Monday, January 20, was a cool day for Seabrook Island with a brisk wind. Despite that, on impulse, I took a late afternoon walk on North Beach. The wind blowing into my face quickly ate through my light jacket, but the mass of birds feeding along the water and sitting on the beach pulled me farther away from the parking lot and warmth.
The setting sun gave the hundred or more sanderlings an orange glow.
The semipalmated plovers sat huddled behind shreds of grass and debris to escape the wind. A few western sandpipers scuttled about. A large flock of willets fed along the water’s edge. Tucked in with them stood three marbled godwits. I was only about half way to the end of the beach!
Getting cold, I turned to leave and a flock of 80 plus American oystercatchers landed close enough for a photo opportunity.
Scanning the group, I quickly spied three birds with flags on their legs. These three birds became my focus. If I could get the information off the tags, I could report these birds to a web site and receive a certificate of appreciation which would give some details as to where and when each bird was banded.
Two of the bands were green in color with white writing and one was yellow with black writing. I knew this will be important information in the quest to identify these specific individuals. Crouching low, I steadied my camera lens against my spotting scope tripod leg in an effort to quell my shivering hands. I took dozens of shots as the sun set and it grew darker and even colder.
Cursing my inadequate clothing and my resultant discomfort, I eventually headed back towards the car. Despite my determination to head right back, a flock of about 80 red knots landed on the beach ahead of me. I tried to capture some pictures and I know at least one of the birds was banded, but the darkness prevented me getting a good image.
By the time I returned to the car, my hands were redder than the sunset and stiff, thankfully a warm house was just 3 miles away.
Once home, the routine includes downloading all of the pictures, sorting out the dross, and then picking out the cream of the crop. I paid particular attention to the banded oystercatchers. I did not need a good bird picture, but wanted a good picture of the bands on their legs. I then entered the details and the pictures into the web site www.reportband.gov. Doing this, I knew that I would eventually get a report on each of the birds. (Click on link below to see one of the reports.) I am always curious as to a bird’s history. On Wednesday, January 22, to my surprise, I had 5 reports from this website—three representing these new birds and two from birds reported way back in the spring of 2019 (sometimes it takes them a long time).
Science has shown that the larger an animal is, the longer it lives. Most birds do not survive their first year! If they make it through that first year, small birds like sparrows are lucky to survive more than a couple years. A large bird like a goose or owl may live 20 to even 40 years. According to Birds of North America, it is not uncommon to find an American Oystercatcher that is 10 years old with a record of one being at least 17 years old. By placing bands on these birds, researchers hope that enthusiasts like me will spot a banded bird and report its whereabouts. With each report, they learn a little more about this individual and the species as a whole.
The report I received informed me that the two green banded birds were both banded in North Carolina as juvenile birds in 2011 making them just short of nine years old. The yellow banded bird was banded on Monomoy Island, MA as a juvenile, but way back in 2005. This bird is now almost 15 years old and going strong. Will this senior citizen become one of the ancients who set longevity records? It is getting close.
The fact that these birds come to Seabrook Island for the winter indicates the importance of this beach! These birds have survived this long because they spend their time in areas where they can meet their daily needs. North Beach is one of those special areas where they can fill up on food and rest without a lot of disturbance, thereby conserving the energy they need to make it another day and another year.
Working Group, A. O., E. Nol, and R. C. Humphrey (2012). American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.82