2012 Environmental Stewardship Award Winners

Pat Wolters and Dot Bambach

Pied-Billed Grebe and the Bluegill – Dec 13

On Tuesday, 13 December, 12:53pm I observed a lone “Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), located along that narrow portion of brackish lagoon # 15, just east of the Marshwood # 7 (?) green/sand trap adjacent to water) The lagoon extends from North Landings way North (across from Dog park) to the Marshwood driving range. I was photographing this water bird with my 400mm lens draped across my bean bag, resting atop my golf cart steering wheel when it dove, surfaced app 8 yards distant with what first appeared to be a massive amount of green/slimy vegetation. I crept forward in my golf cart blind, drawing parallel as It turned towards me. I observed what appeared to be an extremely large member of the sunfish family. Luckily it was so engrossed in an attempt to ingest this prize that for the next five minutes I was able to digitally document the ordeal.

The fish, was subsequently identified as a “Bluegill’ (Lepomis macrochirus), aka Brim/ Brem by island residents Hank Scheeringa, confirmed by Caryl Warner, both experienced Landing’s lagoon fishermen. Caryl advised it appeared to be at least 7.5″ in length. The Bluegill is normally thought to be located in fresh water; however they…”can tolerate 1.8% salinity”. ( note to self-`check with Sean Burgess, The Landing’s Environmental Coordinator.” the average salinity of this lagoon). The question then is how did this large Bluegill ( sharp fins and bones) pass through the jaws of the Grebe. ( see below photos #’s 3,5 and 11- note how the jaws hinge)

This fascinatingly small,13 1/2″ long water bird has large lobed toed webb feet. The legs are short and moved far aft, arranged together to make this bird a fast and strong swimmer. I have arranged the thee images together to address the huge propulsion machines (feet), quite a creation!!! We are fortunate that the Pied-billed Grebe winters over here on Skidaway, mostly on our brackish lagoons, yet you will find them also on the fresh water ones, to a lesser degree. Their diet consist of “aquatic insects, also snails, fish, frogs, incidental aquatic vegetation.”

On, 22 November, while observing three Grebes napping and preening ( cleaning, rearranging, and oiling of the feathers with the bill) I noted one floated diagonally over to a feather, picked it up and swallowed it. It continued to preen and swallow more feathers. I also observed one of the other Grebes to also ingest its feathers. I thought this action to be most interesting. Thankfully contained in my library is a copy, ” The Birder’s Handbook”, a field guide to the natural history of North American Birds, by Paul R. Ehrlich, David Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye. They point out that fifty percent of the stomach contents of a Pied-billed Grebe may be feathers. Apparently the action of the gizzard is insufficient to crush the bones of the fish that are swallowed. “The feather balls are thought to protect the stomach by padding the sharp fish bones and slowing down the process of digestion so that the bones dissolve rather than pass into the intestine.” Subsequent to photographing and edited the below images I have a real appreciating of the evolution of this species, an efficient water bird.

You may have previously observed a few of the below Grebe images; however, I have again included them to assist in the telling the story of this wonderful little water bird ( I have never observed it on land), now sharing our island lagoons while over wintering.


Some Photos by Fitz around the Island – July 25

Another Tale from the McCall’s Backyard – July 18

Meet Mr. Gerty (almost)
Well, I tried to get him to pose for a picture. But he flew away before I could get a decent shot. He’s been somewhat aloof this season. Maybe it’s because he was embarrassed that he seldom makes a kill, (Gerty does the dirty work) Red hawks mate for life and return to the same nest each season, unless an owl has taken it over. I will give Mr. Gerty credit for taking care of the family, male red hawks will feed their mate while she is nesting. We did see him plucking the fur off his dinner before eating a squirrel tail “tartar“, so we know he is fastidious about some things, however, we have never seen him in our bird bath, until last week.

Gerty must have told him to get cleaned up or leave the nest.

Meet the Babies
Gerty & her partner have produced twins this season. You tell the difference between an adult and a juvenile by looking at the tail feathers. Adult red hawks have a reddish tail feather that looks like a fan. The juveniles’ tail feathers looks more like a striped ruler and are not red. In addition, their iris is yellow.

The “twins” have been driving us crazy, with all the screeching they do begging for a portion of their parents’ kill. Competent parents, Gerty and Mr. Gerty, ignore them. We have saw the two juveniles try to hunt the other day. They kept flying into each other trying to catch a lizard…. they failed.

Gerty and her mate are trying to teach them to fend for themselves. They will soon part ways, but for now they still like to bathe together as a family.

Birds at the Sparrow Field – July 16

Today, 7/16/2011, I was following up on the report by Pat Wolters, our island’s resident “Bird Rehabilitator” that she had released a juvenile ” Eastern Kingbird” at the Sparrow Field, The Landings, Skidaway Island, Chatham County, Georgia.

I spotted what I believe was the juvenile bird in company with an adult “Eastern Kingbird.” They were perched, both seeking insects, flying out and back to a limb on the small group of Sweetgum trees, back left of the field, within the path that circles the field.

As I approached they flushed; however, two yellow breasted birds stood out within the swaying Sweetgum limbs. I was successful in acquiring three digital images of two female, “Orchard Orioles.” I originally believed them to be, ” Blue-winged Warblers”; however, Diana Churchill, a friend and former President of Ogeechee Audubon set me straight. She provided the identification as female “Orchard Orioles”. Diana further advised, ” Orchard Orioles nest here and are regulars on Skidaway.”

Shortly thereafter I captured a juvenile “Blue-gray Gnatcatcher” near the pump house, back right of the field.

The recent rain measured 8.5 inches at the Sparrow Field. It has brought forth the many blooming nectar and butterfly host-plants. We have bush-hogged the field and cut the grass at the base of the 75-yard ” Pollinator Friendly Area” on the berm.

I would invite you to visit the field in your golf cart or vehicle. There are so many different species of birds, butterflies, bees, wasp and additional insects to enjoy. 

Fitz Visited the State Park – July 8

Below are a few recent images. Some a bit closer than you normally might view. I find them rather interesting as you can all but read the thought process of the bird. Each bird is an individual and each species seems to have a bill shape to fit its major food source. 

The DNR Staff, Skidaway Island State Park, Chatham County, Ga have a very interesting bird observation area to the rear of the Interpretive Center, all but one of these birds were photographed there. You will note the juvenile Painting Buntings are birds recently fledged, their nest in close proximity to the feeding stations to the rear of the Interpretive Center.

Fitz Clarke

A Tale from the McCall’s Backyard

I didn’t know that much about birds and even less about hawks, that is until that fateful day when my husband and I bought our first bird feeder. Never would I have expected what happened and has continued for the last two years.

At first, our feeder attracted the usual “ Hines 57 variety” of winged visitors. Even got an otter, a possum, and a few deer poking around the bottom of the feeder. Then they came. From the trees, from the fairway, from the vacant lot next door, who knew there were that many squirrels! Squirrels, squirrels, everywhere!

I never minded the little rodents before, but soon they became a real annoyance. But the blue jays, cardinals and mourning doves didn’t seem to mind them, they got along very nicely in fact, respecting each others space, underneath the bird feeder.

Well, a few months later, we did what every person who has purchased a bird feeder eventually does. We took the next big step towards bird watching and bought THE bird bath. And that’s when I met my new girlfriend. Read more

Eastern Kingbird at the Sparrow Field

Today, 6/30/2011, I attempted to photograph a Black Swallowtail butterfly nectaring thistle plants, our Sparrow Field, The Landings, Skidaway Island, Ga. My efforts proved fruitless; however, this migratory “Eastern Kingbird” flew from its Purple Martin gourd perch to a group of “Dog Fennel”, to my left, south/west of me. With the sun to my back, the Kingbird proved to be an ideal photographers pose.

I fired off a few frames, with fill flash set to -3/4 ( to bring out the shadows and color), which I now share with you. This beautiful bird can be located by a visit to the Sparrow field. There is a “Sparrow Field” sign at the intersection of “North Bartram and Pettigrew Dr”. You can drive into the field and park, or drive around the field path. I would ask you take your time to visit the 75 yard berm, which we are turning into a “Pollinator Friendly Area”, a nectar source magnet habitat for the bees, wasp, and butterflies/skippers

Purple Martins at the Sparrow Field – June 15

There is something very special between a mother and her babies. That was very evident today, 6/15/2011, as I watched this mother Purple Martin coaxing her young from the safety of their nesting gourd, one of the 16 gourd rack, Sparrow Field, Skidaway Island, Ga. When last we monitored there were 74 chicks.

The sky was filled with the adults and newly fledged young above the 3 1/4 acre Sparrow Field. It was a bad day indeed for the dragon and damsel flies, as well as other winged insects attempting to transit the field.


Spring Shorebird Migration – June 7

This time of year is usually rather dull on Skidaway as far as neo-tropical songbird migration goes.  Not that they don’t come through, but they are in relatively small numbers and absent rainy weather to put them down, many species often pass through unseen except by patient observers.

Shorebirds are an altogether different matter.  In spring they are worth getting off the couch for.   Even those which spend the winter with us begin to molt into breeding plumage and take on colors and hues which are a far cry from the dull grayish-brown and white of winter.  Red Knots turn salmon and gray, and dowitchers’ breasts and bellies take on reddish tones. Dunlins, the most common of our wintering shorebirds, nondescript in winter, sport a distinctive black patch on their bellies and rufous upper wing.  Even the hard to separate Western, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers dress up. Read more

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