The month of March can be a wonderfully interesting time for birding in our area. Most of our winter bird species are still represented, although perhaps in somewhat lower numbers, and those that do remain are molting into their breeding-season plumages, engaging in more aggressive, territorial-type behaviors. They’ve also started practicing their spring vocalizations, which they add to the current dawn chorus.
A number of the earliest spring migrants, such as shorebirds and swallows, have begun to make their way into and through the area (purple martins should begin arriving any day now), while nesting bald eagles will soon begin to fledge their young. Amid the comings of those that spent winter farther south and the goings of those who wintered here with us, our resident birds are launching headlong into their own seasonal reproductive affairs.
There are always some uncommon to rare birds of interest found during spring (and fall) migration. Last weekend, a white-tailed kite was observed and photographed at Bear Island Wildlife Management Area south of Charleston. Similar in size to Mississippi kite, the white-tailed kite has a white tail, white undersides and head, and black “shoulders,” whereas Mississippi kite has a gray head and underparts with a shorter black tail. Primarily a Western species in North America, white-tailed kite’s range barely reaches into the extreme southern tip of Florida. A rare visitor to South Carolina, the sighting of one causes many dedicated birders to make a spontaneous visit to the site of the observation posthaste.
Another rare bird for South Carolina, a ruff, was found by Steve and Barbara Thomas at Santee Coastal Reserve (just south of the Georgetown/Charleston county line) on March 6. The ruff is a sandpiper that breeds across northern Eurasia in marshes and wet meadows, and normally winters from southern and western Europe south to Africa, southern Asia and Australia.
A common redpoll, yet another rare visitor to this state, has been frequenting a feeder in West Columbia. Small finches that breed on arctic tundra and in far northern boreal forests, these hardy little birds rarely make it farther south than northern Tennessee in winter, so one in our state is a truly noteworthy occurrence.
A reminder that the first returning ruby-throated hummingbirds begin to arrive in our area in mid-March, so now is the time to get your feeders in place. Remember to keep them clean and maintained with a solution of one part sugar to four parts water with no other additives, and let me know of the first arrival in your yard.