Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kiawah Island -- Captain Sams Inlet -- Star of the Day

As I mentioned in my previous 2 posts, Kiawah Island -- Captain Sams Inlet -- Conversation between a Snowy & Gull, and Kiawah Island -- Captain Sams Inlet --Shorebirds, Terns and Such, Carl and I visited this area on June 18 with our cameras.  I spent most of my time photographing my duly-dubbed "Star of the Day," a Snowy Egret.  Tiime has come to show why he was my "Star."

Well, the boy can dance!  Mr. Footloose owned the dance floor..... er, gully!  And he was not willing to share the spotlight and ran off all other potential wannabes!

That's my Star on the bottom chasing off the other...

The question is which dancer's soul did he incarnate in order to be able to make all those moves?  Was it Mikhail Baryshnikov's?

Or Patrick Swayze's?

Or Gregory Hines', Fred Astaire's or Gene Kelly's?

Or, best yet, John Travolta's!?

Seriously, take a look at his fine dancing duds!  No expense spared there.  And you must have already noted those sharp yellow shoes!

So, did all these moves get this guy a Tony?  an Oscar?  a girl?  an Olympic Medal?  No, but it earned him my admiration and this post.  And most importantly, it got him the FISH!  A lot of FISH!

Bravo!  Encore!  Bravo!  My Star of the Day!

Now I have seen several species of birds dance for their mates. But what are the other species that "dance" for a meal?  I have seen Reddish Egrets, Tri-colored Herons and Snowy Egrets.   So has anyone witnessed other herons or egrets, or even other species "dance" for their meals?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kiawah Island -- Captain Sams Inlet -- Shorebirds, Terns and such

As mentioned in the previous post, Carl and I visited one of our favorite Lowcountry birding destinations, Captain Sams Inlet on Kiawah Island on June 18 with cameras in hand.  Carl concentrated on the shorebirds and I spent most of my time shooting and being entertained by one showy Snowy Egret, my so-dubbed "Star of the Day."  If you missed the bit about his "conversation" with a gull, then you may want to backtrack to the previous post.  Don't worry though, he will be featured again in the next post and you will see why he was my "Star of the Day."

A large portion of the beach in this inlet area was thankfully cordoned off as a protected nesting area by the Wildlife Management Team of Kiawah Island.  In particular, the birds that nest there, and in other protected inlet areas on our SC Beaches, include the Wilson's Plover and the Least Tern.  Both species are listed as "threatened" in SC due to habitat loss. As a result of fewer safe areas for nesting on beaches, Least Terns, began nesting on pebble rooftops.  But now, due to changes in construction, there are fewer of those for these birds.  So it is gratifying to see entities such as SC's Department of Natural Resources and the Kiawah Wildlife Management Team working to save a bit of beach for the birds. 

I mentioned that Carl spent his morning concentrating on these birds, and I suggest that you take a look at his very interesting photos that he posted to his Flickr account.  Using his photos to illustrate,  Carl could easily write a rather dynamic dialogue: " a not-so-nice conversation between a ghost crab and the terns and plovers!" 

Although I did not capture the excitement among these birds that Carl did, I did get a few decent shots that day as well.  So here they are.  Enjoy!

Wilson Plover -- June 18, 2011

Wilson Plover -- June 18, 2011

Wilson Plovers -- June 18, 2011

Wilson Plovers -- June 18, 2011

Wilson's Plover -- June 21, 2011

Ruddy Turnstone

Atlantic Ghost Crab and Wilson's Plover

Bird in Center:  Dunlin with other unidentified peeps

Black Skimmers

Black-bellied Plovers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Ruddy Turnstone

Short-billed Dowitchers, Black-bellied Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones

American Oystercatchers

Least Tern

Semi-Palmated Plover with Sanderling in background

Gull-billed Tern

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Kiawah Island -- Captain Sams Inlet -- Conversation between a Snowy & Gull

On June 18, Carl and I decided to venture out with our cameras to Captain Sams Inlet on Kiawah Island.  While Carl concentrated his photographic energy on the Wilson's Plovers and the Least Terns, my attention was drawn to this Snowy Egret, "My Star of the Day," fishing in a gully. 

Snowy Egret -- Captain Sams Inlet, Kiawah Island -- June 18, 2011

If you have observed the behavior of a Snowy in interaction with any other bird, then you will have witnessed  this "in-your-face" attitude that it often shows.  Well, Laughing Gulls are also known to have rather bold personalities. 

Laughing Gull -- Captain Sams Inlet, Kiawah Island -- June 18, 2011

 So what happens in an encounter between a Snowy Egret and a Laughing Gull?  Who comes out as top bird?  Well, that's easy.  Who has the longest beak?  Nonetheless, this Laughing Gull was not easily deterred.
I began watching the Snowy dancing around through the gully chasing & nabbing fish.  But I was not the only curious soul watching.  Here comes LG (Laughing Gull) interested in Snowy's pursuits.  Imagine the conversation ...

LG:  Hey bud, whatcha doin'?

Snowy:  Man, back off!  This is my territory!  

LG:  Oh Buddy, you a fishin!  Anything good there!?                
Snowy:  Outta my way!  I am gonna get that wiggler!
LG:  Lemme see!  Lemme see!
Snowy: Got 'em!

LG:  Oh ya did, yeah ya did!  Wanna share?
Snowy:  No way, man!  This wiggler is mine all mine!  Any questions?  Take note of the beak, man! 
LG:  Just askin' bud!  Ya don't hafta be dat way.  These Showy Snowies never wanna share!  I'm outta here!

Snowy:  Uh huh!  Good riddance!

LG:  No problem, bud!  I know how to fish!

So the Laughing Gull took off, perhaps a bit disappointed but sane and safe.  Perhaps one of those amenable Brown Pelicans will prove to be an easier target!

More photos to come from our excursion on June 18 to Captain Sams with highlights on the shorebirds and then a spotlight on "My Star of the Day" -- the Snowy Egret in his One Bird Show!

Friday, August 19, 2011

History of a Red-tailed Hawk Family -- Part 2

Part 2 of this history brings us to May 2011.  Carl and I were delighted to hear the skriek-y shrill cry of a Red-tailed Hawk nestling from our deck.  This meant that our single male had found a new mate!  From the direction of the cries, we were pretty sure that the birds were using the same nest site as in previous years.  Also, we frequently saw the parents, again, from our deck, flying into a favorite perch tree in the back of the school yard.  Their preferred roost was always on the back side (from our perspective on the deck), meaning we could see them fly to the tree, but not see them once they were actually in the tree.  Thus, we had never seen both parents at the same time.  On June 17, I was once again on summer break and I could begin my morning walks around the neighborhood.  Now, I could confirm that we would soon again have a young fledgling  to watch.  Before leaving the house that first morning, I listened from the deck.  I thought the direction of the youngster's cries had changed direction, meaning it perhaps had left the nest.  But I was not certain.  Once in the schoolyard, I checked the antenna above the school.  No one was there, but then I heard a parent call and I looked up to see one flying overhead.  He flew towards the favorite perch tree  where he landed next to his mate! 

Parent Red-tailed Hawks in favorite perch tree -- June 17, 2011

 I could still hear a youngster crying so I headed towards the nest tree in front of the school.  At this time of day, the nest is back-lit and deciphering details is difficult.  I looked up to see a young bird in the nest and, at the same time, another hawk flew into the nest.  At first, I thought it was one of the adults.  But, both birds had the voice of a youngster.  I looked back at the perch tree and saw that both parents were indeed still there.  This meant that both birds in the nest tree were youngsters!  We had 2 this year!!!

Two young Red-tailed Hawks on/at the nest -- June 17, 2011

Obviously, at least one had fledged since it had flown right over my head to return to the nest tree.  I wondered if both had fledged.  When I listened from the deck the next morning, I could now distinguish that there were indeed 2 voices coming from different directions.  And when I walked to the school, I found one youngster still in the nest and the other in another tree in the school yard.  This was the case for several more days.  I was surprised by the time difference in their fledging dates.  Finally, on  June 21, I walked to the school yard, found the parents on the antenna and the noisy first fledged in a pine in the back of the school yard.

Parent Red-tailed Hawks watching over chicks -- June 21, 2011

First Fledged in pine in back of school yard -- June 21, 2011
Suddenly, one of the parents voiced loudly at his/her mate and flew off to the cross on top of the church steeple across the street.  There he was mobbed by crows who appeared to be on a suicide mission as they dropped from above to attack the hawk and to potentially impale themselves (as fate might have it) on the church cross' lighting rod.

Red-tailed Hawk parent mobbed by American Crows -- June 21, 2011

After being harassed for a bit, the parent returned to his mate on the antenna.  They had a conversation in that loud Red-tailed fashion, and then they both flew off towards the marshes bordering the harbor, presumably to hunt.  Then, hearing the cries of the second youngster from in front of the school, I walked there to see if he had finally left the nest.  His cries were indeed closer than the nest tree and I found him in the oak -- he had  fledged -- 4 days after his sibling! 

2nd Fledged Red-tailed Hawk on first sortie from the nest -- June 21, 2011

Like all newly fledged chicks, he was very clumsy and often unbalanced as he moved about the unfamiliar tree.  He did not seem bothered by me below him.  After all, he had grown up in a nest above a busy school yard and was used to watching humans below.

2nd Fledged Red-tailed Hawk chick learning to balance -- June 21, 2011

2nd Fledged Red-tailed Hawk learning to move about branches in an unfamiliar tree -- June 21, 2011

At one point, as I watched him moving about the branches, he crouched down to leap to a branch higher up and ... 

2nd Fledged crouching down for that fateful leap ....

he missed, and began falling towards me!  I ducked, he flapped to get some rise as he headed out over the school driveway.  But, he could not get enough rise to make the roof of the building and he dropped to the sidewalk!

2nd Fledged just after dropping to the sidewalk of the school -- definitely new territory -- June 21, 2011

The concrete of the sidewalk was obviously a new experience.  After contemplating the flatness of the cement, he looked up to see from whence he came.

2nd Fledgling considering the roof -- his intended destination -- June 21, 2011

His curiosity, sparked by his new surroundings, led him to explore the shrubs next to the building.  There, he discovered the sweet drip of condensation from an air conditioning unit.  The moist earth below proved to be ideal digging for insects.

2nd Fledgling digging through the moist soil  under an air conditioning unit

2nd Fledgling -- seeming to enjoy the cool benefits provided by the condensate from the air conditionner

All this time on the ground, this guy had been quiet.  Is this what drew his sibling to return to the front of the school yard?  Perhaps.  When I heard her (his?) noisy shriek-y approach,  I left the occupied 2nd Fledged digging in the dirt to see where his sibling would land.  She (he?) landed in some vines close to the nest tree...

1st Fledged returned to the front of the school yard -- June 21, 2011

And then she (he?) flew up to the nest tree.

1st Fledged returned to the nest tree -- June 21, 2011

After photographing 1st Fledged, I returned to the shrubs next to the building to see what 2nd Fledged was doing.  He was now under the portico of the school looking much like a child waiting for a parent to come pick him up.  So I sat down on the sidewalk next to the drive to see what he would do next.

2nd Fledged under the portico of the school

2nd Fledged  -- one stylin' dude! -- June 21, 2011

And finally, after hearing his sibling call, he spoke again.

2nd Fledged calling back to his sibling -- June 21, 2011

This goofy child was fearless.  He simply did not know any better than to trot over to me and stand right next to me.  I could have touched him.  He was too close for the camera focusing range.  Then he decided to head back across the school drive, back to the front schoolyard.  As I watched him running across flapping and leaping, I soon realized that this guy was not really strong enough yet to fly.  He had no lift! Perhaps he could jump from one low branch to another and glide from one tree to another.  But he certainly did not have enough lift to to reach any of the high branches of the trees  in the front of the school -- not from the ground!

2nd Fledged attempting to go airborne -- June 21, 2011

  Now I was beginning to be concerned.  The front schoolyard is a fairly narrow area.  On one side is the drive next to the school and on the other, a very busy two-lane road.  I decided to stand between him and the road in case he decided to go in that direction.  Sure enough, he moved closer and closer to the road.  When he was about 15 feet from the road I decided to chase him back towards the school drive.  Initially, he did not budge.  He did not comprehend that I was something to fear. I had become his buddy this morning, watching and following him with my camera.  By clapping, yelling and waving my arms, he finally did run in the other direction.  He stopped at the edge of some bushes and looked back at me with what appeared to be a dumbfounded and uncertain look.  (much like you will see in the very last photo in this post  --- but no scrolling to the bottom !).

I did not trust this silly bird not to wander back towards and potentially into the road.  So I went inside the school to attempt to retrieve the phone number to The Avian Conservation Center and the Center for Birds of Prey to see if I could call for some more expert help.  When I phoned and explained the situation of this newly fledged hawk, the person at the center acknowledged that it was common enough that young hawks, when they first fledge do not have much lift because they are still learning to fly and are still building strength.  After ascertaining from me that he still had parents to care for him (that they had not been injured or killed), she then said that I could help him out by simply picking him up and putting him on some low, but sturdy tree branch.  Now it was my turn to be dumbfounded.  I asked incredulously, "Pick him up?!  He has big, sharp talons!"  "Sure, it will be OK."  Well, I have seen experts handle big raptors and they all wore thick leather gloves which I did not have.  I replied that I was not really comfortable picking up this bird with his big sharp talons.  And I also suspected it would not be easy catching the fellow now that I had chased him, scared him and changed the dynamic of our relationship.  And then there was the question of where to put him.  From what I had observed in the school yard, all of the trees' lowest branches were much higher than I could reach.  This is pretty normal for a school yard since low branches are enticing jungle gyms for young girls and boys.  Finally, the person on the line, offered to try to locate one of their volunteers to come help.  Phew!

Within 10 minutes, a gentleman arrived and identified himself as the volunteer from the center.  He asked me several questions about the bird's parents, where they were and where the nest was.  I also pointed out the sibling on her perch watching us and 2nd Fledged as he wandered about now in the school side yard --- far from the road, thankfully.  It took the volunteer no time at all to catch the wayward child -- which concerned him.  So he gave our young bird a physical.

2nd Fledged and volunteer from the Center for Birds of Prey checking his feathers

2nd Fledged -- physical exam continued-- checking muscle tone
He told me that if had caught an adult bird that quickly and easily, he would definitely be taking it to the Center for further diagnoses and treatment.  But this bird was caught easily because he was too young to know any better and because his flight muscles were not developed enough yet. The volunteer did express a concern that this guy was a bit thin.  But again,  he had come from a nest with a stronger sibling -- so his thinness was typical for his situation. Also, his flight feathers were fully-formed so, for this bird, it was just a matter of needing to grow stronger.  With 2 parents to feed and train him, this young bird was far better off left in their care than he would have been at the center.  What was amazing to me was how calm (catatonic, maybe) the bird was in the volunteer's hands!  I learned that his behavior is also a typical response. 

2nd Fledged being carried to a perch

So at this point, we began looking for an appropriate tree.  We knew he would be safer in the back of the school away from the roadway.  But this bird had not ever been in the back of the school and as he was dazed by this too-close-for-comfort human interaction, it did not seem wise to take him out of familiar territory.  We did find one tree with sturdy branches low enough for us to reach and tall enough overall so that the bird could climb much higher, and then perhaps fly over to the branches of the taller trees to eventually reach his safe nest tree.  And we were also within sight of his sibling, who was still quietly watching from her own "safe" perch.

2nd Fledged back in a tree!

Poor guy, he was indeed frightened now, and initially, he did not grasp the branch.  And then, he did!  I was relieved to see him back in the tree. Eventually, he began moving slowly and cautiously back up into higher branches.  And a little while after that, he began his shrill, shriek-y call again.   We knew that he might still end as road kill if he dropped back to the ground again before he learned to fly.  But we were satisfied to know that he was not going to be road kill that morning. 

For the next few weeks, I could often hear both youngsters calling from different areas and I was satisfied to know that they both have survived.  Yet I have rarely seen them this summer since that fateful day as they tended to wander in other directions from our house than the previous 2 fledglings of 2009 and 2010.  So, unfortunately for me, they never became regular visitors to my yard. 

So there's the saga of 2nd Fledged's memorable first day out of the nest tree!  What an experience to be able to witness and record this family's history.  It is mid-August now and I am wondering how it will evolve in May and June of 2012.  Check the blog for  History of a Red-tailed Hawk Family -- Part 3, due to be posted next summer!