A Message from Dana Beach and the Coastal Conservation League

The miracle of the red knot. The drama of nature in the comfort of your home. Conservation in the cause of economic development.

We hope you enjoy the information below and take time to learn more about our special migrant bird the Red Knot, view the Pelicam of Crab Bank and read more about various initiatives to care for our Low Country home!

Coastal Conservation League

Folks,

This was a big week for birds (especially small ones).  Deborah Cramer, whose beautifully titled Pulitzer prize winner, “The Narrow Edge:  A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey,” celebrates the courageous — even miraculous — life of the red knot, spoke at the Library Society on Wednesday to a standing room only crowd.  Who would have guessed that there could be such enthusiasm for an obscure bird that appears in South Carolina only briefly in the spring and fall?

Like so much in nature these days, the story of the red knot is bittersweet.  In spite of its beauty, courage and endurance, the red knot is under pressure on all fronts.  Its primary food source, which fuels a (truly epic) 9,000 mile migration from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic, is the horseshoe crab egg — billions of them, to be specific.

Delaware Bay has been the historical refueling stop.  The red knot’s arrival there is perfectly timed with the annual egg laying of hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs. Fishermen in Virginia and Maryland have depleted the population of these crustaceans, “harvesting” (aka, “killing”) them for bait to catch eels and conchs.  Red knot populations have plummeted as a result — so much so that it was recently listed as a threatened species.

South Carolina, fortunately, banned the killing of horseshoe crabs for bait in the 1980s.  Ironically, the motivation was to make more of them available for pharmaceutical use.  (The crab is a true blue blood — a valuable commodity in the drug business —  in contrast to our beloved native Charlestonians, whose blood is the same color of red as someone from, say, Charlotte.)  This is ironic because taking the crab’s blood also causes mortality, only not as severely as using them for bait.

So the good news, for us, is that South Carolina has become more important to the red knot’s migration and survival.  Another interesting point, according to Deborah, is that rice fields are also increasingly valuable habitats.  With 70,000 acres remaining, the Lowcountry is, for the moment, well endowed with both rice fields and horseshoe crabs.

I urge you to read this op-ed by Deborah from the New York Times.  She presents with beauty and urgency the dire circumstances facing shorebirds.  We can’t ignore the perils we have created for these remarkable creatures.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/02/opinion/silent-seashores.html 

Another miracle of nature is the fact that a tiny sand bar in the middle of Charleston Harbor is the breeding ground for a large percentage of the pelicans, royal and Sandwich terns, and black skimmers that grace the Charleston area.  Crab Bank, at the mouth of Shem Creek, is now probably less than an acre in size, but its ecological value is almost incalculable.  All together, there are just five seabird colonies in the state — just a few hundred acres responsible for the survival of the birds most of us consider iconic and permanent parts of the Lowcountry ecosphere.

Now it is possible to observe a seabird rookery in action on your computer!  Last Friday the Conservation League officially launched our Pelicam, which provides continuous streaming video from Crab Bank.  In spite of the proliferation of eagle and owl cams, the Pelicam is the first and only seabird colony based webcam in the world.  Here is Channel 5’s coverage of the launch.

http://www.live5news.com/story/31966385/pelicam-offers-glimpse-into-bird-sanctuary

I won’t elaborate on the excitement… the therapeutic, almost hypnotic enjoyment… of contemplating these wonderful, serene, pugilistic, gentle animals.  Take a look for yourself:

http://coastalconservationleague.org/pelicam/

Finally, in case anyone thinks of conservationists as just tree-hugging nature lovers, Sammy Fretwell, with the State, reports that conservation groups have collaborated with business interests throughout the state to advance economic development projects.  Recent examples on the coast include the mitigation plans for Volvo’s new plant and Boeing’s expansion, and for the harbor deepening project, all developed and implemented with participation and leadership from local conservation organizations.  This underscores the almost blindingly obvious point that economic development without the conservation of nature would produce a world that few people would actually want to live in.

http://www.thestate.com/news/local/article20789562.html

Have a wonderful week and enjoy the Pelicam!

Dana Beach

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SIB Members Flock to Jenkins Point

Eighteen people joined Flo Foley and Nancy Brown on a two-hour birding adventure along Jenkins Point on Saturday May 14th.  This included three new members along with their parents from NYC.  Five of the participants met us on bikes and the rest car-pooled to the street.

It was a beautiful day to view the many birds (and a few alligators) found at the side of the road, along the ponds and in the marsh.  Below is the complete list of the 31 bird species we either saw or heard along the one-mile stretch of the Jenkins Point neighborhood.  Thanks to Adam Holtzschue for taking the photos of this flock of SIB members!

Please be sure to visit our website and sign-up for our blog postings.  We have nine spaces available on another walk scheduled for this Thursday May 19th at Camp St. Christopher with the Director of Education, David Gardner – you can register for that event here.

Double-crested Cormorant  1
Brown Pelican  3
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  27
Snowy Egret  1
Green Heron  7
Turkey Vulture  2
Osprey  2
Black-bellied Plover  1
Semipalmated Plover  2
Willet  1
Whimbrel  2
Laughing Gull  4
Mourning Dove  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  2
Blue Jay  1
American Crow  5
Fish Crow  1
Barn Swallow  3
Carolina Chickadee  4
Tufted Titmouse  1
Carolina Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Eastern Bluebird  3
Pine Warbler  1
Northern Cardinal  4
Painted Bunting  1     heard
Red-winged Blackbird  2
Boat-tailed Grackle  6

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Wilson’s Plover

Wilson’s PloverCharadrius wilsonia
Length: 7.75”; Wingspan: 19”; Weight: 2.1 oz.

Another plover? Seabrook Islanders have heard a great deal about the Piping Plover but there are several other plovers that also appear on our beaches: the Black-bellied, the Semipalmated and the Wilson’s.

The Black-bellied is considerably different from the other three and is here predominantly in the winter. The others are smaller birds and they resemble one another so much that they are sometimes difficult to tell apart. As with many birds, they change color slightly seasonally and gain or lose breeding plumage which just adds to the confusion.

This week we are focusing on the Wilson’s Plover. Named for an early ornithologist, Alexander Wilson1 this bird is the largest of the three at between 6-8”. Note its bigger, thicker beak relative to the two other plovers. Additionally, its breast band is wider. When it stands on the beach, it often assumes a more upright position – although not always.

Seabrook Island Plover Comparison: Piping vs Semipalmated vs Wilson's
Seabrook Island Plover Comparison: Piping vs Semipalmated vs Wilson’s

While most of the Piping and Semipalmated Plovers are on our beaches in the winter and migrate north to nest and raise their young, the Wilson’s is here in the spring and summer and nests here on North Beach. It lays its eggs on the beach.   As you can see from the pictures below, the eggs are right in the open yet so well camouflaged that they are barely detectable. Can you even find them in the first picture? They are more obvious in the second close-up picture, taken at a different angle. It’s clear why the eggs can be so easily stepped on by beach goers. Fortunately, these birds often choose nesting areas away from the immediate shoreline, areas where people are less likely to walk. When aroused off of its nest, the bird will call with a sharp, liquid quit or queet to warn intruders.

Because of its larger, stronger beak, the Wilson’s Plover tends to search for and devour larger creatures than the smaller plovers. Typically, it will run a few steps forward, pause, then run again, probing the ground in search of something edible. It likes crustaceans, worms and insects as well as small mollusks.

The oldest recorded Wilson’s Plover was at least six years old according to it’s banding history. It was a male that was recaptured in South Carolina and then released.

The Wilson’s Plover population, like that of many shore birds, is declining. This is not surprising considering the vulnerability of its nests. It is in the highest category of the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List which includes those birds that are at risk of becoming endangered or threatened in North America.  As you walk along North Beach just past the dog “off-leash” area, you will notice new signage has been placed to ensure the nesting areas for both the Wilson’s Plover and the Least Terns are protected.

New signs posted on North Beach protecting nesting areas of Least Terns and Wilson's Plovers.
New signs posted on North Beach protecting nesting areas of Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers.

1 Wilson had several other birds named in his honor. These include Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Warbler, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise. The snipe and warbler may be seen in SC, the phalarope is rare and the bird-of-paradise is an Indonesian endemic.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Submitted by Marcia Hider
Photographs by Ed Konrad & File Photos

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Least Tern

Least Tern – Sternula antillarum
Length:  9″; Wingspan: 20″; Weight: 1.5 oz.

Courtship of Least Terns - Ed Konrad
Courtship of Least Terns – Ed Konrad

The Least Tern arrives to Seabrook Island in mid-April each year.  It is the smallest tern in North America.  Look for a small, graceful tern with a black cap, white forehead, and yellow bill. Their legs are yellow.  Like most other terns, they plunge dive for small fish.

As of this year, we are so lucky to have these birds return to Seabrook Island to nest.  You will find them nesting and flying in the dune areas above high tide on North Beach in the area of the new inlet cut.  This area was marked off with signs and rope by DNR during the first week of May.  Extra high tides along with disturbances by humans and dogs may cause considerable loss of nests, eggs, and young in this species.  Least Terns are now listed as threatened in South Carolina.

Least Terns are vocal and defend their nest areas by flying at intruders (please avoid their nesting areas during the breeding season if you find a colony).  They “chitter” constantly as they feed, when they take flight and if disturbed.  It is a metallic sharp call that sounds like this.

They are monogamous and breed at 2-years old,  generally having one brood (sometimes 2).  Least Terns nest on open beaches or river margins, usually near water. They may also nest on flat roofs. The nest is a shallow scrape in the sand, usually unlined, and is built by the female.  They lay 1-3 eggs which both sexes incubate for 20-22 days.  In very hot weather, adults may wet their belly feathers and cool the eggs.  Young leave the nest a few days after hatching and hide nearby.  Both parents care for the chicks.  They can fly after 19-20 days or so but remain with their parents for 2-3 months. Please check-out the great photos and captions of Least Tern courtship below.

After breeding, adults and young frequently rest on the beach together (the young are darker with faint barring on the back) and may mingle with Black Terns in the later summer.

A group of least terns are collectively known as a “straightness” of terns.

Besides North Beach, you may also see these beautiful and graceful birds near the ponds of the golf club, at Bohicket Marina and at various other ponds on Seabrook Island.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

(Source: Carl Helmes, http://www.BirdsofSeabrookIsland.org; edited by Nancy Brown; photographs by Ed Konrad)

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

“Who-o-o” Missed the SIB Meeting Featuring the Center for Birds of Prey?

Eurasian Eagle -owl - Glen Cox
Eurasian Eagle -owl – Glen Cox

The second quarterly Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) evening program was held on Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at The Lake House.  The social hour began at 7:00 PM with wine, cheese, and cookies under the guidance of Donna Lawrence.  There were 81 present (62 members including 14 new members and 19 guests).  Fees of $5/member and $10/guest were charged to cover program cost.

The program presenters, Stephen Schabel and Audrey Popolin from the Center for Birds of Prey, were introduced by Lyn Magee.  Stephen provided the information about the three adult birds which they had brought with them as Audrey paraded them around the room.  The Harris Hawk and Eurasian Eagle-owl were also allowed to fly around the room, often sweeping just above attendees’ heads, in response to treats (see the video taken by Tara Penny).  The Osprey, the only bird of the three seen locally, was just paraded.  The birds were magnificent and it was an awesome display.

The conclusion of the program was the viewing of three pairs of young bird chicks:  a pair of Eurasian Eagle-owls, a pair of Spectacle Owls and a pair of Kestrels who were only six and nine-days old.

Mark your calendars for the upcoming SIB events.

  • The next SIB quarterly program on June 22, will feature Felicia Saunders, DNR, and Melissa Bimbi, US Fish and Wildlife.
  • Sign-up for our “Learning Together” birding at Jenkins Point on Saturday May 14
  • Sign-up for Birding with David Gardner on Thursday May 19

Please enjoy the photographs below.

Article submitted by George Haskins & Photographs submitted by Glen Cox & Nancy Brown

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Red-headed Woodpecker

(submitted by:  Judy Morr)

Is Woody Woodpecker the only woodpecker you know you can identify for sure?

There are actually 6 different woodpeckers seen on Seabrook Island and we will profile each one throughout the year:

  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Red Bellied Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (common only in winter)
  • Red-headed Woodpecker (seen on Seabrook Island if you know where to look)

Cornell Lab states “Several species of woodpeckers have red on their heads. Only one of these is named Red-headed Woodpecker,” and we will profile them first.

Red-headed Woodpecker – Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Length:  7.5-9.1″; Wingspan: 16.5″; Weight: 2-3.2 oz.

Red-headed Woodpecker - Ed Konrad
Red-headed Woodpecker – Ed Konrad

The gorgeous Red-headed Woodpecker is so boldly patterned it’s been called a “flying checkerboard,” with an entirely crimson head, a snow-white body, and half white, half inky black wings.  These birds don’t act quite like most other woodpeckers: they’re adept at catching insects in the air, and they eat lots of acorns and beech nuts, often hiding away extra food in tree crevices for later.  This magnificent species has declined severely in the past half-century because of habitat loss and changes to its food supply.

A Red-headed Woodpecker has an unmarked black back with white wing tips.  Their head is completely red including it’s cheeks and throat.

Listen to the sounds they make by clicking  Querr calls, drum, & flight churr.

Red-headed Woodpeckers eat insects, fruits, and seeds.  Overall, they eat about one-third animal material (mostly insects) and two-thirds plant material.  Their insect diet includes beetles, cicadas, midges, honeybees, and grasshoppers.  Red-headed Woodpeckers eat seeds, nuts, corn, berries and other fruits; they sometimes raid bird nests to eat eggs and nestlings; they also eat mice and occasionally adult birds.

Red-headed Woodpeckers typically catch aerial insects by spotting them from a perch on a tree limb or fencepost and then flying out to grab them. They forage on the ground and up to 30 feet above the forest floor in summer, whereas in the colder months they forage higher in the trees.  In winter Red-headed Woodpeckers catch insects on warm days, but they mostly eat nuts such as acorns, beech nuts, and pecans.  Red-headed Woodpeckers cache food by wedging it into crevices in trees or under shingles on houses.  They store live grasshoppers, beech nuts, acorns, cherries, and corn, often shifting each item from place to place before retrieving and eating it during the colder months.

Red-headed Woodpeckers are considered Occasional to Rare on Seabrook. Populations appear to be declining.  Current tree care usually removes dead stubs or stumps used for nests and they compete with starlings, other woodpeckers and kestrels for nest cavities. Blue Jays and starlings steal their caches.  They find creosote-coated utility poles lethal for their young.  And to top it off, they don’t use bird houses.

That said, you can find Red-headed Woodpeckers on Seabrook but count yourself lucky each time.  Look for them on trunks and branches along the inner streets and golf cart pathways through the island.  This week during the Audubon International annual bird count, at least three were seen on both Crooked Oaks and Ocean Winds!  They are a special woodpecker!  Watch for them flying – golf courses, Camp St. Christopher, etc.

They are potential breeders on the island.

A group of woodpeckers has many collective nouns, including a “descent”, “drumming” and “gatling” of woodpeckers.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

Annual Audubon International Bird Count Results

(Article Submitted by:  George Haskins, Survey Coordinator & Photos Submitted by: Charley Moore)

The annual survey of bird species on or adjacent to the Seabrook Island golf courses was conducted on April 28, 2016, by a team of 13 persons.  The ground rules call for counting those seen or heard from the golf courses themselves.  A spotting scope in trained hands expands that horizon.  Five teams of two persons each were out from 6:15 to 8:30 AM, two teams were out from 4:30 to 6:00 PM, one person was vigilant all day from her home on the Crooked Oaks course, and one person was on the 14th tee of Ocean Winds toward sunset. Those participating were Nancy Brown, Helen Donohue, David Gardner, George Haskins, Marcia and Bob Hider, Tori Langen, Charley Moore, Judy and Dean Morr, Martha and Joe Stevenot, and Betty Zimmerman.

The group recorded a total of 207 identifiable birds.  The net result after accounting for duplications was 76 species which are listed below.  That number is toward the higher end of our normal sightings, I believe.  One unusual species, the Bobolink, seen aside the 16th fairway of Ocean Winds was unexpected.  All six of the probable woodpeckers were observed.  One bird very common in our community, the Turkey Vulture, was not sighted by anyone.

The birds noted below are listed in the order they appear on the Seabrook Island bird check list.

I appreciated the effort of the birders who participated and the cooperation of the golf staff in providing us carts and full access to the courses within the specified time parameters.  A master copy of the actual checklist will be provided to Greens Superintendent Sean Hartwick, who is the chair of this project supporting the Audubon Certification process.

Red-breasted Merganser Northern Flicker
Common Loon Pileated Woodpecker
Brown Pelican Great Crested Flycatcher
Double Crested Cormorant Blue Jay
Anhinga American Crow
Great Blue Heron Fish Crow
Great Egret Tree Swallow
Snowy Egret Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tricolored Heron Barn Swallow
Green Heron Carolina Chickadee
Black-crowned Night Heron Tufted Titmouse
Black Vulture Carolina Wren
Osprey Marsh Wren
Bald Eagle Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Red-tailed Hawk Eastern Bluebird
Spotted Sandpiper Gray Catbird
Willet Northern Mockingbird
Whimbrel Brown Thrasher
Laughing Gull Cedar Waxwing
Herring Gull Northern Parula
Least Tern Yellow-rumped Warbler
Gull-billed Tern Yellow-throated Warbler
Caspian Tern Pine Warbler
Forster’s Tern Black and White Warbler
Royal Tern Ovenbird
Black Skimmer Eastern Towhee
Mourning Dove Swamp Sparrow
Common Ground-Dove Painted Bunting
Eurasian Collared-Dove Northern Cardinal
Common Nighthawk Bobolink
Chuck-wills-widow Red-winged Blackbird
Chimney Swift Common Grackle
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Brown-headed Cowbird
Belted Kingfisher Orchard Oriole
Red-headed Woodpecker House Finch
Red-belllied Woodpecker Tricolored Blackbird
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Downy Woodpecker Wild Turkey