What’s this about dead Great Shearwaters on our beach?

On June 27, residents of Seabrook Island began hearing about sick and dead Great Shearwaters being seen from Murrells Inlet to Miami, Florida. A first reaction was “What’s going on here?” Research showed that although the strandings are not a good thing, the knowledgeable people are not concerned as this occurs every couple years.

Great Shearwaters are a common seabird off our Atlantic Coast, seldom coming close to shore except during storms. They often forage in flocks, commonly feeding around fishing boats, fighting over scraps and offal, seemingly fearless of humans. It is a medium-sized seabird (L: 19 inches) that is smaller than most gulls. Long, narrow wings are held quite straight when flying as it flies on deep wing beats followed by long glide. It has scaled, gray-brown upperparts, white underparts, and brown markings on belly. A dark cap contrasts with its white face. Its tail is dark above with conspicuous white rump band and gray below. The bill is dark and hooked. Its legs and feet are pink.  Pictures from Audubon’s web site are shown below.

Shearwaters are among the most widespread, abundant seabirds on the world’s oceans but are rarely seen on beaches. Although Great Shearwaters are often very numerous in North American waters, they nest only on a few islands in the South Atlantic almost half way between Africa and South America. In April they leave their breeding grounds and move north rapidly, mostly along western side of Atlantic, becoming common off east coast of North America in June. They then spread eastward across North Atlantic during summer, and southward migration is on broad front during August. Non breeders remain in North Atlantic at least through November.

Seabirds, especially Great Shearwaters, are greatly affected by oceanic conditions such as fronts, currents, salinity and surface temperature that affect the distribution and abundance of plankton and phytoplankton. Juveniles especially are susceptible to these variations. Al Segars of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources indicates the stranding of Great Shearwaters on our beaches happens every couple of years at about this time. The birds appear to fall out during migration due to malnutrition and starvation. This occurs primarily during periods of onshore winds. Similarly, a 2009 article to the Carolina Bird Club says “Actually, spring migration die-offs of this species occur regularly and probably nearly annually. The magnitude of the die-offs, the degree of documentation, and the amount of media coverage are of course highly variable.”

Currently, the Center for Birds of Prey are interested in treating the sick Great Shearwaters and doing necropsy on the dead. Contact Glen Cox (703-201-8934) if you encounter a stranded Great Shearwater. The pictures below were provided by Glen. The first is of a Great Shearwater that died while being transported to the Center for Birds of Prey from Botany Bay and the second was seen at the inlet.

Article Submitted by:  Judy Morr

“You can observe a lot by just watching” – Snowy Egret and Tricolored Heron “dance” on North Beach

Article and photos by Ed Konrad

If you were a baseball fan in the 1950s and 60s, you know about Yogi Berra, 18 time All Star catcher for the NY Yankees. Along with his baseball legacy, he was famous for his Yogi-isms…countless colloquial expressions that lacked logic, but after closer examination, could be quite meaningful. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”, “It ain’t over till it’s over”, “It’s like déjà vu all over again” to name a few.

“You can observe a lot by just watching” is a favorite Yogi-ism of mine, and can be applied to many aspects in life, including birding and photography. On a North Beach walk last week, my first pass didn’t reveal any photo opportunities. Many shorebirds and seabirds are off breeding, either having migrated north or at local places like Deveaux Bank. But in the last tide pool, an hour before low tide, I came across a Snowy Egret and Tricolored Heron doing their fascinating “dance”, one of my favorite bird behaviors to observe through the lens and photograph. I’ve included camera settings I use for bird photography later in article.

Continue reading ““You can observe a lot by just watching” – Snowy Egret and Tricolored Heron “dance” on North Beach”

Protecting Seabrook Island’s Migrating Shorebirds

Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) hosted a program featuring Felicia Sanders from South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SC-DNR) on Wednesday evening June 28, for a group of 70 SIB members and guests.

Felicia Sanders, Shorebird Lead for SCDNR, holding a Red Knot she has banded.

Felicia captivated the audience as she narrated photos of the fabulous shorebirds that spend time on our beaches either in the winter (Piping Plovers, Semi-palmated Plovers, Sanderlings), spring nesting (Wilson’s Plovers), during migration (Red Knots, Dunlin, Whimbrel), and year round (American Oystercatchers, Willets). As an example, Red Knots, a Federally Threatened shorebird species, use our beach during spring migration as a stopping point on their 18,000 mile roundtrip journey from their winter home on the southern tip of South American to the Arctic Circle where they nest. This spring, the largest known flock with 4,000 Red Knots enjoyed our beautiful and bountiful beaches to rest and feed before their 3-day direct 1,400 mile flight to James Bay in Canada.  This is pretty amazing considering there are only an estimated 25,000 Red Knots remaining on the planet! Felicia emphasized the significance of our Seabrook flock, and the partnership with Seabrook Island Birders as we assisted SC DNR in April in tagging Red Knots and placing transmitters for important tracking on their journey. 

Felicia explained how we can all help in protecting the birds and other wildlife on our island and particularly the beaches! The sign below has been donated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife and was recently installed by SIPOA at the end of Boardwalk #1 on North Beach.  Human disturbance is one of the top threats to nesting, migrating, and wintering shorebirds. Please remember:

  • Let Birds Feed & Rest: Resting and feeding are key to the survival of migratory and wintering birds on our beaches. Give them plenty of space. If birds run or fly, you are too close!
  • New signs posted on North Beach protecting nesting areas of Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers.

    Respect Posted Areas:  Keep out of posted areas. Disturbances to nesting birds can cause nests or entire colonies to fail. Never walk into the dune areas – Wilson’s Plovers are nesting on Seabrook Island in these areas!

  • Be a Bird Friendly Dog Owner:  Keep your dog on a leash when you see flocks of birds on the beach. Never allow your dog(s) or children to chase birds as it is extremely stressful to birds. And please abide by the “no dogs allowed” past the sign on North Beach. The Piping Plover winter migration will begin soon!

Please take time to learn and help educate your family, friends, and visitors to Seabrook Island on the importance of protecting and sharing our beach with our wildlife!

Share the Beach educational poster now located at the end of Boardwalk #1 on North Beach courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife and SCDNR

SIB Member Profile – Aija & Ed Konrad

Ed & Aija Konrad at Magee Marsh

We all find our path to birding in different ways…ours was through deer! Yes, deer! Ed and I were avid gardeners in Atlanta. On our 1-acre yard, we had extensive perennial gardens and were featured on Atlanta area garden tours.  And then, when they cleared some land on a little mountain behind our neighborhood, deer came to our garden and that was the end of that! Shortly thereafter, a friend asked me to come on an Audubon walk and the rest is history.  After talking to the walk leader about binoculars, I went from the walk to Wild Birds Unlimited, bought my first pair of real birding binoculars (Eagle Optics Ranger, 8X42, approx. $325) and never looked back. And soon after that, Ed began to tag along with me with his point and shoot camera. Soon he was hooked on bird photography, and graduated to bigger cameras and lenses. 10 years ago, we bought our villa at Seabrook and began our quest of shorebirds and seabirds. 

Continue reading “SIB Member Profile – Aija & Ed Konrad”

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

If you haven’t already signed up, please register now to let us know you are planning to attend our program on Wednesday June 28th!

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 “REMINDER: SIB Presents – Migratory Birds at Seabrook Island on June 28, 2017”

Bird of the Week … Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee, Kennesaw GA – Ed Konrad

It is  very exciting to see and  identify a new bird. While walking along boardwalk 1 at North  Beach on Seabrook Island in May, I heard a bird singing quite loudly. It sang; drink your teeaaa, along with a long trill at the end.  I stood for a long time under the tree and finally I was rewarded with seeing a bird perched high in a tree. It had a black hood, reddish brown flanks , and white belly. It also had a white patch on its’ wing. I used a bird app and came up with a couple of possibilities. At first I  thought it might be a Orchard Oriole. Then I listened to songs on the app of the oriole and knew that was incorrect. Finally, I identified it as an Eastern Towhee by matching the description and song on the app.  The female is chocolate brown instead of black.  I later found out that it was high in the tree singing in order to attract a female.  The next week I saw it in the same area high in a tree singing. A week later I saw it again, this time on the ground under a bush. I discovered that Eastern Towhees eat insects and seeds from the ground. An interesting fact is that it scratches in leaf litter to find food while doing a type of backward hop.  Additionally, they are a sparrow. Next time you hear a bird singing , be patient and keep looking and you just might be rewarded with a look at a bird; a most wonderful sight.

Article Submitted by:  Lydia McDonald
Photographs by: Ed Konrad