Eagle Eyes

Bald Eagle Eyes – Jackie Brooks

After SIB’s recent visit to Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife Management Area, Jackie Brooks did some Google searches and then posted on Facebook. Here is her post with pictures and research about Bald Eagles.

Eagle eyeballs are the same size as human eyeball.., but their eyeballs are fixed in place so the eyeball does not move in the socket. However, eagles can use their eyes independently or together. They also have two focal points. One looks straight ahead, while the other looks at a 45 degree angle. Thus, an eagle can see something as small as a rabbit 3 miles away.

Eagle eyes also see more colors than humans. Seeing colors in the UV range allows them to see their prey’s urine trail.

Disclaimer: I have no idea that these are the same eagles, but it makes a good photo essay. They were both seen on the same day in same area, along with a couple more eagles. Lunch is a duck.

White Pelicans!

Snowy white birds with black wing tips.
American White Pelicans with black wing tips – photo by Patti Romano

What a delight it has been to see American White Pelicans here in the low country!

After scooping up the prey, the pelican lifting it's bill.
American White Pelicans with head raised after scooping up fish – photo by Mary Van Deusen

American White Pelicans are large, snowy white waterbirds with large, striking yellow-orange pouched bills and black-tipped feathers, visible only in flight.

Fish scooped up into pelican's pouch.
American White Pelican with fish in pouch – photo by Mary Van Deusen

It is interesting to observe how different their foraging habits are from the Brown Pelicans, more familiar to us here in South Carolina. Brown Pelicans plunge-dive from the sky to snatch fish from the water. Their white cousins glide along paddling bright yellow-orange feet, gracefully dipping their bills into the water to scoop up prey. We observed how they sometimes forage cooperatively as a group, corralling fish into more shallow waters.

American White Pelican with nuptial tubercles – photo by Mary Van Deusen

Although this has not been their usual breeding territory, we observed at least one of the serially monogamous pelicans with the nuptial tubercles (large ridges in the beak) and ornamental feathers on the head.

While the shape of these magnificent birds resembles that of Brown Pelicans, the much larger American White Pelicans are one of the heaviest birds in North America with a wingspan reaching 9 feet.

White pelicans with one brown pelican.
American White Pelican squadron with one brown pelican – photo by Mary Van Deusen

We hope you are fortunate enough to spot a squadron of these snowy white water birds floating, scooping up fish, or tipping up like ducks in our beautiful wetlands.

Feathers and Feet (Mary Van Deusen and Patti Romano)

To learn more about American White Pelicans, visit The Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website.

SCDNR: Birdwatchers urged to participate in SCDNR’s Baltimore Oriole Winter Survey Feb. 18-21

SCDNR’s Baltimore Oriole Winter Survey set Feb. 18-21

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) will conduct its annual Baltimore Oriole Winter Survey Feb. 18-21 in conjunction with the Great Backyard Bird Count. The state natural resources agency is interested in the status and distribution of these colorful songbirds that are wintering in the Palmetto State.

If you currently have Baltimore orioles coming to your feeders or have had them in the past years, SCDNR encourages your participation. Survey participants count and record the largest number of Baltimore orioles they can see at one time, on one, two, three or all four days of the survey period. Even if you cannot participate during the survey period, SCDNR would still like to record your oriole numbers seen during the winter months of December through February.

Survey participants need to be able to correctly identify Baltimore orioles from other bird species. To participate, you can access the survey form and materials from the link. The survey form and materials are available through your web browser or through the Survey 123 app (free download through your device’s app store). Contact Lex Glover at GloverL@dnr.sc.gov if you have any questions about the oriole survey, or for more information on the Great Backyard Bird Count and counting all species of birds, visit http://gbbc.birdcount.org/.

This will be the seventh annual survey, and South Carolina continues to report the largest number of wintering Baltimore orioles in the country. Usually, these birds would winter in southern Florida, the Caribbean, Central and South America. However, during the last several decades, they have been wintering along the East Coast in greater abundance. Last year’s Great Backyard Bird Count results had sightings in 21 states, ranging along the East Coast from Massachusetts to Florida, across the Gulf Coast states to Texas and in California. Reports were even received from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario! The bulk of the birds reported were from the East Coast, from Virginia to Florida.

In the 2021 survey, South Carolina’s Baltimore Oriole Winter Survey data combined with the Great Backyard Bird Count data had South Carolina with the largest numbers of orioles in the country. The Palmetto State had 182 reports, the highest number of reports in the country (28 percent of the total number of reports) and 859 orioles tallied, (42 percent of the total number of orioles reported in the country). This was South Carolina’s largest count to date.

South Carolina had 16 counties reporting orioles last year. The majority of them wintered along the coastal plain from Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head Island. The hot spot was the Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties area, where 72 percent of the state’s orioles were tallied last year. Good numbers continued to extend inland, and the Upstate continues to report a few orioles. A first for the survey, since it began in 2015, was a report from Oconee County.

Though SCDNR is not sure why these birds have begun overwintering in large numbers in the state, they are responding well to the popularity of backyard bird feeding. Orioles are best attracted to feeders where the homeowner is already feeding birds in general. Orioles are attracted to the activity of other birds at feeders. If conditions are right for them, they are likely to frequent the feeders where they can find food, water, and shelter. They will eat a variety of foods and seeds, suet products, some seed mixes, nuts and fruit mixes, but their favorite food by far is grape jelly. Since these birds have become more common at the winter feeders, you can find an assortment of feeders that cater to them and their foods, especially at bird-feeding specialty stores.

The survey will enable scientists to learn the distribution and abundance of Baltimore orioles wintering in South Carolina. Information from the survey and the Great Backyard Bird Count can provide a “big picture” about what is happening to Baltimore oriole populations and other bird species. SCDNR appreciates the public’s support and efforts in helping collect the valuable information in this survey.

John’s Island Hawk Wars

Red-Shouldered Hawk – Jennifer Jerome

When you are doing a mundane task, like refilling a birdbath, you don’t expect to witness a hawk brawl in your backyard. And yet, as I rounded the corner of my house on Johns Island there were two beautiful Red-shouldered Hawks rolling around on the ground in what, I can only assume, was a territorial fight! Ignoring my presence, they gripped each other tightly and they continued their fight for at least an hour. Finally, I decided to let out my Aussie, Bindi, and despite her disinterest in the dueling raptors, they released each other and flew off in opposite directions. There was no evidence of lost feathers or blood so, hopefully, no one was injured.

Watching them as they stopped, looked around, and gave out those wonderful calls was quite delightful! Not something one sees every day!

Submitted by Jennifer Jerome

Bird of the Week: 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 at SeaLoft’s Lagoon and 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 in 2020.

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! (Article re-posted from 2020)

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

Birth Announcement: Least Tern Chick!

Glen Cox was first to spot this chick on North Beach, Seabrook Island, SC. Mark Andrews found a second. Below is Mark’s best photo. He said, “It was only out a couple minutes then back under mom in a blink!”

Least Tern parent and chick – photo by Mark Andrews

Ask SIB: Is this a Chuck-will’s-widow?

Each spring, many residents and visitors of Seabrook Island hear the song of the Chuck-will’s-widow as they return to the island to breed. But is it unusual for anyone to see this bird as it is more active in the evening and early morning, and hidden by its camouflaged markings. A year ago we got word of a nesting mom with chicks and were lucky to share photos. Once again, a family staying on Seabrook has found a nest with a Chuck-will’s-widow mom and two chicks!

Monday morning we saw this question along with some photos and a video:

Hello, my family and I were staying at Pelican Watch Villas on Seabrook Island and noticed there’s a bird outside of the Villa. Can you confirm that this is a Chuck Will’s Widow? 

Karrah Throntveit
Video taken by Karrah Throntveit

On Monday, Karrah’s family was thrilled to hear the news confirming the bird was a Chuck-will’s-widow . They knew that they had witnessed something very special and wanted to share it with others!

Charley Moore was also excited as he had never before been able to photograph a Chuck-will’s-widow, let alone a mom on a nest with two chicks!

We hope you will enjoy the above video taken by Karrah Throntveit and the photos below taken by Charley Moore.

First Glimpses of American Oystercatcher U5 & Family

I am writing to announce the arrival of two chicks to American Oystercatcher U5 and his mate over the last 48 hours.

American Oystercatcher U5 with mate and two young chicks on North Beach, Seabrook Island, SC
Photograph by Mark Andrews

At the beginning of May, I wrote to announce that American Oystercatcher U5 and his mate had nested on North Beach. U5 has been a resident around Captain Sam’s Inlet since 2014 and last year he & his mate lost three nests to predation. Janet Thibault, a coastal bird biologist for SCDNR, posted new Nesting Area signs on April 30 and confirmed that there were eggs in the nest. 

At that time, we also found that Least Terns were nested in the same restricted area. The Leasties are still nesting and we may be reporting the arrival of their chicks any day. Much of what we say about American Oystercatchers holds for Least Terns as well.

Tuesday morning, I saw the first chick walking with U5. Today, there were two chicks and the family was already foraging along the lagoon behind the nesting area. They may not stay near the nesting area, so please be on the look out at all times and be careful to give them plenty of space. The chicks may be hidden in the wrack or in sparse vegetation especially in the heat of the day. Even a footprint or tire track may be a hiding place.

We originally worried about crows taking the eggs, but these chicks are not yet out of danger by any means. While I was approaching the nesting area Wednesday morning, I watched as one of the parents chased an Osprey away. Crows, gulls and other predators are always ready to pounce. Beach flooding from high tides and heavy rain also takes its toll. The chicks will not fledge (fly) for 30-35 days and the parents will tend to them for even longer (up to 60days). 

We are asking all beach drivers to avoid driving in the wrack or dry sand where the chicks are hard to see. But remember as it gets warmer, the parents may take the chicks to the water’s edge to forage and to cool off. All areas of the beach are prime Oystercatcher habitat. I have attached the Best Management Practices for Beach Driving from SCDNR.

Please excuse the fuzziness of these photos. They were taken at long range with a very long lens to avoid disturbing them. Please do the same and avoid trying to get close for cell phone photos. We’ll keep you informed of the chick’s progress with   current images as we get them.

Mark Andrews, Seabrook Island Shorebird Steward Program Co-Lead
American Oystercatcher U5 newly hatched chick on North Beach, Seabrook Island, SC
Photograph by Mark Andrews

A very special Thank You to Mark Andrews and all of the Seabrook Island Shorebird Stewards for volunteering to extend the steward season beyond Red Knots. Now the fun starts in helping these new additions survive to adulthood!

North Beach: New Nesting Area Signs and Nests!

Last Friday, coastal bird biologist Janet Thibault of SCDNR posted the yellow nesting area signs on North Beach and confirmed that we have nesting birds.

A familiar sight for many of us, American Oystercatcher Red U5 & his mate have nested on North Beach. Janet, who did her graduate work on Oystercatchers, says that U5 has been nesting here around Captain Sams Inlet since at least 2014. Last year, he and his mate tried three times to hatch eggs but were defeated by predator crows. This year they are nested in a more open area of the beach which hopefully will give them more time to spot marauding crows or gulls.

While we were posting the signs, we watched as a Least Tern prepared her scrape nest a short distance away from the Oystercatcher nest. By the time we finished with the signs, Janet found an egg in that nest as well!

Both American Oystercatchers and Least Terns will incubate eggs for about 25-30 days and then tend to their young for another 20 or so days until the chicks are able to fly. After the chicks are born, they will hide around any available beach plants, wrack and other debris whether inside the signs or not, to keep out of the sun. The chicks are very vulnerable during this time to walkers and beach vehicles and it takes a sharp eye to see them.

We have not had a successful nesting of Least Terns on Seabrook since 2018 when we had 53 nests. Fingers crossed we will have more Leasties come in to nest since they are colony nesters – there is safety from predators in numbers.

We’ll keep you informed as the season progresses. In the meantime, please stay well away from the nesting area and remember to watch where you walk when you are in dry sand or looking for shells in the wrack line.

Article by Mark Andrews; Photos by Mark Andrews and Janet Thibault

Painted Bunting Palooza

We received this note from Jennifer Hesterman this past week:

Hello, thought you would enjoy this photo, taken after the storm on August 26th at 6:30 PM – 3 males and 7 females and/or immature males. And two water-logged cardinals 🙂

photo by Jennifer Hesterman
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