My wife and I had the pleasure of spending ten days in coastal South Carolina in the middle of January, 2015. The birding and the temperature were great.
We flew into Charleston. The first birds we saw were dozens of Boat-tailed Grackles foraging on the grass adjacent to the landing strip.
We departed south from the airport to the delightful town of Beaufort. It’s a town of about 12,000 with lots of wonderful antebellum architecture. Beaufort has also provided the location for a lot of movies including The Big Chill, The Great Santini, Forest Gump, GI Jane and Platoon. The birding was excellent as well.
Our first excursion was to Hunting Island State Park, a large, elongate tract of land. As we drove into the park, we saw a gathering of white herons, foraging in a shallow pool. Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets were outnumbered by a dozen first-year Little Blue Herons in their white plumage. An adult Little Blue Heron and a Great Blue Heron provided some contrast.
A boardwalk onto the marsh yielded at least five Clapper Rails, calling vigorously. We were never able to see one of these secretive birds. A Willet was a nice find.
Continuing to the tip of the island, we visited the informative Visitors Center. Scoping from the pier yielded a mixed flock of loafing birds: 20 Laughing Gulls, 15 Forster’s Terns, ten Royal Terns, 20 Brown Pelicans and 10 Double-crested Cormorants.
We hiked about half a mile to the exposed beach. Erosion has been extensive in this area. A number of magnificent live oaks were corpses, killed by the encroaching ocean. An observation tower formerly well above the tide line now rises from the middle part of the intertidal zone. We found three Red-breasted Mergansers beyond the breakers and four Northern Gannets flew quite close to shore, affording us wonderful looks.
We found a mixed flock of songbirds in the pine woods on the way back including a Red-bellied Woodpecker, an Eastern Bluebird, a Pine Warbler and several Yellow-rumped Warblers.
The following day, we checked out the Port Royal Boardwalk. A Horned Grebe, two Bufflehead, ten Double-crested Cormorant and tons of Brown Pelicans were on the water. The marsh held a Tricolored Heron as well as both egrets. A Killdeer flew overhead, calling vigorously. A small flock of shorebirds was aggregated on a small spit of sand. We found two Willets, a dozen Ruddy Turnstones and four Dunlin there.
The adjacent woodlands produced two Palm Warblers along with tens of Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Northern Mockingbird and a Northern Cardinal.
We headed north and spent a pleasant few hours at the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area near Green Pond just off Route 17. This highly diverse area offers both wetland and upland habitats including managed rice fields, salt marsh, agricultural lands and a number of forest types. It is managed for both game and for habitat for non-game wildlife.
An 11-mile tour covers the WMA pretty well. We found the land birding pretty slow but I can imagine that the forests must be hopping with birds during the spring and summer.
The wetlands here most many alligators. Always a treat to see. We also found 4 Pied-billed Grebes, a dozen Northern Shovelers, two Great Blue Herons, four Great Egrets, two Snowy Egrets and four Wood Storks. Eight Greater Yellowlegs were foraging in the shallows of a pond. In a marshy area, I caught a glimpse of what I thought was a coot. We managed to see the bird finally and it was a Common Gallinule, the first we’ve seen in many years.
Raptors included an American Kestrel and a Red-tailed Hawk. As usual, Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures were almost always in sight overhead. On to the Charleston area in the next post.