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The Naturalist's Corner: It’s getting pinker

Roseate spoonbills at Isle of Palms. The lighter one in front is an immature. Don Hendershot photo Roseate spoonbills at Isle of Palms. The lighter one in front is an immature. Don Hendershot photo

Our annual beach and marsh R&R at Wild Dunes on Isle of Palms, South Carolina, is history. Thanks to the generosity of dear friends we have been making the trip for a decade or so. It has become the high point of our summer and it never disappoints — but how could it, with wonderful beach and marsh access. 

We certainly hear Mother Ocean call and our 12-year-old makes sure we pay daily homage. A long dock reaches to high tide where kayaks can be launched into the verdant green marsh. But there is another relaxing, rejuvenating aspect, perhaps more enjoyed by Mom and Dad than the kiddos. That is the crepuscular celebration of sitting and sipping — coffee in the morning and an adult beverage in the evening. The marsh breeze keeps the bugs at bay and even makes the sultry August Lowcountry heat quite bearable.

Company in the marsh is tide-dependent. Low tide is shared with crabs of all sizes and types, the popping of pistol shrimp, smell of the pluff mud and wading birds of various size, shape and color. High tide is shared with splashing mullets, raucous calls of gulls and terns, hovering ospreys and swaying marsh grass. Early morning light makes the marsh cooler and greener — more welcoming, while sunsets are generally spectacular displays of orange fire and dark clouds.

One of the highlights of this year’s trip (and there are always many) was the regular presence of roseate spoonbills. This iconic pink marsh denizen with its long spatula-like beak is truly exotic looking. If memory serves (and it sometimes doesn’t), I believe it was 2014 when we first encountered a roseate in the marsh at Wild Dunes. Since that time, we’ve kept an eye out for them and always see one or two somewhere on Isle of Palms. This year we were privileged to have a small group present around the dock every day at low tide. I counted five on the dock at one time.

The roseate is one of six species of spoonbills and the only one found in the Americas. A regular nester in South and Central America the roseate was once common in the marshes of the Southeastern coastal states. They were nearly eradicated from the Southeast in the early 20th century due to habitat loss and plume hunters. Conservation efforts are proving successful and the roseate now nests from South Texas eastward to South Carolina. The greatest numbers are in Florida, Texas and Louisiana.

Roseates, like flamingos, get their pink coloration from the crustacean they eat. They forage by walking steadily through shallow water swinging their spatula beak back and forth probing for invertebrates, fish, amphibians, insects and just about anything it can catch. The roseate isn’t born with its signature spatula. The bill starts to flatten when the chick reaches about nine days old. The spatula shape is evident by day 16 and after around 40 days the beak is nearly full size.

Now I have a dilemma. The wood stork used to be the signature bird I always looked for at Isle of Palms but now with this hot pink avian new comer I may have come up with categories?

(Don Hendershot is a naturalist and a writer who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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