Off Island Birding at Combahee Unit Ace Basin National Wildlife Refuge

Learning Together at Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge – Combahee Unit
Sunday, December 12, 2021: 8:30 am – 10:30 am
Birding at the Combahee Unit of the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge
Location: Options of where you plan to meet the group
– 6:30 Meet at Seabrook Island Real Estate office to carpool
– 7:30 Meet at the Food Lion in Ravenel (junction of Hwy 17 and 165) to carpool
– 8:00 Meet at the parking lot at the Combahee Unit (32.660443, -80.714264) to bird at 8:00am
Max: 16
Cost: Free for members; $5 donation for guests

Cathy and Carl Miller will lead SIB to bird at the Combahee Unit of the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. This wildlife refuge was once part of the land grant to Robert Fenwick in 1694. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the property in 1992 as part of the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge. It is not nearly as popular as some other regional birding sites, but is nonetheless quite rich in wildlife. The refuge straddles River Road and has two distinctly different habitats. On the Combahee River side (north side) of River Road are the open impoundments where various duck species and other water birds spend their winter months. On the opposite side of River Road (south side) is a mix of upland and bottomland hardwoods with large freshwater ponds and a very different set of birds than those found on the river side.

Their plan is to spend the morning on the south side walking in the old pecan orchard and the bottomland forest. We hope to see some black-bellied whistling ducks (if they have not yet migrated) in the freshwater pond. In recent trips they’ve also see Wild Turkey, Rusty Blackbirds, American Bittern, Hairy Woodpecker, and assorted sparrows, warblers, and vireos. The morning loop will be about 3.5 miles. Please note that the ground can be rather uneven at times so appropriate shoes are a must. We’ll take a break at the cars for lunch and then for those who want to continue, we will explore the open impoundments on the north side of River to Road. There we’ll see some winter ducks, raptors, herons, egrets, and assorted sparrows. This will be an additional 1-3 miles of walking, but well worth it!

As always, be sure to bring your binoculars/cameras, hats and sunscreen. Bring plenty to drink and a picnic lunch to eat on the property. There are no facilities on the property so you may wish to include a stop prior to arrival at the gas station next to the Food Lion where we meet. Also, parking in the afternoon for the impoundment side of the refuge is quite limited, so we may ask folks to carpool as much as possible.

If you are not yet a 2021 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $10 by following the instructions on our website: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/contact/join-sib/. You may bring the form and your dues to the event. Or you may pay the Guest Fee of $5.

Please complete the information below to register no later than Friday, December 10. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on December 11, the day prior to the trip. If you need to cancel, please let us know so we can invite people on the waiting list to attend.

SIB Movie Matinee: Crimson Wing

December Movie – Register Here

Crimson Wing-Mystery of the Flamingos
Tuesday December 14, 2021 from 4:00-6:00 pm

Location: Zoom

Crimson WIng

This lyrical documentary uses high-definition photography, narration by French actress Zabou Breitman and an elaborate score to illuminate the life cycle of one of the world’s most awe-inspiring but least-understood creatures — the flamingo. The titular mysteries explored in the film include the process through which flamingos, born black and white, attain their highly recognizable pink shade. The story of these majestic birds unfolds among the striking landscapes of Tanzania. Trailer of the movie.

Please sign up to join us for an afternoon at the movies!

Sign Up today!

SIB “Birds of the Week” – Hooded Merganser & Bufflehead

Hooded Merganser  Lophodytes cucullatus L: 18″, WS: 24″ WT: 22.4 oz.
Bufflehead  Bucephala albeola  L: 13.5  WS: 21″ WT: 13 oz

For winter birding at Seabrook, I always look forward to the arrival of two of my favorite ducks….the Hooded Merganser and the Bufflehead. Both are winter visitors for us. On a quick look, the males of these species can look pretty similar, but they are quite different when studied closely. Both ducks have disproportionately large heads with white patches on the sides. But look carefully and you will see the differences.

Heather Island Road, Jenkins Point - Hooded Merganser (male & female) - Ed Konrad
Heather Island Road, Jenkins Point – Hooded Merganser (male & female) – Ed Konrad

The Hooded Merganser is one of our most beautiful ducks. The male “Hoodie” has striking white on the head , a black back and it’s sides are coffee brown with two black vertical lines, or “spurs,”that cut diagonally through the white breast. In courting behavior, which begins mid-winter, the males flare their crests, and the females “head-bob and pump.” The female is a chocolate brown and very plain, but I think very classy! When I was researching this article, one source online said “it looks like she blow dried her hair in a jet engine,”because of the swept back crest. HA!

Hoodies feed on crustaceans, fish and insects. They are about 18” long and one of the smaller ducks. On Seabrook, I most often see them on Jenkins Point (the first pond is a fav) and on Palmetto Lake. I am sure they are on many other ponds on the island.  They usually arrive in November and leave in March.

North Beach - Bufflehead (male & female) - Ed Konrad
North Beach – Bufflehead (male & female) – Ed Konrad

The Bufflehead also has a striking male and a plain female. The male has a large head with a big white-wedge patch. It is a small (14″) squat duck and the head looks oversized.  The remainder of the head looks black, but if you look carefully it is an iridescent green/purple. It is mostly found in coastal bays (the old cut area had 2 last week) but can also be found on lakes. The sides of the male are clear white, whereas the Hoodie is brown. The female is a plan gray/brown with a distinctive white patch on it’s cheek.

Buffleheads are usually found in the area of the old cut and the river, often close to the ocean. They feed on mollusks, crustaceans and insect larvae, diving frequently because of their very high metabolism. They are a “now you see it, now you don’t” kind of duck. When swimming, they bob up and down like little rubber duckies.

So keep your eye out for our very own feathered “snowbirds” on Seabrook this winter!

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

Article submitted by: Aija Konrad 2016, resubmitted by SIB
Photographs provided by: Ed Konrad and 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.

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata
Length:  5.5″; Wingspan: 9.25″; Weight: 0.43 oz.

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Ed Konrad
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Ed Konrad

Yellow-rumped Warblers are one of the most common warblers in North America and abundant on Seabrook Island from fall through spring.  The Yellow-rumped Warbler is sometimes referred to as “Butter Butt” due to its bright yellow rump.  It was formally called Myrtle Warbler in the East because it is the only Warbler able to digest the wax-coated berries of the Wax Myrtles.  On Seabrook, Butter Butts are our most obvious and widely distributed winter Warbler.  They arrive in November and depart in April.  You will see them in small flocks in open woodlands and brushy habitats.  This bird constantly “chirps” which is a contact call that keeps the flock together.

The Yellow-rumped is medium-sized warbler with a long narrow tail and stout dark bill.  In winter, the females, males and young are a paler streaked gray-brown, have bright yellow rumps and usually yellow side patches.  In the spring before they leave Seabrook Island, the male is dark blue-gray upper parts; white throat, breast and belly are white and heavily streaked with black.  Its rump, crown and small area at the sides of the breast are yellow.  There are two broad white wing bars. The female is brownish with the similar patterns.

In winter, Yellow-rumped warblers can be found in open pine and pine-oak forests and dunes where bayberries are common.  During this time they mainly eat berries and fruits, particularly wax-coated berries of bayberries and wax myrtles.  This bird has unique gastrointestinal traits that allow it to subsist on this unusual food source.  This makes them a very winter hardy bird allowing them to winter farther north than other warblers.

In the spring/summer these warblers are found in mature coniferous and mixed coniferous-deciduous woodlands feeding on insects including caterpillars, ants, leaf beetles, grasshoppers and spiders.  You might see them acting like Flycatchers as they leap off perches flying up to catch a passing insect.  They also eat wild seeds from beach grasses and goldenrod and may come to feeders to eat sunflower seeds, raisins, peanut butter and suet.

Yellow-rumped warblers are active and noisy birds.  They constantly chatter as they forage.  Their flight is agile and swift and the birds often call as they change direction.  Their yellow rump and white tail patches are very noticeable while flying.  Their song is a loose trill, but rising in pitch or dropping toward end and the call note is a loud “chek.”

A group of warblers has many collective nouns, including a “bouquet”, “confusion”, “fall”, and “wrench” of warblers.

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology – All About Birders: Yellow-rumped Warbler and Birds of Seabrook Island: Yellow-rumped Warbler

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.

(click on a photo to view as a slide show)

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus varius
Length:  7.1-8.7″; Wingspan: 13.4-15.7″; Weight: 1.5-1.9 oz.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Ed Konrad
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Ed Konrad

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the only woodpecker in eastern North America that is completely migratory. Although a few individuals remain throughout much of the winter in the southern part of the breeding range, most head farther south, going as far south as Panama. Females tend to migrate farther south than do males.

A Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker has a red cap but not the nape. It has a striped face and a prominent white stripe on side. It’s black bib, patterned underparts also distinguish it from the red-bellied woodpecker.

20-yellow-bellied-sapsucker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Ed Konrad

As the name indicates, sapsuckers rely on sap as a main food source. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker makes two kinds of holes in trees to harvest sap. Round holes extend deep in the tree and are not enlarged. The sapsucker inserts its bill into the hole to probe for sap. Rectangular holes are shallower, and must be maintained continually for the sap to flow. The sapsucker licks the sap from these holes, and eats the cambium of the tree too. New holes usually are made in a line with old holes, or in a new line above the old. Then, after the tree leafs out, the sapsucker begins making shallower, rectangular wells in the phloem, the part of the trunk that carries sap down from the leaves. This sap can be more than 10 percent sugar. These phloem wells must be continually maintained with fresh drilling, so the sap will continue to flow. Sapsuckers tend to choose sick or wounded trees for drilling their wells, and they choose tree species with high sugar concentrations in their sap, such as paper birch, yellow birch, sugar maple, red maple, and hickory. They drill wells for sap throughout the year, on both their breeding and wintering grounds. In addition to sap, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers also eat insects (mostly ants) and spiders, gleaning them from beneath a tree’s bark like other woodpeckers. And at times they perch at the edge of a tree branch and launch after flying insects to capture them in midair, like a flycatcher. Sapsuckers are also attracted to orchards, where they drill wells in the trees and eat fruit.

Yellow-belled Sapsuckers perch upright on trees, leaning on their tails like other woodpeckers. They feed at sapwells—neat rows of shallow holes they drill in tree bark. They lap up the sugary sap along with any insects that may get caught there. Sapsuckers drum on trees and metal objects in a distinctive stuttering pattern. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers live in both hardwood and conifer forests up to about 6,500 feet elevation. Occasionally, sapsuckers visit bird feeders for suet.

Holes created by Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (photo from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)
Holes created by Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (photo from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Sapsuckers are common on Seabrook in winter but are less noisy and may be less obvious than other woodpeckers. They are “common but inconspicuous.” Look for their “wells” – drilled holed lined up around the trunk and marking trees to see where they feed.

Check out this cool YouTube video of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker eating from the already drilled holes in a tree:

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

Article submitted by:  Judy Morr
Photographs provided 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.

Learning Together-Camp St. Christopher

Friday, November 26, 2021 8:00 am-11:00 am
Birding at Camp St. Christopher
Meet at bus parking lot at St. Christopher
Max: 10
Cost: Voluntary donation to Camp St.Christopher

Come walk off the bird by doing some birding!!! Explore the lakes, lagoons, paths and slough at Camp St. Christopher. This event will have 1 – 2 miles of walking over uneven terrain. We should see all the usual suspects, but will also hopefully get looks at our some of our winter friends-Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Yellow-rumped Warbler and sparrows.

Bring sun block, bug spray, a hat, water and binoculars. Please remember to wear your masks. We are asking our attendees to make a voluntary contribution to Camp St. Christopher to help support their efforts during the pandemic.

Please register no later than Tuesday, November 23, 2021. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on Wednesday, November 24, 2021. If you need to cancel, please let us know so we can invite people on the waitlist to attend.

Rare bird for South Carolina: Bar-tailed Godwit

If you follow Charleston County rare-bird sitings, you would have seen several recent postings of a Bar-tailed Godwit.  It has been seen in a lagoon on the Ocean Course of Kiawah.   SIB participants in our Learning Together at Kiawah on Sunday were able to capture a good view of this rare bird.  Research on the Audubon’s site resulted in finding the information below.

Bar-tailed GodwitLimosa lapponica

The Bar-tailed Godwit is a sandpiper.  It is a relatively short-legged species of godwit. The bill-to-tail length is 15–16 in, with a wingspan of 28–31 in. Males average smaller than females but with much overlap; males weigh 6.7–14.1 oz, while females weigh 9.2–22.2 oz; there is also some regional variation in size  with the European sub-species being the smallest. The adult has blue-grey legs and a long, tapering, slightly upturned bi-colored bill: pink at the base and black towards the tip. The neck, breast and belly are unbroken brick red in breeding plumage, and dark brown above.  Females breeding plumage is much duller than males, with a chestnut to cinnamon belly.  Breeding plumage is not fully apparent until the third year, and there are three distinguishable age classes; during their first migration north immature males are noticeably paler in color than more mature males. Non-breeding birds seen in the Southern Hemisphere are plain grey-brown with darker feather centers, giving them a striped look, and are whitish underneath. Juveniles are similar to non-breeding adults but more buff overall with streaked plumages on flanks and breast.

The birds’ main source of food in wetlands is bristle-worms (up to 70%), supplemented by small bivalves and crustaceans. In wet pastures, bar-tailed godwits eat invertebrates.  The bird seen on Kiawah is usually seen foraging in shallow water, probing its long beak into the sand below the surface.

The recently sited bird is assumed to be a European sub-species.  This subspecies typically breeds in Scandanavia to northwest Siberia.  They typically winter on the western coasts of Europe and Africa from the British Isles and the Netherlands south to South Africa, and also around the Persian Gulf.  Articles about other subspecies mention breeding near Bearing Straight in Russia and western Alaska then winter in Australia and New Zealand.  These birds are known to fly non-stop for 8 days during their migration.

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

Bar-tailed Godwit Range Map – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Article submitted by: Judy Morr
Photographs provided by: Michael Harhold and Walter Brooks

“Tale of Tails” by Ed Monnig

Dark-eyed Junco displaying white outer tail feathers. Photo by Pookie Fugglestein, public domain.

Ed Monnig, the brother of a Chris Strobel, a SIB member and Seabrook Island resident, shared his recently recorded “Field Notes” for Montana Public Radio. These are observations and reflections on some aspect of the natural world. You can either listen to his four-minute recording of “Tale of Tails” or read it here.

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum
Length:  5.5″;  Wingspan 8″;  Weight:  0.36 oz.

Palm Warbler – Glen Bartley

The Palm Warbler is one of the wood warblers. It is fairly common on Seabrook in the winter months and most should be leaving or have left by now. The most obvious field mark is its tail-wagging habit. Although it is a rather dull olive on its back, as it wags, it shows its brighter yellow underparts. You also might pick up the soft striping on its breast and sides. The male sports a rusty-colored cap in its breeding plumage although we would be less likely to see that here because it does not breed here.

This warbler will eat some seeds and fruits in the winter months but it prefers insects.

The Palm Warbler has a weak trill like that of the Chipping Sparrow, but slower. It is primarily on one note but increases slightly in intensity as it progresses.

Palm Warbler – Ed Konrad

Although its name would seem to indicate that this bird is found mostly in palm trees, in fact it can be seen in a variety of habitats: open woodlands, low in thickets of shrubs, on the ground, and in open fields.

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

Pine Warbler Range Map – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Article submitted by: Marcia Hider 2017 and repulised by SIB
Photographs provided by: Ed Konrad & Glen Bartley

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.

%d bloggers like this: