Conservation // 5 min Read

In the Field: April Eye to the Sky

Written by Aaron Palmieri

Apr 6, 2021


March began with the extraordinary sighting of a leucistic bluebird in Moreland Village. Leucism is a rare mutation that results in a partial loss of pigmentation in skin, feathers, fur, or scales, but leaves the eyes unaffected. Two brief glimpses of this bird were noted by Conservancy staff in November and December, but no clear views occurred until now. The bluebird, affectionally dubbed Blanca, made appearances throughout the month and will hopefully stay through the summer.

Leucistic bluebird [Photo provided by Jose David Cantu]

The spring migration kicked off in March with the arrival of northern parulas within the first week. However, migratory activity did not pick up significantly until late March. The first ruby-throated hummingbird of the year was spotted in River Road Neighborhood, which is an excellent sign to put up your hummingbird feeders!

Ruby throated hummingbird [Photo provided by David Miller]
Ruby throated hummingbird [Photo provided by David Miller]

People out after dark may have heard the nocturnal chorus of chuck-will’s-widows. The “chuck” of their call is occasionally hard to hear, but you can easily pick up the descending “will’s-widow.” Solitary swallow-tailed kites were seen around May River Forest and the Farm, while two kites were observed flying over the Conservancy’s shop. In all cases, no transmitters were seen on the birds. If you spot a swallow-tailed kite with a backpack transmitter, they are connected to the Avian Research and Conservation Institute’s (ARCI) swallow-tailed kite research. Any sighting of a swallow-tailed kite, with or without a transmitter, is valuable information to ARCI, and you can submit your observations to https://www.arcinst.org/report-sightings/.

Swallow-tailed kite [Photo provided by Annie Kosh]
Swallow-tailed kite [Photo provided by Annie Kosh]

Finally, the warblers round off our list of migratory bird sightings for March with American redstarts, prothonotary warblers, and prairie warblers seen around River Road Preserve and Moreland Forest.

March was also the beginning of the breeding season, and the Conservancy bluebird boxes contained both bluebird and chickadee nests, though so far, only a few eggs have been documented. Carolina wrens were also busy building nests in nooks, crannies, crevasses, flowerpots, and wreathes throughout Palmetto Bluff. This is a good time to take down your wreath and save yourself from the fluster of having a momma bird raising babies on your front door.

Eastern screech-owls were not seen incubating eggs during the March cavity nest box survey, but they will likely be doing so when we check again in April. Lastly, the ospreys by the Conservancy classroom were observed refurbishing and adding to last year’s nest, and they will likely be sitting on eggs by late April.

Eastern Screech-Owl
Eastern Screech-Owl

Moving into April, we can expect an explosion of color from the neotropical migrants passing through or claiming territory around Palmetto Bluff. Male summer tanagers and rose-breasted grosbeaks will add their crimson hues to the resident cardinals as they move about Sandhill Loop and River Road Preserve.

Summer Tanager
Summer Tanager

Blue grosbeaks, black-throated blue warblers, and indigo buntings may be surprisingly difficult to spot as they flit about scrubby wood edges in their rich azure plumage. The primary color palette will be completed with yellow-throated vireos and female summer tanagers joining the prairie and pine warblers throughout River Road Preserve and Longleaf Pine Nature Trail.

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting
Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak

The rainbow of colors we see during the migration makes spring a dazzling time of year, but I would be remiss not to highlight the star of the show, painted buntings. The bunting’s stunning plumage consists of neon green, cobalt blue, and cadmium red, which coalesce into what I consider the vibrant gem of the Lowcountry. This highly sought-after bird may be found in a few places at Palmetto Bluff, including River Road Preserve, River Road Neighborhood, Moreland’s marsh trails, and May River Forest. Best of luck to my fellow bird watchers!

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

Late April is peak spring migration, which makes it a challenge to showcase all the species you may observe. If you see or photograph something you wish to share, you can submit your sightings to Aaron Palmieri at apalmieri@pbconservancy.org and they may appear in next month’s update!

March’s Unique Sightings:

  • Leucistic Bluebird (Moreland Village)
  • American White Pelican (South Wilson)
  • Swallow-tailed Kite (May River Forest, The Farm, Central Services)
  • Chuck-will’s-widow (River Road Neighborhood, Conservancy Shop)
  • Prothonotary Warbler (River Road Preserve)
  • Prairie Warbler (Moreland Forest)
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird (River Road Neighborhood)

March Contributors:

David & Jerry Miller, Amy Shackelford, Jose David Cantu, Carol Ann Wilson, Annie Kosh, Shane Rahn, Bryan Byrne, Gail Garcia, Jay Walea

Click to open a printable version.

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