Bird of the Week … Northern Mockingbird

Thomas Jefferson with his Mockingbird Dick.

Well, not sure any of you guessed this, but our 3rd President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, had a pet Northern Mockingbird named “Dick.” He actually had several Mockingbirds at various times, but Dick was the only one he mentioned by name in his diary and apparently was his favorite. Jefferson often left the cage open in the White House and allowed him free range of his office (now the State Dining Room). Dick would perch on Jefferson’s couch or shoulder and sing or take a piece of food from Jefferson’s lips. When Jefferson played his violin, Dick would pour out his songs.

Northern Mockingbirds

Northern Mockingbird – Ed Konrad

Although maybe not the prettiest of all birds, Northern Mockingbirds certainly make up for looks with their beautiful extended repertoire of songs. These birds sing endlessly, and can learn up to 200 different songs. Both the male and female sing and can mimic many other bird calls, other animals and even mechanical sounds. There is a mockingbird near my house and he sounds exactly like a Red-tailed Hawk. Many of us have been fooled by these comical birds as they imitate Blue Jays, Orioles, Killdeer, frogs, dogs and even squeaky wheels. They tend to repeat phrases 2-6 times before shifting to a new sound. Unmated males will are the most insistent singers and may sing late into the night.

Northern Mockingbird – Charles Moore

Northern Mockingbirds are common on Seabrook Island year round. They are a medium sized bird that has gray upper parts with black and white wing feathers. Its tail is long, gray and edged with white. Its underside is light gray/white, their bill is black and the iris is yellowish-orange. They have prominent white patches on the wings that are especially visible in flight. These birds measure between 8-11 inches long and weigh 1.4-2 ounces. The sexes are similar although the male is heavier than the female.

These birds are generally monogamous. They breed in the spring and early summer on Seabrook and the female has 2-6 blue green eggs with brown splotches. The female incubates the eggs for 2 weeks and when they hatch, both male and female will assist in the feeding.  

Northern Mockingbird – Charles Moore

Northern Mockingbirds are omnivores. Their diet consists of insects, crustaceans and a variety of arthropods, especially beetles, ants, bees, wasps and grasshoppers. They also eat fruits and earthworms. You usually find them on SI foraging on the ground, on top of hedges, in open areas and forest edges. These birds are bold and territorial when defending their nests and will even attack intruders like cats, dogs, humans or other birds that venture too close.

Northern Mockingbird – Charles Moore

The lifespan of a Northern Mockingbird in the wild is eight years.  The Northern Mockingbird is the state bird of Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida and Arkansas.

Article Submitted by: Flo Foley
Photographs by: Charles Moore & Ed Konrad

SIB Presents – Migratory Birds at Seabrook Island on June 28, 2017

Felicia Sanders, Shorebird Lead for SCDNR

Everyone is Welcome to Meet
Felicia Sanders
Shorebird Lead for SCDNR

to speak on
Migratory Shorebirds at Seabrook Island

Join us on

Date: Wednesday June 28, 2017
Registration & Social: 7:00 pm
Program Starts: 7:30 pm
Location:  Live Oak Hall at the Lake House on Seabrook Island
Cost:  Free for SIB Members &  a $5 donation for non SIB members

Join us for an informative evening with Felicia Sanders, lead of the Shorebird Program at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), who will speak on Migratory Shorebirds at Seabrook Island.

To help us plan for the number of chairs, snacks and wine, please register now!

Continue reading “SIB Presents – Migratory Birds at Seabrook Island on June 28, 2017”

Bird of the Week … Who am I?

Presidential Pets

Most U.S. Presidents have a pet, including several who owned birds.  Do you know which local bird species named Dick was owned by one of our Presidents?  Use the comment section to leave your guess!  Extra points if you can name the President too! (And don’t cheat and use Google!!!)

Watch for our article on Sunday!

SIB Members Bird the Midwest During Spring Migration

Recently, we had a mini-version of SIB converge in Ohio! While we did not see each other, we were all there at almost the same time. Nancy Brown and Flo Foley were on a 12-day Wings Birding Tour, Judy and Dean Morr visited family for Mother’s Day in Mercer County and Ed and I did an impromptu trip, on our way home from a family visit in NY, to iconic Magee Marsh and surrounding area for the Biggest Week in American Birding festival for the migration of warblers. 

Aija & Ed’s Birding Experience

Ed and I arrived on a cold, windy, drizzly day and the birding was spectacular! Magee Marsh is a thin strip of land where the migrating birds stop to rest in their migration from South and Central America across Lake Erie into Canada and points north. I had heard about the festival previously, but until you see the spectacle of thousands of birders with their binoculars and cameras stalking totally oblivious warblers on a mile long boardwalk, you would not believe it. It was quite a show and often times all you heard was the sound of camera shutters going off. The hungry birds were close and plentiful, a photographer’s and birdwatcher’s dream. 

Ed and I found 27 warbler species on the whole trip in MD, NY, OH, KY and TN and we got many spectacular photos! Highlights were the Blackburnian, Magnolia, Nashville and Bay-breasted, which are all pretty difficult to find in SC during migration. Yellow Warblers were like gnats in OH, seemingly everywhere, even one on nest! At one point we had 6 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in one tree. It’s an event not to be missed and if you ever have a chance to go, take advantage of it. 

Judy Morr’s Birding Experience

When I moved from Ohio 35 years ago, I wasn’t in to birding.  In preparation for my Mother’s Day visit, I used eBird to give me some information:

  • I used the “Explore a Region” within “Explore Data” to find where the Hot Spots were in Mercer County Ohio.
  • Within “Explore a Region” I went to “Target Species” and again selected Mercer County Ohio but limited it to the month of May.  This provided me with a list of birds seen in Mercer County in May that were NOT on my Life List.  I printed this list.  It was sorted in frequency seen which was helpful.
  • The most fun thing was seeing the “Top eBirders”.  The leader by far in both submitted checklists and number of species was the same person.  I decided to see if I could talk to this person to get more information.

Since eBird doesn’t provide email address of participants, I used Google on the person’s name and town. BINGO!  The second “result” was an article from the local newspaper with headline: “Love of birds pays off for local teen”.   A 14 year-old boy had come in runner-up for the second consecutive year in a national photography contest for birders.  I found the mother on Facebook so I messaged her with my name and asked if her son would be willing to go birding with me to show me his favorite places and birds.  Being a small town, I suspect she recognized my unusual last name.  She immediately responded that he would be honored.  Long story short, they live down the street from my in-laws and the boy’s maternal grandfather was a golfing friend from 35 years ago.  When we talked to finalize our outing, the mother asked if her 14 year old son could accompany the now 16 year old.  I had a date with two young gentlemen!

The birding was great too!  On the way to the grocery on Saturday, I stopped by the ball field that was one of the Hot Spots.  In just a few minutes, I saw seven species, three which were on the earlier mentioned Target Species (Solitary Sandpiper, Nashville & Magnolia Warblers).  

My teenage guides were terrific.  They discussed the best places to go based upon my target species list and decided our itinerary.  The second stop was the jackpot!  In less than 2 hours, I added 8 birds to my life list (Warbling Vireo, Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, and Tennessee, Mourning, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided Warblers).  I also re-saw two of three from Saturday.  The list was 62 birds, including 16 warblers.  It was definitely Warbler Week in Ohio.  Due to our fun at the second site, we had to skip the last site so the boys could get home in time to mow the yard.  The father greeted us upon our return and invited me to call the next time I came to Ohio.  I plan to do so!

Flo Foley & Nancy Brown’s Birding Experience

Jon Dunn after autographing his book for a young avid birder, Magee Marsh – David Edgar

This is our third bird tour with Wings Birding Tours Worldwide.  This tour, “Spring Migration in the Midwest,” is lead by Jon Dunn, a lifelong birder who is co-author of the 6th and upcoming 7th National Geographic Society’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America, among other books and videos. The trip accommodates only seven participants and is such a popular trip, we booked it a 1 1/2 years in advance!  The major goal for most people who take this trip are the Eastern Wood-Warblers.

Nancy Brown & Flo Foley, Magee Marsh – Flo Foley

We met our group in Florence, Kentucky on May 10th and began birding that afternoon by visiting Capability Farm in Versailles, Indiana.  This 400 acre farm began a conversion into quality wildlife habitat six years ago and it was a fabulous place to bird with numerous habitats! We traveled through Kentucky looking for several specific birds we may not see in the more northern territory of our trip, like the Swainson’s Warbler and the Henslow’s Sparrow, both life birds for us.  We spent two nights at the Shawnee Lodge in southern Ohio before traveling north through Columbus to spend three nights near Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Crane Creek and Magee Marsh.  What an amazing area!  We arrived at the end of the festival so we avoided most of the crowds seen by Ed & Aija earlier that week. We added another five life birds to our list in this area (Connecticut Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo, American Woodcock & Black-billed Cuckoo).  And we’ll always remember standing in the parking lot looking into the sky to watch hundreds upon hundreds of Blue Jays migrating past.  We counted at least 2,000 birds in less than 30 minutes!

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Tawas Point – David Edgar

Our group continued north for three nights in Tawas City, Michigan. Besides our first Greater Scaup, we were thrilled to identify a Fork-tailed Flycatcher at Tawas Point State Park.  This migratory tropical bird is from southern South America and seemed to make a major error in navigation to end up in northern Michigan.  Our final destination was to Mio, Michigan for hopes of seeing the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler.  With approximately 5,000 birds remaining, it has a very specific habitat nesting in dense young Jack Pine forests growing on a special type of sandy soil. Visit the USFWS site to learn more about this fascinating bird. We got great views of several males and a female Kirtland’s Warbler.

In total, we saw 216 bird species on our trip including 10 life birds and ALL 38 Eastern Wood-Warblers.  In addition we saw numerous mammals, reptiles and butterflies. Our group of eight people got along fabulously riding more than a 1,000 miles in a 12-passenger van to see birds of a life time. Jon was an outstanding guide with expert knowledge and friends in every corner who would assist with locating birds for us!  At times, it was truly a successful “wild goose chase” (or more accurately, a Wood Warbler chase)!

As you can see, there are many ways to bird! You can bet all of us always travel with a pair of binoculars and often research the birds that will be common in an area before we arrive, even if birding isn’t the primary reason for our trip!

Submitted by:  Aija Konrad, Judy Morr & Nancy Brown
Photographs by:  Ed Konrad, Nancy Brown, Flo Foley and Others

Bird of the Week … The Night-Herons: Similar but Different

There are two species of night heron both of which are found on Seabrook Island and throughout much of the South Eastern United States; the Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night-Heron. A third species, the Bermuda Night-Heron, was endemic to Bermuda but became extinct about 100 years ago through human activity.

Similarities

Both Night-Heron species are medium sized birds and are one of the smallest herons at about 24 inches high and weighing approximately two pounds. Females are slightly smaller than males.

The adults are easy to distinguish. The Black-crownedNight-Heron has a black crown, black back, grey and white body, red eyes, and short yellow legs. The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron’s body and back are smooth grey-blue, it’s head is black and glossy with white cheeks and a pale-yellow crown that extends from the back of its head between the eyes to the bill. Long thin white feathers extend from the back of the crown of both species during matting season

As their name implies they are both active primarily at dusk and during the night.

They are both found in vegetated areas associated with shallow waters. They seek out both saltwater and fresh water areas such as marshes, lagoons, swamps, streams, lake shores and areas that are regularly flooded.

Foraging mainly at dusk and during darkness, the primary diet of both Night-Heron are crabs, crayfish, other crustaceans, insects, worms and small fish.

They both spend daylight hours perched on tree limbs and bushes generally over the water hidden by foliage.

Both birds nest in trees when available, often in small colonies, with both parents participating in nest building, laying 2 to 6 eggs. The young stay close throughout the breeding season.

Differences

The Black-crowned Night-Heron occurs, breeds and is a year-round resident throughout most of the world. The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron is found exclusively in the Americas and is a year-round resident only in those areas warm enough to allow for an abundance of crabs, their primary food source.  The breeding range of the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron has recently (1925 – 1960) spread throughout much of the South Eastern United States.

Whereas the Black–crowned Night-Heron is easily disturbed by human activity, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron does not mind living near humans and is frequently found in wooded neighborhoods. In flight the legs of the Black-crowned Night-Heron are hidden and cannot be seen but the Yellow-crown Night-Heron extends it bright yellow legs straight below the tail feathers in flight as with most other herons and can clearly be seen.

Juveniles

The juveniles of both Night-Heron look nothing like their parents, often appearing larger that the adults and are so similar in appearance it is very difficult to distinguish the two species. Juveniles take up to three years to obtain adult plumage.

Black-crowned Night-Heron juveniles often sit hunched over, appear thicker bodied, the wings are brown with large white dots and the bill is a slightly thicker and is dark on top and greenish yellow on the bottom. The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron juvenile appears slender, stands taller, has numerous small white dots on its wings and its bill is nearly black. However, as they are far more similar than different it is very difficult to distinguish the juveniles of these two night herons.

Article & Photographs Submitted by:  Charles Moore

 

Bird of the Week … Who are We?

For the month of June, SIB will post articles relating to common summer residents. How many of them will you know? What new information will you learn about these birds commonly seen on Seabrook Island?

For our first week, take a look at the two photos below and tell us what species we will share this Sunday. Extra credit if you can identify the bird in the first vs the second photo!  Post your guess in the Comments!

Bird of the Week … Shorebird & Seabird Nests

While many shorebirds and seabirds nest on Deveaux Bank, we only have 4 possible nesters on North Beach. They are the Wilson’s Plover, the Least Tern, the Willet and a possible pair of American Oystercatcher. (The answers to Friday’s teaser are at the end of this article). Shorebird and seabird nesting is a fragile enterprise and success is fraught with peril since a nest is often nothing more than a shallow scrape in the sand. We have a designated nesting area on North Beach, but birds can’t read and often choose other areas and are subject to high tides and predators. 

The Wilson’s Plovers have been exhibiting courting behavior on our beach this spring. Males have been vocal and territorial with each other while courting females. They lay eggs in a small scrape in the sand and try to camouflage their nest. If you get near a bird that is vocal and feigning a broken wing, steer clear of the area. It means they have a nest nearby. 

Least Terns are the smallest of the SC terns and have a black-tipped yellow bill. They have a very funny courting behavior where a male brings a small fish to the female and she either accepts the fish of rejects it. We have photographed this many times on North Beach. They will actually “dive bomb” you if you get near a possible nest. Last year, there was evidence of Least Tern nesting on the “highway” part of the cut, but unfortunately SC DNR found evidence of coyote tracks near the possible nests. There have been several endeavors to actually make Least Tern nesting areas on coarse sand and pebble covered roofs or abandoned docks in Charleston to give them a safe environment for nesting. The results are promising. 

American Oystercatcher, North Beach, banded U5 and mate – Ed Konrad

A pair of American Oystercatchers (including our reliable banded U5) may also have had a nest on Seabrook. They are often seen together on our beach. Their nest is also a scrape in the sand, usually further back in the dunes. The use their feet to make a scrape and line it with shells, pebbles and wrack. It is often susceptible to high tides.

Willet, Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island – Ed Konrad

Several pairs of vocal Willets have also been observed on our beach which could indicate a nest. Willets nest back in the dunes and also on the ground. They have a piercing call and also use a broken wing display to draw attention away from their nest. 

On Deveaux Bank, the colonial nesters abound. Colonial nesting means nesting in large groups of the same species. Brown Pelicans, Black Skimmers, Royal Terns, Gull-billed Terns and Sandwich Terns all nest in large colonies. I have never personally observed these birds on nest, but Dana Beach’s book on Deveaux Bank has wonderful pictures of the spectacle of the large colonies of nesting birds. The Brown Pelican nesting colony is the largest on the Atlantic Coast. 

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If you see anything that you suspect as nesting activity, give the birds lots of room. Respect the posted nesting area. Keep your pets on a leash, and out of the “No Dogs Allowed” area completely, as well not allowing dogs to go above the high tide line in any area. Don’t force feeding birds near the water to fly and give them lots of room to feed. Don’t litter on the beach, nor feed the birds human food. If you see trash, pick it up. Birds can ingest or feed their chicks plastic items they mistake for food. 

Beach nesting coastal birds are among the most threatened of all migratory birds. Of the 51 species that breed in North America , 43%, or 22 species, are declining in population. Audubon South Carolina has a program called “Let ’em Rest, Let ’em Nest” – a way of co-existing with coastal birds.

Article Submitted by:  Aija Konrad
Photographs by:  Ed Konrad

Answers to Friday’s Teaser: