While many are caught up with the blue wave or the red wave on the political scene, I am more excited about the pink wave! Okay, maybe it is not exactly a “wave,” but have you seen the gorgeous pink birds flying around the marshes along the south end of the beach lately? The first time I caught a glimpse of one in August, it was flying with a group of wood storks on the far side of the marsh, and the very pale pink color made me think it was just a reflection of the blazing sunset of the late afternoon sky.
But as I strained to look closer, I knew I was looking at something very special, but I was not exactly sure what bird it was. Then, I spotted another bird and another, as I counted ten perfectly pink birds flying gracefully low over the oyster banks and marsh grasses. After some investigating on the Internet, I realized that what I had seen were roseate spoonbills, and that they are typically common in coastal Florida, Texas, and parts of Louisiana, but not South Carolina! The only pink birds I have seen in South Carolina are those plastic pink flamingos found in so many yards.
How do you know when you are a true birdwatcher?
I first realized I was becoming a true birdwatcher about a dozen or so years ago. My hubby and I were on one of those annual awards trips my hubby had earned with the bank, and this one was taking place in Amelia Island, Florida. Every day there were activities you could sign up for, with exciting things such as horseback riding on the beach, kayaking on the local waters, and deep sea fishing . . . and as luck would have it, we were late to sign up for one of those “exciting” activities so we were left with—yep, you guessed it, birdwatching.
Oh my, I thought. I’m not the birdwatching type, as I reluctantly arrived at the meeting spot with my hubby. Dressed in khaki shorts with lots of pockets, a loose-fitting shirt, an Outback-type hat, and appropriate walking shoes, I thought to myself that I looked ridiculous and this was going to be boring. As the enthusiastic leader of the activity approached us with a huge smile and a big box of goodies for the group, I realized this might not be so bad after all. Each of us got the coolest pair of mini camouflaged Bushnell binoculars, and that really got my attention—anything camo is exciting to me. Armed with a laminated bird identification brochure and a red wax pencil that we could use to circle the birds we saw, along with a nice box lunch, we were off for a long walk along the nature preserve and onto the beach, and our leader had already impressed me with her contagious passion for birding.
That day changed how I would look at birds forever. I never knew how exciting it could be to know the difference between a laughing gull, which has a funny high-pitched nasal type call that sounds a bit like, “ha ha ha”! And a herring gull that cleverly drops crabs and clams to crack them open! We got super excited to see rare and endangered birds such as the wood stork, which enjoys a nickname of “old flinthead,” which describes his bare head that glints like metal. These birds have fascinated me ever since with their black and white feathers and their distinctive flight profile, which reminds me of a prehistoric bird.
Yes, it is official: I have become a birdwatcher, a bird enthusiast, whatever you want to call me. Being a conservationist/hunter, it is no wonder that I have this appreciation for these amazing birds and how important it is to protect them. Of course, living right on the creek has widened my opportunities to spot wood storks and oystercatchers. But for now, roseate spoonbills have become my newest obsession as I am always on high alert trying to catch a glimpse of them flying past my windows or settling in for dinner on the oyster banks at low tide.
A few things I’ve learned about these beautiful coastal wading birds include:
The pale pink colors of the birds we are seeing here indicate that they may be immature birds, or that they lack shrimp in their diet.
Typical diet consists of crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, newts, and very small fish.
Range of color is from pale pink to magenta—mostly depending on their diet.
They are not nesting in our area, but more or less stopping by after their breeding period has passed, which is typical behavior of males.
Males and females have almost identical physical appearance.
A group of roseates is called a bowl.
They swing their heads from side to side, sifting the muck in the muddy tidal ponds with their wide, flat bills.
Roseate spoonbills were nearly wiped out due to the demand for their stunning plumes used for making fans in the early decades of the 19th century.
By the 1930s there were fewer than 30 to 40 breeding roseates left!
In 2006, a banded roseate was discovered, making it the oldest known at 16 years old.
There was an official sighting on July 28, 2017 in Pennsylvania on the Susquehanna River.
With the help of my friend, Jenny Hanna, an up-and-coming nature photographer and bird enthusiast, these photos bring the roseate spoonbills to life, but if you want to get some photos for yourself, she has some good advice. “Try to get out early morning or late afternoon if you are looking for the best lighting for photos. However, it needs to coordinate with the tides, and the best tides are low to incoming tides,” She explains.
“Huntington Beach State Park is an ideal spot for the spoonbills, as well as other local birds.” Jenny also wants to remind everyone to please pick up all their trash. “I’m seeing more and more of it in the inlet and on the beach. We are responsible for leaving our children a thriving planet,” she adds. Jenny can be seen throughout the Garden City area photographing wildlife, and has a special passion for birds.
As written for Waccamaw Outdoor Magazine, September 2018 Issue