Isle of Palms, SC (Photo by: Lori McGee)

My island life just outside of Charleston, South Carolina inspires my writing life. The lush landscape teems with life in the marshes and rivers, forests and beaches. The wild is my inspiration. Sea turtles, monarch butterflies, and dolphins have sparked my stories in the past. And this time, migrating shorebirds are the backdrop of my new novel, BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT, available June 20.

I didn’t set out to tell a story about these birds. Instead, I like to think the story found me.  It started with a pelican rescue (read that story here), which opened me up to the fascinating world of shorebirds. And when I learned from Audubon that 70% of the shorebird population is in decline, I knew I had to tell this story.

Today I introduce you to guest blogger, Dr. Jessica Hardesty Norris, president of Audubon Charleston, and shares details about a shorebird stewards program that I’m committed to helping raise awareness about along South Carolina beaches and beyond. A big thanks to Jessica for this special contribution today.

Nolan Schillerstrom has learned to start with the positive.  He has to.  His job is encouraging South Carolina beachgoers to share their play-space with the wild birds who need undisturbed access to our shores in order to survive.

Take the typical scenario. It’s an idyllic beach day for a visiting (or local) family.  They have come to the shore, perhaps with kids and dogs and bicycles, ready to enjoy the sun and waves. As they play, they might not notice the feathered families trying to make their living on that same beach.

Most shorebirds, after all, are small and have cryptic coloration that allows them to blend in with the sand and pebbles. So Nolan, who’s on staff with Audubon South Carolina, must make the human family aware of the bird families who share our beaches.

According to the South Carolina Audubon Let ‘em rest, Let ‘em nest webpage, disturbance is one reason for the abrupt decline of species like the Least Terns, Wilson’s Plovers, and Piping Plovers. Scaring or chasing the birds can quickly create dire consequences.  On a hot sunny day, a newborn chick whose parent has been chased off the nest can die within minutes.

Biologists like Nolan, with his team of “Shorebird Steward” volunteers, work throughout the nesting season to raise awareness among families, dog-walkers, and cyclists.

As they walk the beaches, they have to be able to start the conversation in a friendly way that opens people to learning more.

How do the Stewards keep it positive when patrolling the beaches?  “I end up talking about dogs a lot,” says Nolan. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked up to a stranger on a beach to ask them what kind of dog they have.  And I do love dogs!”

Once the conversation is rolling, he seizes the opportunity to share a little information about shorebirds and how to be a good neighbor on the beach. He also travels with a telescope that allows people to spot birds long range, which delivers his message better than any prepared talk.

Wilson’s Plover and chick

“If you can show a family a nesting Wilson’s Plover, you have instantly fostered stewardship.  The kids love to see the chicks – and I think I can be unbiased in saying they are some of the cutest babies on the planet.”

It always helps if beach-goers have already heard about shorebirds in other places.  That need for education and awareness is what makes Mary Alice Monroe–whose support for sea turtle conservation has helped spur an army of new volunteers to protect nesting turtles–an important partner in shorebird conservation. Earlier this month, she hosted a nature walk to Bull’s Island with Audubon SC.


Photo by: Sally Watts Photography

Monroe’s stories, so often set on our beloved beaches, share conservation messages with general audiences. Beach House for Rent, her upcoming book, draws a parallel between the shorebirds and the heroine who paints them – both are easily alarmed, with beauty entwined with vulnerability at their very core.

We are working together to help spread the message now. With beach parties and boating celebrations, Memorial Day is one of the worst weekends of the year for our shorebirds, many of whom are just trying to wrap up their nesting for the year.

Please respect the signs on closed beaches, avoid scaring birds, and do your best to be a good neighbor as you enjoy your time at the beach. If you see an Audubon Shorebird Steward, let them know you appreciate their work; they will have a prize on hand to share!

And if you are interested in helping the effort, you can contact Nolan at Audubon South Carolina and sign up to be a Shorebird Steward.

Audubon South Carolina is honored to be a beneficiary of Monroe’s BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT Book Launch Celebration on June 24th at Wild Dunes Resort. A portion of proceeds from the event will support the Audubon SC Shorebird Stewards Program. 

Written by: Dr. Jessica Hardesty Norris, Audubon Charleston






Comments (6)

Thank you so much for your help spreading the word. We need to educate people to this problem before it’s too late. Nolan has been great getting our program started her on Harbor Island but we need more volunteers to make it a success. I am looking forward to reading Beach House for Rent.

I live in Indiana so have no contact with the beaches and birds but I’m glad that there are people doing things to save those beautiful creatures! I love reading books about these efforts! Thanks

Mary Alice Monroe

Thank you Kathy for your kind words! And what I think is special about Audubon is there is a chapter near you, and its dedicated to being good stewards of the birds that depend on your landscape. Each of us can make a difference in our own backyard. I love that!

Mary Alice Monroe

Oh Peggy, I hope the book and blog posts like this one help raise that awareness and get people interested in the Shorebird Stewards Program. Thanks for your kind words.

I was recently on a property near McClellanville where I had the incredible experience of seeing around 30 Beautiful Woodstorks together sunning themselves. I did not get a single photo but the sight is engraved in my eyes. It has been many a year since I have seen so many in one place. I used to see this every Spring and find it sad it is so rare today. I am not educated on this decline but it has been easily noted and I have been missing Pelicans and Woodstorks and others. I grew up loving birds. My Father gave that to me. I have sent an email to become a Shorebird Steward and hope I can learn how I can help. Thank You for sharing I cannot wait to read “Beach House For Rent”. Once again I know you will still my heart with your story.

Mary Alice Monroe

This means so much. Thank you for sharing this. You are a good steward of our environment and thank you for your interest in being an Audubon shorebird steward. I know you’ll inspire others to follow in your footsteps.

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