2010 Wildlife Archives: Incredible Findings and Photos

Please read over our past months of great sightings. We welcome your questions about our beautiful island. We would also love to hear from you! Get outside and share your photos and stories with us at!

December 30, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Naturalist: Tim Pifer
Tour: Back Island Birding Tour followed by a kayak tour to the mudflats
Locations: Ibis pond, Willet Island, Willet pond, Quick ocean course beach loop, Kiawah River from Mingo to the River Course.
Weather: Beautiful morning. Cool morning that warmed up to 60’s. Not a cloud in sight.
Species Count: 60!

Highlights: Common ground dove, Black crowned night heron wading in the pond just at the west end of the driving range. Two common loons. Green Heron at the bridge to Willet Island. Huge 10pt buck in the marsh of Ibis pond. I could just see his rack as he was bedded down in the thick needlerush. I was looking at the rack through the scope and a Eastern Pheobe landed on the highest tine!

Species list: Scaup sp, Black Scoter, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Red-breaster Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Pelican, Double-creasted Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, White Ibis, Wood Stork, Black Buzzard, Turkey Buzzard, Bald Eagle, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Clapper Rail (heard), American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Spotted sandpiper, Willet, greater yellowlegs, Ruddy turnstone, Sanderling, Western sandpiper, least sandpiper, Dunlin, Short-billed dowitcher, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Foresters Tern, Common Ground Dove, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red bellied woodpecker, Eastern Pheobe, American Crow, Fish Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted titmouse, Sedge wren, Carolina wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Pine Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged blackbird.

December 22, 2010 ~ Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)

Kiawah resident Becky Niemiec found this bird on the beach and sent us a photo for identification. The large size, unique bill shape, and spangled appearance help to identify this bird as an immature Northern Gannet, under 3 years of age. These ocean-dwelling birds spend most of their lives in the air or on the ocean, only coming onto land to breed. On Kiawah we occasionally see them from the beach in winter months. The close-up show of the dramatic plunge-diving behavior of the Northern Gannet is always a highlight for a lucky Back Island Birding trip. But to see a live gannet on the beach was definitely a treat! Possibly this young bird was exhausted and stranded by the outgoing tide.

By Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

December 20, 2010 ~ White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

deerEdna Thompson from Kiawah Real Estate Sales sent us several pictures of a familiar visitor – last seen on WAWSI in July. This photo, however, is the clearest we have received so far and the first that confirms that the piebald deer is a buck and not a doe. We’re also excited to see that he appears to be in good health. Here’s her report: “I was told that you may enjoy sharing this with others. This was shot by myself on Wed, Nov 10th at the office where I work. One photo shows that he was with another buck and I think one or two does as well, I thought that was interesting.”

Scroll down to the July 26th entry to read more on the piebald deer phenomenon.

By Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

December 14, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Town Biologists reported an interesting day for ducks. A pair of Gadwall in Ibis Pond. Gadwall are fairly rare on the island and seen only every 4-5 years. We also saw a group of 8 Mallards and 1 American Black Duck in the lagoon on the eastern end of the beach. These are the first of each of these species seen in many years

December 13, 2010 ~ Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

cormorantsIf these birds are called Double-Crested Cormorants, where are the double crests? While Kiawah is home to a large share of dull-colored immature and non-breeding adult cormorants, we rarely get the vibrant black breeding-plumage adults with aqua-blue eyes, orange skin patch, and a flashy pair of crests. Cormorants are excellent swimmers and swallow their prey whole – fish and marine invertebrates. In between meals, however, our winter cormorants spend a lot of their time loafing around, occasionally letting out bizarre grunts and groans as they squabble amongst themselves over who gets the best perch. What makes a good perch, no human knows. If you see a V-shaped flock of long-necked, short-legged birds flying over Kiawah, think cormorants before you think geese; luckily for our golf course landscapers, we don’t have the right habitat for Canada Geese here.

Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

December 10, 2010 ~ Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

caterpillar monarchEat enough milkweed and your heart will stop. Eat enough monarch caterpillars, which eat the milkweed, and the same thing will happen. The toxins also pass into the adult, making any stage of monarch an unpleasant snack for a bird. At least, theoretically. Monarchs with a high concentration of toxin leave a nasty taste in the mouth of a bird; the vibrant colors of both caterpillar and adult insect are a warning to potential predators. Yet some monarchs get a free ride: while all milkweed plants contain some toxins, some have less than others. Even in the same plant, some parts can have more than other parts. As a result, some monarchs have a low level of toxins and are relatively mild-tasting – a nice source of protein for a passing Brown Thrasher. Others with a high level of toxins would make the bird quite sick. Without a taste test, there is no way to know for sure. This caterpillar, which was resting on a twig in our Marathon Butterfly Garden, seemed quite content to trust in its colorful warning label.

Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

December 6, 2010 ~ Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

fritiallary chrysalisWhile we don’t face winters as bleak as most of our northern guests, our temperatures have been peaking in the mid-50s lately; a little too cold for most butterflies. Yet if you poke around any patch of passionvine, you may find a nice little present all wrapped up for next year – a gulf fritillary chrysalis. At about an inch long, they appear to be a dried up leaf, but a curious touch of the finger resulted in a surprisingly vigorous twitch on the part of the creature inside. During metamorphosis, the caterpillar releases chemicals that basically digests itself – only a few cells remain intact in the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. With such a small amount of continuity from one stage to another, it almost seems like a caterpillar and butterfly are two separate individuals. Yet just a few years ago, tobacco hornworm moths were shown to retain memories learned as a caterpillar. The life cycle of a moth or butterfly was amazing enough when we learned about it in preschool, but the more intricacies that scientists discover, the more fascinating it becomes!

Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

Deccember 3, 2010 ~ Common Eider

Ducks were everywhere today and the calm ocean made spotting them very easy. A lone female Common Eider was observed about 100 yards out from the surf on the east end of Kiawah Island today. Other ducks seen off of Kiawah’s shoreline were thousand’s of scaup, hundreds of Black Scoter, a few Surf Scoters, 1 White-winged Scoter, 100+ Buffleheads, and a handful of Ruddy Ducks.

Aaron Given
Town of Kiawah Wildlife Biologist

December 3, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Locations: Trail loop around Killdeer Pond, Ibis Pond, Willet Pond, Willet Island, Ocean Course driving range/beach loop
Naturalist: Sarah Ernst
Weather: upper 40s to mid 50s, sunny and clear, calm wind and surf

Highlights: We got an excellent number and variety of species today with 59 species and thousands of individuals. At Killdeer Pond we got lots of excellent photos of ibis, herons, and egrets as we slowly crept up to the bridge. A flock of mixed songbirds in the bushes across the bridge included a pine warbler. As we circled around the pond, we accidentally flushed a large brown raptor from the marsh. Either a big female harrier or an immature bald eagle were the two possibilities. Anyway, it was carrying a large white bird – probably an ibis or a snowy egret! I knew harriers and eagles include birds as part of their diet, but it’s still a little shocking – it seems cannibalistic from our perspective to see a bird eating a bird, but I suppose it is no more cannibalistic than a mammal eating a mammal (cat and mouse, human and cow…). At the beach we saw a large assortment of birds including thousands of ducks (mostly scaup but some scoters in the distance); hundreds of black skimmers; and dozens of red knots. Over a hundred dunlin and other shorebirds mixed in too. Thanks to rough surf last week, the beachcombing was spectacular too, and a highlight was definitely a live, large sea cucumber!

Species: Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup, Scoter Sp, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron,White Ibis, Wood Stork, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Unknown Northern Harrier/Immature Bald Eagle, Clapper Rail, American Coot, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Killdeer, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Caspian Tern, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Dove sp., Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Phoebe, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Marsh Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Chipping Sparow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Boat-tailed Grackle

November 30, 2010 ~ Barred Owl (Strix varia)

owl rescueOn November 21st, we received word that a Barred owl was in dire need of help. He was spotted by property owners dangling dangerously from a tree above a pond suspended only by monofilament fishing line. The fishing hook was imbedded in his wing. With a tandem kayak, raptor gloves, a large container and some serious teamwork, our staff was able to safely transfer him from the tree to the container. He was brought to the Center for Birds and Prey in Awendaw, SC. He is currently in rehabilitation and is in a body wrap to stabilize his wing. It is too early to tell if there could be other internal damage that is currently undetectable, but we are hopeful of recovery. This dramatic rescue is an example of the dangers of discarded fishing line and/or hooks to wildlife. Please always be sure to collect used or unwanted fishing line and dispose of it properly to avoid future problems like this owl injury! Check back for updates on his rehabilitation!

Laura Willhoft, Naturalist

November 28, 2010 ~ Luna Moth (Actias Luna)

luna mothThis Luna moth caterpillar was a beautiful find by naturalist Mike Frees! Judging by the plump size of this caterpillar, we suspect he was engorged with plant material and just about to pupate and form his cocoon. Under normal circumstances, the caterpillars of this species stay in the cocoon stage for about 2-3 weeks. However, since this caterpillar was found in late fall, it will most likely wait until the warmer temperatures of spring to hatch. With a wingspan of about 4.5 inches, these pistachio green colored moths might, at first, be mistaken for a type of butterfly instead of a drab colored moth. The fact that they only fly at night is what separates them from the diurnal (active during the day) butterfly. With delicate long tails and yellow wing eyespots, these moths are a treat for anyone lucky enough to see one!

Laura Willhoft, Naturalist

November 25, 2010 ~ Flutter Report

I always keep an eye open for butterflies and dragonflies on my bird trips. It was quite warm out and there were still some butterflies around: cloudless sulphurs, little yellows, monarchs, gulf fritillaries, and buckeyes. Also some roseate skimmers (pink/purple dragonflies) and green darners (large green/blue dragonflies), both over the pond at Osprey Point.

Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

November 25, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Naturalist: Sarah Ernst
Tour: Back Island Birding
Locations: Trails around Killdeer Pond and Blue Heron Pond Tower, Osprey Point clubhouse and surrounds, Ibis Pond, Willet Pond, Ocean Course clubhouse and surrounds
Weather: upper 60s to mid 70s, mostly clear, calm but some rough surf

Highlights: The first thing we did was make a beeline to the Preserve because Thanksgiving is one of only a few choice days in which there are no landscaping or construction noises out there, so it was really lovely and serene. There were Hooded Mergansers in many ponds, the first of the season for me and right on schedule. Lots of ibis and red-tail hawks around too! Willet Pond was covered in Laughing Gulls both on and water and in the sky…

Species: Lesser Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Wood Stork, Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawk (heard only), Red-tailed Hawk, American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Royal Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker (heard only), Eastern Phoebe, Fish Crow, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee (heard only), Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Marsh Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird.

November 23, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Anyone who likes to watch or photograph may be interested in the largest raft of ducks on Ibis Pond in several years – at one point over 400. Mostly Lesser Scaup, but a few Greaters and Ruddy Ducks. There were also two dozen Coots and some Pied-billed Grebes, a Kingfisher, a Caspian Tern and, of course, some Double-Crested Cormorants perched on the wood stand.

D. Elliot, Kiawah Island resident

November 22, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Naturalist: Sarah Ernst and Tim Pifer

Highlights: Birded the far east end of Kiawah today for sedge wrens, rails, and whatever else was out there. Our only rail was a clapper but we did see at least one, and possibly as many as four, sedge wrens…a bit of a tricky bird to find. We played some Eastern Screech Owl calls to drum up some songbirds and to our surprise, a screech owl answered back – in the middle of the morning! We found a really nice flock of golden-crowned kinglets and a surprisingly bold hermit thrush.

Bird list: Lesser Scaup, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Wood Stork, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Clapper Rail, American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Dunlin, Ring-billed Gull, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Eastern Screech Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Sedge Wren, Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, American Goldfinch

November 19, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Naturalist: Sarah Ernst
Tour: Back Island Birding
Locations: Ibis Pond, Willet Pond, Willet Island, Ocean Course
Weather: mid 50s to mid 60s, sunny and clear, calm surf and gentle wind

Highlights: Hundreds of Lesser Scaup were out on Ibis Pond, and took off while we watched; we later re-encountered them out on the ocean in front of the Ocean Course clubhouse. Very large numbers of Great Blue Herons out today. Great look at a sapsucker on Willet Island. The two songbird highlights were a Marsh Wren in the grass at Ibis Pond and a Field Sparrow near the bridge to Willet Island. We also encountered very fresh bobcat scat and some nice, deep bobcat tracks.

Species: Lesser Scaup, Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Clapper Rail (heard only), Common Moorhen, American Coot, Sanderling, Laughing Gull, Caspain Tern, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Phoebe, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Marsh Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Mockingbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, House Finch (heard only), American Goldfinch

November 18, 2010 ~ American Eel (Anguilla rostrata)

man with eelThis American Eel is a fairly elusive creature that can be found on Kiawah both in salt and fresh water. The American Eel is a catadromous species meaning it lives in freshwater the majority of its life and simply migrates down the waterways to salt water to spawn. After the eggs hatch the young eels migrate up freshwater rivers to live their life until they mature enough to breed. Just the opposite of this lifestyle is the more common Anadromous species (Example: Salmon- live in salt and migrate upstream to lay eggs in freshwater). Eels are very adaptable species that, in our case, are able to flourish their entire lives in our ponds and/or saltwater. They spend their free time hunting and hiding, as they are a great food source for our local alligators. The American Eel is a very economically important species and is often found in sushi. As an avid fisherman I get to know Eels very well in the spring, as they are the ultimate Cobia bait. If you are ever asked to touch an Eel I highly recommend it! Caution: Extremely Slimy!

By Tim Pifer, Naturalist

November 16, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Naturalist: Tim Pifer
Tour: Back Island Birding
Locations: Ibis pond, Willet pond, Willet Island, Ocean Course beach loop
Weather: 70’s, overcast, windy with rough surf
Species Count: 50

Highlights: Baltimore Oriole near the bridge to Willet Island. Three different Kestrels in the grassy field where the old ocean club house used to be. The use of the scope really showed off their beauty. Loggerhead shrike at the end of the driving course is a highlight anytime i’m out! Tree Swallows everywhere. The Hundreds of scoters a bit to far offshore to ID were impressive. They seemed to be in a huge long line about 4 birds wide and as far as you could see. Since the surf was so rough you only got a quick glance when they birds were on crest of the wave as they were hiding when in the trough. Pretty funny to see them out there just bobbing around and occasionally diving down for food. There were ~30 Scaup in Willet Pond. Also Ruddy Ducks!

Species list: Greater or Lesser Scaup, unknown scoter, Pie-billed grebe, Brown Pelican, double-creasted Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-Shouldered Hawk (Heard), American Kestrel, Clapper Rail (heard), American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Semipalmated sandpiper, least sandpiper, western sandpiper, Dunlin, Laughing gull, Ring-billed gull, greater black-backed gull, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Foresters Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Pheobe, Loggerhead Shrike, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Carolina chickadee, Tufted titmouse, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Yellow rumped warbler, Northern Cardinal, Boat-tailed grackle, Baltimore Oriole, house finch, Ruddy duck

November 16, 2010 ~ Sea Liver (Eudistoma hepaticum)

sea liverSea Liver is a strange looking type of animal called a tunicate! The most common type of tunicate we find washed up on our beach is the Sea Pork (Aplidium stellatum) which when dead resembles a light pink brain-like blob. Sea liver (pictured here) is closely related to sea pork, but is much more rare of a find. This animal is a colonial tunicate meaning it houses tons of individuals called zooids which all live together encased in a hard, protective tunic. When alive, sea liver is usually a purple color, but turns white or yellow when dead. Next time you are on a beach walk, make sure to inspect carefully, there is much more to our beach than just shells!

By Laura Willhoft, Naturalist

November 15, 2010 ~ Quail

quailA total of 7 of our 12 quail eggs have now hatched.

November 14, 2010 ~ Quail

At the Nature Center today two of our quail eggs have hatched. More details to come.

November 14, 2010 ~ White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)

ibisBack Island Birder Bill Parsley digiscoped this Ibis through our powerful new Vortex Razor spotting scope. Adult white ibis develop the odd combination of snow-white plumage, pale blue eyes, and bright pink legs and bill. This particular bird looks a little dingy, probably because it was foraging in some muddy water with its long, curved bill. Many local shrimps and small crabs get converted into ibis over the fall months – and a few ibis in turn get converted to alligator! A 7+ foot gator was lounging nearby this ibis, but it looked quite full and content to bask in the sun while tasty ibis and egrets fed and loafed nearby.

Digiscoping is a photography technique that uses spotting scopes and small point-and-shoot digital cameras to get amazing close-up shots of birds and other wildlife. We encourage guests on our Back Island Birding trips to bring along a small digital camera if they are interested in digiscoping! Private digiscoping instruction and tours are also available upon request.

By Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

November 13, 2010 ~ Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

Naturalist Tim Pifer reported a coed pair of wood ducks making a flyby at mingo. Please report any additional wood duck sightings to the Heron Park Nature Center, 843.768.6001.

November 12, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Naturalist: Sarah Ernst
Tour: Back Island Birding – special Cap’n Sams Edition
Locations: Captain Sam’s Spit
Weather: mid 50s to low 60s, sunny and clear, mostly calm wind but rough surf

Highlights: Because it takes a good half hour to walk out to Captain Sam’s Spit, I seldom go out there for bird trips. And the last time I did take a group out there, I talked up the birding delights of the spit for an hour but when we finally arrived there were four birds total! But today we were well rewarded for our long walk and risk – there were at least a thousand – if not several thousand – shorebirds, terns, gulls, skimmers, and other birds. It was a real joy for me to spend some quality time using our spotting scope to show off such a broad spectrum of birds. We took our time sidling up to the birds so as not to spook them, and this paid off when a pair of piping plovers walked right past us. If there were any rarities I missed them amongst the hundreds of sleeping dunlin, but we got several nice finds: red knots, marbled godwits, and piping plovers. We also found tracks galore, a ghost crab named Maria (See guys, I promised I’d include it in the highlights!), and dolphins beyond the surf.

Species: Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Royal Tern, Forster’s Tern, Black Skimmer, Belted Kingfisher, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Song Sparrow, Boat-tailed Grackle

November 11, 2010 ~ Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

lesser scaupSince Monday, November 8th large flocks of Lesser Scaup were taking a break from migration on Ibis and Willet ponds. The flock in Ibis Pond had approximately 500 birds in it. According to Town Biologist, Jim Jordan, this is the largest group of ducks seen on a Kiawah pond in 15 years.

November 9, 2010 ~ Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

gray squirrelI was on my way to pick up lunch when I heard an interesting snapping sound that I’d never heard before. I looked around for the source and eventually found a pair of squirrels in a large wax myrtle. Each squirrel would snip off the tip of a wax myrtle twig and steadily crunch its way through the hard, unripe berries. Then it would drop the twig, now completely stripped of berries, on the path. The path below the bush was littered with dozens of 4 inch long myrtle tips, as if a gardener had pruned the bush but never cleaned up the path afterwards. When I came back the next day, the squirrels were still up there chomping away! I was a little surprised to see the squirrels acting so voracious with the humble, common wax myrtle. Its berries are low in nutritional content and usually linger on the bushes long through winter. But these squirrels clearly knew what they were doing – maybe there was a nutrient they needed in those berries, or maybe that particular bush had unusually delicious berries.

By Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

November 8, 2010 ~ Town Biologist’s Field Notes

Large flocks of Lesser Scaup were seen in Ibis and Willet ponds this afternoon. The flock in Ibis Pond had approximately 500 birds in it. This is the largest group of ducks we have seen on a Kiawah pond in 15 years. Willet Pond had approximately 150-200 scaup on it as well.

November 4, 2010 ~ Fishing Report

Fall can be some of the best fishing the Kiawah area has to offer. As the waters start cooling down with fall temperatures, the river water temps start dropping as well. During the summer months the river can be as high as 85-90′ but now the water temps are hovering around 70-72′. The fish can sense winter is coming and really start to feed aggressively. Capt. John has been catching a lot of redfish and Capt. Mike has been catching sheepshead in the river the past few weeks. Fishing will only get better until the water becomes so cold the fish are lethargic but that wont happen until January or February.

November 3, 2010 ~ Town Biologist’s Field Notes

The first flocks of scaup have returned to Kiawah. Biologists observed approximately 200 lesser scaup in the ocean near the Beach Club today. These medium-sized diving ducks are a common sight along Kiawah’s beachfront in fall and winter and numbers will slowly increase into the thousands by December.

November 2, 2010 ~ Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps)

duckThere’s an old birding proverb that goes something like this: ‘If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck.’ This friendly birding tip holds true more often than not. But of course there are exceptions, and the Pied-billed Grebe is one of those exceptions.

During the fall and winter months, Pied-billed Grebes migrating from summer breeding grounds in Canada and northern parts of the United States settle on Kiawah’s ponds where they rest and forage underwater for small fish and crustaceans.

Except for their chicken-like bills, Pied-billed Grebes appear to be small, drab, brownish ducks. Instead of having webbed feet like ducks, grebes have lobed toes. These paddle-like toes help make grebes powerful swimmers.
Where to look for grebes on Kiawah: Any of the ponds during the fall or winter. Often found alone or in a pair.

Interesting Facts: Grebes belong to the Family Podicipedidae, from the Greek podex, rump, and pes, foot. Grebe is probably from the Breton word krib, or crest, describing the crested head plumes of many grebes, especially during the breeding season.

By Will Oakley, Naturalist

November 1, 2010 ~ Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerulescens)

stunned warblerThis beautiful male Black-throated Blue Warbler was brought into the nature center after it hit a window. Luckily it was merely stunned and later flew off, but we did take the opportunity to photograph it before releasing it. When you see a male Black-throated Blue Warbler (or in birding shorthand, BTBW), the blue feathers appear a deep, rich slate blue; I was suprised to see the amount of green iridescence on the back of this individual. But young male BTBWs have green-tinged feathers on the back and head, so we can assume this bird is an Immature. If he survives migration to his wintering grounds in dense Caribbean tropical forests, and back north to Southeastern Canada and the Northeastern United State in time for spring, the green will dissapear and he will become one of the most visually striking birds around. The gray-brown female BTBW is very much like many other confusing fall warblers, but the white wing spot, which is visible on both males and females, is is a good giveaway. The BTBW population decreased with the clearing of eastern forests for agrigulture, but as agricultural fields were abandoned and reverted to forest, BTBW numbers increased and today remain stable.

By Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

October 31, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Yesterday I was walking on our Mingo Point dock and found a dozen bluebirds perched on the railing between me and our kayaks, calling out to one another with their soft, musical contact notes. Such an encounter is a classic bird sign of the arrival of cooler temperatures. In spring, bluebirds are usually seen in pairs or with their young, and they forage for insects. Insects are abudant but scattered, so its best to hunt for bugs on your own. But as the weather cools down, bluebirds will eat more and more fruit as insects die off or go dormant for the winter. When you’re hunting for a large sugarberry tree or yaupon holly, it’s best to have lots of eyes on the lookout for the berries. So bluebirds will join other species such as the American robin and cedar waxwing, sometimes in flocks of hundreds of birds. Migratory bluebirds from the north will also join in with our year-round residents. So while you are less likely to see a bluebird on Kiawah in the winter, when you do see them, be prepared to see a whole lot of them!

By Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

October 30, 2010 ~ Common Loon (Gavia immer)

From the water…Just kayaked within 15′ of my first common loon of the fall in the Kiawah River. It still had the spangled breeding plumage on the whole of its back, though the head had already molted over to the duller winter plumage.

Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

October 29, 2010 ~ Striped Mullet (Mugil cephalus)

mullet jumping‘It is the common food alike of man, beasts, bird, reptile, and fish. It is used as bait for all other fish; it is of good flavor when broiled, and fried mullet roe is a dish fit for an epicure.’ So wrote Dr. J.A. Menshall of the striped mullet.

Though each section of the coast had its favorite fishery, mullet were a primary catch throughout the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. At one time mullet were assigned ‘first place on the list of edible fishes of the South’ due to their numbers, and they were caught in cast nets in the creeks and seine nets off the beaches in astonishing amounts. It was reported in 1859 that 18,000 fish were taken in one haul of the seine net on the beach at Sullivan’s Island, while most nets averaged about 5,000 fish per haul.

An unusual fish, mullet have a crop and a gizzard like a chicken, and an old folk tale has it that several central Florida Crackers escaped a ‘fishing out of season’ fine years ago when a crafty defense lawyer, dissecting a mullet in a court to exhibit the gizzard, convinced the judge to rule the mullet a fowl and not a fish.

By Jake Feary, Captain, Naturalist

*information taken from William C. Fleetwood Jr.’s book, Tidecraft, The boats of South Carolina, Georgia, and Northeastern Florida, 1550-1950

October 27, 2010 ~ Jumping Spider

jumping spiderI experienced a perfectly Halloween-themed moment this morning – just as I was waking up, a large black spider descended from a line of silk from my ceiling. I caught it in a cup and, thanks to a similar spider appearance on Wildlife As We See It last year, was able to recognize it as a Daring Jumping Spider. Most spiders are difficult to ID without examining it under a microscope and battling with a jargon-filled spider key, but the large size, iridescent green chelicerae (fangs), and white spots are all distinct. I’ve photographed dozens of insects and spiders of all kinds, but jumping spiders – probably because of their alert attitude and excellent vision – are the only bugs that appear to look back at me. And while those fangs look pretty intimidating, no matter how many times I poked it around in an attempt to get it to face my camera, it never tried to bite – at his/her worst, it waved its front legs around in attempt to convince me how terrifying it was. This PBS Nature segment on the mating rituals of jumping spiders perfectly captures their strange charisma: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/what-males-will-do/video-spider-courtship-dance/956/

By Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

October 26, 2010 ~ American Alligator hatchlings (Alligator mississippiensis)

alligatorThis picture of alligator hatchlings and mom was recently taken at a pond in the turtle beach area. It was exciting to see the emergence of these hatchlings (I have observed 6 basking in the sun at one time). These babies most likely hatched in mid to late august! Usually the female lays anywhere from 40-60 eggs at one time in June, however only about 1/10 of these eggs is going to make it to adulthood. The proximity of the female to her hatchling tells us a lot about the maternal care of these reptiles. The mother is very protective of her young before and after they come out of their eggs. She is always close by during the incubation period (usually about 65 days) protecting the eggs from predation by raccoons trying to get an easy meal. When the hatchlings are ready, they will use their egg tooth to crack the shell and will proceed to make a high pitch chirping sound to alert the mother to help them to the pond. The female will carry her young in her mouth to the pond! The hatchlings are usually only 6 inches long when they are born, making them very vulnerable to other alligators, birds and mammals. The babies will feed on small fish, insects, amphibians and other small prey items. All hatchlings (like the one pictured here) are born with yellow stripes to help them camouflage with the surface of the pond. The female will protect her young for about 1-3 years, so it is very important to observe these cute reptilians from a distance. To learn more about alligators, or to see these hatchlings for yourself, join one of our naturalists on a gator walk this fall!

By Laura Willhoft, Naturalist

October 25, 2010 ~ Damsefly

damsel flyMy guests and I found this blue damselfly sitting in between several alligators on our Alligator Adventure. While lovely to look at, he was a frustrating challenge to identify. He is probably a member of one of two species: the Atlantic Bluet, Enallagma doubledayi, or the Familiar Bluet, Enallagma civile. Both occur in coastal South Carolina in abundance and both are nearly identical on the outside; while they appear to know the difference themselves, we can only identify them by dissecting their genitalia. Damselflies belong to the same family as dragonflies (Odonata), but it’s easy to tell the difference between the two after just a few encounters. Damselflies are much smaller and more slender than the larger, heavy-bodied dragonflies. The eyes of a damselfly appear to bugle out from the head more than those of the dragonfly. And most damselflies hold their four wings together while perching, while dragonflies hold their four wings spread out. Of course just to make life more interesting, nature has provided us with exceptions such as the spread-wing damselflies, but generally both bugs live up to their names: the damselflies are quiet and delicate while dragonflies are sturdy and aggressive.

By Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

October 24, 2010 ~ Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)

young buntingThe last of the painted buntings are migrating through Kiawah now, and this one found its way into the bird banding nets. Town biologist Aaron Given determined that it is a bird born this summer, so we can’t be sure of the gender; if it’s a male, he’ll remain green all year; it’s only in his second year that he gets the brilliant blue, red, and green plumage of adulthood. Every year a few painted buntings will overwinter in the coastal South Carolina area. If you’d live in the area and would like to increase the chances of hosting a winter bunting or other rarity in your yard, put out millet seed, clean bird baths regularly, and keep cats indoors. Frequent bird feeder junkies and residents of the dense understory, painted buntings are particularly vulnerable to death by house cat. If you’re pretty sure your cat has never taken a bird, please reconsider – many cats will catch and kill birds without ever leaving the body around for their human to find.

By Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

October 22, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Naturalist: Sarah Ernst
Back Island Birding
Locations: Killdeer Pond trail, Osprey Pt clubhouse, Ocean Course driving range/tidal pond/beach
Weather: Very nice again! 60s-70s, clear, gusty at Ocean Course

Highlights: We began not with a bird but with a mole – after we spotted the earth moving above a tunnel, I dug it out and we got to feel its soft fur, admire its massive digging claws, and watch it desperately attempt to navigate the concrete path before taking pity on it putting it back in its tunnel. At Killdeer Pond I saw a really lovely black-throated blue warbler, but sadly it escaped amongst the dense upper canopy before anyone else got it in their binoculars. Osprey Point was covered in a swarm of yellow-rumped warblers, but our real treat came when we circled around the clubhouse and found ourselves amongst a few large flocks of dozens of crows, both American and Fish – they alerted us to the presence of an osprey carrying a fish, and as we watched that, an immature bald eagle came in to steal the fish. Soon after we saw a crow chasing a gorgeous male kestrel around the golf course; eventually it found cover and sat still for a long time, giving us an excellent spotting scope view. At the Ocean Course the wind was gusty and kept most of the songbirds from us, though I was able to ID a swamp sparrow in the grass. We finished up the day with an adult bald eagle overhead and an immature red-tail hawk perched in a tree.

Species: Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Laughing Gull, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Palm Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Boat-tailed Grackle

October 21, 2010 ~ Red Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

red tail hawkOne fun part of being a naturalist is responding to all sorts of animal calls, and making animal rescues. On October 20th, my co-worker Michael Frees and I responded to a call that a large raptor had gotten stuck in a screened in porch in one of the resort villas. Armed with only some raptor gloves and a net, we ventured to the villa to check it out. Sitting, perched up on some porch furniture was indeed a huge red-tailed hawk. It appeared that the bird had perhaps flown into the protective screen, ripping it in the process.

Known for their rust colored tails, red-tailed hawks are the most common hawk in North America and are found all over the country. On Kiawah however, they are slightly outnumbered by the larger fish hawk or Osprey. The first red-tailed hawk to be scientifically studied was found in Jamaica, giving it its species name. Red-tailed hawks prefer open areas and high places to perch and wait for prey. That being said, they are very adaptable and are found in urban areas, taking advantage of structures like telephone poles to spot mice, squirrels, reptiles and rabbits. They have even been spotted in NYC eating rats and pigeons!

The hawk that was found on this porch is young, probably around 0-2 years of age. The yellow eye is a good indicator of the birds age, as the eye darkens from a yellow to a red or brown at 3-4 years. To help the bird out of the porch we removed enough screening to give the bird ample room to fly out. After some failed attempts and some coaxing, the hawk flew away uninjured into the trees above. It was a beautiful treat to be able to view this hawk (pictured above) so close up and be able to help return him to his natural habitat!

By Laura Willhoft, Naturalist

October 20, 2010 ~ Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla)

faucette birdThe hundreds of bird species found on Kiawah at various times of year are remarkably different in the colors and patterns of their feathers. But one common trait unites many of them: dark wingtips and wing edges. Our most common year-round gull, the laughing gull, is a good example of this common color pattern. The countershading helps camouflage the bird from predators – the gray back blends in with the sea and the white belly blends in with a cloudy sky or the glare of the sun. For visual predators, a sharp contrast actually helps them discover their prey – so why bother with black? The black color is caused by tiny pieces of melanin. These granules strengthen the wing feather, making it less prone to wear as the bird flies. This is probably a very good reason to have black wingtips. But not all birds have the same amount – only the wingtips are black in the White Ibis, compared to the the 50-50 distribution of the Wood Stork – so there might be another factor in play. Maybe a distinct pattern of black in the wings – the same visual contrast that helps predators zero in on their prey – helps some birds recognize others of their species at long distances. If you’ve been separated from your flock and you’re looking to rejoin it before a harrier or bald eagle gets you cornered and takes you out, that could be very helpful!

October 18, 2010 ~ Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)

dragonflyDragonfly at the Swamp Garden.

October 16, 2010 ~ Bee Fly (Bombyliidae family)

bee flyAt first I was fooled into thinking this small golden insect with two-toned wings was a bee, but I failed to notice a few obvious clues: the much shorter antennae, the “wall-to-wall” large eyes, connected rather than separated, and two wings rather than four. This is a fly, more specifically a bee fly – a member of the family Bombyliidae. Bee flies ought to be even more worthy friends to the gardener as the bee because in addition to pollinating flowers, they can’t sting and the larva of some species will parasitize harmful insects.

But when you read “fly”, did you go “EWW!”? I know I did, and I’ll proudly proclaim my love of vultures, horseshoe crabs, opossums, rats, and other unpopular critters. A harmless and beneficial insect like the bee fly should provoke choruses of AWW rather than EWW. Admittedly we have a built-in disgust for house flies, deer flies, and other disreputable members of the fly family, but we also have a built-in disgust for sewer rats and the millions of hamsters sold in pet stores seem to have overcome that. Maybe a couple of pet flies bred for sweet puppy-dog eyes would change my mind – though I don’t see baby bee flies – aka parasitic maggots – ever becoming popular.

Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

October 15, 2010 ~ Black Scoter

Town Biologists reported the first sea ducks of the fall. A group of 40 black scoters was seen flying over the ocean off of Kiawah. Numbers will slowly increase and peak in December-January.

October 15, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Guide: Sarah Ernst
Tour: Back Island Birding
Locations: Willet Island, Ocean Course Driving Range/Beach
Weather: Really nice – mid 60s-low 70s, clear and calm, not much wind

Highlights: Before we even got in the van there were lots of woodpeckers in the live oaks and pines above the parking lot – most noticeably a handsome pair of pileated woodpeckers, but also a flicker, some red-bellied woodpeckers, and a downy woodpecker. There were quite a few flycatchers at Willet Island but other than the tail-bobbing Eastern phoebe, fall flycatchers are pretty tricky to ID. I was pretty sure one was a Eastern wood-peewee and the other possibly a Least Flycatcher. No warblers at all though on Willet Island and only a palm warbler at the Ocean Course. The most numerous bird were thousands and thousands of migrating rough-winged swallows. We searched the flock of terns and gulls for any of the rare species, but all were Laughing Gulls, Forster’s Terns, and Royal Terns with a single adult herring gull and a single first-year Great Black-Backed Gull. We also saw my first Northern Harrier of the year (a female) and my first Chipping Sparrow of the year. But our most unusual sighting of the day were at least 30 baby alligators (ranging in size from newborn to 2 years) in the little freshwater marsh past Willet Island, plus one attentive female. I have never seen that many babies in one spot before!

Species: Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Merlin, Clapper Rail, Common Moorhen, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Laughing Gull, Greater Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, two unknown flycatcher species (one unknown Empid/possibly a Least Flycatcher, one probably an Eastern Wood-Peewee…), Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Palm Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, House Finch

October 14, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Bird Banding Report from Town Biologist, Aaron Given…I wasn’t sure I was going to get in this morning’s banding session because of the light intermittent showers early this morning. Fortunately, the rain cleared up by 7:30 am and the nets were opened. . . and I am sure glad we did. The rain along the coast forced migrating birds to seek refuge on Kiawah and caused a “mini-fallout”. Literally, we watched wave after wave of small groups of warblers, buntings, catbirds, etc. fall out of the sky and onto Captain Sam’s Spit where we banding. It was quite an amazing site. I have witnessed this phenomenon a few other times on a much larger scale (involving thousands of birds), once in Florida and a couple of times in Texas during the spring.

We ended up with 66 new birds and 10 recaptures of 18 species. Surprisingly, Indigo Buntings (21) were the most commonly banded birds, followed by the not-so-surprisingly Common Yellowthroat (16). All of the Indigo Bunting were juvenile birds with exception of 2 adult males that had retained some of their brilliant blue plumage. I am still waiting for the big Gray Catbird push. Last year at this time we had already banded 102 of them. So far this year, we have only banded 62 with twice the effort. My guess is, the next cold front (possibly beginning tonight) will bring them down. Some other highlights include a Yellow-rumped Warbler (first of the season), Northern Parula, Swamp Sparrow, and a juvenile female Common Ground-Dove.

50 net-hours; 154.0 birds/100 net-hours

New Birds: 16 Common Yellowthroat, 6 Palm Warbler, 1 Yellow-rumped Warbler, 2 Prairie Warbler, 1 Black-throated Blue Warbler, 1 Northern Parula, 1 American Redstart, 1 Ovenbird, 1 Eastern Phoebe, 8 Gray Catbird, 1 House Wren, 2 Red-eyed Vireo, 21 Indigo Bunting, 2 Northern Cardinal, 1 Swamp Sparrow, 1 Common Ground-Dove

Recaptures: 4 Carolina Chickadee, 1 Northern Cardinal, 1 Indigo Bunting, 1 Common Yellowthroat, 1 Carolina Wren, 1 Gray Catbird, 1 Red-eyed Vireo

October 13, 2010 ~ Rough Sea Squirt (Styela partita)

rough sea squirtIf I could choose a relative from all the invertebrates (animals without a backbone) that I’ve met in the ocean, I think I’d choose a dashing, color-changing squid or a refined, delicate brittle star. So it’s a little disheartening that our closest relatives include tunicates like this Rough Sea Squirt, found anchored underneath our Mingo Point dock. As adults they are simple round blobs with one or more openings that siphon in water and spits it out. As seen here, they make handy squirt guns to surprise innocent Jr. Naturalists. In their larval form, however, they (vaguely) resemble tadpoles, with gills, a long tail, and a nerve chord. And even the adult posesses a heart, a simple stomach, and even a very small brain. To make the transition from larva to adult, a young sea squirt settles down onto something hard – an old oyster shell, fallen log, bottom of a boat, or another sea squirt – then absorbs its tail and settles down into a stationary life.

Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

October 11, 2010 ~ Speckled Crab (Arenaeus cribrarius)

speckled crabSpeckled Crabs must be pretty tough characters to survive a life in the chaotic surf zone: they must deal with pounding surf, fast currents, ever-shifting tides, deep thick sand, and hungry sharks searching for a quick snack of crab. And on top of that, they have to seek out their own food, from ambushing mole crabs to scavenging the carcass of a dead fish. But they’re pretty good at what they do: along with the Blue Crab, Speckled Crabs are one of the most commonly encountered swimming crabs during our Ocean Encounters trips. The pair of paddle-shaped hind legs allow it to aggressively swim in the water or bury in the sand. If you find a spotted crab shell while beachcombing on Kiawah, it’s probably a Speckled Crab, but do keep an eye out for others: the similar Lady Crab, the round Purse Crab, and the most pretty of all – the Calico Box Crab.

By Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

October 9, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Guide: Sarah Ernst
Tour: Back Island Birding
Locations: Trails through the Preserve, Willet Island, Ocean Course Driving Range/Beach
Weather: Very foggy to start out with and cleared up by 10.

Highlights: We started out in the Preserve trails but had little luck other than a single fleeting glimpse of a pine warbler. At Willet Island, however, we really did well with a few phoebes as well as an unidentified Empid flycatcher, several warblers, my first blue-headed vireo of the season, and lots of catbirds. We did a quick trip out to the beach and back. Along the driving range and found our resident loggerhead shrike, a flock of black-bellied plovers and killdeer, a house wren, and a prairie warbler. It was a high spring tide today and the shorebirds were pretty much stuck on one little spit of sand, so we got a really up close and personal looks at a large flock of semi-palmated plovers that also included a single piping plover and Wilson’s plover, as well as several peeps. Further out on the sand were a flock of dowitchers, willets, black-bellied plovers, peeps, sanderlings, and oystercatchers, with some terns, gulls, and more peeps in the distance. It was nice to see the dowitchers because for some reason we usually miss them on our bird trips, and they’re such funny looking birds. We searched for the Western kingbird and the red phalarope found by Aaron and Will earlier in the week, but no luck.

Species: Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, White Ibis, Wood Stork, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawk, Black-bellied Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Laughing Gull, Forster’sTern, RoyalTern, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Unidentified Empid Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue-headed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, House Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Palm Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle

October 9, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Excerpt from the Carolina Bird Listserve post from Nathan Dias, Executive Director Cape Romain Bird Observatory. This morning at “Cape Kiawah” there was the best birding I have enjoyed in years.

We started by exploring the little hammock island across the bridge from the grassy entrance parking lot. A few Warblers and woodpeckers were there. Then we found good action across the road from the O.C.entrance, in the western end of ‘The Grove’. A Song Sparrow was our first of the fall, as was a Yellow-breasted Sapsucker.

And then was the start of the ‘Catbird Brigade’ and a steady procession of House Wrens. We were rarely out of sight of Gray Catbirds for the rest of the morning… We found a huge Loblolly Pine with an enormous Virginia Creeper vine. It was loaded with fruit and a horde of Catbirds was flitting about. Also Yellow-eyed Vireos and some Warblers and a tease of a UFO thrush.

In the little overgrown ‘tunnel’ leading from the open area to the grove, we saw the first of the morning’s Tennessee Warblers. Then the first of the Eastern Wood-Pewees and Eastern Phoebes. Then the warbler, vireo, Tanager and Empid parade began. 4-5 Black-and-white Warblers were orbiting us, and a Blue-winged Warbler distracted me from a Traill’s Flycatcher and a female Scarlet Tanager. I tried not to raise my bins for things like Parulas, White-eyed Vireos, Black-and-white Warblers, Palm Warblers, etc. But the BAY-BREASTED WARBLER was good eye candy. We could hear thrushes calling in the thickets but didn’t see any yet.

On the walk up to the opposite end of the grove and the jeep trail beyond, we picked up Magnolia Warbler and my first Orange-crowned Warbler of the fall among the more common stuff.

We saw a bunch of birds feeding on the ground beside the gate, but a Red-shouldered Hawk that went barreling through scared them. I got a quick look at a thrush with my bins and then a brief scope view showed a Gray-cheeked Thrush.

After a few warblers in the short wooded stretch, including a young female Cape May, we hit MAJOR paydirt in the clearing beyond. It was swarming with warblers, buntings, flycatchers, vireos and various insectivores. They were chasing a variety of insects, especially near the ‘boneyard’ where there were hordes of flies around old roadkill the crews wisely move there for Bobcats and vultures. Around some of the remains, the low palmetto fronds and some dog fennel were as much black as green from all the perched flies. The warblers buzzed through flushing and then chasing the flies.

While standing in one spot for about 40 minutes, we saw hundreds of warblers and dozens of catbirds. You could just put your bins up and watch waves of birds wash through your field of view. The overwhelming majority were American Redstarts and Palm Warblers, with quite a few Common Yellowthroats. But there was also the first WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW of the fall hanging around with the Northern Cardinals and Painted + Indigo Buntings. We got great scope views of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo down near the ground by the boneyard.

We had a Traill’s Flycatcher and a couple of Eastern Wood-Pewees in the clearing. Not sure how many Eastern Phobes… No sign of the Western Kingbird that Aaron Given found last weekend.

There were 3 Yellow Warblers chasing flies with the Redstarts and Palm Warblers, and 1-2 more Tennessee Warblers. A Merlin gave a nice low flyover near the end of our time in the clearing.

Back at the grove on the way out, we had a pair of Eastern Wood-Pewees, a couple of Eastern Phoebes and a Least Flycatcher.

Species: Wood Stork, Merlin, Red-headed Woodpecker (h), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (great looks), Loggerhead Shrike, White-eyed, Red-eyed Vireos, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Thrush spp., Gray Catbird (hundreds), Blue-winged Warbler, Tennessee Warbler (2-3), Orange-crowned Warbler, Northern Parula (several), Yellow Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Cape May Warbler (good year for them along the SC coast), Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Palm Warbler (hundreds), Bay-breasted Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler (20+), American Redstart (hundreds), Common Yellowthroat, White-crowned Sparrow, Painted Bunting (7), Indigo Bunting (6), Scarlet Tanager (female)

October 7, 2010 ~ Polka-Dot Wasp Moth (Syntomeida epilais)

wasp mothA friend brought me this insect for identification. She had squished it in her garden, thinking such a dramatically colored wasp must be dangerous to have around! And that is indeed the impression this insect wants you to have – so that you’ll leave it alone. But this is the almost completely harmless Polka-Dot Wasp Moth, Syntomeida epilais, a wasp mimic. I said almost harmless, because the host plant for this moth is oleander, a shrub from the Mediterranean which has deadly poisonous leaves and I suppose if you ate vast quantities of the caterpillars or adult moths, it would make you a little sick. If you notice some oleander leaves with chewed edges, search around for the bright orange caterpillars – while they are covered in scary-looking hairs, they do not sting.

In addition to their unusual coloration, Polka-Dot Wasp Moths are a little different from other moths. Most moths find mates by smell – females will release chemicals in the air called pheromones, and most moths that catch that scent on their delicate antennae will make a bee-line to her. But the females of the Polka-Dot Wasp Moth will create ultrasonic clicks to attract a male, usually well after midnight, and the male will click back. According to the article I read, “pairs of modified thoracic metepisternal sclerites function as tymbal organs.” I think for our purposes, we can say that the moths sing during courtship and leave it at that.

By Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

October 5, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Guide: Tim Pifer
Tour: Back Island Birding
Locations: Trails through the Preserve, Ocean Course Driving Range/Beach
Weather: Upper 60s – mid 70s, Windy, partly cloudy

Highlights: Very windy day for song birds. They all seemed to be low and in thick vegetation. Loggerhead Shrike at the end of the driving range. Peregrine Falcon at the same location. There was a huge crew of surveyors at the ocean course beach that had flushed most shore birds. Not one gull or tern is pretty impressive after walking that huge ocean course loop. Also the maintenance crew was leaf blowing the “hiking trails” at the preserve.

Species: Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Pelican, Double-Crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Clapper Rail, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Killdeer, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Rough-Winged Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Palm Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Painted bunting, eastern bluebirds, buff breasted sandpipers

October 4, 2010 ~ Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

hummingbirdRecently, Sanctuary valet staff watched an unusual visitor pull up into the front entry of the hotel: a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. While the bird had no outside injuries and could fly in brief spurts, it quickly became apparent that something was wrong. With their rapid metabolism – the heart rate of a ruby-throated hummingbird ranges from 250 beats per minute while resting to 1200 beats per minute – hummingbirds need to feed frequently so the little bird needed urgent care. He was diagnosed as a window-strike victim and quickly hurried to a veterinary clinic for treatment.

The red flecks on the throat of this hummingbird told us it was a young male, fledged this summer, and heading down to its wintering grounds in Mexico, Central America, or the Caribbean Islands. There is no way of finding out where our bird was born: the range of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird extends as far north as Canada, and west well into central Texas and Oklahoma.

Window strikes can be a major factor in bird mortality: a bird sees the reflection of sky and vegetation in a window, and hits the window at speeds fast enough to be fatal. If you have a window that is particularly vulnerable to strikes, you can reduce the number of collisions by eliminating the reflection. If the view isn’t particularly interesting, try lowering blinds but leaving the slats open for light. A mesh insect screen will also prevent collisions. If these aren’t options, try putting decals or silhouettes on the window, or ornaments dangling in front of them. For large windows that showcase a great view, decals are available that reflect UV light visible to birds but not us; what we see is a subtle, slightly opaque image.

By Sarah Ernst, Naturalist

October 3, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Myself and Resort Naturalist, Will Oakley, birded Kiawah Island yesterday from 5 am to 8 pm. We birded both ends of the island and much of the interior and by the end of the day we had tallied 109 species.

It was a very good day for Palm Warblers – they were everywhere! In the 3 years I have worked on the island, I have never seen so many. Gray Catbirds were also very numerous, however their high numbers are more predictable this time of year. Some other notable migrants include Swainson’s Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Bobolink, Eastern Phoebe (FOS), and “Traill’s” Flycatcher. But one of the best birds of the day was a WESTERN KINGBIRD seen on the eastern part of the island near the Ocean Course.

Falcon migration must be in full swing as we saw at least 20 Merlins, 4 Peregrines, and 4 Kestrels. It seemed like every time I looked up a Merlin (or 3) was flying overhead. Several Northern Harriers were seen hunting the marsh and dunes as well.

Beach birding was also very good. Gulls, terns, plovers, and sandpipers were very numerous at both ends of the island. The highlight of the morning on the beach was a RED-NECKED PHALAROPE. It was seen on the beach at the east end of the island (about 500 yards west from were the Snowy Plover was hanging out last month). After watching it for a couple of minutes, a jogger flushed the bird and I did not see where it went. Fortunately, about an hour later we found it on the far eastern part of the island about a mile east of where we originally saw it where we were able to watch the bird feed along with 5 or 6 Sanderlings for several minutes.

Aaron Given
Wildlife Biologist
Kiawah Island, SC

October 2, 2010 ~ Atlantic Pearl Oyster (Pinctada imbricata)

sea lifeLast night, while beachcombing, I was expecting to come across the usual sea creatures that wash up after storms- you know, whelks, sea stars, and maybe an urchin or two. Instead, I was surprised to see a barren beach, except for tons of washed up sargassum weed. Sargassum weed is a type of brown algae that has tiny gas filled floats that help to keep it on the surface of the water to promote photosynthesis. This weed is named for where many species are found, the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda. I decided to inspect this seaweed more closely, knowing that often there can be sea-life found living in and around plants like the Sargassum. What I came across resembles a tiny oyster called an Atlantic Pearl Oyster.

These pearl oysters are small filter feeding bivalves (two sided) and connect to hard substrates using byssal threads. These pearl oysters can rarely, but naturally create a pearl when an irritant (grain of sand or mud for example) gets caught inside the shell while it is open and feeding. The irritant is then coated by a nacreous layer which forms the pearl. Instead of waiting for this rare process to happen naturally, humans can make pearls by inducing this process to happen. The Pearl Oyster is frequently used to create cultured pearls in some places in the world, and is therefore economically important. They are found most commonly in Australia, Bermuda, India and the Caribbean sea of Columbia. These Pearl Oysters were once introduced to Japan to help improve the economic loss due to diseased native pearl oysters. The growth of these oysters depends on salinity and temperature, and also on suspended matter in the water column (since the suspended matter is where the needed nutrients are found). Turns out these Pearl Oysters hitched a ride in the Sargassum weed from Bermuda, where they have been declared a protected species by the Bermuda Fisheries Laws. Also pictured is a TINY horseshoe crab molt that was found among the seaweed as well. Next time you are beachcombing, remember to inspect everything, you never know what you might find!

By Laura Willhoft, Naturalist

October 1, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Bird banding report by Town Biologist, Aaron Given….Really good day banding today with 78 new birds, and 11 recaptures of 14 species! There were several migrating birds heard overhead this morning while opening the nets in the dark. We actually saw a small flock of birds coming in off the ocean around 7:00am as we were driving down the beach. Common Yellowthroats made a strong resurgence with 37 of them banded. The bird of the day was an adult female Northern Flicker (a first banding record for Kiawah). You really don’t notice how beautiful their plumage is until you’ve seen one up close.

48 net-hours; 185.4 birds/100 net-hours

New Birds: 9 Gray Catbird, 3 Black-throated Blue Warbler, 37 Common Yellowthroat, 1 Northern Cardinal, 5 Palm Warbler, 11 American Redstart, 3 Painted Bunting, 1 Baltimore Oriole, 1 Northern Flicker, 1 Prairie Warbler, 3 White-eyed Vireo, 1 Carolina Chickadee, 2 Red-eyed Vireo

Recaptures: 1 Carolina Chickadee, 4 Common Yellowthroat, 2 Carolina Wren, 2 American Redstart, 1 Northern Cardinal, 1 White-eyed Vireo

October 1, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Guide: Sarah Ernst
Tour: Back Island Birding
Locations: Trails through the Preserve, Ibis Pond, Willet Pond, Willet Island, Ocean Course Driving Range/Beach
Weather: Upper 60s – mid 70s, steady breeze, partly cloudy

Highlights: WOW- we hit a very good day of fall migration with a near record-breaking total of 65 birds! So many neat sights to list that I don’t know where to begin. Kingfishers and swallows were present everywhere we went. At the Preserve we saw a prairie warbler and a yellow-billed cuckoo in the same cedar tree. Other neat birds – an osprey dive-bombing an immature eagle (nice to see the tables turned), a red-tailed hawk suspended motionless in a headwind; lots of wood storks; and brown-headed nuthatches in the tops of the pines. At Ibis Pond we found a pair of grebes and an anhinga both using the same patch of water; the anhinga later flung itself onto a dead tree branch to dry off. But Willet Island was where the real action was at today – within the half hour we spent there, we saw: my first phoebe of the season, a yellow warbler, a pair of mysterious Empiodax flycatchers (possibly two different species!), a yellow-throated warbler, a blue-gray gnatcatcher, lots of palm warblers, a northern waterthrush, an American redstart, and a young black-crowned night heron. On the driving range we got both a shrike and a few ground doves, as well as my first flicker of the season, and a mysterious dark brown wren that I had to leave unidentified. On the beach we got the usual assortment of shorebirds, with a few still showing some hints of breeding plumage. We finished over our allotted time, and pretty worn out, but extremely satisfied with a very exciting morning of birding!

Species: Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Pelican, Double-Crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-Crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Wood Stork, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Clapper Rail, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Killdeer, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Forster’s Tern, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Empidonax Sp, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Rough-Winged Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Wren Sp, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Palm Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, House Finch

September 29, 2010 ~ Bumble Bee

bumblebeeWhile most people associate insects with hard shells, some insects appear positively cuddly. The thorax and abdomen of this bumblebee is covered with short fluffy fur. The hair-like stuff is best called bristles – unlike our hair, they do not grow continuously but are simply extensions of the bee’s exoskeleton. The warm coat insulates the bee from cold temperatures, allowing it to forage for nectar – and pollinate important fruit and vegetable crop flowers – on cooler days than almost all other pollinators. The fur also acts like a trap to collect pollen, some of which the bee eats and some of which falls upon and fertilizes flowers. As the bee flies, the hairs build up a static charge. This will cause tiny pieces of pollen to jump from the male parts of the flower (anther) to the bee. When the bee approaches another flower, some of those pieces will jump from the bee to the female part of the flower (stigma). This technique is called buzz pollination and is unique to bumblebees; some plants, including tomatoes, can only be pollinated through buzz pollination. So the seemingly obscure and unimportant hairs on a bumblebee turn out to be vital to raising cool-weather crops like strawberries and buzz pollinated crops like tomatoes!

Photograph by Jamie Rood on her Nature Photography Tour.

September 28, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Guide: Sarah Ernst
Tour: Back Island Birding
Locations: Willet Pond, Willet Island, Ocean Course Driving Range/Beach
Weather: Low 80s, partly cloudy, little wind…an afternoon trip, held from 2-4:15 pm

Highlights: We drove out to Willet Pond and saw around a dozen Wood Storks perched across the road; they took off as we got out of the van and tried to get closer. When we explored Willet Island we found few birds but lots of fire ants, so we beat a hasty retreat and headed to the fire-ant-free Ocean Course. Here we were rewarded with a large flock of immature Ibis, a Common Ground Dove, a great Loggerhead Shrike, and a few nicely approachable clumps of shorebirds. Once we returned to the van, my guest spotted a very red hawk in perched low in a tree; we drove over to get a better look and it was one of the reddest red-shouldered hawks I’ve ever seen – maybe it was the lighting or the angle, I hardly ever see hawks at eye-level – but it was the Pippi Longstocking of hawks. I slowly took my foot off the brake to inch the van closer and closer, and I was sure it would flush, but it let us get within yards! Getting close enough to a hawk to admire it without binoculars was a great way to end a trip. It was only when we turned around to go back to the nature center that it flew off.

Species: Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron ,Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, White Ibis, Wood Stork, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Clapper Rail, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Royal Tern, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Common Grackle

September 26, 2010 ~ Oyster Toadfish (Opsanus tau)

toad fishThe Oyster Toadfish stretches the definition of fish. It has no scales, is covered with warts, and can sit still for hours, waiting to ambush prey. While they are small fish, reaching maybe 12 inches, you never want to get bit by an oyster toadfish. Its huge jaws are strong enough to crush oyster shells, combined with impressive – and multiple – rows of sharp teeth extending all the way to the back of the throat. They often hang out around structures in the water – natural like a fallen tree or clump of oysters, or man-made like a dock or crab trap. As their tough exterior might suggest, they are an extremely hardy fish that can survive in heavily polluted areas that would kill off most other fish species. In fact, they are so tough that NASA has even sent oyster toadfish to space!

By Naturalist Sarah Ernst

September 23, 2010 ~ Salt Marsh Skipper (Panoquina panoquin)

salt marsh skipperWe saw and/or caught 13 species of butterflies on our butterfly walk today! Not bad for 45 minutes of field time. Pictured is a Salt Marsh Skipper (Panoquina panoquin); this small brown butterfly isn’t as flashy as the others on this list, but the delicate streaking on its wing gives it a fancy woodgrain appearance. It is very common on Kiawah in late summer and fall, especially on small weedy flowers like Frogfruit, but because the range of its host plant (Seashore Saltgrass, Distichlis spicata) is restricted to coastlines, the Salt Marsh Skipper is also restricted to coastal areas.

Species: Palamedes Swallowtail, Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, Gray Hairstreak, Summer Azure, Gulf Fritillary, Common Buckeye, Monarch, Long-tailed Skipper, Horace’s Duskywing, Fiery Skipper, Whirlabout, Salt Marsh Skipper

By Naturalist Sarah Ernst

September 22, 2010 ~ Horse Conch (Pleuroploca gigantea)

horse conchAlmost daily on my kayak trips, I’ll proclaim: “I wonder what that dark lump is on the mud bank. I’ll go check it out!” Usually it is a piece of driftwood or trash. Sometimes it might be a clump of rubbery bryozoans or a sponge. Today, though, I was well-rewarded for my curiosity: it was a magnificent adult horse conch! The horse conch is the largest gastropod (snail) in the United States and one of the largest in the world, and mine was definitely at the peak of its growth: at 2 feet long it was as big as a newborn baby, but much heavier. Conchs are a rare find on Kiawah. Most visitors assume that the very common Knobbed Whelk is a conch due to its classic, elaborate, conch-like shape, but they are a different family of marine snail. The horse conch also is not a true conch, but more along the lines of a very, very large version of our Tulip Snail. They are fairly common in Florida but are much more tricky to find in South Carolina. We’ll occasionally see the young horse conchs on a Pluff Mud Paddle, but I have never encountered any snail this large before.

While different folks have different standards about taking specimens from the wild, my personal belief is that unless you are going to eat the animal, or if you are going to use it for legitimate scientific or educational purposes, you should show respect to the ecosystem by leaving things in the wild where they belong and are needed. It was too large to fit into our nature center fishtanks, so the educational option was out. And for eating it, horse conchs are edible but not particularly tasty, and I’m not gastronomically adventurous enough to try something quite that shade of neon orange, especially when it squirts water at you. As for taking just the impressive shell, killing the animal…well, I do have an inner toddler that said “OOOH! PRETTY! MINE!” About 95% of me – my inner toddler – desperately wanted to take the conch home to clean up and display. But the other 5% – my inner naturalist – was telling me to leave this amazing animal in the wild where it belonged. Luckily for the conch, I was listening to the inner naturalist and left it where I found it. At least I had the comfort of modern technology: with my cell phone camera, I could photograph it and share my awesome find with others!

September 21, 2010 ~ Atlantic Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus)

blue crabSoft shell crab sandwich anyone? Chef Richard from the Sanctuary spotted this blue crab in the process of molting its outer shell and sent us the photo. Molting enables growth. For a period of time after the hard shell is discarded, the crab will have a soft shell. It is during this time the crab is able to grow, mate, and be eaten whole by humans as a speciality menu item. Next time you’re out beach combing and you notice the shells of crabs, remember that more than likely these creatures haven’t died, but rather, they’ve simply discarded their smaller shell to reach new lengths.

September 20, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Town Biologists completed the 9th banding session of the fall today. 62 birds were caught, including 4 recaptures. Common yellowthroats (23) were the most common species today followed by red-eyed vireo (8) and white-eyed vireo (6). Highlights included a summer tanager (1st banding record on Kiawah), a northern parula, an indigo bunting, and a Baltimore oriole. View the full list of captures on WildlifeatKiawah.com

September 18, 2010 ~ Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabini)

Excerpt of Nathan Dias post…This morning just after 8:30am, I was stunned to see an adult Sabine’s Gull with a large gull/tern assemblage at east Kiawah Island.

On the walk out from the driving range, I had noticed the beach roost acting jumpy – there was a Peregrine working the beach + Stono Inlet. At first I was focused on looking for the Snowy Plover, and worked the inlet behind the beach. But eventually I decided to focus on the roosting birds down by the ocean.

On the way out to the mini-inlet I had briefly scoped the “pod” the Sabines was in and missed it. But it had been fairly backlit and it was impossible to see all the individuals in the flock, since some Laughing Gulls, Herring Gulls, and other larger birds were in front of some smaller terns and so forth.

After exhausting potential spots for the Snowy Plover, I turned back toward the clubhouse – which gave a good lighting angle on the gull/tern roost. I had finished scoping the first pod, which had 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, usual gulls and 6-7 tern species, when most of the second pod and some of the third took off at the approach of some bicyclers. I was looking through them for another Lesser Black-backed or a Gull-billed Tern, when I saw a smallish gull with a bold black-and-white (and gray) pattern.

The bird’s upperwing had dark black wingtips, with the black also slanting forward along the leading edge of the outer wing. In other words: the outer primaries were black, and the primary coverts were as well. All the secondaries and some of the inner primaries were white (most of the wings’ trailing edge), which combined with the black area and the bird’s gray mantle + coverts made an arrowhead shape. The bird did not have any black on the inner half of the upperwing – either on the greater, median or lesser coverts. The bird’s tail was all-white and squared off / wedge-shaped. The bird had a fair amount of hood left – I could see white frosting around the front of the face but it was mostly dark gray or light blackish color as far as I could tell. I did not get a look at the bill – by the time I had gawked at the upperwings for a while and then at the head and tried to see the underwing, it was down the beach too far. I switched from bins to scope but could barely pick it out of the receding flock of Laughing Gulls, Ring-bills, and all sorts of Terns. They did not head offshore – looked like down island.

Posted on the Carolina bird list serve. Nathan Dias is the Executive Director of the Cape Romain Bird Observatory.

September 17, 2010 ~ West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus)

Manatee at Captain Sam’s Inlet…report by Captain Mike

September 17, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Guides: Tim Pifer
Locations: Killdeer Pond loop, The Ocean Course Driving Range/Beach loop, Willet island
Weather: 80-90, clear, not humid, slight wind
Highlights: The #1 highlight was the mosquitos in the preserve. NONE!

Colorful male painted bunting in the preserve was very low in the brush and only gave us one quick look. Loggerhead shrike perching atop a snag south of the willet island bridge. Aaron Givens met us at the beach and helped ID the 4 greater blackbacked gulls that I saw into 2 lesser and 2 greater blackback gulls. We had high hopes in finding the buff-breasted and pectorals but the driving range was fill with nothing but golf balls. We did find a ~8′ gator in the very first pond at the end of the driving range. There were great gator tracks from the beach that went to those ponds. It appeared he came from the ocean. The terns were out in both quantity and quality but were unable to find the black terns that were seen earlier in the week. Garter Snake in the preserve.

Species: Brown pelican, double-crested cormorant, great blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, tricolored heron, green heron, wood stork, black vulture, turkey vulture, osprey, red-shouldered hawk, red-tailed hawk, clapper rail, black-bellied plover, semipalmated plover, killdeer, willet, ruddy turnstone, sanderling, semipalmated sandpiper, western sandpiper, least sandpiper, pie-billed grebe, laughing gull, herring gull, lesser black backed gull, greater black backed gull, ring billed gull, caspian tern, forster’s tern, royal tern, common tern, least tern, sandwich tern, black skimmer, mourning dove, common ground dove, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, blue jay, fish crow, american crow, chimney swift, carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, brown-headed nuthatch, carolina wren, northern mockingbird, palm warbler, common yellowthroat, northern cardinal, common grackle, boat-tailed grackle, painted bunting, loggerhead shrike

September 16, 2010 ~ Feather Report

american redstartTown Biologist Aaron Given and a few volunteers from the Nature Program got a bumper crop of fall migrants during a morning bird banding this week. The majority of birds were Common Yellowthoats (46 birds), but the total list includes seven other warbler species, white-eyed and red-eyed vireos, and least flycatchers.

Visit wildlifeatkiawah.com to see a record of all the birds caught this fall – 246 birds and 23 species! Pictured is a male American Redstart, a stunning warbler that retains its vibrant breeding colors year-round. Females and young males are similar in pattern, but substitutes yellow for orange patches and and olive-green for black.

September 14, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Guides: Sarah Ernst
Locations: Killdeer Pond loop, The Ocean Course Driving Range/Beach loop…plus brief drive-by looks at Willet Pond and Turtle Pond.
Weather: Mid-70s through low-80s, clear, not humid (yea!), slight wind

Highlights: It was both a gorgeous and bird-filled morning today! At Killdeer Pond we saw a large flock of white ibis overhead, but all the best birding was out at the Ocean Course driving range. Right away we saw Wood Storks over Willet Pond and were about to chase them, but then I spotted a flock of 7 BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS on the driving range. There were also a few scattered peeps, common ground doves, and a single PECTORAL SANDPIPER. At the beach we found lots of piping plovers (7 total!), plus a large assortment of shorebirds including a least sandpiper that allowed us to approach as close as one yard away, plus a beautiful flock of black-bellied plovers and a few turnstones that were in the last stages of molting to non-breeding plumage. A common yellowthroat was in some high marsh grass and a tiny little prairie warbler in the dunes. When we got back into the van, there were a pair of adult BALD EAGLES soaring over Willet Pond and a wood stork on a tree. What a way to end a birding trip! We concluded the morning of birding by swinging by Turtle Pond on our way back to the nature center to pick up a few common moorhens for my guests’ life lists.

Also of note, we caught a 3-4″ long cicada near Killdeer Pond (which then proceeded to blast out our ears with noise as it struggled to get free…I let it go, my ears ringing, and it flew off into the trees). The grounsel bushes are in full bloom and absolutely covered with hundreds of pollinators, including hundreds of Ailanthus Webworm Moths, a pretty little day-flying moth…

Species: Brown pelican, double-crested cormorant, anhinga, great blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, tricolored heron, white ibis, wood stork, black vulture, turkey vulture, osprey, bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, clapper rail, common moorhen, black-bellied plover, semipalmated plover, piping plover, killdeer, spotted sandpiper, willet, ruddy turnstone, sanderling, semipalmated sandpiper, western sandpiper, least sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper, buff-breasted sandpiper, laughing gull, herring gull, caspian tern, forster’s tern, royal tern, black skimmer, mourning dove, common ground dove, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, blue jay, fish crow, american crow, purple martin, northern rough-winged swallow, barn swallow, carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, brown-headed nuthatch, carolina wren, northern mockingbird, european starling, prairie warbler, common yellowthroat, northern cardinal, common grackle, boat-tailed grackle, house finch

September 12, 2010 ~ Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

tricolor heronWhile green herons are a fairly common sight in the salt marsh and along vegetated pond edges of Kiawah, when I catch one in just the right light with a pair of binoculars or spotting scope, I am always struck by how beautiful and glowing these small herons are. The color scheme of an adult’s plumage reminds me of the decor associated with exclusive, old-fashioned clubs: all rich browns, velvety greens, and delicate gold trimming. Their prey, consisting of animals as small as a leech to as large as a cotton mouse, probably don’t share my appreciation. But at least death by green heron is quick: when the moment is right, their long neck and beak darts out and grabs prey in a movement almost too quick to be seen!

While I don’t like to play favorites with bird species, I have to admit that I have a soft spot for green herons. My first encounter with a heron was one of my most amazing early bird watching experiences. I took a kayak out just before sunrise and paddled to a quiet corner of a freshwater lake. Colorful and raucous red-headed woodpeckers popped in and out of their nest hole in a dead tree…an eastern kingbird hovered, hummingbird style, over lily pads to catch passing insects…and as I drifted closer to the shore, I got within feet of a small but intricately patterned bird that was actively, but rather clumsily and ineffectively, hunting along the water’s edge. I later learned it was a juvenile green heron, and an adult was a few yards down, far more patient and still in its hunting style. They tolerated my close presence for a full quarter hour. Since then the quiet lake corner has since been developed, the snags and thickets of the woodpeckers replaced by vacation homes and the lily pads replaced by ski boats. But every time I see a green heron on Kiawah I am reminded of that special early encounter. Perhaps the joy I felt that morning later encouraged me to become a naturalist so that I could share that joy with others who, like me, were just beginning to become aware of the beauty of the quiet corners of the natural world around them.

September 6, 2010 ~ Sleepy Orange (Eurema nicippe)

sleepy orangeThe early labelers of butterflies and moths certainly excel at creativity. Not for the “leps” are utilitarian names like the Mud Turtle (a mud-colored turtle that lives in the mud). The Sleepy Orange, an active and not-at-all-lethargic butterfly, gets its name from the pair of small dark marks seen here on the forewings, resembling a closed eye. Other names, such as the Queen and Aphrodite Fritillary, Whirlabout and White Peacock, Mourning Cloak and Confused Cloudywing, perhaps tell you as much about the mindset of those nerdy early entomologists as the beauty of the insects.

Unlike most other butterflies, the Sleepy Orange hardly ever spreads its wings for more than a quick flip when it is perching, so while it is very easy to get a picture of the yellow underside of the wings, it is very challenging to get a photograph of the black-bordered, vibrant orange top side. In fact, this photo by nature photographer Jamie Rood is one of the best I have seen of a live Sleepy Orange and I, thinking sadly of dozens and dozens of blurry photos, am very jealous of her lucky moment!

September 4, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Guides: Tim and Sarah
Locations: Ibis Pond, Willet Island, Ocean Course Driving Range/Beach, Willet Pond, Killdeer Pond/Preserve woods
Weather: Clear, mid 70s-low 80s, wind calm but surf rough, low tide

Highlights: Tim and I spent a morning trying out his new spotting scope. The first bird of the morning for me was a Chuck-will’s-widow, swooping over my head in the dawn light. As we passed Ibis Pond we saw a very large number of egrets, terns, and gulls, but after a quick scan we didn’t see anything unusual and decided to continue on to Willet Island. Our biggest surprise there was a small bobcat we flushed from a tree just a few feet away from us! We also saw a flock of ~30 small birds, probably bobolinks based upon their unusual call note but I wasn’t certain because they simply passed by us, not coming back for a second look. Walking towards the beach we saw a common ground dove in the grass. At the beach there was a nice assortment of shorebirds, but what we were really after was the snowy plover…and we found it! We also found a buff-breasted sandpiper. Other nice birds out there were piping plovers, wilson’s plovers, marbled godwits, sandwich terns, least terns, black skimmers, a great-black-backed gull, and a pair of my first herring gulls of the season. Two blue-winged teal flew over our heads at Willet Pond, my first ducks of the season. As we drove off from the ocean course, Tim found a nice surprise: a female merlin, yet another first of the season for me, sitting on a dead tree. We also swung by the Preserve in hopes of finding some migrating songbirds, but completely struck out on that front. But it did let us add an ibis and a few woodpeckers to our list.

Species: Blue-winged Teal, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Wood Stork, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawk, Merlin, Clapper Rail, Black-bellied Plover, Snowy Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Piping Plover, Killdeer, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Greater Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Least Tern, Foster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, Chuck-will’s-widow, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Cardinal

September 3, 2010 ~ American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

gator hatchlingsAn alligator nest at Turtle Point has hatched. Four hatchlings were photographed by Jamie Rood and her Nature Photography group.

September 2, 2010 ~ Jr. Naturalist Marsh Ecology report

As we pulled the seine net through fast-moving tides of the Kiawah River, the jr. naturalists and I found some interesting critters in the net. In addition to the usual pinfish, shrimp, and small crabs we catch on most marsh seining trips, we caught some half-inch-long baby Inshore Lizardfish (Synodus foetens), a particularly long and toothy species of fish that we often catch on Pluff Mud Paddles – but I have never encountered the juvenile form before. Its cigar-shaped body, large dark patches, and massive jaws made even the smallest baby easy to identify. We also caught a few Blackcheek Tonguefish (Symphurus plagiusa), a type of flatfish that is decidedly tounge-shaped, as well a more traditionally shaped, if rather small, flounder.

By Sarah Ernst

September 1, 2010 ~ American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

gator nestWe are eagerly waiting for the alligator nest at Night Heron Park to hatch…

August 31, 2010 ~ Feather Report

laughing gullGuide: Sarah
Tour: Back Island Birding
Locations: Killdeer Pond trail loop, Osprey Point, Ocean Course Woods, Willet Pond, Turtle Pond
Weather: Really lovely compared to our looong, hot summer weather this year – mid 70s to low 80s but low humidity and an occasional breeze.

Highlights: While the mosquitoes were a little too enthusiastic for our tastes at Killdeer Pond, the first few minutes of birding out there were really fast-paced with various herons and egrets, woodstorks, a belted kingfisher, a kite and hawk, and an assortment of songbirds. After that the birds laid low but the mosquitoes increased their attack so we beat a hasty retreat. At Osprey Point we walked right underneath a red-tailed hawk and watched it preen for a few minutes, keeping a careful eye on us but otherwise tolerant of our presence. The waterthrush was still at the end of the peninsula in Willet Pond, or least an identical individual if not the same one, and we also got a nice look at a flock of peeps (least and semipalmated sandpipers this time) in the mud of Willet Pond. Turtle Pond was pretty quiet today (though we didn’t spend much time out there) but we did see the resident gang of juvenile moorhens.

Species: Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Wood Stork, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Mississippi Kite, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Moorhen, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Caspian Tern, Forster’s Tern, Common Ground Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Pine Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Cardinal, House Finch

August 29, 2010 ~ Bald Eagle

From the water…Naturalist Brad Schmoll reported a pair of bald eagles in the mudflats late this morning. The pair was hovering about 20 feet above the water within 100 ft from the kayaks. What a beautiful sight!

August 27, 2010 ~ Blue-wing Teal (Anas discors)

Town Biologists report….. Two blue-winged teal were seen in the lagoon area on the east end of the beach today. These early migrating waterfowl are the first species to show up in our area each year. Many blue-winged teal will spend the winter in South Carolina, though some of these birds will simply move through our area and winter in Central and South America.

August 27, 2010 ~ Feather Report

woodstorkGuide: Sarah
Tour: Back Island Birding
Locations: Woods near Ocean Course, Ocean Course Driving range/Beach, Falcon Point
Weather: Foggy and overcast, low 80s

Highlights: It’s full-blown warbler season! Bird of the day was a Louisiana Waterthrush hanging out with a pine, palm, and black-and-white warbler. The white ibis are starting to come back too, we saw one on a tree out at Falcon Point.

Species: Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Wood Stork, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Clapper Rail, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Various Peep Species, Laughing Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Royal Tern, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Downy Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue Jay, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush

August 26, 2010 ~ Loggherhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

baby sea turtle
Photo by Guests Phil & Lee Dell’lsola
This little Loggerhead Sea Turtle was spotted one evening by Kiawah guests Phil and Lee Dell’Isola as they were enjoying a walk on the beach. The turtle would have been one from the 215 possible nests on the island. It was observed near boardwalk marker 16 making its way to the ocean after a day of rain and thunderstorms. This little turtle was probably from a nest that had begun hatching the night before and was still fighting to make its way to the protection of the floating Sargassum seaweed found as far as 60 miles offshore. They use the seaweed as camouflage to protect them from predators. The seaweed is also home to small crustaceans that loggerhead hatchlings eat to replenish their energy. It is a long journey for these little guys but hopefully this one will be the one in 1000 that makes it from egg to maturity. Thank you Phil and Lee for the photo and your interest in these extraordinary creatures.

Written by Naturalist, Marcie Palm

August 25, 2010 ~ Golden Silk Spider (Nephila clavipes)

golden silk spider‘Wow,’ I exclaim in a hushed voice as my son and I walk under an enormous spider web. I point to the large female spider holding court in the center of her stately web and hear a long, drawn out, W…O…W from my son. I gently run my fingers along one of the outer support spindles marveling at its strength. We were at the Night Heron beach boardwalk, walking through what I like to call the bamboo forest. Surely you know the place. It is perhaps one of the best locations on island to view these spectacular spiders.

As summer wanes, the female Golden Silk spider (Nephila clavipes) reaches maturity. Come fall, their rusty golden bodies will grow to lengths spanning the palm of my hand. The smaller males present in webs from July to September leave the females to complete the task of bringing their offspring into the world. You will notice her hard work if you find the egg cases made to house hundreds of baby spiders. Look for small, tan, paper-like sacs about the size of a nickel and spun with golden silk. I see them most commonly near the female’s web, spun close to vegetation.

The female’s golden silk is where this spider gets its common name. When constructing a web, she can actually adjust this golden pigment to suit her web site, allowing for maximum camouflage. Since their diet consists of a wide variety of flying insects, they position their webs in such a way as to take advantage of insect flight paths. For humans, this advantageous location translates into somewhat of a warning when biking along paths with overhanging trees. It also means these spiders are doing a world of good by feasting on ‘pesky’ insects. Like all spiders, Golden Silk spiders are venomous. However, a bite from one is much less intense than a common bee sting and should therefore not be considered harmful to humans.

Finally, I’d like to share a small note found in my field guide regarding the genus name Nephila. Its roots are Ancient Greek and means ‘fond of spinning.’ I would encourage you to notice these enormous, strong, golden webs. Undoubtedly, you will find that its maker is certainly fond of spinning and fairly meticulous with her web maintenance.

By Jennifer Barbour, Naturalist

August 24, 2010 ~ Feather Report

pelicanGuide: Sarah
Tour: Back Island Birding
Locations: Marsh Island Park, Willet Pond, the Ocean Course driving range, and the Eastern beach.
Weather: 80s, humid, and a little buggy

Highlights: We went out to Marsh Island Park for painted buntings but only found a crew of young green birds, not the multicolored male. But we were rewarded with three raptors – an osprey, hawk, and kite – as well as a huge tree full of vireos eating magnolia seeds and grapes. Willet Pond continued to be pretty slow but it was high tide and we found ourselves among a huge flock of terns, skimmers, gulls, and some shorebirds. We got nice comparisons between royal, sandwich, forster’s, and least terns; there was also my first great black backed gull of the season – a young bird without the black back – completely dwarfing all the other birds around it except for a single passing pelican. As we headed back to the clubhouse we found a pectoral sandpiper walking along the edge of the tidal pool! I think this is the first pectoral sandpiper I have been able to list on our bird reports. It was banded with a single metal band. Today also marks the first belted kingfisher of the season for our bird trips, though I have been seeing them regularly over the last week.

Species: Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Wood Stork, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Mississippi Kite, Red-tailed Hawk, Clapper Rail, Common Moorhen, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Least Tern, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Loggerhead Shrike, White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird

August 23, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Town Biologists have begun their fall bird banding. Today, at Captain Sam’s Inlet they caught 34 new birds and 1 recapture in about 3.5 hours which was exceptionally higher than last year at this time.

6 Prairie Warbler
5 Northern Waterthrush
3 Black-and-White Warbler
2 American Redstart
2 Ovenbird
1 Prothonotary Warbler – a new species banded for Kiawah Island!
1 Hooded Warbler
1 Black-throated Blue Warbler
5 Painted Bunting – all green birds (4 juveniles, 1 second-year female)
1 White-eyed Vireo
3 Carolina Wren
2 Northern Cardinal
1 Carolina Chickadee (recapture)
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Northern Mockingbird

August 22, 2010 ~ Ghost Shrimp

ghost shrimpOne of our most frequently asked questions at the nature center is, “What makes all those small holes in the wet sand at low tide”? The answer, ghost shrimp. The tiny holes are observed at a low tide in the intertidal zone, but the animal that lives inside the burrow is almost never seen. These ghost shrimp have the ability to burrow down 2 feet into the wet sand. They do not bear much resemblance to shrimp that we know and eat however. Ghost shrimp are decapod crustaceans and are most closely related to Brachyuran crabs (true crabs, like the blue and stone crab). Ghost shrimp are usually a clear or orange color, and sometimes a mix between the two. They have one cheliped (claw) longer than the other and it is usually white. They have gills, and feed on plankton and detritus (dead organic matter) that has drifted into their burrow. Some fishermen use the ghost shrimp as bait, and have devised a tool to get them to the surface. With a bit of PVC pipe and other materials, you can create a ‘ghost shrimp extractor’ which creates a vacuum to suck out the crustacean from its U shaped burrow. Ever seen chocolate sprinkles surrounding a ghost shrimp hole? Not quite sprinkles, but instead their fecal pellets that have been extruded out of the burrow!

August 21, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Nathan Dias of the Cape Romain Bird Observatory reports……

The Snowy Plover was still present today at the east end of Kiawah.

Despite good rains Friday afternoon and brief showers early Saturday morning, the driving range at the Ocean Course did not have any puddles. Shorebird numbers and variety on the driving range were much reduced from last weekend. In addition to the resident Killdeer there were a couple of Spotted Sandpipers, a few Pectoral Sandpipers, and Black-bellied Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers, Western Sandpipers + Least Sandpipers.

Besides the Snowy Plover, out at Sandy Point there were a total of: 9 Piping Plovers, 3 Wilson’s Plovers, 11 Black-bellied Plovers, 67 Semipalmated Plovers, 4 American Oystercatchers, 4 Greater Yellowlegs, 8 Lesser Yellowlegs, 9 Willet, 3 Spotted Sandipers, 18 Whimbrel (high marsh on the way to Sandy Pt.), 2 Marbled Godwit, 15 Ruddy Turnstones, 2 Red Knot, 51 Sanderling, 9 Semipalmated Sandpipers, 32 Least Sandpipers, 20 Western Sandpipers, 6 Dunlin, and 28 Short-billed Dowitchers.

Tern species present were: Black Terns, Common Terns, Gull-billed Terns, Caspian Terns, Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns, Forster’s Terns and good numbers of Least Terns. 1 immature Reddish Egret was prowling the shallows and I saw a couple of Common Ground-Doves on the hike out to Sandy Point (1 terrestrial and 1 aerial).

A Red-headed Woodpecker in some trees behind the little parking field off the Ocean Course entrance drive was a nice surprise. When I was returning to the car about midday, a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes was half-heartedly pursuing a family of Eastern Bluebirds around the grassy dell where the Ocean Course parking lot used to be (old clubhouse location).

A quick midday check of the wooded trail across from the O.C. entrance yielded an American Restart, a Prairie Warbler, and a Red-eyed Vireo.

August 20, 2010 ~ Moon Jelly (Aurelia marginalis)

moonjellyNaturalists and guests who have been enjoying their time in the water lately may have noticed the resurgence of many of our local jellies and I don’t mean the sandal. These animals often times strike fear in the heart of the beachgoer but are quite extraordinary and beautiful creatures. Jellyfish, which they are often called, really aren’t fish at all but members of the phylum Cnidaria, a simple marine group of both fixed and mobile animals such as sea anemones, sea whips, corals and hydroids. Jellies inhabit every major oceanic area of the world and are capable of withstanding a wide range of temperatures and salinities. Most live in shallow coastal waters, but a few inhabit depths of 12,000 feet.

To some, jellies may appear to have no apparent value, but they are, in fact, a very important part of the marine food web. Jellies are carnivores and feed mostly on zooplankton but larger species are capable of capturing and devouring large crustaceans and other marine organisms. Jellies are themselves preyed upon by fish, sea turtles and other marine organisms. Some species, including the mushroom and cannonball jellyfish, are even considered a delicacy by humans.

Now, I’m sure you are thinking about how you can observe these beautiful creatures from a distance. Most species off the southeastern coast of South Carolina are capable of inflicting only mild stings that result in minor discomfort. You probably want to know how to identify those species so that you can steer clear. Come in to the Nature Center or Discovery Room to discuss with a Naturalist or review previous WAWSI to learn more about the types of local jellies. Lately, you may have seen a Cannonball Jelly, Sea Nettle Jelly, Moon Jelly, or Portuguese Man-of-War.

August 19, 2010 ~ Ocean Encounters Trip Log

Guide: Sarah Ernst
Tide: Low, rising

I experimented with the Ocean Encounters trip today and began along the base of the Ocean Course driving range, where we herded crowds of sand fiddler crabs (Uca pugilator) and caught a couple too. Along the banks of the shallow saltwater lagoon, I threw the cast net a couple times, at first catching some young shrimp and then generally coming up blank despite seeing many large fish around. So after scanning the lagoon for any visiting alligators and posting a couple of watchers just in case we attempted to seine. Oops! Once we had the net unfurled, I took one step off the firmly packed sand of the bank and promptly sank in to black pluff mud all the way up to my thighs, almost up to my hips! So seining was out for that pond. We continued past the lagoon to the ocean and beachcombed as we went, finding a variety of different organisms. The most unusual thing we found along the edge of the water was an unusually large amount of sea anemones. I looked up this species and it is Nematostella vectensis, one of the only anemones that can survive in marshes and other estuaries because it can bury down in the sand or mud. Believe it or not, this flower-shaped animal can slowly crawl along the ocean bottom in search of better habitats! Ours looked like little round nubs when retracted and when we placed them in water, we were able to observe the tentacles come out and feed. Fish species today were Atlantic Silverside, Striped Killifish, Pinfish, and a yellow-and-black striped fish that I still need to identify.

August 19, 2010 ~ Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

Kiawah Island sea turtle nesting season has officially ended. We have ended the season with 215 loggerhead sea turtle nest!

August 18, 2010 ~ American alligator (Alligator mississipiensis)

alligator trackOn a recent Alligator Adventure, we found this very fresh gator track on the golf cart path at the Ocean Course. Given that the golf carts pass by every 15 minutes or so, we probably just missed seeing the gator walk by! When crossing land to from wetland to wetland, gators walk with their bellies above the ground for maximum efficiency. Their tail drags on the ground behind them, leaving a swerving line in the sand or mud behind them. Some may mistake the line for the track of a snake, but if conditions are right, you will also find claw marks on either side just like this one! I managed to get a great picture with my cell phone before the next golf cart rolled across it.

August 17, 2010 ~ Fishing Report

Naturalist Tim Pifer reported his best Surf Fishing tour in 3 years at Kiawah!

16 Redfish. (small 16″)
1 Black Sea Bass (30″)
6 Bluefish
2 Rays
12 Whiting
1 Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (3.5 feet)

August 17, 2010 ~ Feather Report

blackneck stiltGuide: Sarah
Locations: Willet Pond, the Ocean Course driving range, and the Eastern beach.
Weather: Just in the mid-80s, but the humidity drove the heat index up to 100. Puffy cumulus cloud and relatively low wind accompanied us most of the way; a little thunderstorm was off in the distance but never hit us as we birded.

Highlights: While we didn’t get anything particularly unusual today – we were shooting for the rare snowy plover and other uncommon shorebirds – we got a nice assortment of birds. I love seeing the black-bellied plovers and ruddy turnstones in breeding plumage. We also got very close looks at some red knots. Black terns were probably the highlight of the day, though they were a little too far off in the distance to appreciate properly. Tricolored herons of all ages were extremely abundant today. Common ground doves were also widely dispersed over our birding route, more so than any time I’ve gone out. A Mississippi Kite was sitting on a dead tree directly in front of the van as we finished the trip, looking a little unkempt due to the rain, and sat there long enough to get some good looks at this dapper little raptor.

Species: Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Mississippi Kite, Black-bellied Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, probably other peep species that I missed, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Laughing Gull, Least Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Black Tern, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird

August 16, 2010 ~ Florida Horse Conch (Pleuroploca gigantea)

horseconchIf you are ever on one of our Pluff Mud Paddle adventures, you are sure to find something fun and very exciting to observe. On this particular afternoon, we caught and released a lot of grass shrimp, a comb jelly, croaker, and loads of blue crab. As we were pulling the net from the tidal pool for the last time, something caught the eye of the Stockard triplets. They spotted a live Florida horse conch about 75 feet away from where we were all standing. It appeared to be feeding at the edge of the Kiawah River in the pluff mud.

This giant snail is the largest species found in American waters, and is certainly one of the largest gastropods in the world. The length of the shell can reach two feet, and its soft body parts are a very bright orange. P. Giagantea is carnivorous predatory and feeds on whelk, tulip snails, and hermit crabs. It is also known to be cannibalistic and will eat smaller animals of its own kind.

Needless to say, the three year old triplets were very excited and quite proud about this rare find on Kiawah Island. As we were returning the horse conch back to the river, we all looked up to see that the bald eagles had finally returned to Kiawah Island as one hovered above Inlet Cove, and then finally made its way to its nest on Andell Island.

By Brad Schmoll, Naturalist

August 16, 2010 ~ Brief Squid (Lolliguncula brevis)

squid in handThe Brief Squid is well named – with a body of only four and a half inches, it’s hardly a match for the 7 foot body of a giant squid. Unlike any other squid species, they are very adaptable to a variety of salinity levels, which makes life a little easier in the salt marsh, where you might swim through full strength sea water only to be deluged by stormwater runoff after an afternoon thunderstorm.

Squid are both utterly bizarre and very beautiful creatures that few people encounter in the wild, so I get very excited to have the chance to show one off. When we catch a little squid in our seine net on a Pluff Mud Paddle or Ocean Encounters, there are a few things we like to point out to guests – the ability to change color in less than a second, the ability to squirt out ink to confuse predators, and the jet-propelled backwards swimming motion it makes when we return it to the water. We also like to caution guests to watch their fingers when holding it – even a two inch long squid can deliver a surprisingly painful little pinch with its hard beak!

August 15, 2010 ~ Phaon Crescent (Phyciodes phaon)

phaon crescentOn a Butterflies Walk we caught this Phaon Crescent nectaring on a plant that is alternatively called Frogfruit or Fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), depending on who you ask. Phyla nodiflora looms large in the world of Phaon Crescents: in addition to providing a rich source of nectar for the butterflies, bees, moths, and other pollinators, it is also the host plant for Phaon Crescent caterpillars. I have always wondered the origin of the name Phaon so I spent some time looking it up: Phaon was an ugly old boatman character from Greek mythology. When he ferried Aphrodite across the river, she gave him ointment that turned him young and beautiful. Given that Phaon Crescent caterpillars, even at their most flattering, are best described as homely, the name does seem appropriate! This Phaon Crescent was temporarily held in a viewing jar until we released him unharmed. He promptly returned to a nearby cluster of Frog/Fogfruit.

August 14, 2010 ~ Red Knot (Calidris canutus)

banded red knotOn the morning of July 4th, Kiawah guest Tom Giduz took a photo of a group of red knots at Captain Sam’s Inlet. When he took the photo he noticed the leg band on the immature bird so he sent the photo to bandedbirds.org and got back the following information….

3/9/2010 – Longboat Key – North, Florida.

4/27/2010 – Honeymoon Island State Park – North, Florida.
5/18/2010 – St. George Island State Park, Florida.

Special thanks to the Giduz family for sharing this information!

August 13, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Reported by Nate Dias of the Cape Romain Bird Observatory. …I started the day at Sandy Point – there were Piping Plovers, Wilson’s Plovers, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, American Oystercatchers, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Spotted Sandpipers, Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot (none flagged), Sanderling, Semipalmated + Western + Least Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers and Dunlin. (20 species).

But the really neat shorebird spectacle was the driving range at the Ocean Course (southeastern corner of Kiawah). Despite a lack of standing water, it had good numbers and variety – even after 9am. 31 Pectoral Sandpipers, 1 Buff-Breasted Sandpiper, 1 Upland Sandpiper, 1 White-rumped Sandpiper, all three regular ‘Peep’ species, lots of Semipalmated Plovers, and 22 Black-bellied Plovers. Two Ruddy Turnstones feeding on shortgrass turf was a funny sight – one was still in alternate plumage. I saw a COMMON GROUND-DOVE come hop-flying out of the dunes and feed for a while at the edge of the driving range – not sure if it was eating seeds or bugs. 30+ Killdeer were the bully boys of the scene. 7 Spotted Sandpipers foraged and chased each other on the driving range turf at the far end from the golfers – right up against the shore of the small tidal cove beyond.

Other neat birds included Loggerhead Shrike, Prairie and Yellow Warblers, and an Eastern Wood-Pewee.

August 12, 2010 ~ Herons. Egrets and Wood Storks

pluff muddAs we paddled along to the sandbar for our Pluff Mud Paddle trip, we discovered a mixed crew of herons, egrets, and storks feeding in a little marsh inlet. As the tidal waters receded from the marsh, a host of small fish, shrimp, and other marsh creatures were stuck in the inlet, unable to swim to the safety of the deeper Kiawah River. The birds came along to feast upon the critters left behind by the water. The ability to silently paddle so close to an endangered species like the Wood Stork is one of my favorite reasons to kayak!

August 11, 2010 ~ Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

timber rattlerA timber rattlesnake was found and captured on the beach near The Sandcastle today. This is a very unusual sighting for Kiawah. The rattlesnake was relocated to suitable habitat on the western end of the island.

August 11, 2010 ~ Feather Report

flying woodstorkGuide: William Oakley
Locations: Osprey Point, Marsh Island Park, Ocean Course (driving range and beach)
Weather: Hot

Highlights: As always, the Ocean Course area produced most of the birding highlights, including several soaring Wood Storks, two Black-bellied Plovers, a Gull-billed Tern, a Ruddy Turnstone flipping over washed up Spartina grass, and a gross amount of other plovers, ‘pipers, terns, and gulls. We missed the Snowy Plover and all the Black Terns that were reported to be out on the east end of the island that morning, and picking out shorebirds way off in the distance sans spotting scope made it difficult to nail down ID’s. But we had fun observing species-specific behaviors and got great tans while doing so.

Species: American Oyster Catcher, Brown Pelican, Anhinga, Wood Stork, Great Blue Heron, Tricolor Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Osprey, Turkey Vulture, American Crow, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Barn Swallow, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Kingbird, Carolina Wren, Northern Cardinal, possible young male or adult female Painted Bunting, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, House Finch, Carolina Chickadee, Semi-palmated Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, Sanderling, lots of “peeps”, Gull-billed Tern, Least Tern, Royal Tern, possibly an immature Forster’s Tern, Black Skimmer, Laughing Gull

August 10, 2010 ~ Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

A 16 month old female bobcat was hit and killed by a car on the Kiawah Island Parkway yesterday. This bobcat was fitted with a PIT tag as a kitten in 2009. This unfortunate incident is a reminder that vehicle collisions are the most common cause of death for our island bobcats. Please drive with caution on the island, especially during the period from dusk to dawn.

August 10, 2010 ~ Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)

Kiawah Town Biologists reported…A snowy plover was observed today on the eastern end of Kiawah’s beach. Snowy plovers are rare visitors to South Carolina though one has been observed in this area seasonally for several years in a row.

August 9, 2010 ~ Manatee (Trichechus manatus)

Today, Captain Mike and his Dolphin Encounters guests spotted a manatee in the Kiawah River just off the Inlet Cove Dock.

August 9, 2010 ~ Angelwing (Cyrtopleura costata)

angelwingThe Angelwing is a fairly common but fragile shell found on Kiawah beaches; we commonly come across them on several of our beach trips, from Ocean Encounters to Tidal Trip and Dip. More often than not they have already been broken but every now and again we’ll come across a whole one. There are three species of evocitavely named angel wings you might find on a trip. The most common is the Angelwing (Cyrtopleura costata), the largest will reach six inches long! The Fallen Angelwing, or Atlantic Mud-piddock (Barnea truncata), looks a little mishappen and twisted compared to the others.

The False Angelwing (Petricola pholadiformis) is similar in appearance to the Angelwing but with a more simple design. Both the Fallen and False Angelwings reach just 3″ in length, so if you find one larger like the shell pictured, you’re pretty safe in assuming it is the original Angelwing. The animal that makes and lives in the angelwing shell is edible, though they can burrow quite deep and can be difficult to find alive.

August 8, 2010 ~ Bee sp. (Epeolus zonatus)

beeThis June I had some spare time between tours, so I took some insect photos in the employee parking lot at the Sanctuary. Bees and wasps tend to be far more approachable than less well-defended species, so this gorgeous black, red, and white bee allowed me to get very close and practice my manual focusing. Some of the photos turned out clear enough to keep, but I had a lot of difficulty in trying to track down a species. So I submitted the photo to the incredible folks at Bugguide.net and waited…and forgot about it…until I got a response from a bee/wasp entomologist who manages the American Museum of Natural History Bee Database Project. She was identified as Epeolus zonatus, and my photo was the first time this bee was ever documented in the state of South Carolina! It is also the northernmost record EVER for this species.

There is no common name for Epeolus zonatus, but with such a dramatic color scheme they certainly deserve one. A limited flight season and distribution makes this species occasionally hard to track down. While the species has no common name, the family does: the cuckoo bees, a nest parasite of other bees – similar to our brown cowbirds. The female lays her eggs in the nests of other bees and allows them to raise the young.

By Naturalist Sarah Ernst

August 7, 2010 ~ Flutter Report

male skimmerOur catches from this mornings Butterflies Walk! There were also a wide variety of bees busily pollinating both the weed flowers and garden flowers.

Butterflies: Fiery Skipper, Phaon Crescent, Palamedes Swallowtail, Cloudless Sulphur, and Gulf Fritillary

Dragonflies: Female and male Needham’s Skimmers (male pictured), male Eastern Amberwings, female Eastern Pondhawk

August 6, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: upper 80s-90s, hazy and clear
Locations: Night Heron Park, Mingo Point, Sea Marsh Drive, The Preserve, Falcon Point, Osprey Point, Willet Pond

Notes: We did a lot of birding by van today and covered some places I don’t usually visit on my bird tours. Highlights were a male bluebird perched within 6 feet of us, a female/juvenile painted bunting taking a bath in a birdbath, and a clapper rail flying right in front of the van in front of Ibis Pond. I think this is only the second or third time I’ve seen a clapper rail on a Back Island Birding tour – heard, plenty of times, but rarely seen.

Species List: Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Clapper Rail, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Purple Martin, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Boat-tailed Grackle

August 5, 2010 ~ Ocean Encounters Trip Log

Guide: Sarah Ernst
Tide: Mid-Low

Beachcombing: Excellent beachcombing conditions continue at the Ocean Course. Several large horseshoe crabs, lots of sand dollar pieces and a couple of whole ones. Lots of live mud snails with some hermit crabs in a variety of snail shells. There were a few rubbery bryzoans, a single sea pork that we split open to see the animal within, and a single mushroom jelly. Some nice specimans of angel wings, knobbed whelks, jingle shells, and Atlantic giant cockles.

Ocean Fish: The highlight was definitely a small Southern Stingray that the folks on our surf fishing tour had caught. I ran over to put it in our bucket before they tossed it back in the ocean. Everyone got to touch it and admire this strange fish. Seining and casting in the surf was pretty skimpy again today, at least compared to the multitudes of tidal pool fish. We got a single Silverside, a baby calico crab, and some fry (baby fish) too small to identify – basically two big eyes and a tail…

Tidal Pool Fish: A nice large mix of mostly striped killifish and bay anchovies, with some baby bluefish and a few tiny, unidentifiable fry.

Birds: Not much action today other than a few semipalmated plovers, willets, laughing gulls, and least terns. Sadly, we also saw an off-leash dog chase a flock of shorebirds off in the distance. Please do not allow your dog off the lead in the protected shorebird areas on either end of the island – even though most dogs can’t catch the birds, being chased stresses the birds, disrupts their feeding, and is one of the major causes of population decline.

August 4, 2010 ~ Flying Fish

flying fishA very rare sight in our marshes, this flying fish was spotted just off Rhett’s Bluff by Captain John Ward on his Tideland Treasures tour.

August 3, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: upper 80s-90s, hazy and partly cloudy, little wind
Locations: Marsh Island Park, Osprey Point Pond/Clubhouse/Driving Range, Willet Pond, Ocean Course driving range/beach loop

Notes: Awesome day of birding with 52 species – a splendid number for a morning of early August birding. There was a different highlight every place we stopped – at Marsh Island Park we saw a painted bunting male singing. He was backlit, which is normally a great disappointment because it washes out the color, but he was close enough to us that we could still see his colors and in fact the sunlight shining through his feathers gave him almost a golden tinge. At Osprey Point we watched a green heron fly into a nearby branch, tilt its head as it watched a dragonfly circle around, and then to our amazement the green heron snatched it out of the sky – what reflexes! The heron held it for a while as the dragonfly struggled to get out and then hopped further up the branch, out of sight. At Willet pond we saw a wood stork several times as well as the usual assortment of egrets and herons. Along the edge of the Ocean Course driving range we got incredible looks at a trio of common ground doves and a very approachable loggerhead shrike. Circling around the lagoon and beach, we saw an assortment of shorebirds, terns, gulls, and herons/egrets, the highlight of which was some great looks at black skimmers. As we went back to the van, the wood stork circled overhead and gave us a very nice farewell look at this impressive but endangered species.

Species List: Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Wood Stork, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Common Moorhen, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Willet, Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Least Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Purple Martin, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Seaside Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Boat-tailed Grackle, House Finch

July 26, 2010 ~ White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

deer in darkKiawah residents installed a motion activated “Wildview” scout flash camera at night to see what new four legged neighbors were visiting their yard. One night (on a spot selected by their granddaughter after several nights without success), they captured this mysterious image. At first glance it appeared much like a heavily patterned black and white cow, but others suggested it was simply a fawn with its spots distorted by the flash, which didn’t hold true to the size of the markings. Another person had heard of a few “calico deer” on Kiawah, and said he thought that’s what the picture was clearly of. The residents sent the photo to the nature center for identification.

It is indeed a white-spotted deer. There are a few different types of deer color mutations: piebald (white patches on tan), melanistic (all black), and albino (all white). All told, these mutations only occur in less than 1% of whitetail deer across the country, with piebald the most common of the three, followed by albino, and finally melanistic. A different gene controls each color pattern.

While a white spotting mutation is relatively widespread in mammals, different species of animals have different types of genes. In horse genetics, for example, there are two different genes that will produce a piebald effect, one dominant (tobaino) and one recessive (overo). Some dramatically colored horses even posses both genes (sometime called tovero). So in a horse, you can have two spotted parents produce a solid foal or two solid horses produce a spotted foal!

In deer, apparently, the gene that controls white spotting is recessive, similar to the recessive overo gene in horses. So the piebald gene could have been hidden in the genes of our regular deer for many generations. A solid brown deer that carries the gene has a 50% chance of passing it on to its young. If both solid brown parents carry the gene, the young has a 25% chance of being piebald, 50% chance of carrying the gene, and a 25% chance of not carrying the gene at all. If this deer mates with a brown deer, the offspring will probably be all brown unless the mate carries the gene, and even then only 50% of the offspring will be piebald. The amount of white is apparently random, with some deer showing mostly white and some showing mostly brown, but most about 50-50%.

Opinions vary on whether the piebald gene is linked to any other malformations – perhaps some populations do have link to poor health and perhaps populations some don’t – but ours appear to be pretty healthy. While the piebald gene would make any deer much more vulnerable to predators as a fawn, once a Kiawah deer makes it to adulthood it has as good of a chance to survive and mate as any other deer.

July 25, 2010 ~ Great Egret (Ardea alba)

egretIt’s a classic Kiawah scene of natural beauty: an elegant Great Egret patiently stalking along the edge of a pond or marsh creek, its white reflection mirroring every move. Every now and again, however, an egret will choose a slightly more eccentric place for hunting. While on my way to set up for our Ocean Seining program, I came across this egret strolling amongst the cars in the guest parking lot at the Sanctuary hotel; later on in the day, I found it in the employee parking lot and managed to grab my camera in time to snap a few photos. With such a long neck, long legs, and spear-shaped bill, the lanky white bird may look like a very specialized species but in fact it is a versatile and widespread predator. The Great Egret can be found on every continent except Antartica and its list of prey includes pretty much any animal it can catch and fit down its (expandable) throat: fish, marine and freshwater invertebrates, large land invertebrates like grasshoppers, amphibians, reptiles from water snakes to baby alligators, mammals like rodents and rabbits, and even other birds. Perhaps this bird was hunting the skinks and cotton mice that occasionally dart across Kiawah parking lots.

July 24, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: 90s, hazy with some clouds, little wind

Locations: Marsh Island Park, Willet Pond, Ocean Course driving range/beach loop

Notes: Bird of the day was a banded piping plover at the east end of the island, woohoo! I submitted a report so we could find out where the bird was banded – perhaps the Bahamas – but we may not get a response for several months. Other interesting sightings were large numbers of egrets and herons out at Willet Pond, and of course those still-singing painted buntings out at Marsh Island Park. There were quite a few terns as well and I’m a little rusty on late summer tern identification, so I won’t list the ones I wasn’t sure of.

Species List: Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, Osprey, Mississippi Kite, Common Moorhen, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Short-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Least Tern, Forster’sTern, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Fish Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Painted Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-Tailed Grackle

July 23, 2010 – Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

pelican in flightHow do you fly when your wingspan can beat the height of LeBron James? When you’re a Brown Pelican, the answer is: efficiently. Hollow bones make all birds lighter than similarly sized mammals and reptiles, but at an average of 8 pounds, pelicans are heavyweights in the bird world. Effortless soaring is a pelican’s preferred method of travel. Pelicans will often seek rising air that will help them gain altitude without requiring much flapping. Sometimes you will see pelicans gliding an inch or two of air above the ocean or Kiawah River; at other times, they will join vultures and eagles riding a hot air thermal from the land. The long, broad wings of a pelican give it a great lift to drag ratio. Add a distinct W shape to the wings, along with the fingertip-like projections of the primary feathers, and you give pelicans the maneuverability they need to dive with pinpoint accuracy for the fish they eat.

Written by Naturalist, Sarah Ernst

July 23, 2010 ~ Ocean Encounters Trip Log

Guide: Sarah Ernst
Tide: Mid-Low

Beachcombing: Both beachcombing and the unique clam die-off odor continued to be strong this week. We found far too many things to list but highlights included lettered olive shells, baby’s ear shells, live moon jellies, lots of sand dollars, sea urchin tests, large amounts of worms including tube worms, decorator worms, and soda straw worms. Finding eggs in the deceased body of a large female horseshoe crab was also a highlight.

Ocean Fish: A little skimpy this week but after a few passes we managed to pick up a couple of baby whiting and a single baby croaker. The whiting, with its eerie vertical eye, compressed body, and goofy barbel, is one of my favorite seining catches. I have to confess that in my first summer here, I thought they were baby sharks.

Tidal Pool Fish: All killifish today, and all under 1″ long.

Birds: Sandpipers, plovers, oystercatchers, least terns, and laughing gulls.

July 22, 2010 ~ Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

Town biologists are reporting….piping plovers are back!!! Three piping plovers were seen this week on Kiawah’s beach. 2 birds were found on the western end of the beach and 1 on the eastern end. All 3 birds were banded as well. These are the first piping plovers seen on Kiawah since May and are likely early migrating birds on the way south.

July 22, 2010 ~ Mantis Shrimp

mantis shrimpOn a recent kayaking tour, I was aided by my two teenage guests to spot a beautiful creature not commonly seen in the marsh. The Mantis shrimp (or sometimes called a Stomatopod) is named for its resemblance to both the praying mantis and the shrimp, while it is neither. It is a marine crustacean found in the phylum Arthropoda. The mantis shrimp we saw was crawling around on the bank of the Kiawah River, and was vibrantly colored with neon blues, greens and purples. We spent a while observing the shrimp and its behaviors. Mantis shrimp are not often found out in the open, but instead tend to hide down in burrows and holes in the mud where they breathe through gills. These creatures are found in warm tropical and subtropical marine habitats, and can grow to be 1 foot in length! Mantis shrimp are aggressive predators, and use their powerful claws to unfold and swing at prey in either a stabbing or spearing motion depending on the type of claw. The power and force that comes from the claws is enormous (not unlike that of the pistol shrimp) and can cause stunning and dismemberment of the prey. They are capable of causing painful injuries to humans if handled improperly, and larger mantis shrimp are known to even break aquarium glass. These beautifully colored crustaceans are better observed from a distance if seen on one of our kayaking trips!

Reported by Naturalist, Laura Willhoft

July 21, 2010 ~Portuguese Man o’ War (Physalia physalis)

man of war“It looks like a piece of plastic,” I say to myself. I’m busy scanning the dunes for plovers and oystercatchers, but my Back Island Birding tour guest looks interested in the mysterious plastic-like item on the beach. Now I must find out what it is, too. This clear, purplish-pink plastic “bag” turns out not be trash at all but rather a Portuguese Man-of-War!

Without an trained eye or curious mind, it’s easy to overlook these floating, marine animals on our beach as garbage. Blown by winds and pulled by currents, Man-of-Wars drift on the surface of open oceans (aided by a gas-filled float) where they feed on small fish, crustaceans, and plankton using their stinging and feeding tentacles. Not a true jelly, the Portuguese Man-of-War is actually a colony of numerous organisms called polyps (or zooids) that are so specialized they cannot live without each other. Check the beach after storms or windy weather for these fascinating cnidarians.

Written by Naturalist, Will Oakley

July 20, 2010 ~ Ocean Encounters Trip Log

Naturalist: Marcie Palm
Tide: Super Low

ocean encounterBeachcombing Highlights: Wow!!!! What an extraordinary day for Beachcombing. We probably had the best day I’ve ever seen as a Naturalist for Beachcombing. We found live Sea Stars, Sea Anemones, Moon Snails, Knobbed Whelks, Sea Cucumbers, and Hermit Crabs galore. We found Sea Pansies and Sea Pork which were hard to distinguish if they were alive or not, but when I returned the Sea Pansies to the Saltwater Tank in the Nature Center they stuck out their little polyps. We also found plenty of the shells of previously alive animals such as Sea Urchins, many species of Clams and snails, as well as several beautifully colored carapaces of crabs. There was also a very interesting Horseshoe Crab who was alive with many living Acorn Barnacles and Slipper Shells attached to it. It was stranded pretty far from the water so we returned it to the water and was able to watch the Barnacles use their thin feathery feet to feed on plankton and detritus as the tide rushed over top of them.

Ocean Seining: We weren’’t as lucky with seining in the ocean. The current and wind were very strong which made it difficult to pull the net. We caught a few fish such as Striped Tidal Pools: Mostly minnows. There was also an interesting band of tiny clams. It was about 20 yards long and a yard or two wide in places and concentrated around the tidal pools and the surf. They were so small I thought at first they were just broken down pieces of shells but it turned out to be the whole clam…it was causing quite a low tide smell on the beach.

Birds: We were so enamored with our beachcombing that we forgot to look out for the birds but I did glimpse our usual Laughing Gulls & Brown Pelicans.

July 20, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: Upper 80s, sunny
Locations: Marsh Island Park, Willet Pond, Ocean Course driving range

Notes: Another great painted bunting singing for us in just the right light at Marsh Island Park. We then spent the rest of the time at Willet Pond and along the Ocean Course driving range. While the marsh birds were a little skimpy in Willet Pond, the dune birds really put on a show, with a handsome trio of common ground doves and a cooperative pair of loggerhead shrikes. I was able to pick out a trio of dowitchers among a flock of shorebirds off in the distance, which I will assume were short-billed due to habitat, but ran out of time to check on the others.

Species List: Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Wood Stork, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Common Moorhen, Wilson’s Plover, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Short-billed Dowitcher, Laughing Gull, Least Tern, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue Jay, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, House Finch

July 20, 2010 ~ Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)

crow flyingEvery time I’ve gone out to the Ocean Course’s halfway house to meet guests for the Ocean Encounters trip, I’ve watched the resident Northern Mockingbird pair (nesting in the nearby bushes) chase off some passing American Crows. Some bird species will defend their nests more aggressively than others, and both mockingbirds and crows are in the top tier of fearless predator-harassers, even to species much bigger in size. According to Discover magazine, researchers at the University of Florida recently demonstrated that mockingbirds can pick a human out of a crowd that had a past history of disturbing their nest (visit www.discovermagazine.com/2010/jan-feb/087 for more information); I think that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment, considering the difficulty we humans would have if we had to pick a mockingbird out of a flock!

Written by Naturalist, Sarah Ernst

July 19, 2010 ~ Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

tiny loggerheadsIt’s mid-summer and the sea turtle nests have started to hatch! The Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) is one of the most sought out marine creatures for residents and guests alike along our barrier islands. The relatively large head of a loggerhead contributed to their distinctive name. In addition to feeding on a variety of jellyfish species, powerful jaws allow them to feed on horseshoe crabs and hard-shelled prey such as whelks and conchs. Their carapace (upper shell) length of adults is approximately 3 feet long. The average weight for an adult is 250lbs.

Female loggerheads in the southeast will typically lay three to five nests, and sometimes more, between mid-May and mid-August. After two months of incubating, the young will hatch sometime between July and October. Artificial lighting along the beachfront has been blamed for confusing turtle hatchlings and causing them to veer away from their destination, the Atlantic Ocean. By shielding, redirecting, or turning off any lights illuminating the beach or water, residents play a role in the preservation of this species.

Interested in learning more about our loggerhead sea turtles this summer? Join expert Naturalist, Meg Hoyle, on Kiawah for a complimentary Turtle Talk at the Heron Park Pavilion every Tuesday from 7 pm to 8 pm. If you’re looking for a new learning adventure this year, check out the Learning Through Loggerheads motorboat excursion to Botany Island on Thursdays from 9 am – 12 pm. Meg has worked with loggerhead & hawksbill sea turtles in the Caribbean and participated in the longest running loggerhead sea turtle tagging project in the US. She is also the director of Learning through Loggerheads, a non-profit organization that provides hands on science learning for students through a turtle nest protection project.

Only trained turtle patrol members are permitted to handle sea turtle hatchling.

Written by Naturalist, Jennifer Barbour

July 16, 2010 ~ Herp. Log

carolina anoleJr. Naturalist Herpetology Report
Sr. Naturalist: Marcie Palm
Jr. Naturalists: Zach, Zoe, Josie, Jack, Drew, Noah, Riley and Aggie
Locations: Sanctuary grounds and Turtle Point ponds
Weather: Hot, sunny and very humid

Species list:
4 Green Tree Frogs (Turtle Point vegetation)
1 Southeastern 5 Lined Skink (drift fence)
1 juvenile Broad Headed Skink (coverboard)
1 Green Anole (boardwalk near Sanctuary)
24 Golden Silk Spiders
1 Yellow Bellied Slider Turtle (Turtle Point)
2 Alligators (Turtle Point)

July 16, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: 80s, partly cloudy, windy but not extremely so
Locations: Mingo Point, Marsh Island Park, Willet Pond, the Ocean Course beach loop

Notes: After chasing half a dozen male painted buntings at Mingo and Marsh Island Park, never with a satisfactory view, we finally found one singing with in full light. Lots of females/young around as well. We had a really great moment at Willet Pond in which there was a Wood Stork, Glossy Ibis, Black-necked Stilt, and Tricolored Heron all in the same spotting scope view. The light was perfect and we could really admire the rich colors of the Glossy. Sanderlings, a spotted sandpiper, and a pair of whimbrels were all a bit of a surprise out on the Ocean Course beach. A gull-billed tern was also a nice find – last year I was able to find them fairly regularly, but this was Back Island Birding’s first 2010 sighting.

Species List: Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, Turkey Vulture, Mississippi Kite, Common Moorhen, Wilson’s Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Laughing Gull, Least Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Royal Tern, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, House Finch

July 14, 2010 ~ Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

jr cardinalIf there is one bird on Kiawah that seems to most sympathize with the acne-ridden stage of our teenage years, it is the Northern Cardinal. When this bird molts it seems to do so in large chunks, making it appear as if its undergoing some terrible disease. This female cardinal has molted her entire crest off in one piece as well as most of the feathers around her beak and eye. By looking at the bright orange bill, however, we can determine that this is a sexually mature female and not a young cardinal (which share the subtle brown-red-green-yellow plumage of a female, but have a dark bill rather than orange). The bill of a cardinal is one of the most elegantly designed crushing machines in the avifauna of North America (barring the extinct Carolina Parakeet), and many a bird bander can tell you horror stories about getting chunks taken out of them while trying to extract a very cranky cardinal from a mist net.

Photo taken on Nature Photography by Jamie Rood

July 13, 2010 ~ Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Turtle hatching season has begun.

July 13, 2010 ~ Ocean Encounters Trip Log

whelkGuide: Sarah Ernst
Tide: Low

Beachcombing Highlights: Whelk egg cases with unhatched babies inside; cockle and ark shells that had been eaten by a moon snail; rubbery bryzoans; yellow sea whips; sand dollars; live hermit crab; lots of dead horseshoe crabs – in various stinky stages of being dead! – and a pair of live whelks.

Ocean Fish: We caught a pair of Florida pompano with the cast net, but with the seine net we got something completely different: a small pipefish, two baby whiting, and a mysterious small chubby dark fish that looked like maybe a baby grouper? Lots of baby calico crabs in the seine net – for every fish, there were at least a dozen baby crabs.

Tidal Pool Fish: Mostly bay anchovy with some killifish

Birds: Willets, American Oystercatchers, Least Terns, Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans, Red-tailed Hawk, and a mockingbird pair diving at and chasing a pair of crows.

July 12, 2010 ~ Hispid Cotton Rat (Sigmodon hispidus)

cotton ratDuring a recent Nature Photography tour, this cute, fuzzy mammal found itself the subject of much shutter frenzy. This member of the rodent family is found throughout the southeast and normally inhabits tall-grass areas where such grasses as bluestem, cordgrass (Spartina), or sedges offer both freedom of movement under a protective canopy and an adequate food supply. Cotton Rats are usually 8.8–14.4” in length and weigh 3.5–8.0 oz. Their pelage (fur) is commonly mixed with blackish or dark brownish hairs while its underparts are pale to dark grayish with a dark tail. They are almost exclusively herbivores, but there is some evidence that they feed also on the eggs of ground-nesting birds and that it selects food items and combines them into a nutritious diet, however, it does not hoard food. Cotton rats are prolific and produce several litters of two to 15 young, a year. These interesting, yet often hard to identify, mammals are both diurnal and nocturnal and can actually swim. Sign up for one of our Nature Photography tours and have the opportunity to capture one of these interesting little rodents on film.

Photo by Jamie Rood, Staff Photographer

July 11, 2010 ~ American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

Tour: Alligator Adventure
Guide: William Oakley
Locations: Ocean Course, Osprey Point, The Preserve, Turtle Point Golf Course.
Weather: low 80’s and slightly overcast with a gentle breeze.

Highlight: While walking from the van to the pond bridge at Osprey Point, we were greeted by an adult alligator measuring close to 7 ½ to 8 feet and laying comfortably in the shade of myrtle trees along the bank of the pond by Osprey Point’s clubhouse. As we approached for a closer look of his/her tail length, the ‘gator shot quickly back into the water. A quick inspection of ponds in The Preserve yielded no sight of the local, giant male alligator known as “Bubba”, who, at an estimated 12 feet long, is probably one of Kiawah’s two biggest known alligators. The small pond on the southwest side of the Ocean Course clubhouse provided excellent viewing of juvenile and smaller adult alligators. Our group counted at least seven ‘gators in that one popular pond.As always, the long pond next to the Osprey Point clubhouse gave us excellent shots of adult and young alligators laying out on the bank and swimming under the bridge. Big and small, the gators love Osprey Point.

July 10, 2010 ~ Woodstork (Mycteria americana)

wood-storkIf you’re lucky, and you’re looking up, you might just spot America’s only breeding stork while kayaking on the Kiawah River. The Wood Stork (Mycteria Americana) is a large, white, bald-headed wading bird of the southeastern swamps and marshes. Its extensive black flight feathers are a diagnostic characteristic while soaring overhead, and its head and neck are extended outward while flying unlike our egrets and herons. Small fish provide the primary diet of these large, endangered birds that use a technique called grope-feeding or tacto-location to snatch up prey with their partly open bill. If you fancy a chance at seeing a wood stork in action, check out our Kayaking Tours and Back Island BirdingTour.

July 8, 2010 ~ Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

paddleboardingI regularly hear people say that it never gets old seeing dolphins. Today in the water at Mingo Point, it was no different. From a distance of nearly 200 yards away, we spotted three large adult dolphins charging our way, swimming fast with the falling tide. My guests and I were on paddleboards. As they neared our small group, the three dolphins went under and out of sight almost 5 minutes before surfacing downstream only a few yards away. While they were under water, we followed air bubbles made as they zig-zagged all around us, obviously checking out the foreign objects we stood on. Paddleboarding through the salt marsh is an amazing experience! The boards were more stable and maneuverable than my guests expected. They were all standing up their first tries and we were off on our journey through the marsh at high tide. We couldn’t have had a better day. Seeing the dolphins so close and witnessing their curious behavior definitely topped off the experience.

Written by Naturalist and Paddleboard Instructor, Jennifer Barbour

July 7, 2010 ~ Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

gulf fritillaryThe appearance of the gulf fritillary always signifies the beginning of high summer on Kiawah Island. I have seen a few variegated fritillaries around since spring but spotted my very first gulf fritillary of the season today. This butterfly is one of the first I learned to identify, easily recognized by its vibrant orange wings spangled with silver on the underside. It was freshly emerged from its chrysalis near a wild stand of its host plant, purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) – which also happened to be magnificently in bloom. The gaudy combination seemed to have come straight from the rain forests of Costa Rica, but here it was in South Carolina. The gulf fritillary will soon become one of our most abundant and noticeable butterflies on Kiawah. It is a particular favorite on Butterfly Walks because its relatively slow flight and sheer abundance makes it easy to photograph and catch.

Also present on my butterfly exploration were the red-spotted purple and the spicebush swallowtail – both mimics of the poisonous pipevine swallowtail. Two red admirals were very wary of my presence and flew off quickly. A gray hairstreak was more tolerant but kept to the shade, as did a satyr. My walk concluded with a tiger swallowtail, flying through the woods quite regally and directly, as if it some great event to get to in a hurry. Tiger Swallowtails had a very poor year last year but thankfully more have popped up this year.

July 6, 2010 ~ Ocean Encounters Trip Log

Guide: Sarah Ernst
Tide: Low

Beachcombing Highlights: Whelk egg cases with unhatched babies inside, horseshoe crab exoskeleton, live hermit crabs, ark and cockle shells, decorator worms, shed shrimp shell, both live and dead whelks, lots of sand dollars…

Fish: Large schools of Bay Anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli) and smaller schools of vertically-striped killifish in the tidal pools. Florida Pompano was the only fish we caught in the surf.

Birds: Willet, Least Terns, Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans

July 5, 2010 ~ Megalodon Tooth

shark tooth12 year old Meme Marshall from Birmingham Alabama found this amazing tooth on the beach near the Ocean Course. Thanks for sharing Meme!

July 3, 2010 ~ Flutter Report

dasher eatingWhile just two butterflies put in an appearance during our Butterflies Walk today – both Duskywings – Nature more than made up for it with a huge number of dragonflies. There were dozens of bright orange skimmers, either Golden-Winged or Needham’s Skimmers. Both of these dragonflies have richly colored red-orange males and more demure yellow females/immature males, and both can be found on Kiawah. The only way to tell the difference between the species is to catch one and examine the color change along the humeral suture of the thorax. This is a bit advanced for a butterflies walk, especially one in which the guide has left her dragonfly guidebook at home, so although we did catch three of these handsome dragonflies, we had to leave it at “That Bright Red-Orange One”. There were also a few Eastern Amberwings, Four-spotted Pennants, Blue Dashers, Eastern Pondhawks, and several unidentified fly-bys. The Blue Dasher, a young male that had mostly completed the color change from immature brown to the bright blue of adulthood, was a big hit as he was brightly colored yet small enough to be not so intimidating, so all the younger guests (from 3 to 7) were eager to hold him.

Report by Naturalist Sarah Ernst

July 2, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: Very nice considering our recent heat wave! Mid 70s to low 80s, and windy
Locations: Marsh Island Park, Osprey Point, Willet Pond

Notes: A male painted bunting really showed off for us today at Marsh Island Park. Usually a male will sing for a while and then flit off (usually just after I get the spotting scope set up on him!). But today the male actually remained in place for us to get nice long looks and appreciate his song. Other birds of note were a pair of pileated woodpeckers in the Osprey Point parking lot. While sometimes you have to do a lot of trekking to find a bird you’re looking for, it’s nice to be surprised by an awesome bird before you even start walking! We finished up the morning by watching an immature wood stork quite close to us at Willet Pond.

Species List: Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Green Heron, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Wood Stork, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Moorhen, Killdeer, Laughing Gull, Least Tern, Royal Tern, Pileated Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Fish Crow, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle

July 1, 2010 ~ Waterspout

While not technically wildlife, a waterspout is wild enough for me! We saw one today while heading back from our Learning through Loggerheads expedition. While out there we saw lots of dolphins, a pair of mating horseshoe crabs, and an undiscovered crawl that our certified turtle patrol member dug up for us so we could see the eggs! As we walked back to the boat, the rain began. A cold front moving in brought lots of rain and dynamic atmospheric conditions. Thanks to those cooperative dolphins and the cheery younger guests who were having a great time getting soaked in the bow of the boat, we managed to enjoy ourselves anyway. I was delighted when the boat’s captain, Mike, pointed out the waterspout forming off in the distance behind us. A waterspout is basically a tornado over the water, though most of the waterspouts in South Carolina are far slower moving and far less destructive. Unless you’re in tropical storm or hurricane conditions, most waterspouts are pretty innocuous and fascinating to watch. Ours lasted only a few minutes before disappearing amidst the general rain and clouds.

June 30, 2010 ~ Sand Wasp (Stictia carolina)

sand waspOn a recent Learning through Loggerheads trip to Botany Island, we got a chance to see a sand wasp burrowing into the hot beach sand right at our feet. Although we were just a couple of feet away (18 people total) , this little girl didn’t seem to mind that we were right there and was simply intent on finishing the task. These little creatures are solitary hunting wasps that nest in colonies in loose sand in the sunny position. Sand wasps are not aggressive and will not attempt to sting if approached. Although the adults feed on nectar, they will hunt for flies and other insects to feed their offspring. Once prey is captured, the adult will then take the paralyzed insect and place it in the burrow with their unhatched larvae and cover the hole. As soon as the larvae hatch, dinner is fresh and ready to go. Although we were on this beautiful island to learn more about loggerhead sea turtles and take in the incredible scenery, this seemingly unremarkable event captured all of our imaginations.

June 28, 2010 ~ Leafcutting Bee

On one of my Butterfly Walks, a young guest noticed a strange site: a bee carrying a perfectly round leaf. The two of us had seen leafcutter ants on TV, but we were both stumped about why a bee would want to carry a leaf around when they are stricktly nectar and pollen eaters. Later on I looked it up: our bee was in the family Megachilidae, the Leafcutting Bees. They cut neat little circles out of leaves and use the leaf piece to make their nest. Unlike honeybees, leafcutting bees are mostly solitary. They will construct several nests and feed the larva pollen; the young will metamorphize into an adult in fall but remain in the nest until spring.

While bees tend to prompt fear due to their powerful stings, the leafcutting bee does not defend its nest and will only sting when handled. We got fairly close while observing it and the bee completely ignored us. While gardeners may be annoyed by the large round chunks they take out the leaves of decorative plants, even a large number of leafcutter bees could not do serious damage to a plant. Their benefit definitely outweighs what little damage they do: leafcutter bees are among the most highly-ranked pollinators for a variety of plants, including garden flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Because they are both adaptable and common, there’s little you need to do to attract them to your garden other than curb your use of insecticides.

Reported by Naturalist Sarah Ernst

June 27, 2010 ~ Dragonflies

dragonfly casingsIt’s too bad dragonflies don’t have much brainpower, because it must be an amazing experience to go from being a zippy little creature of the water to one of the most masterful creatures of the air. When we go to Turtle Pond on our Gator Walks or Jr Naturalist Herpetology tours, we often observe female dragonflies dipping their the tip of their abdomens in the water. With each dip, she squirts an egg into the water with her ovipositor (literally, “egg-placer” in Latin). Though they face many predators from green herons to baby alligators, the nymphs that hatch are common in most healthy freshwater ecosystems. You can imagine a wide variety of science fiction monsters inspired by dragonfly nymphs: these chunky, big-eyed critters get around by jet propulsion and catch their prey – insects as well as small vertebrates like minnows – with their hinged, spikey lower lip.

Though the adult dragonfly is far more noticeable to us than the nymphs lurking in pond waters, this group of insects spends the vast majority of its life as a nymph. But the adult form is required for reproduction, so the nymph finds a dry spot out of the water, like the bridge at Turtle Pond, to metamorphize into an adult. After about a week of dramatic changes, the adult climbs out of a hole in back of the exoskeleton, leaving the shell behind. They again face a large assortment of predators from Eastern Kingbirds to bigger dragonflies, but a successful dragonfly may live all season long.

The most commonly encountered dragonflies on Kiawah around this time of year are the Eastern Pondhawk, Blue Dasher, Four-spotted Pennant, Needham’s Skimmer, Carolina Saddlebags, and Eastern Amberwing, but a variety of other dragonfly species may be seen by the curious dragonfly hunter.

June 25, 2010 ~ Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

little blue heron
Photo by Jamie Rood

June 24, 2010 ~ Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

moorhen chickNewly hatched chicks of the Common Moorhen have spurs on their wings that help them climb into the nest or grab emergent vegetation. (Source: Cornell Ornithology). Photo taken at the Enclave at Turtle Point by staff photographer, Jamie Rood.

June 23, 2010 ~ Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

seaturtleThese sea turtle ribs were found over several years on the beach. While some people think that a turtle can shed its shell like a crab, a keen-eyed observer might notice that one doesn’t see a whole lot of shell-less turtles running around! Despite what you might see in cartoons and films such as Over the Hedge, a turtle cannot come out of its shell any more than you can come out of your ribcage. The upper shell (carapace) of a sea turtle is formed by ribs that have formed plates and fused together; when a turtle dies, the pieces eventually fall apart and some land on Kiawah’s shores.

While a sea turtle rib is a special find, unfortunately they are a federally threatened species and it is illegal to possess any part of a sea turtle without a permit, even a piece of bone that has naturally washed up on the beach. Keeping one could result in a hefty fine. So if you do find one, make sure to take plenty of photographs so you can stump your know-it-all friends, but better leave it behind on the beach or donate it to an education program that holds the proper permits. To learn more about sea turtles, and meet some of pond turtles in person, join us for an All About Turtles program – with record heat we have been experiencing this week, it’s nice to know that it is held in the air conditioned comfort of our nature classroom.

Written by Naturalist, Sarah Ernst

June 21, 2010 ~ Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus)

little brown batA patron just recently discovered a bat on one of the paths here in Kiawah. Naturalists have identified the bat as the Little Brown Bat based on its size and rounded tragus. The bat was observed for 12 hours to determine if it could survive, and then released near a freshwater source in the West Beach area. There are fourteen documented species of bats in the state of South Carolina with twelve of those being found in the Lower Coastal Plains. Six of the fourteen species are found statewide while the remaining eight are restricted to regions. The Coastal Plain contains much swamp and bottomland areas with large trees that probably provide abundant and diverse roosts such as Spanish moss.

Bats, worldwide, make up 20% of all species of mammals. Most species inhabit the tropical and subtropical areas of the world but bats are found on all continents except Antarctica where, to date, no bat fossils have been found. Bats are the only mammal that can truly ‘fly’. Bats are not blind; they actually have quite good eyesight but rely on their system of echolocation to get around. Bats make noises at frequencies too high for human hearing and, by listening to the echoes, can create a sound picture of their environment. Bats in North America are virtually all insectivorous, feeding on a variety of flying insects. Bats benefit humans because many of the insects are harmful or annoying to humans, as we are well aware of here in the lowcountry.

Currently, bat populations are facing the greatest threat to bats ever seen which is the white nose syndrome. White nose syndrome (WNS) is a poorly understood malady associated with the deaths of more than a million bats. The condition, named for a distinctive ring of fungal growth around the muzzles and on the wings of many affected animals, was first identified in a cave in New York in 2006. The mortality rate in some of the caves has exceeded 90 percent. Bats with this malady have been found in caves throughout 9 New England states as well as Canada. The long-term impact of this reduction in bat populations may be an increase in insects, possibly even leading to crop damage or other economic impact. Bats ability to fly, their secretiveness, and their nocturnal habits have contributed to bat folklore, superstition, and fear. You can dispel any of these fears you may have by coming in to the nature center to discuss Bat Biology with one of the Naturalists or go on a nocturnal adventure such as the Night Beach Walk or the Night Exploration.

Written by Naturalist, Marcie Palm

June 20, 2010 ~ Striped Burrfish (Chilomycterus schoepfi)

burr fishThe Striped Burrfish (Chilomycterus schoepfi) is part of the spiny puffer family, named for the short fixed spines that cover its entire box shaped body. In addition to their large heads and bulging eyes, these strange (but cute!) looking fish have the ability to inflate themselves with water (or air) when threatened by larger predators. Burrfish have strong beak-like jaws to eat small fish, barnacles, clams and snails. They can live in shallow saltwater creeks, lagoons and coastal reefs ranging from Maine to Florida, but are found in greatest number in the Carolinas and southward. This Burrfish was caught using a cast net on one of our Pluff Mud Paddle trips! Sign up today to see what other neat fish live in our salt marsh!

Written by Naturalist, Laura Willhoff

June 18, 2010 ~ Feather Report

orchard orioleTour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: Hot and sunny
Locations: Marsh Island Park, Osprey Point, Willet Pond

Notes: At Marsh Island Park we stumbled into a family of painted buntings – one male and several green female/juvenile birds. I am used to hearing the pretty song of the male but it was a treat to hear the gentle trill note they made to stay in contact with one another. Osprey Point was hopping with green herons, both adult and young, and we also saw an orchard oriole dive-bombing a pair of red-tailed hawks perched next to one another in a pine tree. There were two osprey chicks in the cell phone tower nest with one parent shading them from the sun and looking quite fierce and protective. Willet Pond was slow at first, with lots of grackles and red-winged blackbirds but little else. Quite a few baby and adult moorhens were hopping around, though, and just as I was giving up on more exciting birds, a black-necked stilt came from the middle of the pond, buzzed around our heads giving its kee-kee-kee call, and then returned to the same spot in the marsh. I hope that means there’s a nest back there! Finally, a pair of killdeer demonstrated their broken-wing display, attempting to lure us away from their nest in hopes of snagging a meal. Works for bobcats, not so well for us bird addicts, but even though we peered in the sand for the eggs or babies, their camouflage hid them from view. Other neat birds – an adult and an immature night heron, a nighthawk, purple martins, and a family of crows – we could differentiate the hatchlings from the adults by the colorful corners of their bills.

Species List: Double-crested Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Moorhen, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Laughing Gull, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Purple Martin, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Marsh Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Red-winged blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole photo by Staff Photographer, Jamie Rood

June 18, 2010 ~ Eastern Screech-owl (Megascops asio)

baby screech owlThe Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, was first described by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758. Though asio is Latin for “Horned Owl,” and at first it may be confused as a juvenile of the sort, it is truly a unique species with a long American natural history. Fossil evidence, found in Kansas, places the modern form of this species well into the Late Pliocene, some 3 million years ago! Screech Owls are monogamous, and often live in old woodpecker cavities or hollowed trees. In flight, they have quick rapid wing strokes, ideal for darting through the forest. Unlike their bigger cousins, they don’t “hoot.” As their name suggest, they emit a high pitched screeching noise, which may be heard at times of increased activity at night.

Historically, much of South Carolina’s coastal plain frequently burned with wildfires and Native American activity. These forest fires created vast grasslands across much of the area, ideal habitat for Screech Owls and many other long forgotten species. Screech Owls, like many other predatory animals, hovered and perched on the edge of these grasslands waiting for suitable prey to meander across. Though much of these grasslands have been left to become forest, man has unknowingly created some very similar environmental substitutes. Things like power line cuts and grazing land provide the forest edges these birds are so fond of. Roads, cut through forest, also mimic these birds’ historical preferred hunting grounds. It’s not uncommon to spot a Screech Owl when driving through rural, less traveled roads at night. Collisions with these birds are common and in all likelihood their biggest obstacle in the wild.

Recently, we here at the nature center were lucky enough to be able to save one of these majestic creatures. A thoughtful patron came upon a Screech Owl suffering from injuries, from what appeared to be a collision. The lucky owl is now recovering at The Avian Conservation Center (The Center for Birds of Prey) in Awendaw, SC just north of Mt. Pleasant.

June 17, 2010 ~ Gastropods

gastropodRecently, during our ocean-related tours, Naturalists have been finding many marine gastropods, which is basically a fancy name for snails. Gastropods live in every conceivable habitat on Earth. Gastropods are part of the larger group of animals known as Mollusca which is one of the most diverse on the planet. They are extremely varied in habits, size, body and shell shape, and occupy the widest range of ecological niches of all mollusks, being the only group to have invaded the

The most interesting thing, I think, about a gastropod is their vast range of feeding behaviors. Most species make use of a radula, which is a rasping tongue-like organ in some aspect of their feeding behavior. They include grazers, browsers, suspension feeders, scavengers, and carnivores. Some actually engage in hunting their prey. Some gastropod carnivores even drill holes in their shelled prey, which is why some of you may find shells on the beach with tiny holes drilled in them.

Some exciting gastropods which you may find with or without the animal still alive in them include: Knobbed Whelk, Lightning Whelk, Channeled Whelk, Moon Snail, Banded Tulip, Oyster Drill, Marsh Periwinkles, Baby’s Ear, and Lettered Olives. Keep your eyes open because even if the actual animal is no longer living in the shell it may be inhabited by our friend the Hermit Crab. If you are interested in finding out more about these animals then sign up for one of our related classes such as Ocean Seining, Ocean Encounters, Pluff Mud Paddle or Jr. Naturalist Marsh Ecology.

Written by Naturalist, Marcie Palm

June 16, 2010 ~ Triggerfish

triggerBaby triggerfish the size of a thumbnail have recently been appearing in the seine nets of our Pluff Mud Paddle trips. When older, this funny-looking species can be found out hanging out around the artificial reefs and wrecks off the South Carolina coast. The lips, looking as if they were puckered up for a good kiss, hide strong teeth than can crush barnacles and other hard-shelled marine invertebrates. Of course, the juvenile fish in our nets aren’t up for anything more than a gentle nibble upon small invertebrates and zooplankton. Seeing a baby triggerfish here in the marsh is an excellent reminder of the saltmarsh’s role as nursery for all sorts of juvenile reef and offshore fish species. The saltmarsh is a nutrient-rich, protected area that eventually gives professional fishermen a livelihood and recreational anglers a great day among the tidal creeks, in the surf, out at the reefs, or far offshore.

June 15, 2010 ~ Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

tracksThere are now 84 Sea Turtle nests on Kiawah’s Beach…reported by “Welcome to Kiawah”

June 14, 2010 ~ Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

One of our Night Heron Park Bluebird Boxes contains at least 4 Eastern Bluebird nestlings that are on the brink of fledging. Fledging is a term commonly used to describe the time at which nestlings that are reared in the nest leave the nest, even though their flight skills may not be well developed. After leaving the nest, these young bluebirds will still rely on momma and papa to feed them for up to five weeks, and then they’re on their own.

June 13, 2010 ~ American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

gatorMany of you have heard from a Naturalist or maybe you just know that alligators are usually found in fresh or brackish water and in slow-moving rivers or ponds. They are also found in swamps, marshes, and lakes. They can tolerate salt water for only brief periods because they do not have working salt glands as opposed to their close relative the crocodile. So, why, you might be wondering would an alligator venture to the beach or swim in the ocean?

1. Alligators could be searching for that special someone for their mating dance.
2. Females may be looking for a safe place to nest and lay her eggs.
3. They could be looking for some type of food or nutrient that has been missing in their diet.
4. They are just a little disoriented and got confused…hey, it happens to everyone!
5. Some biologists speculate that they are heading to the beaches in search of sea turtle eggs.

If you have any other idea as to why an alligator would head to the beach then come over to the Nature Center to discuss this with one of our Naturalists or if you just want some more info on our friend the gator then sign up for one of our Alligator themed classes.

Written by Naturalist, Marcie Palm

June 11, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: Hot but luckily not too humid yet!
Locations: Turtle Pond, Marsh Island Park, Osprey Point, Willet Pond

Notes: The heat kept bird activity down but that was a boon for us, as several birds were quiet enough to let us get close looks. We got nice painted bunting looks, and saw lots of baby moorhens. The baby red-bellied woodpecker at Turtle Pond looks almost ready to fly.

Species List: Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Common Moorhen, Killdeer, Laughing Gull, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Pine Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, House Finch

June 8, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: William Oakley
Locations: Night Heron Park, Ocean Course, Willet Pond, Osprey Point, The Preserve, Marsh Island Park, Bass Pond marsh side.
Weather: Mostly sunny, in the low to mid-80’s; little to no wind.
Time: 8:30am-11:10am

Notes: Two Clapper Rails foraged on the marsh edge in plain view across the street from Willet Pond. Rarely do we see these secretive marsh birds whose clattering voice is easily heard broadcasting over marshes throughout the early morning and day. The Osprey nest by Willet Pond also appeared to be active this morning, with mom and dad coming and going quite frequently. Willet Pond lacked the intense feeding activity and bird numbers we’’ve seen over the past few days. We heard two different Painted Buntings at Marsh Island and also in the Preserve. Overall, I heard five buntings today. The Least Terns are still lingering around the Ocean Course nesting site, and fortunately it looks like some of them are nesting there. So remember: No dogs on the beach past the Ocean Course Clubhouse.

Species: Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Brown Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Painted Bunting, Great-crested Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Parula, (possible)Orchard Oriole, Barn Swallow, Common Nighthawk, Least Tern, Laughing Gull, American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer, Black-necked Stilt, Common Moorhen, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Clapper Rail, Least Bittern, Osprey, Turkey Vulture, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, American Crow, Blue Jay.

June 7, 2010 ~ West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus)

Naturalist Tim Pifer just texted from the Kiawah River…”Manatee at the inlet headed in, 15 feet from our group”.

June 7, 2010 ~ Fish Kill

swimming egretsWillet Pond, located on the eastern end of the island, has recently experienced a fish kill. Kiawah’s Lakes Management Director, Norm Shea, says the kill is a result of a dissolved oxygen depletion. Some ponds have aeration devices installed to keep this from happening, however, weather conditions cannot be ignored in contributing to the problem. The good news is that thousands of birds are taking advantage of an easy meal. It just may be the perfect time to call the Nature Center and ask about the birding tours offered!

June 6, 2010 ~ Banded Water Snake (Nerodia fasciata)

baby banded snakeA Banded Water Snake mother and newborn have been spotted in the pond behind the Heron Park Nature Center. Banded Water Snakes are one of five non-venomous semi-aquatic species of water snakes that live in South Carolina. Water Snakes are found in the southern states from North Carolina to Texas. Banded water snakes are commonly seen in the vicinity of aquatic habitats and are active both day and night. They may be seen basking on logs or branches overhanging the water or foraging in shallow water for fish and amphibians, their principal prey.

Banded Water Snakes are mid-sized – 24 to 48 inches and have a fairly heavy body. Coloration is variable, with snakes ranging from light brown or reddish to black with darker crossbands. Crossbands are larger on the middle of the back and narrower on the sides. Crossbands may be obscured as the snake darkens with age, and some individuals appear uniformly dark. In addition to crossbands, there are squarish spots at the sides of the belly and a dark stripe from the eye to the angle of the jaw.

Banded Water Snakes are often mistaken for the venomous Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin) as they look quite similar but you may be able to tell the difference based on several characteristics; Basking behavior, Swimming Behavior, Head positioning, Tail Vibration, Pupils and Scale Pattern. The best way to distinguish the two would be to look at their pupils. A Cottonmouth would have an elliptical shape of the pupil while any Water Snake will be round. Contact one of the Naturalists at the Nature Center to discuss the other differences in depth if you come across one of these snakes.

Written by Kiawah Naturalist Marcie Palm

June 5, 2010 ~ Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

As of today, Kiawah has 55 Loggerhead Sea Turtle nests. On June 5th 2009, we had 30.

June 2, 2010 ~ Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

vulture loveJuvenile Black Vultures have been spotted over in the Rhett’s Bluff area of Kiawah Island. Also known as Charleston Eagles, Black Vultures share the skies (and carrion) with Turkey Vultures here on Kiawah Island and in much of the southeastern United States. Rather than construct a nest, Black Vultures will sometimes lay eggs on the ground under a bush. Nesting sites include thickets, hollow logs or trees, and even abandoned buildings. The female will lay 2 eggs (rarely 3), and both sexes will share in incubating the eggs for 37-41 days. After hatching, the fledglings will be ready to leave the nest in 14 weeks.

Written by Naturalist William Oakley. Photo of the proud parents by Jamie Rood. Stay tuned for more WAWSI write-ups on these fascinating birds.

May 31, 2010 ~ Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

bottlenose dolphinMating dolphin observed on Captain John Ward’s Dolphin Encounters.

May 30, 2010 ~ Black Skimmer

black skimmerOur Town Biologists report several black skimmers have been observed on the east end of Kiawah’s beach in the bird nesting area. Skimmers typically begin nesting in June, so we are hoping to have some nesting black skimmers soon. We will keep you updated.

May 29, 2010 ~ Sea Pork (Amaroucium stellatum)

seaporkContrary to what you might think when you find sea pork washed ashore, it’s not a brain or internal organ of a marine animal. It’s actually a tunicate. The cartilage like exoskeleton (tunic) is composed primarily of cellulose and houses a colony of individual animals called zooids. The zooid colony derives food from seawater pumped through its system by two external openings. When alive, reddish colored zooids are embedded in its pink (sometimes orange) tunic. After death, with zooids absent, the tunic bleaches to a grayish color, resembling salt pork or fatback, hence the common name. Sea pork is part of a class of species called Adscidiacea (“a leather bottle”). All species of ascidians concentrate heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, iron, etc.) in specialized blood cells. Studies have led scientists to believe these heavy metals may function as antibiotics for the tunicate. Sea pork is a subtidal species preyed upon by bottom-dwelling fish, skates, and sharks. Rachel Carson in her book, “Edge of the Sea”, also commented that sea pork has a luminescent glow in the dark. Who knew those pink and gray blobs washed ashore could be so interesting?

May 28, 2010 ~ Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

red bellied woodpeckerIf you’ve been on a nature walk anywhere in North America, chances are you’ve encountered a woodpecker somewhere in your travels or around your neighborhood. Some species like this red-bellied woodpecker have adapted very well to suburbia and even urban areas, as long as there are a few dead trees around for nesting. While we enjoy having woodpeckers at our feeders, and laugh at Woody Woodpecker, and get annoyed when they peck on our houses, few people realize that the humble woodpecker is adapted to some of the nature’s most extreme conditions. When a woodpecker bangs its head a tough tree trunk, the G-force generated is about 10 G of acceleration and deceleration. In comparison, astronauts taking off in a space shuttle experience 3 G and most people will black out around 4-6 G.

With about a dozen strikes per second, hundreds of times a day, it’s pretty miraculous that a bird that maxes out at 3 ounces can survive such tremendous forces! The padding, shape, size, and location of the bird’s brain all help cushion it from impact. Once a woodpecker penetrates through some wood to reach the tunnel of a grub, it will bring out another weapon: its long barbed tongue. The tongue of a red-bellied woodpecker extends 2 inches past the end of its beak; that’s about three times the length of its bill. When the tongue goes back inside the head, it is so long that it must curve up through the throat, around the base of the jaw, behind and above the skull, and back through the birds’ nostril or eye socket. Once the tongue worms its way through the tunnel of a grub, it will skewer the insect with its hard-tipped tongue. Backwards-pointing barbs hold it in place as the woodpecker pulls it out into the open and swallows it whole.

The next time you watch a woodpecker in your yard efficiently de-grubbing a dead tree or rattling away on a resonant surface, consider yourself lucky to have a creature with awesome superpowers as your guest!

May 27, 2010 ~ American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

two alligator heads
Photo by Jamie Rood
Courting alligators at the Opsrey Point Golf Course.

May 26, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Sarah Ernst
Weather: Started out gray but got sunnier and sunnier as we went; mild for May
Locations: Killdeer Pond, Willet Pond, The Ocean Course driving range/beach/clubhouse

Notes: Great summer birding today with a wide variety of species, and some excellent long looks at shorebirds! I found several new birds for our guests’ life lists, which is always fun. We also found a mud turtle at the Ocean Course, a bobcat crossing the road near Willet Pond, and some dolphins feeding and jumping in the Kiawah River.

Species List: Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Wood Stork, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Clapper Rail, Common Moorhen, Wilson’s Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Forster’s Tern, Least Tern, Royal Tern, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Parula, Pine Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Orchard Oriole, House Finch

May 25, 2010 ~ Atlantic Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus)

horseshoe crabHere’’s a common find for the Kiawah beachcomber with a somewhat misleading name. Horseshoe crabs belong to an ancient group of arthropods (chelicerates) that are more closely related to spiders and ticks than they are to crabs. Former scientific names like Limulus cyclops refer to the belief that they had a single eye when in fact they have nine eyes (2 compound eyes and 5 simple eyes on the outer shell, and 2 simple eyes on the underside in front of the mouth). Light-sensing organs also run the length of the spiny tail.

Spending the winter months on the continental shelf, horseshoe crabs have emerged along our shoreline to spawn. Males will hold on to the larger females, ready to fertilize up to 80,000 deposited by females in the intertidal region of the beach. Fish, seashore mammals, and many bird species (red knots especially) feast upon these eggs.

Many of the specimens you find on the beach are molted shells. Their hard armor that keeps them relatively safe from predators must be shed in order for them to grow. Before reaching maturity around 9 years old, a horseshoe crab may molt 17 times! Unless a loggerhead sea turtle makes lunch out of them, it’s estimated that their lifespan is 20-40 years. There is so much more to know about this ancient creature. Join a Naturalist leading an ocean-related tour and ask about their unique blood and how it’s used in the medical field today.

May 23, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Will Oakley
Locations: Ocean Course, Osprey Point Golf Course, The Preserve
Weather: Sunny, little to no wind. Low to mid 80’s.

Highlight(s): The most remarkable find today was a nest of four fuzzy Green Heron nestlings in a pond-side cedar tree by the Osprey Point Clubhouse. This was definitely something we don’t see on every trip. The nestlings’ parents were flying around as if to distract our attention and lead us away from the nest. Only twice did all four nestlings pop up to survey the area, but it was enough for us. What a treat!
Earlier at the Ocean Course, a Glossy Ibis flew overhead while we searched for a singing Painted Bunting.

Species List: Great Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Glossy Ibis, Osprey, Turkey Vulture, Double-crested Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, Fish Crow, American Crow, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Northern Cardinal, Laughing Gull, Semipalmated Plover, Willet, Least Tern, Black Skimmer, Eastern Kingbird, Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Barn Swallow, House Finch, Mourning Dove, European Starling.

May 22, 2010 ~ Glass Lizard (Ophisaurus ventralis)

glass lizardNaturalist Field Report: While on a Marsh Kayaking trip, one of the guests spotted a small slithery creature in the soft sand at Captain Sam’s Spit. Definitely a surprise, because two minutes earlier I was explaining how snakes hardly ever visit our saltmarsh ecosystem! I jumped out of my kayak to investigate and discovered a very disgruntled Eastern Glass Lizard, our local legless lizard species. The poor thing was so soaked that water oozed out of its ears when I picked it up! My guess is it had fallen out of the eroded high dunes and had not been able to get back up again. When the tide reached its peak, the lizard’s refuge was flooded. The lizard was clearly exhausted and didn’t put up much of a fight when I caught it, which was quite a relief – the glass lizard gets its name from its tendancy to break the tail off when handled, even with gentleness. After pointing out the features that seperates this legless lizard from snakes – eyelids, ear holes, and a less flexible body – I returned it to the dunes where it slowly slithered off, hopefully to recover from its traumatic aquatic experience and eventually make more glass lizards for us to discover!

This is a photograph of our Nature Center glass lizard.

May 21, 2010 ~ Laughing Gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla)

gullsWhether they are in their elegant winter plumage or dapper summer plumage, laughing gulls are the snappiest dressers of the beach. The two gulls pictured here are both in summer plumage; in fall, the black hood will be reduced to a gray smudge behind the eye and the red bill will darken to jet black. That combination of a gray back and white belly is a classic example of countershading, a color pattern that helps camouflage the animal. In a forest, a squirrel’s brown-gray coat disguises it well among tree trunks. But in an ocean environment, there is not much to hide behind, so many species use the ocean itself. For a laughing gull predator hunting from above, the gray back blends in with the water. For a predator hunting from below, the white belly helps it blend in with the sky. Animals as diverse as deer, caterpillars, sharks, and penguins all share this strategy.

Of course, nothing in nature is ever as simple as we’d like it to be, and laughing gulls take three years to reach that crisp grey, black, and white plumage of adulthood. In the meantime, they can be seen in various combinations of gray and brown. The variety of immature plumages is mind-numbing, and laughing gulls are considered one of the easier immature gulls to identify! Tackling a crowd of immature gulls on the beach or, even better, at a landfill, is one of the pinnacle of birding challenges.

May 20, 2010 ~ Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

rose breasted grosbeakThis wonderful sighting of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak was provided by Kiawah residents, Dave and Sally Elliot. A rare sighting for Kiawah, possibly a late migrant.

May 19, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: Sunny, calm, upper 70s – low 80s
Locations: Killdeer Pond, Willet Pond, The Ocean Course driving range/beach/clubhouse

Notes: Highlights of today included all four nesting species in the Ocean Course nesting area (plovers, least terns, oystercatchers, and skimmers), as well as two dunlin in breeding plumage. Definitely caught me off gaurd, I’m used to seeing them in winter plumage and I had to remember my own lesson of paying more attention to bill shape than color pattern when identifying birds! Painted buntings were singing all over the place today.

Species List: Double-crested Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black Vulture, Osprey, Common Moorhen, Wilson’s Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Willet, Western or Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin, Laughing Gull, Least Tern, Royal Tern, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Northern Parula, Pine Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Orchard Oriole, House Finch

May 19, 2010 ~ Comb Jelly (Ctenophora)

comb jellyChances are if you’’ve been Ocean Seining with a Naturalist, you’’ve caught several of these comb jellies in your net. Usually, their appearance is more kin to a clear snotty blob. However, when captured by hand and held gently just beneath the water’s surface, you’re able to see the true shape and colorful beauty of this marine jelly. Its name comes from the tiny cilia used for swimming that line the body and has the appearance of a comb. On a good day, these predators of the ocean will eat up to ten times their body weight! With only a nerve net and no brain, comb jellies rely on water flow throughout their body cavity for digestion and respiration.

May 18, 2010 ~ Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)

There’s nothing like waking up and catching a venomous snake to start your week.

On Monday morning, Naturalist William Oakley retrieved a Cottonmouth Snake from a property owner’s yard here on Kiawah Island. Upon arrival, William noticed the snake could care less about all the attention he (or she) was receiving, and it did not attempt to bite or slither away while being handled. In his 26 years of visiting and living on Kiawah Island, William is excited to say this was his first venomous snake encounter here.

Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorous), also known as Water Moccasins, are semi-aquatic, venomous snakes with a reputation for being aggressive, but research has shown that its supposed belligerent nature couldn’t be farther from the truth, and many attacks/bites are provoked.

The Cottonmouth caught on Monday has been relocated on the island close to a pond but far from any homes. If you wish to learn more about snakes, or see a live, captive cottonmouth in person, check out our Nature Center in Night Heron Park.

May 17, 2010 ~ Yellow Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata)

yellow rat snakeAhh… I remember the days when I would cringe just looking at this photo! Why do snakes strike so much fear in people? They are incredible animals to have in our environment! They are known as farmer’s friends since their primary diet consists of rodents – rodents who would otherwise enjoy snacking on an entire field of corn and multiply at an alarming rate were it not for the presence of snakes. This Yellow Rat Snake is the most common large snake seen on Kiawah. It is not venomous and feeds on mice, rats, squirrels, birds, and bird eggs. Rat snakes are constrictors, and adept climbers that can scale brick walls and tree trunks with ease. When frightened, they often assume a ‘kinked’ posture and remain motionless.

To learn more about snakes of the southeast, visit the Heron Park Nature Center. View the snakes we have in the center, or join one of our reptile classes to have your questions answered by a Naturalist. Also ask about the next snake feeding and watch how they consume their food!

May 16, 2010 ~ Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinuss)

Say the words “gray hairstreak”, and a small fluttery insect may not be the first image that comes to mind. But gray hairstreaks, a common butterfly most years, have been particularly abundant this spring. These small creatures are easy to overlook but quite beautiful when seen up close, with shimmering silvery scales and vibrant orange spots. Their antennae are delicately striped with black and white, and their large black eyes set against a white face give them a cute appearance. Trailing filaments on the hind wings give an illusion of antennae to predators. A passing Eastern Kingbird may grab the wrong end, allowing the butterfly to fly off with its remaining wings.

If you start to become an experienced hairstreak admirer, keep your eyes open for the less common species found on Kiawah: Juniper, Banded, Oak, and White-M Hairstreaks. An excellent butterfly identification book to bring in the field is Butterflies through Binoculars by Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg. He has authored several different guides to the east coast, west coast, and Florida.

Check out our May 16th facebook post (Kiawah Island Nature Program) to see what a gray hairstreak looks like.

May 15, 2010 ~ Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)

diamondback terripanNaturalists with the Nature Program have been working alongside Dr. Mike Dorcas and his team of researchers while they’re here for a week of terrapin sampling. Today, golfers playing Cassique at a low tide may have spotted a team of hard-working, mud-covered, seine-pulling folks. We caught 24 turtles along Fiddler Creek, running alongside this golf course. This was a huge success! The longest on-going study of this beautiful creature has been done in our very own Kiawah River for nearly 30 years. With the increase in recreational and commercial crabbing, as well as a decrease in nesting habitat, research is showing an alarming decrease in the number of terrapins since the study first started. Come to the Nature Center to view our diamondback terrapins or join a Naturalist on any one of our paddling tours to learn more about this amazing species that calls Kiawah home.

May 15, 2010 ~ Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

Turtle season has begun on Kiawah! The first sea turtle nest was laid this morning!

May 13, 2010 ~ Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

cardinal nesting
Photo by Jamie Rood
The Northern Cardinal has adapted well to human impact and is commonly found in suburban settings across much of the mid and eastern United States. In addition to being seen in towns and neighborhoods, they prefer brushy habitat at the edges of woods. Year-round, they are seen in pairs or small groups. A pair will mate for life, both tending to the construction of a nest and the care of their young. Their adaptable bill allows them to feed on seeds, fruit, and insect larvae. Jamie captured this photo of a female cardinal on her eggs just in time. The following day, no eggs were seen in the nest. A possible culprit could be the adept tree-climbing yellow rat snake.

May 12, 2010 ~ Least Terns (Sternula antillarum)

least terns
Photo by Kiawah resident Paula Feldman
If you spend enough time on the Kiawah marsh or beach, you’re bound to see a least tern, a species that is threatened in the state of South Carolina. Terns are related to gulls and are in the same family (Laridae), but unlike the opportunistic, scavenging laughing gulls common on our beaches in summer, most terns are strictly fish-eaters. The least tern is the smallest tern species in the world!

Least terns are beach-nesters, a habitat it shares with Wilson’s plovers, American oystercatchers, and black skimmers. All four can be found nesting in the protected shorebird area next to the Ocean Course Club house. We humans also like using the same habitat for recreation, so the majority of beach-nesting birds are in decline. Kiawah is home to one of only three remaining least tern beach nesting sites in the entire state. While we encourage observation of this special area with binoculars, please keep out of the nesting area to avoid distressing birds or accidentally stepping on their well-camouflaged eggs and chicks. The leash-free dog area is adjacent to the nesting site, so if you bring your dog, please make sure to restrain it around shorebirds.

May 11, 2010 ~ Chuck-will’s-widow (Caprimulgus carolinensis)

chuck wills widowThe loud, repetitive call you might hear outside your house or villa at night is the Chuck-Wills-Widow. They are a summer resident here on Kiawah and tend to call more frequently on moonlit nights, less frequently on darker nights around the new moon. We sometimes see the chuck-wills-widow on our Kiawah Night Exploration tour. They are squat brown birds that occasionally sit on fenceposts, along roadsides, or in trees. Their eyes will glow red in the reflection of the car’s headlights.

Our other breeding nightjar is the nighthawk, which I hear at sunset at the eastern and western ends of the island; their PEEENT! call is pretty easy to recognize once you’ve heard it a few times. Whip-poor-wills migrate through Kiawah in spring and fall but don’t sing at all so they are one of the most challenging birds to add to your Kiawah list.

May 8, 2010 ~ White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

deer swimming
Photo by Captain Mike Waller
On-lookers on a Dolphin Encounters tour with Captain Mike had the unique opportunity to witness a deer crossing the Kiawah River. It appeared to be an adult doe making her way from Kiawah Island out to one of the hammocks on the western end of the island. This time of year, females may choose to make such a trek to have their fawns on the isolated islands. Fewer predators and no human traffic give their offspring a higher potential for survival. It is estimated that nearly 50% of the fawns born each year are taken down by bobcats.

May 7, 2010 ~ Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

ospreyThe Kiawah Island Community Association’s Lakes Department has surveyed the osprey nests of Kiawah and it has been a record-breaking year for osprey, at least since we started keeping records. In 2009 there were 10 nests in use but only 9 used for raising young. This year there have been 18 nest sites recorded, with seven new nest locations. The biologists of the Lakes Department aren’t sure whether these are completely new nest sites, or whether they had simply gone undiscovered last year.

May 6, 2010 ~ Broad-headed Skink (Eumeces laticeps)

broad headed skinkScincidae is a family of lizards with smooth shiny scales. They are alert and active lizards that are difficult to catch and hold. This male pictured is called a Broadhead Skink. Notice the wide head and powerful jaw muscles. During the spring months, the head of a male turns a bright orange-red color to attract females. Spectacular fights over territory occur with males grabbing hold of one another with their strong jaws, flinging each other short distances. Like all lizards, if they loose their tail, or a part of it, they are able to regenerate it. Look for them along the leaf litter on the ground or scurrying up the palmetto trees.

May 4, 2010 ~ Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis)

Out of the 5 Eastern Bluebird eggs that were laid in Night Heron Park’s Nest Box #6, a total of 5 have successfully fledged. Great news for momma and poppa bluebird and for all of us concerned with the Bluebird populations.

May 3, 2010 ~ Reptile Hatchlings

Silver-dollar sized turtle hatchlings and pint-sized baby snakes are popping out all over Kiawah. The baby yellow-bellied sliders that we see near ponds these days have actually hatched last fall, but remained in the warm security of their nest until spring. The baby snakes also hatched in fall, but they came straight out of the nest to do a bit of growing before a period of winter dormancy. Neither reptile requires parental care, so if you see a baby turtle on its own, their is no need to think of it as an “orphan” and bring it to the nature center. It is born with excellent instincts, capable of feeding itself and escaping predators. And if you don’t care for hosting snakes of any age in your yard, we have some good news! There is no need to kill or remove a baby snake. Snakes are roamers and if you leave it alone, it will depart on its own.

May 1, 2010 ~ Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

green seaturtle During the summer of 2009, “Mingo” (above) a Green Sea Turtle was found by our Naturalists in the Kiawah River off Mingo Point. Very weak and malnourished, he was taken to the South Carolina Sea Turtle Hospital for medical attention. A wonderful success story, this photo shows Mingos recent return to his home in the ocean.

Each year Kiawah Island gets a handful of Green Turtles, like Mingo that lay nests on our beach. Kiawah’’s predominant sea turtle is the Loggerhead. Each year from mid-May through mid-August female Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) come ashore and lay their eggs on our beaches. Adult and hatchling turtles make their way back to the ocean by using reflecting light from the moon or white water in the waves to guide them. Flashlights can spook the mother back into the water before she lays her eggs and house lights can attract the hatchlings up into the dunes where survival is unlikely. Please help protect these amazing animals by: 1) not shining flashlights on the beach during nesting season, 2) remember to keep your exterior lights off after 9pm, and 3) do not take flash photos of sea turtles. To learn more, join us on a Night Beach Walk, Turtle Talks or come by the Nature Center located at Night Heron Park.

April 30, 2010 ~ Souther Spider Crab (Libinia dubia)

spider crabImagine for a moment you’re walking on the beach here at Kiawah: the sun is sinking out of sight beyond Captain Sam’s Inlet and gentle waves fall listlessly against the smooth, cool sand. You, who are so captivated by the serenity and natural beauty of the island’s beachfront, stumble over a monstrous crab with legs spanning thirteen feet and attached to a 15 inch long body. Now, this scenario sounds a little far-fetched. And it mostly is. Although the Japanese Spider Crab I’m describing (which lives in deep waters around Japan) probably won’t interrupt your beach walk, you can find one of its smaller cousins, the Southern Spider Crab (Libinia dubia), living on the bottom of the Kiawah River or washed up on the beach. For a closer look at this peculiar animal come visit the Nature Center, or sign up for an Ocean Seining or Beach Walk trip to gain hands-on learning with the Southern Spider Crab and other marine animals living in the waters surrounding Kiawah Island.

April 29, 2010 ~ Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)

bunting paintedHere birdy, birdy. Too bad it’s not that easy to call these beautiful birds in to you; they’re common feeder birds but can be distinctly difficult for biologists to get their hands on during research projects. That’s why Sarah Latshaw, Master of Environmental Studies Graduate Student and Kiawah Island Naturalists, is hanging feeders at the Nature Center and around the Kiawah Island. These feeders, filled with white millet seed, attract the buntings and allow Sarah and assisting biologists to catch them for research purposes. Once caught, measurements are taken on the health of the bird, and radio-transmitters are placed on their backs. These radio-transmitters allow Sarah to relocate the birds on a regular basis and, so she can identify the habitats characteristics they seem to prefer. Through the collection of this data, Sarah hopes to create management guidelines for those residents of Kiawah (and maybe the Southeast) who would like to revegetate their home sites to attract these declining beauties.

April 28, 2010 ~ Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

common buckeye
Photo by Jamie Rood
Common Buckeye…one of the first butterflies to appear in spring and the last to disappear in December…the shiny black patch tells you this is an older butterfly, maybe 1-3 weeks old…

April 27, 2010 ~ Sea Turtles

seaturtleLast summer Kiawah Island Naturalists rescued a green sea turtle in the Kiawah River. After many months at the Sea Turtle Hospital, “Mingo” is ready to go home. This Saturday, “Mingo” and 6 other sea turtles will be released back into the ocean. This will be the largest release in the program’s history and will take us to over 50 sea turtles that have been rehabilitated and released by the South Carolina Aquarium. The release will take place on the first official day of nesting season in South Carolina, Saturday, May 1st and begin at 3:30pm at the Isle of Palms County Park. The IOP County Park opens at 10am. Space for parking is limited and parking fees apply. Carpooling is strongly advised and be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get through heavy traffic.

Photo of Tim Pifer, Kiawah Island Naturalist, rescuing “Mingo” from the Kiawah River, June 2009.

April 26, 2010 ~ Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

redbellied woodpecker
Photo by Jamie Rood

April 25, 2010 ~ Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

eagle in treeKiawah’’s juvenile Bald Eagle observations by Kiawah Resident, Paula Feldman.

…We kayaked out into the marsh with some guests in search of our fledgling. We did not hold out much hope of a sighting, because Sophia had seen the fledgling earlier in the day flying near the Kiawah River bridge. Indeed, we found the nest and the nest tree, as well as nearby trees, empty.

But after we paddled under the bridge between Andell and Snake Islands, Sophia spotted our fledgling perched in a tree on the little island just beyond Snake Island. We were able to paddle out and get very close. The attached photo was taken from that vantage point.

After about 10 minutes, our fledgling flew off, first circling the island, then heading over to Andell Island, soaring above it, high in the sky. It flew with astonishing ease and grace, as if it had been flying for a very long time. I have to admit that as soon as the fledgling took to the air, I was so filled with awe and delight that I put my camera down.

Then our fledgling circled above the nest several times, as if working out the best way to make a smooth landing on a big branch to the side of the nest. It remained there for several hours, although we paddled on after about 5 minutes.

April 24, 2010 ~ Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

A flock of about 50 bobolinks was spotted near Turtle Pond. The male bobolink is usually heard before he is seen – he sings a bubbly, energetic song that gains in both speed and complexity until you wonder how such a crazy sound can come from such a small bird. It’s definitely not a song a human could ever hope to mimic! A sparrow-shaped member of the blackbird family, this species briefly passes through Kiawah during migration and it is rare to see them here. In South Carolina they were historically known (and hated!) as the “ricebird”. On their journey from the plains of South America to the fields of the northern United States and southern Canada, they would stop in coastal rice fields to fatten up on the grains – much to the frustration of plantation managers.

Bobolinks actually increased in number before the Industrial Revolution as forests were cleared and hay fields planted across the northern US to feed horses and cattle. Sadly, as abandoned meadows have either reverted to forest or converted into housing and commercial developments, bobolinks and other Eastern grassland species have been declining dramatically. Even in hay fields that have remained open, the hay is usually harvested while the bobolinks are nesting and the eggs and babies are destroyed.

With such a long distance to fly between wintering and breeding locations, bobolink conservation is a challenge for those who would like to continue hearing this amazing bird. But there is some hope! One example is a grassland bird conservation program offered by the state of Vermont. This program pays farmers to delay their harvest until the bobolink fledglings are old enough fly away from the machinery.

April 23, 2010 ~ White-Marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma)

moth tussockThis little caterpillar (less than a half of an inch) was recently spotted feeding on a freshly emerged Live oak leaf during a nature walk through the forest. The Live oak is one of the many host plants that it relies on for nourishment at this early stage in its life. This species possesses “nettling” hairs, and contact with these will cause a skin reaction in most people. Very pretty to look at, but do not touch!

April 21, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Cougar Point Golf Course: Cougar Birdwatching Open

Notes: We had wonderful weather for birdwatching and some cooperative birds, though we left a little too late in the morning for the real birding action. Great crested flycatchers and bluebirds were all over the place. Other birds of note were hunting and nest-building green herons; lots of osprey; a very close-up pileated woodpecker; my first eastern kingbird of the spring; all three common swallow species; some ruby-crowned kinglets and white-throated sparrows still hanging out and singing before their journey north; plenty of parulas, pine warblers, and yellow-throated warblers; several singing orchard orioles and painted buntings.

Species List: Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Green Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Clapper Rail, Laughing Gull, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orchard Oriole, House Finch.

April 21, 2010 ~ Sponge

Photo by Jennifer Barbour, Kiawah Naturalist
More sponges have been found washed ashore recently. This colony species is normally found along the bottom of the ocean floor, or attached to hard substrate such as dock pilings, oyster beds, or rock jetties. To see them on the beach means there was something to disturb and detach them from their anchored habitat. Small crabs and brittle starfish can be found among the various sponges, attesting to their importance for other species seeking refuge in its structure.

April 20, 2010 ~ Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Photo by Jamie Rood

April 19, 2010 ~ Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

garter snake
Photo by Jamie Rood
This baby snake was found trying to cross the road in front of the nature center parking lot, but it was being foiled by the high curb! Luckily a naturalist saw it and rescued it from death by car tire. The three yellow stripes and black lip lines mark this as a young Eastern Garter Snake. A common snake across much of the Eastern United States, garter snakes are often called garden snakes, possibly because they are a day-active species that is frequently encountered near human habitation. They prefer moist habitats, though, and the list of their favorite prey animals reflects that: worms, slugs, frogs, toads, salamanders, fish, and tadpoles.

Unlike most reptiles, garter snakes give birth to live young rather than laying eggs. This snake was probably born last summer. The Eastern Garter Snake will happily stuff itself with slugs so it should be a welcome sight to gardener. It is not venomous and poses no threat to humans, though like any wild animal from the smallest mouse to the largest polar bear, they usually will attempt to bite in self defense when caught and handled. The best way to avoid being bitten by any snake is simply to leave it alone.

April 18, 2010 ~ Cannonball Jellyfish (Stomolophus meleagris)

cannonball jellyfish
Photo by Jennifer Barbour, Kiawah Naturalist
In recent weeks, jellyfish have been left along our beach with the ebbing tide. Our most common jellyfish, the Cannonball Jelly (as seen in the photo), has no stinging tentacles and is therefore not harmful to humans. We can look forward to seeing an increase in sea turtle numbers as they follow this food source to their local nesting grounds.

April 17, 2010 ~ Sea Turtles

Photo by the Post and Courier
We’’ve just received an update from South Carolina’s DNR Sea Turtle Coordinator and are happy to announce our sea turtles are here! About 2 miles offshore of Dewees Island (north of Kiawah), a leatherback sea turtle was sighted. There was also a report of mating loggerheads 5 miles inland, up the Colleton River. Today, the SC Aquarium also released a 2-year rehab turtle, Mama Prichard, on Isle of Palms.

April 16, 2010 ~ Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Photo by Carrie Manson from KICA Lakes Department
What looks like a duck, and acts like a duck, but is not a duck at all? The Common Moorhen, a commonly encountered resident of our marshy ponds. While it is admittedly duck-shaped, the moorhen’s long, slender toes and brightly colored chicken-like beak separate it from the web-footed, broad-billed ducks. Moorhens are in the rail family, and its eerie laughing call is reminiscent of its fellow rails like the Clapper Rail and American Coot.

When nesting season arrives in spring, moorhens build a bowl-shaped nest out of nearby grasses in the marsh. The young are born precocial – fully feathered, able to see and walk around after they emerge from the egg. Both parents help to raise the young, and are even occasionally joined by their juvenile offspring from a previous clutch. Unlike ducks, which simply lead their ducklings to food, the adults will pass food directly to the young. Young moorhens are a favorite snack for predators like alligators and bobcats, so parents will often raise more than one clutch each season. But once a young moorhen reaches its full size of around 13 inches, they are surprisingly good swimmers for such skinny-toed birds!

April 15, 2010 ~ Dwarf Sperm Whale (Kogia sima)

dwarf sperm whaleGuests to the island came in to the Nature Center this past Saturday morning wanting an identification of a ‘big fish’ they had seen washed ashore our eastern end. It happened to be a Dwarf Sperm Whale, the smallest of the whales, growing to a mere 9 feet, making it smaller than the larger migratory bottlenose dolphins. Feeding on squid, fish, and crab, they are very similar to pigmy sperm whales, and will even expel a dark ink-like substance when frightened or attacked.

April 14, 2010 ~ Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)

punting paintedThe painted buntings are returning! We have just received our first report of the season. Please post your painted bunting sightings on our facebook page (Kiawah Island Nature Program)

April 13, 2010 ~ Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

baby bluebirds
Photo by Jamie Rood

April 12, 2010 ~ Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

eagle landingOur eagle flies…observations by Paula Feldman. Yes he flew, not just a wing assisted hop, but real flight. He stood on the edge of his nest, flapped his wings, rose several inches and flew to his branch. Henry has almost earned his fledgling wings!

April 12, 2010 ~ Red Knots (Calidris canutus)

Kiawah Town Biologists observed a large group of red knots (1000+) along the western end of Kiawah’s beach. They were able to read numbered flags from 26 individuals. This information will be useful in tracking migration patterns and survival of this declining species.

April 10, 2010 ~ Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Eaglet update by Kiawah residents, Paula Feldman and Peter Mugglestone….Okay. He was only briefly in the air. And it was more like a wing-assisted, long hop to the far side of the nest. Henry did, indeed, if ever so briefly, take to the air today. Peter and I watched as he walked out on a branch outside the nest and sat for a while, 90 feet up with the strong wind blowing his feathers. He looked fearless, as if he had been there before. He exercised his wings a bit, showing off his new flight feathers, and then hopped up and over to the other side of his nest, using his wings for lift. He enjoyed this so much that he did it several more times, going back and forth across the nest, before finally settling down inside. While this was all going on, one of his parents flew into the nearby trees without visiting the nest. At one point, they called back and forth to one another. Visit our Kiawah Island Nature Program Facebook page to see their photos.

April 8, 2010 ~ Herp. Report

toadTour: Jr. Naturalist Herpetology
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Location: Sanctuary grounds

Species list:
1 American Toad (drift fence)
1 Spadefoot Toad (drift fence)
1 young Black Racer (coverboard)
1 Cotton Rat (coverboard)
2 Ground Skinks (drift fence)
1 beautiful red centipede (drift fence)

April 6, 2010 ~ Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

baby bobcatThe first bobcat den of the season found the today near Flyway Drive. Town Biologists, Jim Jordan and Aaron Given, located the den of bobcat (#220) which had 3 kittens, 2 males and 1 female.

April 6, 2010 ~ Feather Report

black necked stiltTour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: 60s-70s, clear
Locations: Marsh Island Park, Osprey Point, Willet Pond/Ocean Course Beach

Notes: For the first time since early fall: no yellow-rumped warblers today! The most surprising sight today was large amounts of adult Northern Gannets in the distance, probably migrating up north. Some teal and scaup were still hanging out at Willet Pond, but a little too far off to admire properly. Today is the first appearance of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Least Terns on our bird trips; I also noticed some recent arrivals this morning on my drive in: Summer Tanager, Cattle Egret, and Barn Swallow. We got nice looks at the stilts today, they were very active. The fledgling owls at Osprey have presumably learned to fly, as they were nowhere to be seen.

Species List: Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Pied-billed Grebe, Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Green Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Moorhen, Black-necked Stilt, Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Sanderling, Peep sp., Dunlin, Laughing Gull, Forster’s Tern, Least Tern, Royal Tern, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Tree Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Northern Parula, Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, House Finch.

April 5, 2010 ~ Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

As part of Kiawah’s 2010 bobcat research, Town Biologists, Jim Jordan and Aaron Given have collared 6 bobcats with GPS tracking devices. By monitoring bobcats via GPS, our biologists can determine their habitat range, preferred habitat type, and denning sites: all very valuable information in our efforts to protect our island bobcats. As they study this week’s GPS points, they now know that 2 of our collared females are currently denning. Jim and Aaron will now physically try to locate the dens, collecting valuable information on the reproductive success and denning requirements of our bobcats.

April 5, 2010 ~ Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus)

polyphemus mothSighting and photo by Resort Naturalist, Sarah Ernst.

When I first started seeing thumb-sized, khaki-colored, empty cocoons on the forest floor this spring, I knew it was time to start looking for the Polyphemus Moth. As it is one of the largest moths in North America, with a wingspan up to five and a half inches, an encounter with a Polyphemus Moth is not one you’re likely to forget. This individual is actually on the smaller side! A larger individual that visited my porch a little later was a more camera shy. Both were male, doing their only adulthood job: finding a female to mate with. Like most members of the giant silkmoth family (Saturniidae), the Polyphemus has no functional mouthparts; once it pupates, it will never eat again.

April 4, 2010 ~ Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

eagle in treePhoto and observations by Kiawah residents, Paula Feldman and Marilyn Blizard….As you can see, the eagle chick is nearly as big as its parents and getting more and more adventurous.

Did you know…Eagle chicks are full grown when they leave the nest at 12 weeks and frequently weigh more than adults.

April 2, 2010 ~ Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

pair of ospreyA new osprey nest for the 2010 season is located at Bass Pond. One osprey was on the top limb eating a fish while the other was sitting in the nest presumably incubating their eggs. The dock at bass pond provides a great view of the nest, which is located directly to the left on the top of a tall pine tree.

April 1, 2010 ~ Least Terns (Sternula antillarum)

least ternOur Town biologist report: Three least terns were seen on the eastern end of Kiawah’s beach today. This is the first least tern sighting of the year. These birds will be going through courtship rituals and initiating nests in the coming weeks.

April 1, 2010 ~ Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

great horned owlRescue of Great Horned Owlet at Osprey Point Golf Course

March 31, 2010 ~ Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

osprey nestOsprey are probably the easiest raptor to find on Kiawah – it’s a rare day we don’t see at least one on our Back Island Birding trips – and lucky for us, they are both beautiful animals and fascinating to watch. Exclusively fish-eating birds, osprey dive headfirst to the water to build up speed and pull up at the last moment to use their strong, maneuvrable talons to snag their slippery prey.

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen osprey flying around Kiawah with sticks in their talons, “refurnishing” their nests from last year or building new ones. Now they have settled down to the serious business of raising the next generation of osprey. About a dozen osprey nests are scattered throughout Kiawah and it is the perfect time of year to see them sitting on the nest. Soon, with the help of a good pair of binoculars, we should be able to see the chicks as well!

March 30, 2010 ~ Baby Animal Season

baby squirrelIt’s baby animal season on Kiawah and as the young start exploring the area around their nest, they come into increased contact with people who might be concerned that the animal is an orphan. In most cases, when you find a baby animal such as a squirrel, rabbit, raccoon, fawn, or bird, it has not been abandoned by its parents. Instead, it is learning how to climb, run, hop, and/or fly! Mammals and birds are excellent parents and still still continue to care for the baby if it ends up out of the nest.

Before you pick up a baby animal and bring it to the nature center, please give their natural parents a chance to reclaim their young. Leave the animal as it is or if necessary, move it to a nearby safe spot like under a shrub. Give the parents enough privacy and time to find their baby: we recommend at least 6 hours. If you can see the nest that the animal came from, it’s ok to put the baby back in the nest – an experienced, healthy mother will not reject her young, no matter how much they smell of humans! It is also ok to put the baby on a hot water bottle or heating pad to keep it warm.

If the baby still remains in the same spot after at least 6 hours, give the Nature Center a call and we will give advice and take further steps if necessary to provide care. If the animal has been obviously injured (open wounds), please call us, though remember that baby birds in particular are awkward little things that can’t fly yet! To us they appear injured and alone, but it is a normal part of a bird’s life and the parents will continue to feed them even though they are no longer in the nest.

We very much appreciate your concern for Kiawah’s wildlife. In the last year we been able to rescue everything from a property owner’s lost cat to pelicans with 7-feet wingspans, and even an endangered green sea turtle!

March 30, 2010 ~ Feather Report

flock of birdsTour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: 60s-70s, clear
Locations: Marsh Island Park, Osprey Point, Willet Pond/Ocean Course Beach

Notes: Today was a bird trip of hidden secrets: when we first approached a place, it would appear quiet until we kept quiet ourselves and then some neat birds would start to pop up. Songbird highlights included a really good look at my first prairie warbler of the year and much briefer looks at a blue-headed vireo and a field sparrow. The teal and mergansers are gone, but a lone scaup represented the duck family, probably one of our last ducks of the season. Pied-billed grebes have started to move into their breeding plumage. Other highlights included a total of 8 stilts in Willet Pond and a nice adult bald eagle flyover.

Species List: Lesser Scaup, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Green Heron, White Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Moorhen, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Sanderling, Peep sp., Laughing Gull, Herring Gull, Forster’s Tern, Black Skimmer, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue-headed Vireo, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Mockingbird, Europena Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Palm Warbler, Field Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle

March 28, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Guide: William Oakley
Tour: Back Island Birding
Locations: The Preserve, Osprey Point, Willet and Ibis Ponds, The Ocean Course
Weather: mid to high 60’s, cloudy early then sunny for remainder of trip; pleasant breeze in open areas.

Notes: The no-see-ums (aka biting midges) did not prevent us from enjoying some decent birding out on the Preserve pond view tower. The Solitary Sandpiper was a big hit, as were the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers and the Tri-colored Heron who stood uncomfortably close to a large ‘gator in Blue Heron Pond. Two feathered owlets greeted us at Osprey Point where the small raptors sat patiently in their nest alert to any would-be-predators. Mom (or dad) served as sentry, perched several feet above the nest keeping a watchful eye on the ospreys that also fly around the area. Besides the Great-Horned Owls, the biggest hit had to be the male American Kestrel perched on a fence next to the Ocean Course driving range. As the most brightly-colored falcon in the world, it’s easy to lose focus on other birds in the area and just marvel at this magnificent raptor species. But we moved on and caught glimpses of oystercatchers, a killdeer, an unidentified “peep”, willet, and bluebirds. My favorite birding trip so far.

Species: Osprey, Great Horned Owl, American Kestrel, House Finch, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Mourning Dove, Brown Pelican, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Trasher, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Carolina Wren, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Willet, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Red-winged Blackbird, American Crow, Brown-headed Cowbird, Boat-tailed Grackle, American Coot, Lesser Scaup, Solitary Sandpiper, Double-Crested Cormorant, Anhinga

March 27, 2010 ~ Myrtle Warbler (Dendroica coronata)

Every now and again you’ll come across an old-school birder who still refers to yellow-rumped warblers as myrtle warblers. Now they’ve suddenly become new-school again: The Yellow-rumped Warbler has been re-split into the west-coast “Audubon’s Warbler” and east-coast “Myrtle Warbler”.

March 26, 2010 ~ Stingray

Photo by Pam Cohen
When a dead stingray washes up on the beach, it lets curious naturalists get a rare peak at the underside of this bottom-feeding fish. The mouth is located towards the front of the animal and functions similar to a vacuum cleaner, sucking up marine invertebrates like clams and worms from the bottom of the ocean floor. Strong plate-like teeth can easily crush hard-shelled mollusks. The two holes on either side of the mouth are her nostrils; relying heavily upon their senses of smell and touch, stingrays rarely use their eyes (located on the topside) to find food. While we can’t see them without a microscope, stingrays and their shark cousins possess another sense: electrical sensors, with the impressive name of “Ampullae of Lorenzini”, that are used to sense the weak electrical pulses produced by animal movement in the mud and sand.

After the mouth, you can see the five pairs of gill slits on the ray’s belly. Just like humans and other air-breathers, fish require oxygen to survive and must get it from the water. Other fish, including sharks, pull in water through their mouth and push it through their gills to filter their oxygen from the water. But you might imagine the problems this would cause in a stingray – they’d be pulling in endless amounts of mud, and very little water! So stingrays have solved this problem by using spiracles, small holes located behind the fish’s eyes. The water is then pushed out through the gills located on the underside of the ray.

Looking at this ray, we can even tell that it is a female. Like all other cartilaginous fish (sharks, rays, and skates), male stingrays possess a pair of claspers near their rear fins. Lacking a pair of hands for a tender embrace, these are used help position the female for mating. He also grows sharper teeth in the breeding season to hold onto her front end.

March 25, 2010 ~ Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Photo by Kiawah resident Paula Feldman
From Kiawah resident, Marilyn Blizard…..

This is the 8th year for our Kiawah Island eagles to have an active nest. So as you might recall, I’’ve been naming the chicks alphabetically & ‘H’ is the 8th letter of the order of things with a male name due. My friend Diana Peterson came up with the perfect choice – Henry VIII. Previous years had a fledgling by the end of February – so this chick is a late-comer.

March 24, 2010 ~ Feather Report

eastern bluebirdTour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: Beautiful birding weather: sunny, clear, calm, ranging from the low to upper 60s
Locations: Turtle Pond, Osprey Point, Ibis Pond, Willet Pond, Ocean Course clubhouse + beach

Notes: Nice variety of birds today! Today was my first sighting of the year of one of my favorite bird species, black-necked stilts, and the first singing marsh wren I’ve encountered this spring. At Turtle Pond we watched a male red-bellied woodpecker excavate a hole he had made in a dead palmetto tree. He kept popping his head out with a beakful of wood shavings and dropping them to drift down to the forest floor. A very neat (and cute) behavior to watch, and a reminder of how important it is to leave dead trees up for cavity-nesting birds! The osprey at Osprey Point looks to be incubating her eggs, and the osprey pair at Willet Pond have rebuilt their nest, though it’s not quite as big as the one that fell.

Species List: Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, unidentified peep (western or semipalmated sandpipers), Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Horned Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Marsh Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, House Finch

March 23, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: 60s, clear, windy
Locations: The tower at Blue Heron Pond, Osprey Point, Willet Pond, Ocean Course Clubhouse

Notes: Highlight today is the first merlin I’ve ever seen on a Back Island Birding trip! We first saw it disappearing through the bushes while looking at a handsome male kestrel. Then we saw it perched on the Ocean Course clubhouse and followed in the van for a while. The blue-winged teal were still at Willet Pond. The only hooded mergansers we could find today were female; looks like the males have already left for their summer breeding territory. We saw one great-horned owlet in the nest along with an adult; it has feathered out a lot but is still pretty young and should give us a few more weeks of baby owl watching!

Species List: Blue-winged Teal, Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, unidentified egret (possible cattle?), Wood Stork, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, American Kestrel, Merlin, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Great Horned Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Fish Crow, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet,Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal

March 17, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: 50s, cloudy, some wind on the beach
Locations: Osprey Point, Willet Pond, Ocean Course driving range/beach

Notes: Lots of exciting bird action today with a record-breaking total of 71 species! Highlights include a flock of blue-winged teal at Willet Pond and a few also flying along the ocean; a flock of 8 red-breasted mergansers in the lagoon behind the Ocean Course driving range; a horned grebe in the ocean; the female turkey that has been hanging out at the ocean course; 3 different immature eagles and lots of osprey at the beach; the most Wilson’s plovers I have seen since summer; more oystercatchers in one place than I have seen in a while; a large flock of red knots; 3 snipe in Willet Pond; and a field sparrow in the ocean course dunes. Yeesh! How much fun! We met biologists from US Fish and Wildlife Service on the beach as they conducted a piping plover survey. Another bird that stands out today for me was a ruby-crowned kinglet that was hopping around in the sand with the song sparrows; usually they are more of a forest species, and I’ve never seen one foraging like that before.

Species List: Blue-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Wild Turkey, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Clapper Rail, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Caspian Tern, Forster’s Tern, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, House Finch

March 15, 2010 ~ Flutter Report

Now that it is finally warming up, the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) are putting in their first springtime appearances. This Sunday I spotted around 6 Monarchs at Mingo Point – probably individuals that overwintered as adults on hummock islands. Yesterday a Cloudless Sulphur did a surprise flyby in my yard on Johns Island, probably also an overwintering adult. I set up my moth light last night and got a couple new species: a Red-winged Sallow, lots of Woolly Grays, a Curve-Toothed Geometer, and an Alternate Woodling (I think – this species is very tricky).

Keep your eyes open for other overwintering, early spring butterfly species: Question Marks and Eastern Commas, Sleepy Oranges and American Snouts. A random Cabbage White might also make an appearance. Some spring butterflies don’t go to flowers because there are not as many available in early spring – sap, carrion, and animal waste are other food sources – so look along wooded edges as well.

One species that overwinters as a pupa and only can be seen a few weeks in March/April is the Falcate Orangetip. This species is not on our butterfly list but I’ve seen plenty on Johns Island and I’m sure they’re here too, so if you see one let me know so I can add it to the list! Males are white with yellow-orange wingtips, females are white. Both have a single black spot on each forewing and the underside of the hindwing is mottled with black. Males are easy to see because they are constantly on the wing, patrolling their territory.

March 11, 2010 ~ Giant Water Bug (Belostomatidae)

little blue
Photo by Pam Cohen
The giant water bug is certainly one of the largest and most interesting insects found on Kiawah Island. It is in an order of insects known as “true bugs” and can reach lengths of up to two inches. The defining feature of a “true bug” is their possession of modified mouthparts that enable them to pierce and suck. This bug will usually grab hold of a plant near the water surface, and stick their short breathing tube out of the water to allow them to breathe while waiting for prey. With their powerful front legs they are able to grab bugs and other prey such as small fish, frogs and salamanders. They pierce their prey with their sharp beak and secrete enzymes that dissolve the body tissues, thus allowing them to suck up the resulting liquid. Indeed, their bite is considered one of the most painful that can be inflicted by any insect; the longer the giant water bug is allowed to inject its saliva, the worse the resulting bite, and as the saliva liquefies muscle tissue, it can in rare instances do permanent damage. Another distinguishing characteristic is the fact that the wings overlap at the hind end of the abdomen. It forms an X like pattern. Other than that, the sheer size of the insect and the unusual shape of the front legs help identify it which sets it apart from all of the rest in the insect world.

March 11, 2010 ~ American Alligator

baby gatorIf any of you follow “Wildlife: As We See It” regularly, you’re familiar with the thrill our staff experienced last fall when hatchling alligators made a daily showing at the Night Heron Park bridge. Well, that excitement was renewed yesterday when three of the original eight young tiny gators made their first appearance after a long winter in their den with the mother alligator. We will keep you posted…

March 10, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: Low to upper 60s, cloudy with occasional sunshine, slightly humid, almost no wind.
Locations: Marsh Island Park, Osprey Point, a quick drive-by of Ibis and Willet Ponds

Notes: We went to Marsh Island just in case any painted buntings had arrived early, but it was pretty quiet over there, with no new spring/summer bird species yet. A bald eagle was perched across the river but was so far away that we could only make it out with the spotting scope. We had much better luck at Osprey Point: two owlets made their debut appearance at the nest! They are still young and do not have much down around their face, so right now they look like one of the weirder creations of Jim Henson. A pair of osprey were on their cell phone tower nest as well. It’s nesting season for some of the smaller birds as well: the cardinals and carolina wrens were singing like crazy today, and yesterday I watched chickadees bring several batches of moss – one of their favorite nesting materials – to a bluebird house.

Species List: Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Accipiter sp. (probably a Cooper’s), American Coot, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, Fish Crow, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, American Goldfinch

March 6, 2010 ~ Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

West end eagle update from Kiawah resident, Paula Feldman. Peter and I kayaked out to the eagle’s nest this afternoon and saw one chick in the nest. It stretched its wings and moved about but did not look ready to fledge. The parent bird sat on a nearby branch.

March 5, 2010 ~ Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

bobcat tracksWhen you think of a bobcat, you may picture a wild cat stalking through the forest, or disappearing in an overgrown field. But here on Kiawah, you are just as likely to see a bobcat strolling along the beach. Bobcat tracks are easy to tell apart from dog and fox tracks because, just like domestic cats, bobcats can retract their claws while they walk to keep them sharp for climbing and killing prey. Unless the track is in deep mud, you are unlikely to see claw marks left by bobcats. Bobcats, domestic cats, and cougars all have a very similar track, but domestic cats are much smaller in size and cougars are far larger. On Kiawah, we have few pet cats left outside, and the nearest cougar – a species of cat that has been eradicated from the state – is at in the zoo at Charlestowne Landing.

The wild thickets and undisturbed solitude of Captain Sam’s Spit provides perfect habitat for bobcats, where they prey upon rodents, birds, and other small animals. But thickets are hard to navigate, so bobcats will often use the beach as a shortcut as they make their nightly territorial rounds. In the morning, if a high tide hasn’t wiped them out, we often see bobcat tracks on our Captain Sam’s Tidal Trip right alongside cockle shells and weathered prickly pears. We also often see bobcat scat, sometimes on its own in a highly visible place to mark territory, or in a latrine site used habitually by an individual. The fur and small bones easily visible in a bobcat scat tells you it is from no Friskies-eating housecat!

March 4, 2010 ~ Feather Report

robin birdTour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: Windy, cold (in the mid to upper 40s); we spent most of the time peering for birds from the well-heated van! This turned out to be positive because it allowed us to cover more ground than usual and observe large numbers of hawks.
Locations: Turtle Pond, Osprey Point, Falcon Point, Bass Pond

Notes: Our human silhouettes safely hidden in the van, an Eastern Phoebe let us get very close and watch it hunt bugs and drink from a puddle. Admittedly the phoebe possesses one of our most drab bird plumages, but they are so bold and have so much character that they are a delight to watch. Despite the wind there were lots of red-tailed hawks out today – my guess was about 6 individuals, with some duplicate sightings. Red-tailed hawks are monogamous and will defend their nesting territory year-round, but it is the beginning of their nesting season, so they could have been exhibiting more territorial behavior than usual.

Species List: Hooded Merganser, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, White Ibis, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Moorhen, Caspian Tern, Great Horned Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Grackle sp.

March 3, 2010 ~ Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

eagle flyingEagle Update from Island resident Paula Feldman: “When Peter and I were kayaking in the marsh yesterday, we saw a bald eagle, carrying a fish, fly into the nest on Andell Island (just to the left of the bridge that you can see from the Inlet Cove dock). We watched while she ate the fish and then fed it to at least one chick in the nest. We couldn’’t tell how many there were because the chick or chicks that she was bending down to feed were deep in the nest. I thought that you would like to know!”

The naturalists at the Nature Center have also spotted pair-bonding behavior between the two adult eagles, multiple adult eagles near the nesting site, and several juveniles working the eastern end of the island, perhaps chicks from previous years or new arrivals.

March 2, 2010 ~ White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

white tailed deerAfter sampling choice tidbits of her landscaping, this whitetail deer was photographed by Kiawah resident Kathy Heikes. This young buck still has some growing to do before he can compete with the larger 6 and 8 pointers found on Kiawah. Large antlers are a boon for attracting females and winning fights with other males, but their weight and bulk make them a liability out of the breeding season. So once the breeding season ends, male deer cast off their antlers. The winter and early spring months are a great time of year to search for shed antlers. Some people even train dogs to find antlers for their collection. But you have to act quickly to find a perfect specimen: antlers are a rich source of calcium for squirrels, mice, and other rodents. Their ever-growing incisors leave long, chiseled tooth marks on stray bones and antlers.

March 1, 2010 ~ Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

turkey volturesKiawah has two resident vulture species: black and turkey. On Back Island Birding excursions, the two species can be tricky to tell apart when they appear to be no more than black dots riding a thermal thousands of feet away. When they bank along a curve, however, two clues help a birder distinguish black vultures from turkey vultures. Turkey vultures are named for their long tail that projects far beyond their body and wings; in comparison, the black vulture has a much shorter tail that is more difficult to discern from the rest of the bird’s body. The underside of a turkey vulture’s wings has a broad white stripe of feathers all along the hind edge of the wing; black vultures have white patches just at the wingtips.

There are also behavioral differences between the two vulture species. Turkey vultures are one of only a few species of native birds in the United States that have a well developed sense of smell; they specialize in soaring low over forests, scenting for animal carcasses half-eaten by predators. These mild-mannered creatures are scavengers upon dead animals and cannot kill live animals; their beaks are so weak that they can’t tear through skin, and their claws are so weak that they can’t even carry a mouse. Despite their ungainly manner on land, they are seldom threatened by predators due to an unpleasant habit of vomiting their most recent meal of carrion upon the intruder. Cars and power lines pose a greater threat to this gentle bird species.

Black vultures, on the other hand, have no sense of smell, so they have to rely upon eyesight to find a carcass. Sometimes they will spot a predator like a bald eagle eating a fish, then arrive to finish off the fish after the bald eagle has had its fill. Other times they will follow a turkey vulture to a carcass, then chase it away once it has landed. While turkey vultures are larger than black vultures, black vultures are more social and aggressive, and this has allowed them to prey upon the occasional sickly or newborn animal. Before we castigate the black vulture for being cruel and evil, however, remember that the bald eagle also eats carrion and has been known to attack weak, newborn animals, or even small pet dogs and cats let unattended in yards. So maybe we can learn to imbue the humble black vulture with the same nobility that we assign to the magnificent bald eagle!

February 28, 2010 ~ Sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus)

sheapshead fishFishing Report from Captain Mike Waller

“With the water temperature rising from the bitterly cold winter, the fishing has been better this week than last week after the snow fall. We are catching sheepshead around docks using fiddler crabs. I have an underwater camera to see where the fish are. I took this picture of the camera lens with my digital camera to show how many fish are there.”

February 27, 2010 ~ Orange-Crowned Warbler (Vermivora celata)

orange crowned warblerOur cold weather has kept down the numbers of insects and other small land invertebrates this winter. Fewer ticks in the fields and bushes is great news for naturalists who enjoy tramping through wild areas in search of new discoveries, but a disappointment for hungry tick-eating birds. As berries and insect supplies get depleted, more and more songbirds are depending on backyard birdfeeders. Even the normally reclusive orange-crowned warbler has been photographed by Kiawah resident Kathy Heikes on her bird feeding set-up.

Kathy’s yard is a wildlife hot spot because she uses different types of food to attract a wide variety of birds. In addition to seeds – here at the Nature Center we create a mix of black oil sunflower seeds, millet seed, peanut chips, and cracked corn – you can also use suet to attract bluebirds and other insect-eating birds, oranges and grape jelly to attract colorful orioles, and plain un-dyed sugar water to attract the increasing number of overwintering ruby-throated hummingbirds and even rufous hummingbirds. Different types of feeders attract different types of birds – use a low, flat feeder with millet and cracked corn for your ground-feeding sparrows and doves. Perhaps the most important thing you can provide for birds in colder climates than ours is fresh water, with a heater to prevent it from freezing. To put the finishing touches on your bird-magnet yard, provide a variety of native shrubs and small trees for cover. Bonus points if they produce fruit or seeds that birds can eat!

February 23, 2010 ~ Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Both the human and animal residents of Kiawah have welcomed the last few warm days after a cold, wet winter. While looking for alligators sunning themselves on a Gator Walk, Naturalists have recently spotted their smaller relatives also taking advantage of the warm sunny days. This green anole (Anolis carolinensis) was found on a boardwalk; her brown color and lethargic behavior are evidence of the previous chilly night. Their adhesive footpads make this very common lizard an excellent climber. Meanwhile, in the leaf litter their terrestrial counterpart, the ground skink (Scincella lateralis), has also been seen, albeit in far more brief glimpses. This small, nervous lizard has shiny brown scales and is extremely skilled at slipping away as a Naturalist attempts to catch it!

February 22, 2010 ~ Eastern Screech Owl

screech owlThis injured Eastern Screech Owl was found by the side of the road and brought to the nature center. Naturalist Tim Pifer brought it to the Center for Birds of Prey, where it was diagnosed with neurological damage, probably after being hit by a car as it flew across the road. The owl is currently being held to determine whether the neurological damage is temporary or permanent. Eastern screech owls prey upon a wide variety of insects and small vertebrates like mice, birds, and lizards. When they dive across a road after food, they usually don’t notice any oncoming cars, so it’s important to stay alert and keep to the speed limit while driving along Kiawah’s dark, wooded roads!

Eastern Screech owls are monogamous and mate for life. Listening for their eerie calls to one another – sometimes described as a cross between a ghost and a horse – is the best way to track them down. Here on Kiawah, we have seen both color phases on our Kiawah Night Exploration: gray and the less common red. Because they look like miniature great horned owls, some people mistake screech owls for baby owls. But this charming owl species is fully grown at just around 6-10 inches long. Though their fluffy feathers give them an impression of weightiness, they weigh in at just half a pound.

Special thanks to local resident Mr. Alexandre for collecting the owl and transporting it to the Nature Center.

February 21, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: Sunny, mild (mid-50s to low 60s), just a bit of wind, absolutely beautiful!
Locations: The Preserve, Ibis Pond, the loop along the Ocean Course beach and driving range

Notes: Another wonderful action-packed birding morning today with a total of 58 species! A high tide and quiet surf made for some excellent ocean bird watching. Gannets, both species of loon, red-breasted mergansers, and many cormorants were in the ocean along with some dolphins. Much to our delight, a pair of marbled godwits joined a mixed flock of dunlin, western sandpipers, and Foster’s terns. American oystercatchers, bald eagles, and golden-crowned kinglets were other good birds for today. We skipped the owl nest at Osprey Point due to running well over in time, but we still managed to hear one hooting out in the Preserve!

Species List: Black Scoter, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, Red-throated Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Caspian Tern, Foster’s Tern, Great Horned Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, House Finch

February 18, 2010 ~ Eastern Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

pelicanThis past Valentine’s Day, Naturalist William Oakley rescued an injured Brown Pelican from the front porch of a property owner’s home. The pelican, which William named Eros after the Greek primordial god of love and beauty, was captured and transported back to the Nature Center. The total damage to the bird included two fishing hooks embedded in its left wing and chest and fishing line and weight wrapped around the bird’s left wing. With the assistance of Nature Center employee Rachel Crosby, Will was able to remove the hook from the wing along with the line and weight, but the second hook proved more difficult. Eros the pelican is now receiving medical attention at the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw, SC.

Fishing hooks and line left floating in rivers, ponds, and the ocean, are a leading cause of injuries to Brown Pelicans. So when fishing on or around the island, let’s do our best to protect the pelicans (and other animals) by retrieving and properly disposing of any tangled or broken fishing lines and hooks. Monofilament recycle stations can be found throughout the island including inside our Nature Center at Night Heron Park.

Special thanks to the Weiner Family for their efforts to save this pelican’s life. We hope to have an update from the Center for Birds of Prey soon.

February 17, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: Sunny and clear but a little brisk – in the 40s
Locations: Osprey Pt Golf Course, Ibis Pond, Willet Pond, Turtle Pond

Notes: We had very enjoyable birding today. While I am used to seeing hooded mergansers because they are our most common pond duck, I was overwhelmed today by very large flocks of mergansers everywhere we went. The redhead flock was back on Ibis Pond, and the great horned owl on her nest. An Eastern towhee was another nice find today, though in a typical towhee fashion it skulked around the bush and didn’t come out to give us a good view. One mystery sandpiper gave me a good identification challenge at Willet Pond, I’ve temprarily settled on Lesser Yellowlegs but it was so far away that I couldn’t confirm it.

Species List: Redhead, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed hawk, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs?, Caspian Tern, Great Horned Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird

February 15, 2010 ~ Great Backyard Bird Count 2010 (Part 2)

birds bathing
Photo by Jamie Rood
In about 4 hours of beautiful weather before the rain began, we got an excellent count of 61 species and lots of shorebirds! No rarities today, but good birds for today included a flock of red-breasted mergansers at the end of the Ocean Course driving range pond, 2 piping plovers, a nice big group of about 150 western sandpipers, and the great horned owl at Osprey Pt Golf Course. Two of the pelicans we saw were banded!

Report by: Sarah Ernst, Resort Naturalist
Number of Participants: 6
Number of Species: 61

Species: Bufflehead – 15, Hooded Merganser – 66 Confirmed, Red-breasted Merganser – 8, Ruddy Duck – 2, Pied-billed Grebe – 7, Brown Pelican – 24, Double-crested Cormorant – 35, Anhinga – 3, Great Blue Heron – 4, Great Egret – 17, Snowy Egret – 6, Little Blue Heron – 3, Tricolored Heron – 3, Black-crowned Night-Heron – 5, White Ibis – 11, Black Vulture – 1, Turkey Vulture – 8, Osprey – 3, Bald Eagle – 1, Common Moorhen – 8, American Coot – 2, Black-bellied Plover – 3, Semipalmated Plover – 6, Piping Plover – 2, Killdeer – 2, American Oystercatcher – 2, Greater Yellowlegs – 2, Willet – 1, Ruddy Turnstone – 3, Sanderling – 44 Confirmed, Western Sandpiper – 150 Confirmed, Dunlin – 124 Confirmed, Ring-billed Gull – 38, Herring Gull – 19, Caspian Tern – 2,0 Confirmed, Forster’s Tern – 30, Great Horned Owl – 1, Belted Kingfisher – 2, Red-bellied Woodpecker – 2, Northern Flicker – 1, Blue Jay – 4, American Crow – 7, Fish Crow – 8, Carolina Chickadee – 8, Tufted Titmouse – 2, Carolina Wren – 4, Eastern Bluebird – 1, American Robin – 2, Gray Catbird – 1, Northern Mockingbird – 3, Brown Thrasher – 1, European Starling – 21, Cedar Waxwing – 55, Yellow-rumped Warbler – 140, Palm Warbler – 4, Savannah Sparrow – 3, Song Sparrow – 1, White-throated Sparrow – 3, Northern Cardinal – 4, Red-winged Blackbird – 25, Common Grackle – 40

February 13, 2010 ~ Great Backyard Bird Count 2010 (Part 1)

serious nesting
Photo by Jamie Rood
The highlights of this walk included 10 piping plovers, 5 red-breasted mergansers, a red-throated loon (I’ll swoon for a red-throated loon!), a female kestrel, 2 red knot, and a great black-backed gull.

Report by: Sarah Ernst, Resort Naturalist
Participants: 10
Number of Species: 42

Species: Bufflehead – 14, Hooded Merganser – 1, Red-breasted Merganser – 5, Red-throated Loon – 1, Brown Pelican – 4, Double-crested Cormorant – 48, Great Blue Heron – 1, Great Egret – 1, Snowy Egret – 2, Black Vulture – 3, Turkey Vulture – 4, Osprey – 1, Bald Eagle – 2, American Kestrel – 1, Black-bellied Plover – 3, Piping Plover – 10, American Oystercatcher – 2, Greater Yellowlegs – 1, Willet – 4,Ruddy Turnstone – 5, Red Knot – 2, Sanderling – 12, Dunlin – 120 Confirmed, Laughing Gull – 8, Ring-billed Gull – 100, Herring Gull – 60, Great Black-backed Gull – 1, gull sp. – 20, Forster’s Tern – 3, Red-bellied Woodpecker – 1, American Crow – 8, Carolina Chickadee – 4, Tufted Titmouse – 7, Carolina Wren – 1, Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 1, American Robin – 6, Northern Mockingbird – 1, Yellow-rumped Warbler – 5, Palm Warbler – 1, Savannah Sparrow – 2, Northern Cardinal – 1, Red-winged Blackbird – 6.

February 12, 2010 ~ Beachcombing

beachcombingWinter is the perfect time to go beachcombing on Kiawah: the winter waves and storms churn up rare treasures from many miles offshore, and the smaller number of people on the beach increases your chances of discovering that choice shell. But even with the good beachcombing conditions, Kiawah visitors Maeve and Ella from Chicago were exceptionally sharp-eyed beachcombers and had excellent luck this week. Here they show some of their best finds, a rare Giant Tun shell and a dolphin vertebrae. They also found a pelican leg bone, a large fish skull, and what looked to be a piece of a sea turtle’s shell!

Maeve and Ella also know the importance of leaving behind most of the many shells that they found on the beach. We do encourage visitors to take home a few of their most special beach discoveries – and we Naturalists have been known to slip a unusual shell or bone in the pockets of our life vests during a Pluff Mud Paddle – but we also encourage visitors to refrain from taking home multiple bags of shells, sea stars, sand dollars, and other artifacts found on the beach. Not only does this give other people a chance to do some beachcombing, it also leaves food and nutrients in the beach ecosystem. Dead sea stars get recycled into laughing gull, eroding cockle shells provide calcium for building new shells, and the housing market is still hot among hermit crabs for empty whelk shells. And in our opinion, a single colorful moon snail shell showcased on a bedroom shelf, rather than forgotten in a drawer with hundreds of other shells, will do a much better job of reminding you of Kiawah’s splendid beaches.

February 11, 2010 ~ American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

With springtime just around the corner, many of Kiawah Island’s plants and animals will emerge from their winter dormancy and begin showcasing their respective courting displays. And the American Alligator is no exception. If you’ve every spent time on the island during the spring, then you’re probably familiar with the thundering roars emanating from the ponds. These loud roaring calls come from the alligators and are referred to as a bellow. Alligators are known to be one of the most vocal crocodilian species, and they will spontaneously bellow after dawn throughout the year but are most active during the spring courtship season and less active in winter.

Both males and females bellow and often together in choruses. Males, though, tend to have an infrasound component, referred to as sub-audible vibrations (SAV), just prior to the audible bellow. Bellowing is thought to serve as an attractant to alligators of opposite sex and to space out animals of same sex. If you’re in the right place at the right time, watch the alligators bellow and you’ll see these calls are performed from an unique posture called the “head oblique tail arched” (HOTA) posture, where only the head and tail are visible above the water surface.

Catching an alligator in mid-bellow can be a matter of luck. If you haven’t yet had a chance to hear an alligator bellow on Kiawah, stop by our Nature Center in Night Heron Park and visit our new interactive touch screen program to explore a variety of mysterious night sounds heard on Kiawah, including the primordial bellow of an alligator!

February 10, 2010 ~ Back Island Birding

hooded merganzerTour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Tim Pifer- First birding tour of the year
Weather: sunny, very windy, very cold (lower 40’s)
Locations: Bridge at Killdeer Pond, Marshview Tower in the Preserve, Osprey Point, Willet Pond, Ibis Pond Notes: The wind and cold limited the number of species we could find and kept us off the beach.

Highlight: flock of ~30 redheads really close to us in Ibis Pond. Very awesome! The Great Horned Owl looked really cold sitting in the nest during this cold windy morning. Got some great woodpecker views in the preserve with the spotting scope.

Species List: Redhead, Lesser Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, Pied-billed grebe, Double Crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawk, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Caspian Tern, Forsters Tern, Mourning Dove, Great Horned Owl, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Turkey Vultures, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Ruby Crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red Winged Blackbird, Common Grackle and Boat-tailed Grackle

February 9, 2010 ~ Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

For a 2nd year in a row the Great Horned Owls are nesting on the Osprey Point Golf Course. Join our weekly Back Island Birding tour to get a closer look at these incredible birds.

February 5, 2010 ~ Bubble Gum Lichen

bubblegum lichensThe live oak trees is a keystone forest species that plays host to a great number of other organisms, including Spanish Moss, Resurrection Fern, and this bizarre hot pink substance. Sometimes known as bubblegum lichen, it often draws concern because it looks like a strange plant disease. But never fear, lichens are a harmless partnership between two different kingdoms of life: fungus and algae. Through photosynthesis the algae provides energy in the form of sugars to the fungus; in turn, the fungus provides a stable environment for the algae and a more advanced reproductive system. Neither partner can survive on their own. Most lichens you encounter are shades of gray and green; it is the reproductive bodies that gives bubblegum lichen its unusual pink color. Like most lichens it is very sensitive to air pollution and is a good environmental indicator of air quality; in the large, car-congested cities of Florida, most lichen species have disappeared. Because bubblegum lichen thrives on Kiawah, we know that the air quality is healthy for humans as well.

February 2, 2010 ~ American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

american robinMany people across the country look for the first robin of spring. But here on Kiawah, we look for the first robin of winter. The month of January has finally brought large flocks of hungry American Robins to our maritime forest. This member of the thrush family – similar in color but unrelated to the friendly Robin of Europe and Britain – will return north to breed and nest. The only thrush that remains on Kiawah throughout the summer is the Eastern Bluebird.

Despite their reputation as a spring bird, American Robins are found year-round across almost all of the lower 48 states, but a change in behavior makes them less noticeable. While robins are famous for walking across lawns, pulling up worms and other bugs, in winter they form larger flocks and mainly feed upon berries. They will often flock together with fellow fruit-eatering species like the Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Bluebird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Red-winged Blackbird. Berry trees often have large amounts of berries but can be difficult to locate. A large flock increases the chances fruit will be found. In the summer, their diet switches to insects and it is a better strategy to hunt alone or in small groups. So in summer, you are likely to see many robins but in small numbers. In winter, you are less likely to see robins but when you do, it is in large numbers.

One side effect of large flocks of fruit-eating birds is the byproduct of their fast digestion system. Birds that eat berries pass the seeds frequently, which is a benefit for berry-producing trees and bushes: their seeds are spread far and wide courtesy of the birds. From our perspective down on the ground, winter visitors to Kiawah quickly learn that it’s best not to park your car under a berry-producing tree!

January 31, 2010 ~ Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)

The Heron Park Nature Center recently received several different calls about an injured woodstork by a pond edge. Every time a naturalist rushed out to check on the bird – a federally endangered species – it was no where to be seen. Finally our Recreation Director Liz caught it in the act of flying away, apparently completely healthy.

When comfortable and relaxed in the sun, wood storks will often sit in a way few other birds will. Next time you see a heron or egret, look at its legs – rather than forming bending out like the knee of a person (rather like this symbol: <), a bird’s “knee” bends inwards (like this symbol: >). What looks like a bird’s knee is actually its heel; the patella joint, its true knee, is concealed by the feathers. When a bird stands, it is standing on its toes. When a wood stork sits, it is actually resting on its heels.

It is always startling to see such a large bird in such a strange position, with legs bent at what, to us human observers, seems like a very painful angle. That position combined with the unkempt, featherless, homely face of an immature wood stork was what probably prompted observers to report an injured bird. But as far as we could tell, this bird has been simply enjoying the sunlight on a cold January morning.

January 27, 2010 ~ Bella Moth (Utetheisa bella)

bella mothAfter many weeks spent as a pupa, our first Bella moth has emerged from its chrysalis. In the photograph it is using its straw-like tongue to enjoy its first drink – sugar water from a Naturalists’ fingers. Bella moths definitely stand out from the hundreds of nocturnal brown or grey moth species that inhabit South Carolina: they fly during the day and are brightly colored (with hot pink/black-bordered underwings, not seen in this picture). It has the temerity to do so because as a caterpillar they eat the seeds of the poisonous rattlebox plant. The noxious chemicals carry over into adulthood, and the female even receives a packet of extra chemicals every time she mates with a male to give her eggs extra protection from predators. Like the colors of the more well-known Monarch, the bright colors of the adult Bella moth warn predators of of its bad taste.

January 25, 2010 ~ Common Loon (Gavia immer)

common loonThe strong winds of a storm last night blew this common loon on a Kiawah front yard. The leg placement of a loon, located far to the back of the body, results in some powerful propulsion underwater but also the inability to walk on land. In fact, loons cannot even fly without large bodies of water for a lengthy takeoff.

Luckily for this particular loon, a concerned nature lover passing by spotted the bird and remained with it until a Naturalist could pick it up. Thanks to her prompt action the loon was still in excellent shape. A team of Naturalists, excited by the chance to get a close look at such a shy bird, released it on the Kiawah River, where it can dive, fish, and have enough water for takeoff if needed. Although no one knows what emotions birds are capable of feeling, to all those watching the bird appeared to be thrilled to be back on the water. It flapped its wings, preened its feathers, and even let out a few signature wild, eerie calls.

January 20 2010 ~ Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

nik squirrelRecently, this little Eastern Gray Squirrel was found in the yard of a Kiawah Island resident. He was found covered in fleas and dehydrated, a sign that the mother was either missing or no longer caring for her young, so he was brought to the Nature Center for care. Based on his size, the amount of fur and his weight, we estimated his age to be around 4 weeks old. His eyes were just beginning to open. He was fed and cared for nearly a week, but unfortunately died of of an infection. If you find a squirrel in your yard, it is always best to give the mother an opportunity to pick up her young and return them to the nest. Contrary to popular opinion, most mammal mothers will take back their young even after a human has touched them. The maternal instinct usually is stronger than their distrust of people! The best way to give a mother squirrel the opportunity to pick up her young is to wrap a hot water bottle in an old towel or sweater, than place the baby squirrel on top and leave it alone for a few hours. This keeps the baby warm while it waits for its mother to return.

Eastern Gray Squirrels are by far the most frequently seen mammal on Kiawah Island as well as the rest of the East Coast. They are in the Order of Rodentia, and can grow up to 20 inches long. They can live just about anywhere where there are large deciduous trees. Squirrels either live in large holes in trees or in large, messy nests built out of leaves – often mistaken for bird nests. Squirrels typically have two litters a year, one in spring and one in summer, but here in Kiawah’s subtropical environment they breed and nest year-round as long as there is enough food to support a litter. A large acorn crop this fall provided ample food to squirrel families. Their diet is flexible depending on what food is available. While nuts and acorns are their favorite, they will also eat tree buds, berries, blossoms, seeds, and insects. Squirrels can live to 5 years in the wild but as a prey animal, many young squirrels on Kiawah are taken by bobcats, snakes, and birds of prey. Although some people view the squirrel as a pest, this species is very helpful in controlling plant populations by feeding on the seeds. They play an important role in tree proprogation by burying acorns and other nuts for the lean months of winter and early spring. They will remember to dig up as much as 85% of these, but some they will forget. Oak trees rely upon this method to help spread their seeds to new locations. Squirrels are also essential in controlling insect populations since they dine on a high number of many different insect species.

January 19 2010 ~ Sea Stars

sea starsThe recent onslaught of heavy waves turned Kiawah Island’s beach into a veritable graveyard of marine invertebrates. In addition to the usual variety of bivalves and crabs that wash up with strong surf, an extreme number of Grey Sea Stars (Luidia clathrata) and Common Sea Star (Asterias forbesi) were strewn about the beach with wreckless abandon by the tides. It was as if Neptune himself was giving us his best impression of a Jackson Pollock painting.

Grey sea stars, also commonly referred to as star fish, are not actually fish, but echinoderms (Greek, echino=spiny; derma=skin). These close cousins to sand dollars and sea urchins dwell on sandy bottoms in shallow offshore areas from North Carolina to the tropics. Sea stars do regularly wash up after heavy storms, but an exact answer to why such excessive numbers of them have recently turned up dead or dying on Kiawah’s beach eludes those of us here in the Nature Program. And searches into field guides and even the primary literature have yielded little or no help.

In the meantime, we will continue to comb the beach and present information for less common species like the Giant Tun Shell (Tonna galea), and the Pear Whelk (Busycon spiratum), all of which have also been appearing in larger than usual numbers.

January 17, 2010 ~ Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)

piping ploverFrom Kiawah property owner Paula Feldman: “I like this photo because it shows the way the piping plover uses protective coloration to blend into its surroundings. It’s hard to get a photo that does that and still shows the bird as distinct from the sand!”

There are fewer than 2000 pairs of piping plovers left in the wild. As coastal areas become more developed, the plovers face increasing disturbance from human foot and vehicle traffic, off-leash dogs, and feral cats. Kiawah’s quieter, more natural beaches are becoming an important wintering site for this special bird. While they can be seen anywhere along the beach, your best chance of finding one is during low to mid tide at the protected shorebird areas along the eastern and western tips of the island. Use the pale back coloration – it mimics light dry sand – to differentiate the piping plover from its wet-sand-colored cousin, the semipalmated plover.

January 11, 2010 ~ Sea Cucumbers (Holothuroidea)

sea cucumberA walk today from West Beach to Captain Sam’s Inlet proved to be an excellent time for beach combing. Hundreds of sea stars, sea urchins, sand dollars, pen shells, and dozens of other various aquatic species littered the wrack line in great abundance. The most interesting animal we discovered was the sea cucumber. Sea cucumbers are related to sea stars, sea urchins and sand dollars. When sea cucumbers are threatened, they can shoot out water and their internal organs toward a predator. After this occurs, they can grow back any extruded body parts. Their diet consists of dead and decaying matter, algae and microscopic plankton. Although this little guy is only a few inches in length, some species can grow up to 16 inches. This specimen appeared to be slightly injured, but it was still moving in the sand where we found it. After a quick photo, we immediately released it in the water. If you are up for a little time on the water, join us on a kayak trip to Captain Sam’s Inlet, where you can get out and take a walk on the beach where there is always something interesting to find. Who knows, maybe you will be able to catch and release your very own sea cucumber.

January 10, 2010 ~ Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

Photo by Jamie Rood
Nature photographers on Kiawah might suppose that we bribe our local anhingas with their favorite food, fish, to pose specially for them. They are often seen extending their wings and tilting their head, as if they are proud of their handsome exotic looks. But anhingas have another motive in mind, a motive also shared by both alligators and human beach visitors: basking in the sun. Anhingas are professional swimmers; the unique structure of their body feathers causes them to be water-logged in short order. This allows them to dive and swim with ease. However, a bird flying with wet feathers is somewhat like a human trying to swim with clothing on; it’s possible, but difficult. Anhingas must bask in the sun to dry off their feathers before flying again. Ducks solve this problem by waterproofing their feathers with oil from a skin gland; this means they can fly from the water easily, but they must work harder to swim underwater because the oil and air trapped in their feathers makes them more buoyant.

Like wet clothing, wet feathers cause an anhinga to chill easily, so their range is limited to the warm southeastern states. They are most commonly found in swamps and other tree-surrounded wetlands. The nickname of “Snakebird” describes their eerie swimming style; only their long curvy neck shows, giving them the appearance of a snake in the water. The cormorant, their more widespread relative, has a hooked bill and shorter neck and tail. Unlike herons and egrets, it’s easy to tell apart the gender of an anhinga: females, like this one, have a brown head and neck while males have metallic green-black plumage accented by light-colored plumes on the back and wings.

January 8, 2010 ~ American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

January iceThe recent cold snap experienced by much of the East Coast has put a thin sheet of ice on some of the smaller ponds throughout the island. This means that our alligators, like many other animals, are hunkering down for the winter. Out of all living crocodilians, American Alligators are the only species able to tolerate such cold temperatures. Similar to bears, gators go through a period of dormancy during the cold winter months. But unlike bears, the alligators don’t undergo hibernation – that is, they don’t enter a deep sleep. Instead, a process called brumation allows an alligator’s metabolism to hit rock bottom during the winter, and it will often go for months without eating. Studies have shown that captive alligators lose their appetite around 80 deg F, and will generally stop eating when the thermometer drops below 73 deg F. As long as the alligator has stocked up on food during the summer and fall, their energy reserves should easily sustain them through winter.

Meanwhile, alligators will spend hours at a time in dugout burrows along the pond’s edge, insulated from freezing temperatures by a solid layer of earth. If the sky clears and allows sunning, alligators will occasionally emerge to soak up a few rays along a pond’s edge. But for the most part, gators will spend much of the winter in their den. Their lower winter metabolism requires them to surface for air only a few times a day. Gators also possess a unique behavior for surviving especially cold temperatures when ponds and lakes freeze over. By submerging their body and projecting their nostrils out of the water, gators are able to breathe while the surface water freezes around them. This is called the “icing response.” However this behavior will on occasion leave an alligator trapped under the ice. If this does occur, the gator must rely on its extraordinary ability to hold its breath, perhaps up to 8 hours.

January 7, 2010 ~ Sanderlings (Calidris alba) and Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

sanderline dunlinIf you look carefully at this photo taken by island guest Roseanne Jordon, you’ll notice two distinct types of birds. What may strike you first is the difference in color – some of these birds have a light sand-colored back, while others have a darker mud-colored back. Next, compare the difference in bills. The lighter birds all have shorter, relatively straight bills. The darker birds all have longer, drooping bills. There are two species present in this photo, Sanderling (lighter) and Dunlin (darker). When not feeding, they often will flock together in large groups for protection from shorebird predators like the Peregrine Falcon.

The different appeances of the two species gives you clues about their feeding style. Sanderlings are lighter to blend in with light beach sand – these are are the birds you see running along the edges of oncoming waves. Their bill is shorter because sanderlings rely more upon their vision to find bits of food washed up by the waves. The Dunlin have a more methodical feeding style, probing for invertebrates under the sand or mud with their longer and more sensitive bill. Their darker color helps them blend in with their favorite habitat – mudflats.

In a cold winter like the one we have been experiencing, it is particularly urgent to give shorebird flocks some privacy and respect. These tiny little bundles of feathers and soft peeps need all their energy to stay warm in the harsh January wind. When they are chased and/or disturbed by dogs, bikers, joggers, and even careless walkers, they spend that energy flying away rather than staying warm. If this happens throughout the day, the birds may not have enough energy to survive the winter. Please let others know how important rest is to the survival of these adorable birds. Always keep a dog on a leash around shorebirds and give resting flocks of shorebirds the courtesy of a nice wide berth while biking or jogging on the beach.

January 6, 2010 ~ Feather Report

Tour: Back Island Birding
Guide: Sarah Ernst
Weather: Partly cloudy, very windy, low to upper 40s
Locations: Bridge at Killdeer Pond, Marshview Tower in the Preserve, Osprey Point, Willet Pond, Ocean Course Beach

Notes: All the wind kept the birds hunkered down and our numbers fairly low today, but we finally had some great success at the beach, with gannets diving very close by in the surf and a piping plover hanging out close to the path. Unfortunately, we also saw an otherwise well-meaning family let their golden retreiver chase the piping plover (an endangered species) and other nearby shorebirds. The redheads are still here and it looked like at least one of the juvenile ibis is switching over from the juvenile brown plumage to the adult white plumage.

Species List: Redhead, Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, Nothern Gannet, Double-Crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Moorhen, Piping Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Willet, Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Caspian Tern, Foster’s Tern, Red-bellied Kingfisher, Eastern Phoebe, Blue Jay, American Crow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Red-winged Blackbird

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