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, 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

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”
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