Hilton Head Audubon Society: Keeping an eye on birds since 1974

greenhhi20On Hilton Head Island, it’s hard to ignore the variety of birds one sees, from shorebirds to warblers and wrens.

For some, a passing observation is sufficient: “I saw a big white bird in the marsh.”

Conversely, Audubon Society members might note, “I saw an ibis. I noticed it was a juvenile because its beak wasn’t deep red yet.”

Providing that extra layer of knowledge is what the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society does through its monthly programs, nature walks through the Audubon Newhall Preserve, field trips and “Ecobon” newsletter, said Rick Riebesell, chapter president.

“One of the things we try to do is to get people involved in understanding that our natural world is something we have to protect,” Riebesell said. “Why has nature reacted this way? Once you’ve hit that point -- that I should pay attention -- you need knowledge.”

Nearly 100 people attend each of the Society’s lectures at 3 p.m. the second Thursdays of September through May at Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn. Each fall, its “Introduction to Birding” classes fill up.

“Hilton Head is a great place for birding, especially migrating birds,” Riebesell said. “The community is attuned to nature and they support the idea of keeping natural habitat.”

greenhhi21Nature appeals to most people, he said, noting that 6 percent of Americans claim to be “birders,” but well over twothirds of Americans say they enjoy nature and half have traveled to a park or other destination to do so.

“Audubon members pay attention to the natural world, not just birds. We try in our educational efforts make people aware of the attraction of nature. People are interested in nature and when they travel, they look for natural areas. They are highlights of their trips.”

The 160-member chapter also participates in the annual Christmas Bird Count.

greenhhi22“While the Christmas bird count might receive the most attention, it is an inward-looking event,” Riebesell said. It isn’t a group activity, but a period during which people volunteer to go out on their own to count birds and then report their findings.

Riebesell notes that not all Audubon members are “bird fanatics.” Many are like him, recreational birders who enjoy going out with binoculars or cameras. “I’m not a list keeper. I just like being outside.”

For those who do keep bird lists, the Society provides a checklist of 187 species that have been spotted here, from endangered piping plovers and Eastern kingbirds to dozens of warbler species.greenhhi23

The Society also organizes three or four field trips each year outside the area, driven by which birds in a certain place at the same time. “They are trips of opportunity,” Riebesell said.

In Sea Pines, people flock to the free 60- to 90-minute nature walks led by volunteer master naturalists that begin at 10 a.m. Thursdays in the spring and fall at the Audubon Newhall Preserve. The 50-acre parcel off of Palmetto Bay Road was established in 1965 as a preserve within Sea Pines.

“It’s a forest area with several ecosystems inside of it,” said Jack Greenshields, chairman of the Audubon’s Newhall committee.
greenhhi24Trails wander through a woodland ecosystem known as Pine/Saw Palmetto Flatwoods that features four species of pine, saw palmetto, fetterbush and bracken fern, go past a butterfly garden and overlook a pond frequented by warblers and catbirds. A log book chronicles visitors from around the country who visit.

The employees of The Greenery believe in utilizing “green” solutions to conserve their environment such as following an Integrated Pest Management methodology to solve ecological challenges, striving toward water efficiency through viable irrigation programs and rain harvest systems and using battery-powered equipment to keep emissions down.
greenhhi25They also turn landscape debris into mulch they can reuse as weed cover. The Greenery’s employees try to be as “green” as their company name by carpooling in a company van to job sites or even riding their bikes to work when the weather cooperates.

“It’s one of the few parcels in the southern part of the island that is natural,” Greenshields said.

Other prime nearly birding locations include the town’s Fish Haul Creek Park, Pinckney Island and Savannah national wildlife refuges.

With the help of the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society, you can take your observations past “what a pretty bird,” to “look! It’s a yellow-rumped warbler!”

For more information about the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society, go to www.hiltonheadaudubon.org