SIB “Bird of the Week” – Clapper Rail

Clapper RailRallus longirostris
Length:  14.5″; Wingspan: 19″; Weight: 10 oz.

Clapper Rail eating a small crab on the mud flat - Ed Konrad
Clapper Rail eating a small crab on the mud flat – Ed Konrad

You may not be aware that hidden in dense cover in our salt marshes lurk a bird called Clapper Rail.  This slinking, secretive bird is a year-round resident on our island and often we only hear the loud clattering call as our clue that a Clapper Rail is even around.  Because they also rarely fly you are very lucky if you get a quick glimpse of one stalking mud dwelling prey along the edge of the marsh.

Are you familiar with the saying “thin as a rail”?  Well, this saying is attributed to the Rail’s lean body and the fact that this stealth bird has the ability to compress its body to such a degree that it can easily squeeze between stems of grass and plants almost melting into the vegetation and and barely causing a ripple.  This tactic allows them to quickly disappear to escape their predators.  Clapper Rails are so effective at maintaining a low profile that their major nonhuman predators are pike, black bass, and other predatory fish which feed on their young.

The Clapper Rail has a chicken-like appearance, with long unwebbed gray toes, strong legs and long slightly decurved bill. When it walks it twitches its short upturned white patched tail.  It has grayish brown upper-parts with vertical white-barred flanks, grayish cheeks and white throat.  Its eye color is red to reddish orange.  This bird is locally known as the Marsh Hen, Salt Water Marsh Hen and Mud Chicken.  Males are slightly larger than females but similar in coloration.

These birds feed mainly on crustaceans, aquatic insects, grasshoppers, seeds, slugs and small fish. They search for food while walking and probing with their long bills in shallow water or mud.

Nests are well built cups of grasses and sedges lined with finer material.  The nests are usually built on the highest, driest place in the marsh. During courtship the male points his bill down and swings his head from side to side.  He also may stand erect with neck stretched and bill open.  Nesting season is from April to June.

The eggs, 5-12, are creamy white with irregular brown blotching. The incubation is 20-23 days and the new young are covered with black down and leave the nest within one day to be fed by the parents.  Young can fly in about 9-10 weeks.  Both parents feed and guard the young until they are independent.  Since these rails are very territorial during feeding and breeding they can be quite belligerent when defending their nests.

A group of Rails is collectively known as a “reel” of rails.

In 1940 one hurricane left an estimated 15,000 of these rails dead in South Carolina, and in 1976 another storm killed some 20,000 in New Jersey.

Keep an eye ear out for Clapper Rails, as they live amongst us in the marshes all thoughout Seabrook Island.

Similar Species

  • King Rail: Habits similar to Clapper Rail.  Plumage is darker and more richly colored and more reddish. More distinct blackish centers on upper parts.
  • Virginia Rail: Smaller in size 9.5″L, 13″ wing span and 3 oz weight. Plumage bright reddish. Bill is more brightly colored

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

Article submitted by:  Flo Foley
Photographs provided by:  Ed Konrad & Bob Hider

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.

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Bird of the Week … Who am I???

As you may know, every Sunday we publish a weekly “Bird of the Week” blog.  Today we’d like to test your knowledge by asking if you can guess what bird you can hear on Seabrook Island that sounds like this.

Leave us a comment if you want to make a guess – and watch for the full article on Sunday morning!

 

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis
Length:  7″; Wingspan: 13″; Weight: 1.1 oz.

Eastern Bluebirds - Charley Moore
Eastern Bluebirds – Charley Moore

Slightly smaller than its cousin the Robin, this bird is distinctive in its rusty red colored breast and white belly with a sky blue head, back and tail. The female shares the rusty red breast and white belly but is grayer with faint blue tails and wings. The song is a three part song that sounds like chur-lee chur chur-lee.

You will see these beautiful Eastern Bluebirds commonly perched on mailboxes alongside the roads of Seabrook Island and in the surrounding tree branches. They like open woodlands, meadows and fields and are year round inhabitants of this area. This was not always the case due to competition from other birds for their nesting holes and also the occasional cold spells that we have had that killed them off in large numbers. Their population declined by more than 90 % in the 20th century but thanks to efforts from bird lovers who have placed many bird houses in the area, their population is returning. There is also an increase in their population in winter when migrants from the north return to this area. If you are thinking of putting a birdhouse up, you should do this in early May to attract these migrants to stay. When you locate the birdhouse, try to keep it a discrete distance from other bird feeders so there is less activity to scare off new nesting birds.

Bluebirds enjoy a peanut butter corn meal mixture but really love live mealy worms which you can buy from Wild Birds Unlimited. They should be placed in an open bowl type feeder.

Their breeding habits are monogamous and they breed in pairs and small groups. The incubation period is 12 to 14 days and the young stay in the nest for 15 to 20 days. They usually brood 2 to 3 times a year with typically 2 to 7 light blue or white eggs.

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

Article submitted by:  Ron Schildge
Photographs provided by:  Bob Hider & Charley Moore

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.

Bird of the Week … Who am I???

Every Sunday we publish a weekly “Bird of the Week” blog.  Today we want to give you a hint to see if you can guess which bird we will profile – and we don’t want to make it too easy – so can you guess by only listening to the song?

  1. A common bird on Seabrook Island and it sounds like this.

Leave us a comment if you know or want to make a guess – and watch for the full article on Sunday morning!

 

Piping Plovers Have Returned to Seabrook Island’s North Beach

This weekend (July 22-25, 2016), Aija Konrad spotted, and Ed Konrad photographed, what may be our first two Piping Plovers returning from the north. As Janet Thibault advised at the June SIB meeting, we could expect to see them return later in July. In reporting the sightings on eBird, Aija learned that these Piping Plovers are quite special and of great interest. They were banded in the Bahamas in 2015, and are being closely tracked by the Bahamas Shorebird Conservation Initiative, in conjunction with US Fish and Wildlife and the National Audubon Society.

These Piping Plovers have pink flags on their upper right legs, labeled 47 and OJ. Aija and Ed saw 47 just one day in the protected bird area on North Beach. OJ has been seen the past three days at low tide on North Beach.Here’s what we’ve learned about these celebrities from Matt Jeffery, Deputy Director & Director for the Caribbean International Alliances Program, National Audubon Society, Washington D.C.

Pink Flag OJ was banded November 27th 2015 in the newly created Joulter Cays National Park, just north of Andros Island in the Bahamas. The Banding Team was from Bahamas National Trust, National Audubon, Virginia Tech and USFWS.
Piping Plover "OJ" seen on North Beach of Seabrook Island July 22, 2016 - Aija & Ed Konrad
Piping Plover “OJ” seen on North Beach of Seabrook Island July 23-25, 2016 – Aija & Ed Konrad

OJ was hanging out in Maine for the breeding season, and reported on 23-May-16 on Fortune’s Rocks Beach, Maine; 20-Jun-16, Parsons Beach, Kennebunk, Maine – reported to be female nesting. Unfortunately, her nesting attempt was unsuccessful; 8-Jul-16, Laudholm Beach, Wells, Maine, in a flock of about 20 other Piping Plovers.

Hopefully she may be seen on the Joulter Cays this October when the area is surveyed.

Pink Flag (47) was banded 5-Feb-2015 in the Berry Islands, The Bahamas at a place called Ambergris Cay just south of Great Harbor Cay. This area is the second most important site in The Bahamas for Piping Plover with approximately 7% of the Atlantic breeding population there each winter. The banding team included, National Audubon, Bahamas National Trust, Virginia Tech and USFWS. Currently Audubon is working with BNT and the Government of the Bahamas to make the area a new protected area for birds and marine life.

Piping Plover "47" seen on North Beach of Seabrook Island July 22, 2016 - Aija & Ed Konrad
Piping Plover “47” seen on North Beach of Seabrook Island July 22, 2016 – Aija & Ed Konrad

#47 has also been reported: 7/3/2015 Elizabeth A. Morton NWR, NY; 7/16/2015 – South Point Ocracoke. Cape Hatteras NS in North Carolina by Virginia Tech shorebird team; 5/10/2016 – Wade’s Beach Shelter Island, NY; 29-May-16 – Otis Pike Wilderness Area, Long Island NY.

You can keep track of the migrating birds associated with The Bahamas Shorebird Conservation Initiative by “liking” their Facebook page:

We hope you will take time to grab your binoculars and walk along North Beach to search for our celebrity visitors OJ and 47. Be sure to let us know if you see them!  As National Audubon reminds us, be sure to share the shore with plovers and other birds by:
  • Leaving no trace. Remove all trash and recycle whenever possible.
  • Disposing of fishing line properly.
  • Obeying our local laws regarding dogs.
  • Respecting protected areas and signs.

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo
Length:  46″; Wingspan: 64″; Weight: 259 oz.

A strutting tom turkey tries to attract a mate. C. Moore
A strutting tom turkey tries to attract a mate. C. Moore

Residents are reporting an increase in sightings of Eastern Wild Turkeys on Seabrook Island. The domesticated version of this large native game bird is well known because of its role each Thanksgiving day. Millions of turkeys are drawn from an outline of the hands of elementary children prior to Thanksgiving each year.

The turkey would have been our national bird if Benjamin Franklin had had his say. He thought the eagle was beautiful but a lazy thief as it frequently stole its dinner from the industrious Osprey.

Native Americans first domesticated the wild turkey hundreds of years ago. Spanish explorers took turkeys domesticated by the Aztecs back to Europe around 1500. The pilgrims brought turkeys across the Atlantic to the New World only to find them already here. These European settlers called them “Turkey birds” because they looked like African guinea hens from Turkey and the name stuck.

The wild turkey population in the southeastern U.S. was decimated from 1900 to the 1950’s due to hunting, pesticide usage (DDT) and habitat loss. During this period, the only wild turkeys remaining in South Carolina occurred in the Francis Marion National Forest and along the Savannah River.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the National Wild Turkey Federation launched one of the nation’s most successful conservation restocking programs during the 1950’s. Descendants of these few remaining turkeys abound today in all of South Carolina’s 46 counties and in every Southeastern state. Wild Turkeys are hunted in 49 of the 50 states with Alaska being the only exception.

Large males are called toms, weigh between 10 and 24 pounds and mature females, called hens, weigh between 5 and 10 pounds. Mating behavior begins in early spring with Toms attracting potential hens through gobbling and strutting about with their feathers puffed out, tail feathers spread, wings dragging on the ground and making low “drumming sounds”. The gobbling may be heard more than a mile away. A dominant Tom may attract eight to 10 hens to his harem.

Turkeys nest on the ground in shallow dirt depressions surrounded with woody vegetation. In South Carolina, laying of eggs begins in March and a clutch may contain as many as 18 eggs.  Eggs hatch in 28 days and the hatchlings are out of the nest looking for food within 24 hours. Hatchlings are called poults and adolescents are jakes

Turkeys sleep in trees but spend most of their time on the ground searching for food. They can run nearly as fast as a human track star at 25 miles an hour and may fly distances up to half a mile reaching speeds up to 50 miles an hour.

Wild turkeys are omnivores eating seeds, nuts, roots, berries, grasses, insects, small amphibians and reptiles. They are most active and feed primarily in the early morning and late afternoon.

Foxes, opossums, raccoons, skunks, snakes and many other animals pray on the eggs and poults. Predators of adult wild turkeys include foxes, coyotes, bobcats and large raptors such as eagles, owls and hawks.

Domestic turkeys are genetically distinct from wild birds. Ever wonder why domestic turkeys are white? Domesticated turkeys are bred to have white feathers because their pinfeathers are less visible when the carcass is dressed. Whereas, domestication has resulted in bigger, heavier birds with more breast meat, their natural survival skills have been greatly diminished. The wild turkey is a savvy, very wary, and intelligent bird whereas their domesticated relatives, well lets say, their elevators don’t go all the way to the top.

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

Article submitted by:  Charles Moore
Photographs provided by:  Charles Moore

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.

We want your opinion! Take the Plastic Bag Survey.

SIB Members
We need your help in completing and also sharing a short survey about plastic bags to citizens and business owners.
Background:  A local coalition, consisting of government, business, citizen and conservation organizations is interested in gathering data on citizen and business opinion regarding plastic bag use in the Charleston Metro area. Locally conducted studies have found that plastic bags are among the top five sources of plastic litter collected during trash sweeps in Charleston and negatively impact local marine life.
Our Goal: Based on the results of the survey, the coalition will explore ways to minimize the use of plastic bags, specifically single-use plastic bags, to benefit the health and natural beauty of the Charleston community.
How Your Group Can Help:  Promote this opportunity at your workplace or through an email to your group.
Survey:  An opinion survey has been created for business owners and citizens in the Charleston-Berkeley-Dorchester Tri-County area. The survey is being conducted to gauge support, concern, and information gaps regarding possible ways to reduce plastic bags and associated litter in the community. Responses to the survey are confidential. For more information, and to take the survey click the below link:
To go straight to the survey: http://tinyurl.com/PlasticInCharleston
The survey takes less than five minutes to complete. For questions or concerns please email Plasticbagsurvey@gmail.com.  Please share the survey widely.  The survey will close on September 9, 2016. Results will be shared with all interested parties. To be added to the mailing list, please email