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 🙂

Jenni
photo by Jennifer Hesterman

Piebald Chickadee

Alas, the morning spent on my front porch in hopes of the prothonotary warbler returning was in vain. He had found the accommodations at Chez Ardaiolo more to his liking (refer to Prothonotary Warbler Sighting on Loblolly Lane ). However, upon moving to the back porch, I noticed an unusual looking bird drinking water from the hummingbird feeder. No, that wasn’t a white Carolina  Chickadee, just the sun playing tricks on my eyes.  Ooops, there he is again, and he is much whiter than than his companion chickadee.  Boy, is he pretty, but is he a baby, not yet with his adult feathers? Is he a molting bird? 

Leucistic Carolina Chickadee photographed by Jackie Brooks

It turns out that he is a mutant bird, but not one from Area 51.  He is a leucistic Carolina Chickadee.  Leucism is a genetic mutation that causes pigment to fail to be deposited on a bird’s feathers. Plumage that does have color is often a paler, diluted version of its normal color. Since he has some normal coloring, along with his white patches, he is a pied or piebald bird.  Birds that are completely white are leucistic birds. These birds have normal colored eyes, legs and skin. Only their feathers are affected by the lack of color. Albino birds, on the other hand, have no pigment in their skin, legs, feet, and bill. Their eyes are pink or red.

This is not the first leucistic bird to find their way to Seabrook Island. We published an article back in January 2020 with photographs of a leucistic Brown-headed Cowbird.

So, what brings two highly unusual birds, the Prothonotary Warbler pair and the Piebald Carolina Chickadee, to the same area within 24 hours?  Is it fate?  Is it luck? 

Article and Photographs by Jackie Brooks

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

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”

Rare Limpkin seen by SIB members

Limpkin in West Ashley – Tracee Clapper

As a subscriber to Charleston County Rare Bird Alert (furnished by eBird), Melanie Jerome and I (Judy Morr) recently started seeing reports of a Limpkin in the West Ashley Sienna Place neighborhood.  Since neither of us had ever seen this species, we decided to go in search of the bird.  From the Rare Bird Alert, we had an address and instructions how to likely see the bird without trespassing on private property.  Binoculars and masks in hand, we headed out. 

A nice pond was at the designated address.  As instructed, we started walking around the pond.  As we dodged Canada Goose droppings we saw the Limpkin fly from behind one clump of trees into one of the “island” clumps in the middle of the pond.  Success!  Wanting a better view, we walked around to the other side of the pond and finally got a great view of the bird sitting on a branch of the tree.  We were able to study the bird for some time before returning to Seabrook Island.  While at the location, we kept an eBird list and saw a total of 24 species in 54 minutes.  Not bad for a 95 degree afternoon.

Last August, Ed and Aija Konrad reported their sighting of a Limpkin near Goose Creek.  Their blog gives a better description of the bird’s behaviors and Ed’s great pictures.

Submitted by Judy Morr

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.

Global Big Day – My backyard observations

Last week, SIB reminded us of Global Big Day on Saturday.  I chose to recognize the day by observing birds in my backyard while my wife scoured the island in an attempt to see the maximum number of birds in a day. 

Armed with my binoculars, a camera and Merlin Bird ID app, I was ready to bird from the comfort of my sunroom and deck.  Early in the morning, I refilled the feeders and bird baths to provide my feathered friends with their favorite treats.  Through-out the day they expressed their appreciation with their visits.

Red-bellied Woodpecker – Dean Morr

For the day, I was able to report 20 species.  The first visitors of the day were the American Crows, but they were quickly followed by Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouse and Painted Bunting.  The day ended with two species I was unable to photograph….a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak at the feeder and the finally, the noisy Chuck-will’s-widow identified only by its sound.

Red-tail Hawk, looking for lunch – Dean Morr

The fun highlight of the day was when I heard a ruckus of several Blue Jays.  I looked out to see they had chased a Red-tailed Hawk to a limb at the corner of the yard.  I literally ran for the camera (always where you are not) and was able to capture him on “film”.   Just as I put the camera away, a “thump” was heard.  The hawk had left its perch and had hit the birdbath in a successful capture of a squirrel. 

Osprey overhead – Dean Morr

Never able to capture it with my camera, I watched it carry its prey from a branch on one corner of the yard to his original perch then finally chased by some crows to a neighbor’s yard.  One less Seabrook Island squirrel trying to find a way to eat the birds’ food.  A Great Egret meandered over the yard in search of a skink but neither he nor I were successful in capturing our prey.  I did get a picture of the Osprey flying over plus several other pictures as seen below.

Patricia Schaefer, Melanie Jerome and Joleen Ardaiolo also shared their backyard finds with SIB.  They were able to report a Common Ground Dove (Patricia), Common Grackle (Patricia), Belted Kingfisher (Joleen), and White-breasted Nuthatch (Joleen) which were not seen by the marathon birders.  Expect to hear more about the marathon birders’ day in another blog.

Submitted by: Dean Morr

A Story of Seabrook Island Bald Eagles

Bald Eagle on Crooked Oaks February 2020 – Bob Mercer

Bald Eagles have been part of the Seabrook scene for  dozen years or so.  It has not been an easy gig for them.  They first started a nest near the 5th tee of the Ocean Winds golf course.  Local Ospreys took exception to the newcomers (sounds like humans with the ‘Not in my Backyard’ attitude) and destroyed it.  A tall pine on the 3rd green of Ocean Winds was the next nesting location and it was successful.  There were several annual raising of two chicks a year — even at least once after the pine had died.  I suspect it has been the same original pair, but they have not said.

When that tree broke off and crashed in a storm, there was a bit of ‘turn about is fair play.’   The eagles took over a nesting site the Osprey had developed near the tee box of Cooked Oaks’ third hole.  They remodeled it into a bigger pad and kept providing us entertainment and young eaglets.  The last three years, there has been only one chick.  Maybe two are too much effort for these now more senior adults.  Remember, these chicks have to be fed enough so that in about 90 days after hatching they are ready to leave the nest.  And, at that age, they weigh more than the adult.  It takes humans about 18 to 30 years of food and what all to become ‘empty nesters’.

Bald Eagle sitting on their nest on Crooked Oaks February 2020 – Bob Mercer

The latest chick spent several days edging out onto adjacent limbs in preparation for departure.  Each night he/she decided it was not time to go (it is a long ways down and no way back if the wings don’t start flapping when you push off).  There is daily retreat to the comfort of the pile of sticks — and having the adults supply the take-out dinner which they had harvested from the countryside.  (Sounds like what we’ve been doing for several weeks now what with the dining establishments having to give up onsite seating.)

Immature Bald Eagle sitting on tree on Crooked Oaks May 2020 – Bob Mercer

Along comes F-1.  The tornado’s visit was much shorter than the COVID-19 virus in duration (about a mile) and time (minutes), but its path was maybe 25 yards from that likely 2,000 pound nest located is the crotch of a 120 foot pine tree.  The three resident Bald Eagles had to be there because the youngster had not yet fledged (left the nesting area).  What a ride!  The tornado took out or damaged beyond saving about a dozen large trees in the area between the parallel third holes of our two golf courses as well as stripping leaves and needles.  This damaged area is diagonally across from the eagles’ nest.  The pine tree and the Bald Eagles all survived.  Golf course superintendent, Sean Hardwick, has confirmed that at least 50 percent of the nest was dislodged from the tree. 

Immature Bald Eagle flying above Crooked Oaks May 2020 – Bob Mercer

The young eaglet has since fledged.  On May first, I observed him three times.  Once sitting in a tree and seeming to be eating, once flying overhead, and a third time when he landed (apparently with something in his talons) on the golf course in from of me.  The wings did work.  The bird is learning to find food.  We have mid-wived another addition to the growing number of Bard Eagles in the world.  That process has come a long ways since the scourge of DDT nearly rendered them extinct.  On May 2nd, an adult eagle flew by me on the course, so they are still around.

Bald Eagle high in a Pine Tree on Crooked Oaks in January 2020 – Bob Mercer

Another bit of eagle news is about the discovery of a nesting pair of Bald Eagles in a large cactus tree in Arizona.  This is the first known nesting of eagles in that state in many years.  Now there is an example of of our newest catch phrase — ’social distancing’.   COVID-19 will not lead us toward extinction as DDT did to the Bald Eagles (and Eastern Bluebirds), but it has created a hole in our social fabric.  Stay safe.  Only then can each of us continue to enjoy our feathered friends.

Article Submitted by:  George Haskins 
Photos by: Robert Mercer

Have You Seen This Bird on Seabrook Island?

Although most people’s wings have been clipped, our feathered friends can still be seen migrating on their journey north to breeding grounds! One of these beautiful birds is rarely seen on Seabrook Island only during the spring migration – the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Several of our SIB members have reported seeing either the male or female grosbeak.

We had both male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak at our feeder today. They Loved the cylinder suet food.  I imagine going after the cranberries. The Red-winged Blackbirds kept chasing them away. I did get pictures of both of them. 

Patricia Schaefer

Thanks Patricia for sharing your beautiful photographs!

Have you seen a Rose-breasted Grosbeak on Seabrook Island? If you are interested to learn about other birds you might see migrating through Seabrook Island, refresh your memory by reading this blog from three years ago!