Saturday, October 31, 2015

Roseate Spoonbill, Huntington Beach State Park, SC

Wading in the knee deep water of Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina, the Roseate Spoonbill is a crowd pleaser. Not shy or flighty by normal bird standards, the Roseate Spoonbill goes about its daily search for food.

There is little doubt as to how the spoonbill got its name. Probing the mud with its spatula shaped bill, the Roseate Spoonbill finds its food beneath the water. With a side to side head swinging motion, the spoonbill slices the mud snapping shut on invertebrates and crustaceans.

                Additionally, fine comb-like filters on the edges of the bill strain the mud for small edibles.

An uncommon sight for birders in South Carolina, the Roseate Spoonbill just barely reaches North America, instead preferring Central and South America. The gulf coast states of Texas and Florida would be your best opportunity of predictably finding one.

The visitors at Huntington Beach State Park, SC were treated to a special sight this day. Tourists line the saltwater basin at high tide.

Alligators live here, too.

Something made this one stir and prompted a quiet slip into the water...his back is still dry.

A spoonbill could be on his mind.

A couple of spoonbills and a White Ibis (center) go about their search for food.

If the alligator got its back wet it could sneak up on one of these sizable's a meal!

But this alligator may not have been hungry today. Never-the-less, the spoonbills gave the alligator a wide margin for any error in judgement. While making a broad arc, they keep an eye on the 'gator', still never missing an opportunity for a tidbit of food.

The other eye was looking for the next serious threat.

You may be far more aware of the other 'pink' bird, the Flamingo. It's an easy mistake.

Yet, it is hard to mistake a Roseate Spoonbill on careful, close-up examination. The bill is just so obvious.

Don't let the 'pink' in the 'Roseate' Spoonbill confuse you. It's a whole 'nother bird.


Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Osprey, North Myrtle Beach, SC

Nature doesn't provide a safety net. If you don't hunt, you don't this case fish. The osprey is a hawk that fishes. That's unique among hawks. Nearly the entire diet of an Osprey consists of fish.

A wave of  Ospreys patrolled the Atlantic shoreline off North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They could have been just passing through or winter residents. As autumn fades and winter approaches it is hard to tell where they will spend their winter.

However, South America is a good guess. With nearly a six foot wingspan, long distance traveling is not a problem for them.

Any lake, stream, marsh or ocean shoreline would suit an Osprey just fine. Ospreys need open water to fish the year round.

                  A female makes an abrupt stop when she spots a fish, hovers briefly and goes into a dive.

The dive is a high speed maneuver of timing and agility. In the plunge there is little room for error. Any miscalculation results in a missed meal.

In this case the fish saw her coming and jumped out of the way at the last second...too late to change course.

Score one for the fish.  

                                                                  Nothing to do, but try again.

Powerful wingbeats raise her out of the water. That is no easy task for a heavy wet bird. Ducks and geese have webbed feet for a running start over the water to get airborne. The Osprey talons have no such ability. She only has wing power to rise from the water.

With wings drawn close for maximum speed she sights through her talons to hunt again.

Her concentration is intense. At the last second she will fold her wings behind her body to reduce drag when entering the water.

Even fish three feet beneath the surface are reachable this way.

The Osprey's talons have evolved differently from other hawks. An Osprey's outer talon is reversible allowing it to grasp its slippery prey front and back. When flying they rotate the fish's head forward to minimize wind resistance.

Male and females look alike, although the female wears a brown 'necklace' across her breast.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Sanderlings, Myrtle Beach, SC

The surf pounds down hard onto North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It seems an unsuitable habitat for such a little bird as the Sanderling. Yet, this ever changing zone at the water's edge is his home.

The Sanderling has an uncanny sense of time and place. In between the dangerous swirling surf and a bone dry beach lies a buried treasure of food.

With a diet of small invertebrates, crustaceans and horseshoe crab eggs, the Sanderling finds food as each wave retreats.

Easy might think. However, to do this safely one must avoid being pounded by the next incoming wave.

Walking smartly in front of each frothy wave, the Sanderlings entertain and amuse the human beach walkers.

A quick turn around reveals tiny organisms the wave exposed.

It's only a matter of seconds to score this meal or it's gone.

The sun rising from the Atlantic highlights today's bounty. These long distance flyers are just winter residents in Myrtle Beach. They breed and raise their young near the Arctic Circle in far northern Canada. After raising their one brood a year, the monogamous Sanderlings depart to the world's coastlines to continue their wave dodging lifestyle.

Human presence doesn't seem to bother the Sanderlings, although populations are declining. A rough estimate of 700,000 Sanderlings worldwide is the best guess available.

Three Sanderlings search for food a few feet from fishermen. That's unusual behavior in the normally skittish bird communities, but the Sanderlings tolerate people. Sharing may be part of their nature. Sharing and protecting a place we all covet may be a good example for us, the waterline.

Credits: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds