the Board Chairman during this period.

Submitted by:  Charles Moore

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