Article written by: Bob Mercer Photos & Videos by: Mark Andrews
Red Knots arrived early this year and the numbers keep rising. Beginning in February with a few hundred birds to the end of March with several thousand birds, these birds need the safety of Seabrook Island and Kiawah Island Beaches to power up for their long, non-stop journey toward their breeding grounds in the High Arctic. In order to help the birds, the Seabrook Island Birders (SIB), working closely with Audubon, SCDNR, SIPOA and the Town of Seabrook, implemented a short-lived steward program modeled after the Turtle Patrol and Dolphin Watch. Volunteers would be stationed on the beach with spotting scopes and binoculars to help beachgoers see the unique species of birds visiting our Seabrook Island beaches.
The Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) Shorebird Steward Program hoped to educate residents and visitors about how these small creatures need to fly huge distances. The birds succeed only IF they can pack on enough fat (adding up to 40% of their body weight) eating the tiny clams found in the surf. With better beachgoer understanding, the Stewards anticipated people would be willing to share the beach by leaving the birds alone as they fed or rested. Without a doubt, watching a huge flock of birds lift off and swirl around the sky in what appears to be a choreographed dance is breathtaking. From the bird’s perspective, time flying and avoiding people requires the burning of precious calories and may be the difference between life and death.
The anticipated spread of COVID-19 resulted in the SIB Shorebird Steward Program being cancelled for this year. The real fear of virus spread requires a safe social distance of six feet. The planning committee decided a volunteer could not share a view from a spotting scope without people getting close and touching the equipment placing the volunteer and the visitors in jeopardy. The decision was made not to conduct the Shorebird Steward Program in 2020. Despite not having a formal program of volunteers, beachgoers can and are encouraged to still be engaged and helpful.
Red Knots have several relatively predictable behavioral patterns. Beach visitors who understand these behaviors derive more enjoyment from their time on the beach, but they also can use this knowledge to protect the birds.
Red Knots in South Carolina eat predominantly Donax (Coquina) clams. As one walks on the beach, these are the small white clam shells that crunch under one’s feet. At high tide, the water floods the beaches and the source of Red Knot food. The Red Knots settle down in flocks of hundreds to thousands preferring the tip of Seabrook Island’s North Beach and the southern tip of Beachwalker County Park on Kiawah Island to rest and await the receding tide. If people can stop about 100 yards back from the tip of North Beach, the birds can rest for as long as they want. A bird resting spends the time converting food into fat. A bird flushed burns up that food to fly to safety.
As the tide recedes, the birds leave their resting place and look for the flat, dark brown, ripply mud right along the edge of the water where the clams live. As the tide recedes farther, the clams bury themselves deeper into the wet mud down below the bill length of the Red Knot and the Red Knots spread out along the beach looking for better foraging ground. As the tide returns, the reverse is true. The clams rise up and the Red Knots feed some more. Visitors can help the Red Knots by detouring around the birds. During this time, from falling tide through the mid-rising tide, ample areas of exposed beach should be available for both the birds and us human visitors. Give them space!
When the high tide covers the beach, the Red Knots need a secure location to rest and bath. Let them rest!
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has numerous resources to entertain and educate people of all ages while we are keeping our social distance. From live cams, to games to courses. So if you run out of closets to clean and cupboards to organize, click on the links below!
Here at Bird Cams, we recognize that the world is facing uncertain and challenging times ahead as we band together to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. We hope that during this time the birds can provide some respite to those in need of a peaceful moment and an outlet to reconnect with nature. For more ways to bring birds and nature into your home, check out these ideas from All About Birds.
Live Cams: Bring The Birds To You
Stream one of our Bird Cams for peace, beauty, and intimacy with wild creatures. Many of our users keep a cam streaming all day long just for the calming outdoor sounds that filter in.
In these stressful times when we’re staying close to home, how about a trip across the US? This week Ed posted our 2019 birding trips on his Flickr site. A memorable trip was our month-long driving tour in July 2019 from Atlanta to the Oregon coast, a combination of birding and following the Lewis and Clark trail!
After some birding in Michigan, we headed west and followed Meriweather Lewis and William Clark on their trek across North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon to the Pacific. Then back home through California, Nevada, Utah and the Midwest. Ed is an avid history buff, so this was definitely on his bucket list. I was a bit wary of a driving trip of that distance. But I have to say, it was a wonderful experience for 29 days!!! We visited many wonderful National Parks, including Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota (what a fabulous sleeper), Yellowstone in Montana, Crater Lake in Oregon, and Redwood in California.
The home page that comes up is the “Photostream” – a chronological view of all our birding trips with the Lewis and Clark trip first. When you get to the bottom of each Photostream page, click to the next page to keep the story going.
To see the name of the bird, or a caption, place the mouse pointer over the photo. And if you’d like to view the photos in a Slideshow instead, click the button above “Clark” on the Photostream.
On the Photostream home page you’ll see tabs under the banner. Click on “Albums” and you’ll see all our 2019 trips. Including an album of the many birds we’ve spotted and photographed throughout 2019 on Seabrook Island. There are also albums of my 2018 US Big Year, and our many other wonderful trips through the years.
So, if you need some diversion, or something to lull you to sleep at night, take a look at our birds. Enjoy!
We hope you and your families are doing your best to stay safe and healthy during this challenging time as the news of coronavirus spreads in our community, country and world! Our lives have changed dramatically since we first put out the call for volunteers for our inaugural SIB Shorebird Steward Program back in January, 2020.
We have made the decision to cancel the SIB Shorebird Steward Program for this year. In the last week, we have enough experience to realize we can not safely stay 6’ apart from each other and the use of the scope and other tools bring risk of contamination if anyone has the disease, especially if they are a carrier with no symptoms.
We would like to thank the more than 40 people who volunteered for this program, many who completed the training and participated in a shift on North Beach during the past three weeks. We hope everyone will use their knowledge about the birds on our beach to share with friends, family and those you meet as you are safely out and about. We will continue to send out information through our SIB blogs and Tidelines.
We hope many of you will volunteer when we start the SIB Shorebird Steward Program again! We appreciate the support we’ve received from the Town of Seabrook Island, the SIPOA, the Seabrook Island Club and all the Seabrook Island Birders’ members and friends for our birds!
Although we shared this information last November, we thought it might be appropriate to distribute again for anyone looking to entertain young people or even themselves! Here are three games that we thought all of you might enjoy to test your bird knowledge!
In the first game called “Bill Me,” you have to combine two words to make the name of a bird. Next, you have to match each of the birds with the appropriate bill shape.
The second handout has two games, the first is called “Fake Names,” and it lists fifteen bird names, of which eight are not real birds. The final game is a list of five statements, and you need to determine if they are True or False.
As the holiday season approaches, we hope you will print out these games and test your friends and family’s knowledge! To view the answers, visit SIB’s “Bird Games & Puzzles” page where you will find not only the two puzzles and answers discussed above, but an additional two puzzles. Don’t cheat and look at the answers before you try each of the puzzles!
During this time of social distancing, stay connected to nature through BirdNote! The first season of Sound Escapes is a great place to start. Join Ashley Ahearn and acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton for sonic adventures in some of the most wild and sound-rich places in the world. (Hint: if you’d like to hear the sounds of the Indigo Bunting, don’t miss Land Between the Lakes.)