SIB Evening Program – June 22nd: Plovers, and Pelicans, and Terns, Oh My!

Date:  June 22, 2016
Registration & Social:  7:00 pm
Program Starts:  7:30 pm
Location:  Live Oak Hall at the Lake House

Janet Thibault, Wildlife Biologist with South Carolina DNR, will be talking about the nesting ecology of seabirds and shorebirds that breed on our coast. Species description and identification as well as natural history will be covered in this talk. For more about what South Carolina DNR does for coastal birds check out this webpage.
Prior to Janet’s talk, SIB member Ed Konrad will present a series of shorebird photographs he has taken at the beach on Seabrook Island.
Membership sign-up is available at registration.
Contact us if you have questions:   SeabrookIslandBirders@gmail.com

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SIB “Bird of the Week” – Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull – Leucophaeus Atricilla
Length:  16.5″; Wingspan: 40″; Weight: 11 oz.

A "flotilla" of Laughing Gulls - Ed Konrad
A “flotilla” of Laughing Gulls – Ed Konrad

Swirling over beaches with strident calls and a distinctive, crisp black head, Laughing Gulls provide sights and sounds evocative of summer on Seabrook Island.  You’ll run across this handsome gull in large numbers at beaches, docks, and parking lots, where they wait for handouts or fill the air with their raucous (ha-ha-ha-ha-haah-haah-haah-haah-haah) calls.

Laughing Gulls are medium-sized gulls with fairly long wings and long legs that impart a graceful look when they are flying or walking. They have stout, fairly long bills.  Laughing Gulls are medium gray above and white below.  Summer adults have a crisp black hood, white arcs around the eye, and a reddish bill.  In winter, the hood becomes a blurry gray mask on a white head.  The legs are reddish black to black.  Immature Laughing Gulls are much browner and more subtly patterned than adults; they take 2-3 years to gain adult plumage.

Like most gulls, Laughing Gulls have very broad palates. They eat many invertebrates, including earthworms, insects (including flying ones), snails, crabs, and crab eggs, as well as fish, squid, berries, garbage, offal, and handouts from beachgoers. They occasionally eat eggs of other birds (though not as frequently as larger gulls do).  They often congregate in parking lots, sandy beaches, and mud bars. Listen for their nasal, strident calls in flight, while feeding, and at rest.  Laughing Gulls are a coastal species and are only occasionally seen very far inland.

Laughing Gull numbers were seriously depleted during the 19th century by hunting for feather trade.  They recovered well in the early 20th century, then faced some decline at northern colonies owing to competition with larger gulls. Currently some colonies face threats, but overall, the population is abundant and widespread.

They have a slow flight with deep wing beats.  Because of their opportunistic feeding, many people associate them most with their begging behavior.

These gulls are monogamous, and pairs often stay together for several breeding seasons.  They breed in colonies, sometimes with thousands of nests; sometimes associated with other species of gulls or terns. Nest site is on the ground among grass or bushes.  Nests may be among denser growth, under shrubs or vines, perhaps for protection from sun.  The nest (built by both sexes) may be a scrape in ground with sparse lining, or may be shallow cup of grass, sticks, debris, lined with finer grass.   Nests usually contain 3 olive-brown eggs with dark blotches.  Adults may continue adding to nest during incubation.  They nest, often in large numbers, on islands near the shore but safely isolated from terrestrial predators making Deveaux Bank a large nesting area.

A group of gulls has many collective nouns, including a “flotilla”, “gullery”, “screech”, “scavenging”, and “squabble” of gulls.

Laughing gulls can be seen all over Seabrook Island but especially along our beaches and begging for food at Pelican Nest Restaurant.  Although they are common sight in summer, they are an unusual sight in winter.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

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.

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.   We think you can get this with only two clues:

  1. This bird can be seen all over Seabrook Island but especially along our beaches and begging for food at Pelican Nest Restaurant.  Although they are common sight in summer, they are an unusual sight in winter.
  2. 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!

 

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Black Skimmer

Black SkimmerRynchops niger
Length: 18″; Wingspan: 44″; Weight: 11 oz.

A "conspiracy" of Black Skimmers - Ed Konrad
A “conspiracy” of Black Skimmers – Ed Konrad

We are among a lucky few to have the Black Skimmer along our beaches. As you can see from the map below, this dramatic and beautiful bird populates only a very small portion of the United States.

Range map for Black Skimmer - you can see it is more common in South America.
Range map for Black Skimmer – you can see it is more common in South America.

Aside from its striking black and white plumage, the Black Skimmer is memorable because of its eating style. It is the only bird in America with a longer lower beak than upper. It’s this special feature that enables it to skim the top of the water with its mouth open and the lower bill slightly submerged, feeling for small fish. When one is encountered, the upper bill snaps shut to capture its prey. Because the skimmer uses its sense of touch to hunt, it can successfully forage in all types of light, and even in the dark. That’s an advantage for us human observers since we can watch at any time of day and wonder at the skimmer’s incredible ability to remain a constant distance above the water, alternately gliding and propelling itself along.

Interestingly, the newborn skimmer chick does not have the extended lower mandible. However, after only four weeks, it is visibly longer.

You will be able to pick out the skimmers on the beach in several ways. They are fairly large – 16-20″. They have a very long, low profile because of their short legs and long wings. Their wings actually extend beyond their tail feathers when they are on the ground and account for their relatively large wing span when flying. The sharp contrast of their black and white coloration and their bright red and black beaks also make them easily identifiable.

Probably one of the reasons Seabrookers can see so many skimmers is that there is a large breeding group on Deveaux Bank. As with all the seabirds, they build their nests in colonies, scratching out a shallow depression in the sand. This makes them very vulnerable in areas where beaches are heavily populated by humans. It’s to our benefit that the Deveaux rookery is so nearby.

Don’t miss seeing these unique birds – even if you have to make a special trip to the North Beach.

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

Article submitted by:  Marcia Hider
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.

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.   Here are  four clues:

  1. This bird is frequently seen on Seabrook Island at the beach and along ponds near the beach.
  2. This is the only bird in America whose lower mandible is longer than the top mandible.
  3. Makes short barking “yip” notes like this.
  4. And finally, the silhouette is below.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 11.12.04 PM

 

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

 

Learning Together on North Beach

SIB members on the Learning Together walk.
SIB members on the Learning Together walk.

Fourteen SIB members gathered the afternoon of Sunday, June 5th, for a two-hour birding adventure on North Beach.  It was 80 degrees, overcast and a very windy afternoon with a rising tide.  Many of the group are new to birding and were excited to learn how to identify the Laughing Gull, learn the difference between the Fish and American Crow and see their first Wilson’s Plover.   Below is the complete list of the 21 bird species we either saw or heard along the two-mile walk from the parking lot of Boardwalk #1 out to the backside of the lagoon.  Not included in the list was the one “exotic” bird sighted at the Oystercatcher parking lot – a Conure headed out to enjoy the beach with it’s family!  It just goes to show that you never know what you will see when you come on a bird watching outing with SIB!

Please be sure to visit our website and sign-up for our blog postings.  We have six (6) spaces available on another walk scheduled for Thursday June 23rd at Camp St. Christopher with the Director of Education, David Gardner.  This event will focus on “Beginning Birding” – you can register for that event here.

Seabrook Island–North Beach

25 Brown Pelican
2 Great Egret
1 Snowy Egret
1 Green Heron
1 Osprey
1 Clapper Rail
1 American Oystercatcher
1 Wilson’s Plover
7 Willet
20 Laughing Gull
4 Least Tern
2 Royal Tern
15 Black Skimmer
1 Great Crested Flycatcher
5 American Crow
6 Barn Swallow
1 Marsh Wren
1 Brown Thrasher
1 Eastern Towhee
3 Northern Cardinal
1 Boat-tailed Grackle

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican – Pelecanus occidentalis
Length:  51″; Wingspan: 79″; Weight: 131.2 oz.

Brown Pelican taking off from the ocean - Ed Konrad
Brown Pelican taking off from the ocean – Ed Konrad

Brown Pelicans are a very common site on Seabrook Island all year long. This large bird is commonly found on our island flying over the dunes and beaches in V-formations or single file, flapping and gliding in unison. Sometimes you even see them coasting just inches above the water. While in flight, pelicans hold their heads drawn back on their shoulders. Have you ever seen them feed? It is a fabulous site! They drop from the air sometimes as high as 60 feet and plunge dive head first into the water and scoop and trap their prey in their extended pouch. Then they drain the water out the sides of their bill and now are left with a tasty catch of fish usually either herring, sheepshead, mullet, pigfish, minnows or pinfish. Adult Brown Pelicans consume as much as four pounds of fish per day. Ever wonder why the pelican doesn’t get hurt during these plunges? Well, air sacs beneath the skin on their breasts act like cushions to protect them during impact. They also rotate their body ever so slightly to the left. This helps to avoid injury to their esophagus and trachea which are located on their right side.

The Brown Pelican adult has a gray-brown body with white and pale yellow head and a long bill (11-13 inches) and an expandable throat pouch that can carry nearly 3 gallons of water and/or fish. The back of the neck turns chestnut in breeding season. Males and females look similar in color however males are slightly larger. Pelican bodies are large and heavy, they have short legs and webbed feet. Their wings are long and broad. Juveniles are all brown at first then change gradually to adult plumage.

Brown Pelicans are very gregarious birds. Both males and females live in flocks throughout the year. They are exceptionally buoyant due to internal air sacks beneath their skin and in their bones.

Their nests are large and flat and made of grass, straw and sticks and built in a tree or if on the ground the nest consists of a shallow scrape lined with feathers and a rim of soil. They lay 2-4 white eggs and incubation ranges from 28-30 days and is carried out by both parents. They incubate their eggs by covering them with their webbed feet. Brown pelicans are monogamous (have only one partner) throughout the breeding season and nest in large colonies.

They breed in large numbers on Deveaux Bank, a 215 acre seabird sanctuary, located between Edisto Island and Seabrook Island. This Brown Pelican colony is the largest one in South Carolina and is responsible for 67% of all Brown Pelicans nesting in South Carolina and 25% of the Brown Pelican’s nesting on the Atlantic coast.

The oldest brown pelican on record was 43 years of age.

A group of Pelicans has many collective nouns, including a “brief”, “pod”, “rush”, “pouch”, “scoop” and “squadron” of Pelicans.

The Crab Bank Pelicam, just off Mount Pleasant in Charleston Harbor, brings you live video of nesting pelicans.  You will also hear the low grunts typical in a colony.

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

Submitted by Flo Foley and 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.