Who’s Out and About?

Visitors to Folly Beach, near Charleston, SC, provide snacks for hungry gulls.

Visitors to Folly Beach, near Charleston, SC, provide snacks for hungry gulls.

On March 10, I visited Folly Beach, near Charleston, SC. I hadn’t been there for many years, and I was hoping to find and photograph a shorebird called Wilson’s plover.

Like its cousins, the piping plover and snowy plover, Wilson’s plover is at home on the open beach, where it forages for crustaceans, worms, and insects. The bird’s relatively stout bill enables it to dine on prey that its smaller cousins generally can’t catch and eat.

Wilson's plover, Charadrius wilsonia, is a coastal species found mostly around the Gulf of Mexico and the Southeastern U.S. (Note the band on the bird's right leg.)

Wilson’s plover, Charadrius wilsonia, is a coastal species found mostly around the Gulf of Mexico and the Southeastern U.S. (Note the flag on the bird’s right leg.)

At the southwestern tip of Folly Beach County Park, I spotted a pair of Wilson’s plovers, at nearly the same place I had seen them years ago. The birds were banded, and I wondered where and when they had been caught.

The South Carolina coast is a great place to study shorebirds, so I sent one of my photographs to Chris Hill, professor of biology at Coastal Carolina University. He passed it along to Chris Snook, who is affiliated with the Cape Romain Bird Observatory.

“This bird was originally banded as an adult on 30th March, 2010 on Kiawah Island and was not resighted until 2013 at Folly Beach County Park,” Snook wrote in an email. “So this makes it the 5th breeding season it has carried the markers.” Now I feel even more connected to these wonderful birds!

Willet and black-bellied plover were the other shorebirds I saw on my brief visit.

Willet, Tringa semipalmata, is a large shorebird common along both U.S. coasts. Western birds breed inland and often find their way to the East Coast; some birders are able to distinguish them from their slightly smaller eastern cousins.

Willet, Tringa semipalmata, is a large shorebird common along both U.S. coasts. Western birds breed inland and often find their way to the East Coast; some birders are able to distinguish them from their slightly smaller Eastern cousins.

Black-bellied plover, Pluvialis squatarola, seems a bit drab in basic plumage, but summer adults are quite striking, with jet-black plumage from throat to legs.

Black-bellied plover, Pluvialis squatarola, seems a bit drab in basic plumage, but summer adults are quite striking, with jet-black plumage from throat to legs.

Folly Beach is also a good place to watch gulls, thanks in part to visitors who feed them. Laughing gulls, named for its raucous cries, were the most plentiful species on the day I was there. Like its western cousin, Franklin’s gull, our birds are easily identified in spring and summer by their solid black hood. During other times of the year, the black fades to an ashy streak on the back of the head.

Laughing gull, Leucophaeus atricilla, sports an all-black head during spring and summer. This mostly coastal species ranges from the Gulf of Mexico to New England.

Laughing gull, Leucophaeus atricilla, sports an all-black head during spring and summer. This mostly coastal species ranges from the Gulf of Mexico to New England.

Enjoyable as a simple walk on the beach can be, I’m always interested to see what birds are out and about, no matter the weather or time of year. That’s one of the many reasons I live at the coast.

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