Nine locations, 93 species, 2,082 individual birds, 11 hours and 20,000+ steps are the numbers I reported for my marathon day of birding. Bob Mercer and I spent the long day doing social distancing while birding. Six others joined us at varying locations to participate in the fun. Let me tell you more about my day.
We started the day at 6:30 with a visit to Camp St. Christopher. We were granted permission to bird in this closed facility. (Our individual donations to the Camp were appreciated!) Bob was able to identify the numerous birds we heard in the dawn chorus. The day started with Painted Buntings and Summer Tanagers. 46 species were seen on our 2.7 mile walk. (Mark Andrews admitted he didn’t realize such long trails could be hidden in the relatively small gem.) At the slough (with very high water) we saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings that had yet to go north. Near there, we also heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and two Black-throated Blue Warblers. This was also the only location we reported a White-eyed Vireo, a Red-eyed Vireo or Eastern Kingbird.
Our second location of the day was the always interesting North Beach. The wind was chilly and brutal but we saw 45 species and almost 3 miles. One Piping Plover, American Oystercatchers (including the infamous U5), a small number of Red Knots, Wilson Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers and Least Terns were seen. In greater abundance were Semipalmated Plovers (700), Semipalmated Sandpipers (75), Dunlins (125), Sanderlings (100), and Royal Terns (75). Of course, Brown Pelicans and Laughing Gulls were there as well. On the return walk from the spit, a Savannah Sparrow was seen running along the dune.
A single Piping Plover among hundreds of Semipalmated Plovers – Nancy Brown
Savannah Sparrow – Mark Andrews
The last stop of the morning probably had the greatest concentration of birds. We stopped to see the rookery on the golf course lagoon that backs to houses on The Haulover. We had to guess at the numbers of birds as they were everywhere. Some Great Egrets had penthouse nests on tops of palms. Wood Storks were still constructing their nests. Great Egrets and Snowy egrets were feeding their young. Even Cattle Egret were in residence at this commune as were several pairs of Anhinga. A total of 15 species were seen in this brief stop.
Wood Storks Preparing Nest – Jackie Brooks
Cattle Egret on Nest – Jackie Brooks
Baby Egrets at lunch – Jackie Brooks
Baby Egrets Napping – Jackie Brooks
The afternoon started with a walk around Palmetto Lake. A mature male Orchard Oriole, a female Orchard Oriole and a first-year male all gave us good views to get a good comparison of the varying plumage. In one hour and about three quarters of a mile, 30 species were seen.
First seen at this location then seen again later in the day were Northern Rough-winged Swallows and a beautiful Mississippi Kite. When a European Starling crossed our path, we could eliminate the Horse Pasture from our scheduled itinerary and make up for lost time.
The Maintenance Area was next on our stop. The 29 species were all seen in less than .2 mile and a half hour. By this time, our legs appreciated this. Highlights were three Mississippi Kites circling along with two Red-shouldered Hawks. A mama Killdeer was there with her chicks.
An elegant Black-necked Stilt was seen. 25 Least Sandpipers were near at hand. When planning our day, this was the location we hoped to see the Spotted Sandpiper. There were four here but we also saw them bobbing their tails at three other locations.
Jenkins Point resulted in 33 species over 1.4 mile. Although seen in five locations, the 10 Green Heron seen here were the peak. One was building a nest and another posed nicely for a photo. There were no species seen only at this location but 13 Black-crowned Night Herons were another highlight. All participants admired but stayed clear of the numerous “baby” alligators. It was agreed, those were probably either one or two years old.
Nancy Brown joined Bob and I for our last stop at Bohicket Marina. The Eurasian Collared-Dove was the goal for this stop. It was an easy find since one is nesting on Nancy and Flo’s porch. Other unique finds within the 21 species seen were Chimney Swifts and Black Skimmers (missed at North Beach).
After I was home and enjoying that glass of wine, I was able to add to my day’s list with a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a Wild Turkey, and a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak. As night settled in, I heard the Chuck-will’s-Wwidow as my 93rd species of the day.
“Expected” but not seen were Eastern Towhee, White-breasted Nuthatch (Friday’s sighting didn’t count), any owls, and Black-and-white Warbler. With these notable misses, I may have to try again next year with a goal of 100 species.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stuck in the house? Miss birding? Think there is nothing but what is at your feeder to watch? During the past month I have spent most of my time on our porch, but I am usually reading and/or glancing only at the feeder activity. Lately, I have started looking up rather than down and out at the feeders. Had I not changed my perspective I would have missed the Great Crested Flycatcher, the “Butterbutts” (Yellow-rumped Warblers), the Black-and-white Warbler, and the White-breasted Nuthatch. So, while you are quarantined change your perspective. Look up and around in more ways than one.
Read more of this article and see the photo gallery story by Jackie Brooks, click below:
I don’t know about you, but I miss seeing all my Seabrook Island Birder friends! Since we are still limited in conducted in-person group activities, we thought we’d try offering our “Movie Matinees” using Zoom! And the beauty is you don’t even have to be on Seabrook Island to join!
Many of you by now have either heard about or even used Zoom as a way to communicate with family and friends. I’ve been using Zoom for a couple months for family “reunions,” board meetings, cooking lessons with our nieces and taking on-line classes with our nieces.
SIB wants to connect with our members, and we will start with offering two Movie Matinees. Please let us know if you are interested for either or both. We will send you a link to allow you access the day prior to the event. We will open each event with introductions, watch the hour long show together, and finish with a short discussion to get your feedback and answer questions.
Sign up by clicking here and then plan to get comfy in your favorite chair with snacks and beverages of your choice to enjoy our gathering!
Tuesday May 12, 2:30 – 4:00 pm Saving Songbirds: Songbirds fly in and out of our lives, enchanting us with their colorful plumage and melodies. Warblers, orioles and bobolinks – these perching birds are familiar sights to New Englanders. But the population of many songbird species is plummeting, and the birds face serious threats to their survival. Join Willem Lange as he takes us from New England to Costa Rica and Jamaica to meet these colorful and melodic migratory birds and the people who are dedicated to SAVING SONGBIRDS.
Tuesday May 19, 2:30 – 4:00 pm Animal Homes: The Nest: Bird nests come in all shapes and sizes, crafted from a diversity of materials, including fur, grasses, leaves, mosses, sticks and twigs, bones, wool, mud and spider silk. Quite a few contain man-made materials — twine, bits of wire, even plastic bags. Each is a work of art, built with just a beak! All over the world, birds in the wild arrive at diverse nesting grounds to collect, compete for, reject, steal and begin to build with carefully selected materials, crafting homes for the task of protecting their eggs and raising their young.
Although we can’t host our annual Global Big Day bird walks, we want to encourage everyone to participate in a safe and responsible manner! A few of us will be scouring Seabrook Island to document as many birds as we can find in as many locations as possible. We hope you, whether you are on Seabrook Island or another location anywhere in the world, will take just a few minutes to record the birds you see! Below are easy instructions and “pro tips” on how you can participate! If possible, “share” your eBird list with SIBEBIRD so we can track the number of checklists, species and birds our members document for the day! If you need help, just email us so we can assist!
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’.
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.)
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.
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.
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