An Abundance of Shorebirds

Seabrook Island is a haven for a wide variety of birds and this is the time of year for many species to migrate and mate. Thousands of migrating Red Knots will be arriving. Piping Plovers will head north to breed. Least Terns, Wilson’s Plovers, and other shorebirds will mate and possibly nest on North Beach. It’s a time to enjoy their splendors, understand their challenges, and be extra careful when on the beach. Remember to give the birds space to rest, feed, and nest, and follow our beach rules for dogs.

Red Knots are amazing – flying 18,000 miles roundtrip from the tip of South America to the Arctic to breed. When knots arrive at Seabrook they’ve traveled 5,000 miles on this journey, sometimes flying six days straight over open ocean. They’re exhausted from using their fat reserves, and stay to feed along Seabrook, Kiawah, and Deveaux beaches to restore their strength. Adequate food and undisturbed opportunities to feed are essential for their long journey north, successful breeding, and survival. Red Knot populations have declined 70% in the last 20 years, and they are classified Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Red knots Mar 2017

Our partners at SC DNR will be continuing their Red Knot research on our large Seabrook flock, usually between 4000-8000 knots. In past years nanotags were placed on knots, transmitting the birds’ location to towers along the migration route. From this data SC DNR discovered that all the knots were not flying to Delaware Bay to feed on their way to the Arctic as had been thought. Many were stopping here, and then going directly to the Arctic. This proved Seabrook is a very critical “staging” beach.

In late April our Piping Plovers, who have wintered with us since last July, will head north to their breeding regions. We’ve been seeing 4-8 Piping Plovers each time we’re on North Beach this winter. Soon we may see over 20 at a time – as plovers from southern beaches stop at Seabrook to rest and feed as they move north. Look for the plovers feeding in the Red Zone – along the large tidal pool shore, and along the beach to the left of Boardwalk 1. They can be in the Green Zone too. In past articles we’ve shared “personal” stories about our banded Piping Plovers. We’re hoping black flag 2K, our guest the last two years from Prince Edwards Island, Canada, returns safely north, and hooks up with the same mate again to successfully breed.

Piping Plover    Aug. 2019

Recent studies have shown negative impacts of human disturbance on Piping Plovers on their non-breeding grounds where they “winter”. Plovers were monitored to determine health and behavior. Those in disturbed areas were significantly lighter, due to not getting enough food. Given poorer body condition, it’s no surprise that birds in these disturbed areas had lower survival rates. Relate these disturbances to Piping Plover population sizes: Threatened Atlantic breeding region – less than 2000 breeding pairs. Endangered Great Lakes breeding region – less than 75 breeding pairs, where there once were 800 pairs. If every person on a beach on a given day can help shorebirds feed or rest, these many small impacts can begin to add up to help increase the population sizes.

On North Beach we have a responsibility to protect our Piping Plovers for the nine months they’re here – so they can feed and rest to be strong for the 1000-1500 mile journey to their breeding regions. At Seabrook we’re fortunate that (1) our Piping Plovers and other shorebirds have an incredible and mostly protected critical habitat, (2) the Town of Seabrook and SIPOA – with their many priorities to manage for our residents, guests, and beautiful island – feel it’s important to protect our shorebirds, (3) Seabrookers overall have an appreciation and respect for the wildlife that resides on our beautiful beach. The job isn’t done, but thanks all!

To help protect our shorebirds, Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) has initiated a Shorebird Stewards Program from March to May. We’ll focus on migrating Red Knots, wintering Piping Plovers, and nesting Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers. SIB’s goal is for our Stewards to educate beach walkers on the challenges our shorebirds face, how important our critical habitat is, and how people should interact with shorebirds to keep them safe.

SIB’s Shorebird Stewards Program will also help Seabrook’s commitment to USFWS and SC DNR agencies that allowed the inlet relocation, in part because we agreed to protect Piping Plovers and Red Knots. Seabrook’s efforts to protect these two species has an “umbrella” effect on helping to protect other North Beach shorebirds at risk with declining populations – American Oystercatcher, Willet, Black Skimmer, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling. Check the Seabrook Island Birders website about becoming a Shorebird Steward volunteer.

-Submitted by SIB

(Image credit: Ed Konrad)