Conservation // 4 min Read

In the Field: February Eye to the Sky

Written by Palmetto Bluff

Feb 10, 2022

Did you hear a chickadee singing in January? I used to believe that birds singing in the winter were just confused by a brief warm spell and thought spring had sprung, but I was wrong. Some songbirds begin pairing up and finding mates before the spring breeding season even begins! Carolina chickadee’s four-note songs were heard from the canopy of River Road Preserve, while northern cardinals in the understory regaled us with their stunning chorus as they attempted to court their respective females. Cardinals and chickadees are not the earliest birds to select mates before the breeding season.

Hooded mergansers and eastern bluebirds may have paired with a mate as far back as November! “Wait a minute, Aaron! You always say that the breeding season for bluebirds starts in March…” You are right, it does! For eastern bluebirds, the actual nest building and egg laying occurs during what we traditionally consider the breeding season, which begins in March. Depending on the individual, some may go through mate selection in March, but others may go through the process during the winter.

Shifting our thoughts away from the breeding season, we had a few unique sightings in January. A pair of roseate spoonbills was observed spending time at Bird Island. This species has become more common in Beaufort County over the past decade, and I am curious if this is the same pair that was seen back in December. Loggerhead shrikes continued to move around Moreland Village and Moreland Point. Hopefully, they stick around for the Great Backyard Bird Count in February! Lastly, a Bonaparte’s gull was floating around in the Inland Waterway at the end of the month. This is an uncommon winter gull that is typically found flying over the salt marsh, but they will spend time at large freshwater ponds and lakes. One of their most distinguishing features is the white leading edge of their wings, which is more noticeable when in flight.

As we soar into February, shorebirds will begin their journey north for the breeding season. Sandpipers and plovers are the two largest groups that make up what we consider shorebirds. One species we may see is red knots as they forage along the beaches in South Carolina. South Carolina beaches are a nice reprieve from their arduous flight between Tierra del Fuego, Argentina and the Hudson Bay in Canada. On their journey north, one crucial stop is the Delaware Bay where they arrive in sync with horseshoe crabs laying eggs. The eggs are an energy-packed food source that gives red knots the last bit of energy needed to make it to their breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle. While we do not see much shorebird activity at Palmetto Bluff, the best place to look is at Wilson or Moreland Landing during low tide, where you can seek out shorebirds along the sandbars and mud flats with a spotting scope. If you do not have a spotting scope or want assistance with identifying shorebirds, you can join the Conservancy during the Great Backyard Bird Count hikes on February 18th!

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a 4-day citizen science effort initiated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada to monitor bird activity prior to the spring migration. The Conservancy will be leading two bird walks on the first day of the event, but the 2022 Backyard Bird Count runs from February 18th to February 21st. The Conservancy will have a morning walk that takes people through River Road Preserve in search of forest species that enjoy the dense canopy and shrubby understory. Then after an intermission of FeederWatch, we will stroll down to Moreland Landing in search of shorebirds along the marsh banks. After looking for birds along Corley’s Creek, we will meander around Moreland Point before we return to Moreland Village. If you have not signed up yet, we highly recommend reaching out to the Conservancy to join the walks!

As birds prepare for the spring migration and breeding season, you may see an increase in activity as they search for more food! If you see or photograph something you wish to share, you can submit your sightings to Aaron Palmieri at and they may appear in next month’s update.

January’s Unique Sightings:

Carolina Chickadee singing (River Road Preserve)

Roseate Spoonbill (Bird Island)

Loggerhead Shrike (Moreland Village)

Bonaparte’s Gull (Inland Waterway by Bird Island)

January Contributors:

May Wall, Brian Byrne

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