The winters in Bruce County can tend to be a bit long and monochromatic and since we have a friend that enjoys spending some time in Murrells Inlet in South Carolina we go for a visit. She enjoys birding as well so our ventures to Huntington Beach State Park, Brookgreen Gardens and Santee Coastal Reserve always give us some interesting sights.
Each year can be quite different but some interesting birds always show up. So much so that we had a tough time deciding what to include in this blog. Now that we’ve picked the photos we have to try and tie them all together with words and that can be a challenge in itself 🙂
Our fist day there gave us a wonderful view as were right on the Atlantic Ocean. Right after saying HI we set up the scope and scanned the ocean! We did say more than HI before I eventually set up the scope but it does sound more like the actions of a true birder in the first statement. We noticed a large group of birds diving just offshore and found that they were a flock of Black scoters and White-winged scoters. This is the time when the birds group together and get ready for migration but most of these showed up for us each day that we were there.
There were also Brown pelicans, Northern gannets, Laughing gulls, plus several more species of birds cruising by as we scoped out the ocean. It was indeed a great start to our holiday.
The next morning off we went to Brookgreen Gardens to get our ticket, which lasts for the whole week we were going to be there. Here is where you feel like spring has already sprung regardless of the temperature as the Eastern bluebirds fly about posing for the camera fairly often as they search out bugs to gobble down. This bright male didn’t mind us watching as it would fly out after a bug and then head back to the same perch.
Even though we have Northern cardinals at home, seeing them cheerily singing in a stand of rushes instead of a snowy branch does give you a warmer feeling. This one probably had no intention of venturing north to find a snowy tree to roll out a tune in! We always picture these as Christmas birds but southern Ontario is at the northern edge of this birds range. I guess their bright red colour is a nice contrast to the white of snow.
The woodpeckers were also active and seeing this Red-bellied woodpecker checking for food in a tree covered in Spanish moss also replaces that winter feeling with a somewhat warmer one. Hairy, Downy and Pileated woodpeckers also flew around giving us brief glances as they hammered out their choruses on the nearby trees.
A slightly different drumming led us to a tree that soon yielded a Yellow-bellied sapsucker for a quick photo. As these birds peck on the tree their pecking doesn’t stop abruptly like most of the other woodpeckers. It slows down towards the end of the drum. So if you cant see a bird that is hammering out a loud sound but it slows down as it nears the end of the sound its probably a Yellow-bellied sapsucker and not a woodpecker.
The bit of red under this birds chin indicates that this is a male sapsucker.
In a variety of places we went you could also see American alligators lounging around in the sun warming up. This particular photo shows some turtles (possibly River Cooter) basking in the sun quite close to a happily relaxed young American alligator. Hopefully the turtles keep their distance, as I’m sure the alligator, if hungry wouldn’t mind some turtle for dinner. If a Great Blue heron can choke down a Painted turtle (we’ve seen that happen) I’m sure the alligator could deal with one or two of these if hungry!
In the swampier areas of Brookgreen Gardens several species of birds live but are seldom seen. The sparrows do pop up every so often so if they decide to sing you have a chance to snap a quick photo like this one of a Swamp sparrow. Most of the time focussing took just a bit too long as the bird quickly rocketed into the reeds again.
Almost anywhere along the Atlantic shore and especially in some of the harbours the Brown pelicans abound. On our way into Huntington Beach State Park this one was sieving for dinner. Its amazing how much water and whatever the water holds is taken into the pelicans mouth and throat pouch. Then it forces out the water and swallows whatever unsuspecting fish couldn’t get sieved out. It sure seems efficient as the pelicans were constantly getting fish to eat. They will also dive at schools of fish from heights up to 60 feet and then again sieve out the water to get to the tasty fish dinner left in its pouch.
In the shallow water near this pelican several Snowy egrets also speared for fish. These smaller white egrets are often subjects of photos as they are fairly comfortable having people close by. The smaller size and yellow feet (which often aren’t obvious) are ways of identifying egrets from the larger Great egret. The feathers from these birds used to be used in womens hats reducing their population to a low level. Now protected, the population of these birds has rebounded quite well. We often saw 6 or 7 of them in a group flying or foraging in the minnow rich waters.
The next bird you will see can also be found in Bruce County in the summer as we are on the northern edge of its summer range. The Common gallinule (formerly included in the Common moorhen family) is indeed much more common in this area of South Carolina.
The Common moorhen lives in Europe, Asia and Africa and it was only since 2011 that the Common gallinule was split off from that family into a separate species for the North American bird. These birds are similar to the American coots but have red on the frontal shield instead of white as you can see from the photo. Juveniles don’t have this red colour and are browner in colour than the adults. If you are quiet they don’t seem to mind you getting fairly close for a good view as they forage in the shallow waters of a pond.
As you wander around the open brushy areas of Huntington you will often see a Northern mockingbird perched in a tree singing away. These birds are often heard well before they are seen as they can mimic other birds and have a very lengthy song. Their song is usually what will lead you to the tree or brush they are perched in or even on the ground where they are also often seen. They can be seen fairly regularly in southern Ontario but in Bruce County we are near their northerly limit so they are not a common bird sighted. It was hard not to take too many photos of them as they happily sang away and gave us wonderful views.
A bird we saw in South Carolina that was quite difficult to photograph is the Blue-grey gnatcatcher. These small birds do NOT stay still long as they forage continuously for insects through the trees. Once one tree is covered off they go to another often leaving a disappointed photographer in their wake. We did manage to snap a few photos just as they were contemplating their next move ( more good luck than anything else).
We also have these birds here in Bruce County but again we’re on the northern edge of their summer range. It’s usually during migration that we see a few of these mixed in with the multitude of warblers searching the trees for bugs.
A warbler that we don’t see much at home is this Yellow-throated warbler. We are a bit north of their range so seeing them here in South Carolina was a nice treat. Once we memorized their call they seemed to be in almost every tree we stopped near.
On one of our outings we ventured close to Charleston to see if we could find some shorebirds. Unfortunately any mudflats we found were too far away or very uninhabited but we did come across this Belted kingfisher patiently waiting for some small fish to attract its attention. Again, these birds can sometimes be difficult to photograph but this one wasn’t in any hurry to go anywhere as the day was quite windy so it just sat there.
In the same location on the opposite side of the pier there were two American oystercatchers wandering through the mud looking for something to eat. They didn’t seem to mind us snapping a few photos but they did keep their eyes on us as you can see from the photo. These are birds we never see at home on the shore of Lake Huron.
These birds range around the eastern coast of the United States and Mexico while the Black oystercatchers inhabit the Pacific coastal waters. Since we seldom see these birds they are quite interesting to see from close up with their black hood and bright orange beak.
During our walks along the shore at Huntington Beach State Park we would often see small birds running through the surf picking up small bits that were brought in on the waves. These Sanderlings in their bright whitish non-breeding plumage ran along the surf line rather than fly and boy can they run. Once one or two get behind the others their feet are almost a blur as they try to catch up. Sometimes they do fly when they have a farther distance to go but most time you will see them walking or running along the edge of the ocean as they forage for food.
Since Huntington has such a variety of habitats there are quite a variety of birds that can be seen here. Up to 328 species have been seen and recorded in eBird in this one park alone. One of the birds we don’t see around here is the Anhinga. We see a large number of Double-crested cormorants that look somewhat similar but the Anhinga is a larger bird and has a longer tail as well as a striking blue around the eyes of birds in breeding season. They tend to stay fairly far away but when they spread their wings to dry off in the sunshine it can make an interesting photo as you see here.
Even though they are a large bird they stalk prey underwater and strike out with their long snakelike neck and bill to spear fish. They surface and then toss the fish off the bill catching it to swallow it headfirst.
As we go through our photos we find that there are many more that we could write about but for now this will be the end of our South Carolina saga. We had a great time enjoying an early spring but knew we were in for a shock when we headed back to the Bruce. As we left the temperatures were in the single digits C so it gave us a feeling for what was ahead. Winter was indeed waiting for us but that’s another story for another day.
We hope going from a drought to a flood of blogs isn’t going to be too much for you to take in !