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The Salt Marsh at Low Tide

Birds in a salt marsh in Myrtle Beach, SC

We were quite busy with our Kayak EcoTours during the two weeks surrounding Easter. Spring Break brings lots of visitors to the Myrtle Beach area. I am finally finding time to do a Blog post.

The Salt Marsh really comes to life at low tide. Birds love to eat at low tide, when their prey has nowhere to flee in the shallow water. Oysters, crabs, snails and other creatures are visible. This is the best time to see some of the colorful sponges of the Salt Marsh. This week, we saw a large Red beard sponge, which is not often seen in this area. Most sponges die when taken out of the water, so it takes a very low tide to expose them.

 

Red Beard Sponge

Our resident Bald Eagle pair has been teaching the juvenile eagle how to hunt. We saw one of the parents attacking an Osprey, while the juvenile Eagle soared lazily above the fight. Usually, when the Bald Eagle sees an Osprey catch a fish, a chase ensues, usually resulting in the Eagle crashing into the Osprey and stealing the fish. In this instance, the Osprey did not have a fish, so maybe the Eagle was just showing the juvenile how to fight.

The Least Terns have been out in large numbers this week. They are the smallest terns in the world, but they have very large personalities. It is not unusual to have one five within ten feet of your kayak if they see a fish. They are excellent at hovering in place while looking for fish. It may take ten attempts before a successful catch, but the Terns always persevere. We are getting close to their breeding time, during which we will often see the male bring a fish to a female waiting patiently on the sandbar or beach. If she likes the fish, she gets very excited and takes it. Sometimes, however, she looks at the male with a “you call THAT a fish?” look, and then ignores the fish. The male will hang his head dejectedly, then wisely take the fish for himself before flying off to try to catch a fish that will meet the females high standards.

Least Terns

Low tide also brings out large numbers of fiddler crabs on the muddy sandbars and the edges of the marsh. This brings out the Whimbrel. The Whimbrel is a large shorebird with a very long down-curved bill, which is perfectly shaped for pulling Fiddler Crabs out of their holes. On my latest Salt Marsh Tour, we saw a Whimbrel hanging out with a Willet (a slightly smaller shorebird). They followed each other around to multiple locations during our tour. Seeing mixed flocks of shorebirds is very common. Maybe we need to get the birds to teach humans how to get along with each other like this.

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