Conservation // 8 min Read

In the Field: June Eye to the Sky

Written by Palmetto Bluff

Jun 02, 2021

May’s bird watching excitement kicked off on May 8th with the annual World Migratory Bird Day, also known as the Global Big Day. This international citizen science effort involves people going out and bird watching throughout the day and submitting their sightings via eBird. I spent the Big Day seeking any birds I could find at Palmetto Bluff. I traveled to six locations on property either by myself or with residents. All of the trails we walked on Saturday were the same as the previous year. Walking the same trails helps create comparable information between the years. By the end of the day, we managed to document 57 species! This count is slightly lower than the 60 seen in 2020, but it was still a successful day.

Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher (caught while mist netting for bats)

We did not see as many migratory warblers on the Big Day compared to 2020, and one of the potential reasons could be attributed to a slow migration along the southeast coast the night before. How do we know it was a slow night? We checked the Birdcast. Birdcast is a collaborative effort between multiple universities that looks at temperature, wind, rain, and other factors connected to migration. This information is then used to create a 3-day ‘bird forecast.’ Along with the projected birdcast, they also archive the data from each night for people to look back on and see when and where birds were flying. While the migration was not in our favor for migratory warblers on the 2021 Big Day, we still managed to see some unique and fun sightings. Painted buntings moved among the brush in River Road Preserve, summer tanagers sang all throughout the Bluff, and a surprise ruby-throated hummingbird zipped around the Conservancy’s shop.

Red-headed Woodpecker [Photo provided by Annie Kosk]
Red-headed Woodpecker [Photo provided by Annie Kosk]

Birds that were seen in May, but not on the Big Day, include yellow-billed cuckoos, which could be heard all over the Bluff. Cuckoos are colloquially known as storm crows as their calls are thought to herald rain. May proved this to be an old wives’ tale as we had a fairly dry month. The blue grosbeaks were another common sighting as they continued to establish their territories for the breeding season. The star bird of the month was a magnolia warbler seen near the Conservancy classroom. Magnolia warblers are a migratory species mainly seen during the fall migration, which makes this spring sighting even more spectacular.

Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak

Breeding activity was consistent throughout May. At least three turkey hens with poults, or chicks, were seen moving around the Bluff, and each hen had 10-14 chicks. Roughly thirty new turkeys make it sound like we should be covered in them, right? Not quite. Producing a large number of young is a reproductive strategy to help offset predation. Lots of animals eat turkey eggs, chicks, and adults.

Turkey with poults.
Turkey with poults

On the topic of predation, some of the Conservancy’s bluebird boxes were visited by snakes, raccoons, and flying squirrels.

Snake in bird box.
Snake in bird box

While some nests did not make it, many of the bluebirds were successful and have already begun their second clutch of eggs.

Bluebird chicks.
Bluebird chicks

Blanca, the leucistic bluebird, had an unsuccessful first nest. Her first eggs were potentially duds and were buried under new nest material. She then laid another clutch of eggs and is now the momma of two chicks.

Leucistic bluebird [Photo provided by Lydia Moore]
Leucistic Bluebird [Photo provided by Lydia Moore]

Bluebirds and turkeys were not the only young birds seen at Palmetto Bluff. Fledglings of Carolina chickadees, brown-headed nuthatches, brown thrashers, and northern cardinals were observed following their parents around and begging for food.

Juvenile Cardinals.
Juvenile Cardinals

In our cavity nest boxes, the eastern screech-owl chicks had grown quickly throughout May and will likely be gone when the Conservancy checks them again in June.

Eastern Screech-Owls
Eastern Screech-Owls

Moving into the beginning of summer, activity will switch gears as the migration ends and the nesting season takes off.

Titmouse chicks
Titmouse chicks

I would like to take this time to talk about some of the different nesting behaviors for birds you can find at Palmetto Bluff in June. Carolina chickadees and brown-headed nuthatches are both cavity-nesting birds that will be finishing their nesting season by the beginning of the month. These are species that have a single brood in a year and will spend most of June teaching their offspring survival skills.

In contrast, Eastern bluebirds and Carolina wrens will be busy tending to their second, and potentially third, clutch of eggs. An interesting difference between these two multi-nesters is that bluebirds often use the same cavity, or birdhouse, for each brood, while Carolina wrens build entirely new nests for each clutch.

Carolina Wren nest
Carolina Wren nest

Northern cardinals, blue grosbeaks, and painted buntings all build cup-shaped nests and will be busy laying eggs in June. All three species choose dense shrubs for their nesting locations. Summer tanagers and eastern kingbirds also build cup-shaped nests, but they will be located along horizontal tree limbs. Kingbirds tend to select exposed sites, occasionally positioned over water. Meanwhile, summer tanagers choose branches hanging over the open ground that are still sheltered with a closed canopy. Chimney swifts are also technically cup nest builders – it is the location of their nests that make them unique! Before European colonization, they used tree hollows for their nesting sites. By the 1790s, their breeding activity was observed to be almost entirely in chimneys and other buildings. While they are occasionally documented using natural cavities, they have become dependent on manmade structures for nesting sites.

Shifting our focus to warblers, the pine and yellow-throated warblers are two year-round species that will hit the peak of their breeding season in June.

Yellow-Throated Warbler
Yellow-Throated Warbler

The ovenbird, a migratory warbler, will spend most of the month building their nests and laying eggs. Each of these warblers has a different nesting behavior and can be found in various areas of the Bluff. Pine warblers build nests within clusters of pine needles and will likely stay high up in the canopy. Yellow-throated warblers’ nests may be found in the crotches of tree limbs or be built within Spanish moss. Ovenbirds are the most unique out of the aforementioned warblers as they build a dome-shaped nest on the ground.

Ovenbird
Ovenbird

The last species we will mention that breeds in June is the elusive chuck-will’s-widow. Similar to the ovenbird, chuck-will’s are a ground-nesting species. Unlike an ovenbird’s domed nest, they form a shallow bowl in the ground for their eggs and rely on their cryptic coloration to blend in with leaf litter. They are such secretive animals that their population is difficult to estimate. Thankfully, the Center for Conservation Biology established the Nightjar Survey Network to help document these nocturnal birds. The network is a citizen science program aimed to monitor chuck-will’s-widows and other nightjar populations throughout North America. The Conservancy will be participating in June to add to this effort. If you live outside of Palmetto Bluff and want to get involved, check out the Nightjar Survey Network website to learn how to conduct your own survey.

The migration may be over until the fall, but the bird diversity at Palmetto Bluff is still phenomenal during the summer months. 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!

Cooper's Hawk [Photo provided by Ken Peters]
Cooper’s Hawk [Photo provided by Ken Peters]

May’s Unique Sightings:

  • Turkey Poults (Conservancy Managed Forest, Conservancy Shop, Shooting Club)
  • Leucistic Bluebird ‘Blanca’ (Barge Landing)
  • Cooper’s Hawk (River Road Neighborhood)

  • Blue Grosbeak (Conservancy Shop, Camp 8 Neighborhood)
  • Magnolia Warbler (Conservancy Classroom)

May Contributors:

Jay Walea, Justin Hardy, Lydia Moore, Paul & Jeanne Yhouse, Bob & Terri Dalton, Carol Hevey, Ken Peters, Annie Kosh, John Capps, Jean Andersen

Click to open a printable version.
Click to open a printable version.

Culture / Day Trips from Palmetto Bluff

Story by Barry Kaufman and Photographs by Lizzy Rollins Just beyond the gates of Palmetto Bluff, at the end of that quiet stretch of trees and sunlight, a solitary strip of pavement beckons. This connective tissue, a tributary, leads off across the great Amer...

Feb 2024
palmetto bluff

Real Estate / Behind the Bluff with Broker-in-Charge W. Bryan Byrne

Bryan’s Journey to Palmetto Bluff Real Estate In this edition of Behind the Bluff, W. Bryan Byrne, the Broker-in-Charge at Palmetto Bluff Real Estate Company, discusses his two-decade journey in the community. His experience has intricately molded the authent...

Jan 2024
real estate in bluffton sc

Real Estate / Lowcountry Housing Trends & Market Updates

Real Estate in Bluffton, SC: Trends, Updates, and Insights Bluffton, South Carolina, nestled within the scenic Lowcountry, is not just a picturesque haven but also a thriving real estate market. As the demand for homes in this charming town continues to grow,...

Jan 2024

Food & Wine / Mocktails from the Palmetto Bluff Club

Rosemary Spice Mocktail Recipe Introducing Buffalos' exquisite Rosemary Spice Mocktail—a meticulously crafted blend that awakens the taste buds with a perfect harmony of bold flavors. Fresh jalapenos are muddled for a subtle spicy kick, while luscious cra...

Jan 2024

Artist in Residence / Painting Wild

Story by Sandy Lang and Photographs by Lawson Builder In early May, The Arts Initiative hosted renowned Lowcountry painter West Fraser as our esteemed Artist In Residence. Throughout his stay, residents were treated to an array of events, including a painting...

Jan 2024
palmetto buff golf course

Sporting Life / Behind the Bluff with the Palmetto Bluff 9-Hole Golf Course Team

All About the New Palmetto Bluff Golf Course Nestled in the picturesque landscape of Palmetto Bluff, a new golfing adventure is taking shape—the Crossroads 9-Hole Golf Course. To delve into the intricacies of this project, we had the opportunity to sit down w...

Dec 2023

Conservation / Palmetto Bluff Buffalo Run 2023: A Celebration of Endurance, Nature, and Community

A Recap of the 2034 Buffalo Run The Palmetto Bluff Buffalo Run celebrated its 10th anniversary on Sunday, December 11, 2023, drawing in a record-breaking crowd of over 500 runners. The event, nestled in the heart of Palmetto Bluff's 20,000 acres of natural sp...

Dec 2023
places to eat near hilton head

Food & Wine / Ask the Locals: Our Favorite Restaurants Near Hilton Head

The 10 Best Places to Eat Near Hilton Head Island Nestled on the southernmost tip of South Carolina, Hilton Head Island beckons not only with its pristine beaches but also with a culinary scene that rivals its natural beauty. The Lowcountry, known for breatht...

Dec 2023

Artist in Residence / Journey through Creativity: Palmetto Bluff's 2023 Artist in Residence Highlights

As the sun sets over the picturesque landscape of Palmetto Bluff, we are grateful for the creativity that took center stage throughout the year. The 2023 Artist in Residence program has ended, leaving behind a trail of artistic marvels and inspiring stories. F...

Dec 2023

Real Estate / The Builders Behind the Bluff

Meet the Palmetto Bluff Builders Team A home is more than just bricks and mortar; it's where cherished memories are made, and dreams come to life. At Palmetto Bluff, the Palmetto Bluff Builders team designs homes based on your vision.  Allow us to introduc...

Dec 2023
LIVE
Community Villages
Experience
Palmetto Bluff Club
On The Water
The Arts Initiative
Events
Conserve
About Us