Other Kiawah Birding Highlights

Among other birding highlights of our trip to Kiawah Island –

Northern Gannets – large, dramatic seabirds with long white wings tipped in black, long necks and pointed tails – gleaming in the sunlight as they dived with outspread wings in deep water. Several were close enough in to see well, and it looked as if there were many more in the air as far out as I could see.

A mature Bald Eagle that flew low and directly over us, sunlight filtering through its white tail and highlighting its huge white head against a blue sky. Crying loudly, it was followed by an immature Bald Eagle – a dark, mottled brown – also crying, and pursued by a crow.

The courtship display of an Osprey – One morning while walking on the beach, I heard an Osprey’s calls and found it flying very high, hovering and shallow diving repeatedly. When I later checked species accounts, I learned that this display is often performed over the nest site, but high overhead, with the male Osprey giving screaming calls.

A pair of Ospreys beginning to bring sticks to a nest platform on top of a tower. One of these may or may not have been the one I saw displaying. We watched as each of the two Ospreys on the nest, in turn, left and returned to the platform with a stick. Each time one returned, the two exchanged loud, overlapping cries. Occasionally one would seem to move a stick around slightly, but in general they didn’t seem too concerned about the arrangement, and there were only a very few sticks so far.

Two bright-colored American Oystercatchers feeding with several sandpipers around tidal pools on the east end of the beach. Their flamboyant coloring is unlike anything else on the beach at this time of year – when most of the birds along the shore are pretty drab and grayish. The Oystercatchers are painted in big, bold striking colors and shapes – round black head and neck, chestnut-brown back, white belly, round red-orange eyes against a black face, and very long, thick red-orange bills. Their behavior is equally eye-catching. They’re very animated, moving quickly, stabbing into the sand or water with their preposterous bills. After I watched them for a while, I turned and headed back down the beach, and they followed me – or seemed to – calling out peeeeeep over and over, all the way down the beach until they finally came to a tidal pool they liked and stayed there as I walked on.

Two Lesser Black-backed Gulls picking up large shells on the edge of the surf as the tide came in, and flying up to drop them onto the sand, sometimes three or four times before the shell would crack enough for the gull to pull out the fleshy animal inside. There was also a Herring Gull – even larger and really more impressive and handsome than the Lesser Black-backed Gulls – doing the same thing. The Lesser Black-backed Gulls had bright yellow legs, yellow, red-rimmed eyes and were smaller than the Herring Gull but considerably larger than the Ring-billed Gulls, which were hanging around and trying now and then to steal one of the large broken-open shells – at least once they succeeded in taking one away from the huge Herring Gull. One of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls had a white head streaked with brown, with especially heavy streaking around the eyes, and a back that was more gray than black. The other was, I think, more nearly in spring plumage, with only a very few faint streaks on the head, and a dark charcoal back. Although Lesser Black-backed Gulls are uncommon on the eastern U.S. coast, I’ve seen them on Kiawah during the winter in previous years, and while I could always be wrong about an identification (and too often am!), the bright yellow legs, combined with the other markings and size seem to me to distinguish them clearly.

One small flock of Least Sandpipers feeding near a tidal pool with a Sanderling – which looked like a giant beside them. One small flock of Dunlins, little elephant-like birds with hunched shoulders and downward turning bills, all probing the sand around a tidal pool. Four Black-bellied Plovers and one solitary Ruddy Turnstone.

Many Forster’s Terns and a few Royal Terns flying over the surf-line of the beach every day. At times I could count more than two dozen terns at a time in the air, strung out up and down the beach and further out. Most were Forster’s Terns, hovering and fluttering like moths over the breaking waves, looking pale gray, white and silvery. The Royal Terns usually hunted a little further out.

One female Northern Harrier that flew very low over us and out over brown marsh grass, hovering, then gliding low over the grass, then hovering again. She was close enough for us to see the details in the dark brown, streaked and barred plumage, as well as the prominent white rump patch – I don’t think I’ve ever seen one so close for so long. It was mid afternoon, and very quiet in the marsh, with only the sound of the wind in the grass, and the Harrier’s flight was silent and seemed almost in slow motion.

Leave a Reply