On Wednesday February 17, 2021, 80 members and friends of Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) were entertained by Janet Thibault, a Wildlife Biologist with SC DNR’s Seabird and Shorebird Program, as she educated us about the wonderful birds we can see right on our own beaches on Seabrook Island, SC. If you missed the program, you may view the replay below:
The shorebirds of Seabrook Island need your help! Many people do not appreciate how important our sanctuary is. The Shorebird Stewards Program asks you to be a volunteer to help educate people about the importance of our tiny piece of the world to the shorebirds that visit. This is not an enforcement effort, but an educational effort.
The 2021 Seabrook Island Birders Shorebird Steward Program Training session will be a Zoom meeting with Nolan Schillerstrom from Audubon South Carolina on Friday, February 26, at 1:00 – 3:30 pm. If you wish to join as a steward or just want more information, email us at email@example.com.
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!
In 2015, a major effort proceeded where the Captain Sam’s Creek and Kiawah River outflow was redirected creating the much larger North Beach. The necessary permits were provided by US Fish and Wildlife Services and the SC Department of Natural Resources because this wide expanse of beach would provide excellent nesting habitat for a number of rare and endangered species of birds: in particular the Least Tern and Wilson’s Plover. It has been successful. Both species nest on Seabrook Island now!
Each year as part of the effort to provide a safe zone, the SCDNR designates a nesting area with yellow signs on North Beach between the lagoon and the dike close to Captain Sams inlet, where the birds most likely will nest. These signs direct beach goers to avoid the sensitive area so the birds can raise their young. If a nesting bird leaves its nest because of disturbance, the heat of the sun can boil the eggs or fry the young. The attached photos show how minimalist the nests are. In fact, they are really just scrapes in the sand.
Friday, at sunrise, Seabrook Island’s resident photographer, Glen Cox, discovered a nest of the Least Tern outside of the designated nesting area. It is obvious the bird cannot read and felt that the area between the ocean and the lagoon would provide a better location. Unfortunately, the bird does not understand humans and their desire to walk the beach. In an effort to protect this bird’s nest, a new area has been cordoned with signs.
Mark Andrews, a Seabrook Island birder, who volunteers with SCDNR, coordinated with SCDNR to create the new nesting area. SCDNR told him that it has been a bad year for Least Tern nests, so this is likely these bird’s second or third attempt to produce young this year. While Mark was out on the beach, he saw many Least Tern pairs courting so hopefully more nests will be laid and successfully fledge chicks. These little birds are very territorial so if you are walking North Beach and a small tern “dive bombs” you, you have probably inadvertently gotten too close to a nest.
While people are out enjoying Seabrook Island’s North Beach they are asked to respect the boundary established to protect this Least Tern pair’s nest.
Currently, the beaches of Seabrook Island host a large flock of Red Knot, a species of bird severely threatened. Some Red Knots make an epic journey all the way from Tierra del Fuego at the southern-most tip of South America all the way to the scattered islands north and west of Greenland, approximately 9,000 miles. To date not enough information about Red Knots exists to say for certain what is happening with the Seabrook Island birds. One tiny tidbit of information came from a Red Knot with a geolocator, a device once placed on a bird records for up to two years the bird’s location. Only after a scientist recaptures a bird can they read the information. One Red Knot with a geolocator made a non-stop flight from Seabrook Island to James Bay in northern Canada.
To make these marvelously long flights, birds need to pack on weight! They need a good food source. The birds on Seabrook Island find that in the form of a little clam. Scientist call this clam Donax variabilis. We call it coquina, wedge clams, or bean clams. Every time one walks on the beach, those small white shells that crunch underfoot indicate the presence of Donax Clams. Look carefully at these shells and you will see that those on the beach have small holes near the umbo or beak of the clam. This indicates that clam fed a snail, probably an Atlantic Oyster Drill, Urosalpinx cinerea. The clams eaten by the Red Knots go into the bird’s gullet where it is ground to a pulp so the bird’s stomach can extract the nutrients.
Donax Clams never grow very large, a huge one measures just ¾ inch. The Red Knots prefer the smaller ones and their small size makes them easy for the Red Knots to capture and swallow whole.
The presence of filter feeding Donax Clams provide an excellent indicator of clean water and clean sandy beaches. We can feel certain that the clean beaches with fresh sand and lots of clams on Seabrook Island provide the major attraction to the Red Knots. The sheer number of Red Knots seen on Seabrook Island far exceeds any other reported locations along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean coast during the months of March and April. That changes in May when the population shifts to the Delaware Bay shores of New Jersey and Delaware where the bird’s change from feeding on clams to feeding on Horseshoe Crab eggs, a tiny packet of pure fat and protein. This tiny preferred feeding area extending essentially from Deveaux Bank through Folly Beach is a critical staging area for these birds, with Seabrook and Kiawah Islands hosting the largest concentrations.
Beach users can help these birds prepare for their journey by walking around the feeding flocks.
Migrating Red Knots will be arriving. Piping Plovers will head north to breed. Least Terns, Wilson’s Plovers, and other shorebirds will mate and possibly nest on North Beach. It’s a time to enjoy their splendors, understand their challenges, and be extra careful when on the beach – give them space to rest, feed, and nest, and follow our beach rules for dogs.
Red Knots are amazing – flying 18,000 miles roundtrip from the tip of South America to the Arctic to breed. When knots arrive at Seabrook they’ve traveled 5,000 miles on this journey, sometimes flying six days straight over open ocean. They’re exhausted from using their fat reserves, and stay to feed along Seabrook, Kiawah, and Deveaux beaches to restore their strength. Adequate food and undisturbed opportunities to feed are essential for their long journey north, successful breeding, and survival. Red Knot populations have declined 70% in the last 20 years, and they’re Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Here’s an analogy. Imagine when you’re hungry, each time you sit down at your favorite restaurant to eat, the fire alarm keeps going off. You’re disturbed time after time, never get to finish your meals, and are exhausted from running outside with the constant fire alarms. That’s what it’s like when we spook a flock of Red Knots, who need those meals and their rest to travel north to breed. Think about it next time on the beach!
Our partners at SC DNR will be continuing their Red Knot research on our large Seabrook flock, usually between 4000-8000 knots. In past years nanotags were placed on knots, transmitting the birds’ location to towers along the migration route. From this data SC DNR discovered that all the knots were not flying to Delaware Bay to feed on their way to the Arctic as had been thought. Many were stopping here, and then going directly to the Arctic. This proved Seabrook is a very critical “staging” beach.
In late April our Piping Plovers, who have wintered with us since last July, will head north to their breeding regions. We’ve been seeing 4-8 Piping Plovers each time we’re on North Beach this winter. Soon we may see over 20 at a time – as plovers from southern beaches stop at Seabrook to rest and feed as they move north. Look for the plovers feeding in the Red Zone – along the large tidal pool shore, and along the beach to the left of Boardwalk 1. They can be in the Green Zone too. In past articles we’ve shared “personal” stories about our banded Piping Plovers. We’re hoping black flag 2K, our guest the last two years from Prince Edwards Island, Canada, returns safely north, and hooks up with the same mate again to successfully breed.
Recent studies have shown negative impacts of human disturbance on Piping Plovers on their non-breeding grounds where they “winter”. Plovers were monitored to determine health and behavior. Those in disturbed areas were significantly lighter, due to not getting enough food. Given poorer body condition, it’s no surprise that birds in these disturbed areas had lower survival rates. Relate these disturbances to Piping Plover population sizes: Threatened Atlantic breeding region – less than 2000 breeding pairs. Endangered Great Lakes breeding region – less than 75 breeding pairs, where there once were 800 pairs. If every person on a beach on a given day can help shorebirds feed or rest, these many small impacts can begin to add up to help increase the population sizes.
On North Beach we have a responsibility to protect our Piping Plovers for the nine months they’re here – so they can feed and rest to be strong for the 1000-1500 mile journey to their breeding regions. At Seabrook we’re fortunate that (1) our Piping Plovers and other shorebirds have an incredible and mostly protected critical habitat, (2) the Town of Seabrook and SIPOA – with their many priorities to manage for our residents, guests, and beautiful island – feel it’s important to protect our shorebirds, (3) Seabrookers overall have an appreciation and respect for the wildlife that resides on our beautiful beach. The job isn’t done, but thanks all!
To help protect our shorebirds, Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) has initiated a Shorebird Stewards Program from March to May. We’ll focus on migrating Red Knots, wintering Piping Plovers, and nesting Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers. SIB’s goal is for our Stewards to educate beach walkers on the challenges our shorebirds face, how important our critical habitat is, and how people should interact with shorebirds to keep them safe.
SIB’s Shorebird Stewards Program will also help Seabrook’s commitment to USFWS and SC DNR agencies that allowed the inlet relocation, in part because we agreed to protect Piping Plovers and Red Knots. Seabrook’s efforts to protect these two species has an “umbrella” effect on helping to protect other North Beach shorebirds at risk with declining populations – American Oystercatcher, Willet, Black Skimmer, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling. Check the Seabrook Island Birders website about becoming a Shorebird Steward volunteer.
Least Tern, North Beach – Ed Konrad
Wilson’s Plover, North Beach – Ed Konrad
American Oystercatcher, U5, North Beach – Ed Konrad
Last point – Seabrook Island Birders’ March 25 Evening Program will feature Benjamin Clock – field biologist, nature photographer and videographer – whose passion is documenting the wonders of wildlife & their habitats to help conserve wild places. Benjamin will speak about how his beautiful imagery can be a powerful tool to educate, inspire, and change the conservation of birds & habitat. He’ll share his worldwide adventures & stunning photos, plus highlight his work to protect Red Knots that feed and rest on SC beaches. SIB members and non-members can register at Seabrook Island Birders website. Hope to see your there!
Article by Ed and Aija Konrad, photos by Ed Konrad
(As published in the March issue of The Seabrooker)
Come to the Seabrook Island Birders Steward Program Training session on Friday February 28 at 3:00 pm at the Oyster Catcher Community Center, followed by a Happy Hour at 5:30 pm. Let us know you are interested by completing this simple form.
To help birds at risk: Seabrook Island sits at a critical junction for a number of shorebird species! During the spring, birds like Piping Plovers and Red Knots need our beaches to pack on weight in preparation for migration. Birds fitted with transmitters have proven that some Red Knots, as part of their 9.300 mile trip from South American to its breeding ground, leave Seabrook Island and fly non-stop to the Hudson Bay in northern Canada over 1,200 miles away. Other birds like Least Tern and Wilson’s Plover use the beach area for nesting and food.
To honor Seabrook’s promise to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the SC Department of Natural Resources(SCDNR). The USFWS and SCDNR allowed our town to relocate the inlet in part because we agreed to protect the birds that needed sustenance from our beaches.
To educate: Many people do not appreciate how important our sanctuary is. The stewards program asks you to be a volunteer to help educate people about the importance of our tiny piece of the world to the shorebirds that visit. This is not an enforcement effort, but an educational effort.
The Seabrook Island Birders Shorebird Stewards Program asks you to volunteer for two-hour shifts, signing up for as many or as few as your schedule allows. You will use an online sign up to pick and choose the times you want to give. Ideally, at least two people will be working together for each shift. Please honor your commitment to the times you choose. Be friendly and open. Encourage people to approach you with questions but limit your answers to the depth of their curiosity.
The Seabrook Island Birders Stewards Program’sCommitment to You
Prior to accepting a commitment of your time, we, in cooperation with Audubon South Carolina, will train you. You will learn key ways to interact with the public. We will provide educational material to enhance your understanding of the birds and you will have a professional spotting scope provided by SCDNR to show folks these miraculous birds. You can use these tools to help educate our friends and neighbors as to how to interact with the birds while on the beach. You will also be provided a station containing a chair, an umbrella, some signs for people to read, and some information to share. You will be kept informed as to what birds are currently on the Island and, if known, where they are from.
Come to the next Seabrook Island Birders Steward Program Training session on Friday February 28 at 3:00 pm at the Oyster Catcher Community Center. If you wish to join as a steward or just want more information, click here to complete a simple form.