Saturday, January 28, 2012

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens' Audubon Swamp Garden

It's always exciting for me to see and photograph new birds and ducks. And that was the case earlier in January when I encountered many Green-Winged Teal at Magnolia Plantation's Audubon Swamp.

The male is quite a striking fellow with his green and crimson head.
The female Green-winged Teal (below) doesn't have the flamboyant head but does have a lovely wing pattern.

According to one of my favorite online bird resources, this duck is native to northern Alaska, Canada, California, Colorado, Nebraska, and New York. They winter in the South and annually find their way to the ponds of Magnolia Gardens, as the signs there indicate.
On this visit to the Audubon Swamp, it was also neat seeing another type of Teal- the Blue-winged Teal. Two males and a female are pictured below.

Also native to Northern locales, the male Blue-winged Teal has that distinctive white band down its face. I have seen these before in ponds at the old Kings Grant golf course in Summerville and more recently at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge (look for an upcoming posting on that outing).
 In the shot below you see Green and Blue-winged Teals mixed together.
Below, a pair of male Blue-winged Teals. I read on another Internet site that Blue-Winged Teals are generally the first ducks south in the fall and last north in the spring.
The Audubon Swamp waters were, in fact, full of winter ducks on this day!  Even better, though it was winter, the temperature was very pleasant in the 60s and the skies were a lot clearer than the water!
                       Another colorful duck in the crowd I spotted was the American Wigeon.
This wintering wild fowl can be mistaken (at least by me anyway) for the Green-winged Teal but upon closer inspection the green of the Wigeon is a different pattern on the head and its beak is mostly white unlike the Teal's dark one.
The American Wigeon was formerly known as "Baldplate" because the white stripe on its crown resembles a bald man's head ( If I was this duck, I'd like the name Wigeon better too!
Here's a male and female Baldplate, err, American Wigeon.
The cute little Pied-billed Grebe was also present in the busy Audubon Swamp at Magnolia Gardens.
The Pied-billed Grebe is not classified as a duck because it doesn't have webbed feet. The bird has incredible range, being found throughout North and South America. Despite its sweet face it has a number of ferocious folk names such as devil-diver, hell-diver, and water witch.
My visit to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens also included bird sightings in the trees, such as a pair of Turkey Vultures.
The Turkey Vulture's red face makes it distinct from its close relative, the Black Vulture. But someone does need to see the dermatologist about that white yukky stuff around the eyes!
Look what else I spotted high up a tree!  A Raccoon. See its face in the left side of the photo.
I know you're trying to hide from me Raccoon, but I see you up there!
Notice too that long crevice in the tree that looks to be filled with one or more little coons. Look at the bottom part of this photo below the mother's tail.
One of the smaller birds I photographed was the Yellow-rumped Warbler.
I made sure to get a picture of the Yellow-rumped's yellow rump.
Eastern Kingbirds were also hanging around the swamp.
I have photgraphed the Kingbird in other area locations and have been struck by how this bird, unlike most other small birds, will stay still even around people, allowing for good photographs to be taken.  Well, it is king after all!
Really good winter birding here at the Audubon Swamp at Magnolia Plantations and Gardens. In the spring, you can see nesting Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets and other large coastal birds in the sanctuary's rookery.
A very relaxing, rewarding outing here for a modest admission fee.  I'll be back!
And, oh yeah, you can pay the full entrance fee and also tour the vast, beautiful and historic Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge

2012 got off to a healthy, outdoorsy start when Alesia and I visited one of the wonderful wildlife areas in the Charleston area.  The ACE Basin is a vast protected wilderness south of Charleston.  ACE stands for the three rivers that converge here- the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto.  Thousands of acres, many of which were rice fields dating back to the 1700s, are now protected. 
I was excited to see and photograph my first Northern Harrier at this site. A fellow birder we ran into helped with the identification, pointing out the Harrier's owl-like face as a key characteristic.
It's not the best photo, but here's one of the two Bald Eagles we saw at the very end of our Hollings ACE Basin first-time visit. I saw three Bald Eagles yesterday at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens Audubon Swamp.  No photos from that encounter, but did see lots of migrating ducks.  That will be a future posting!
Bobwhite...Bobwhite!  Yes, that's what these birds are. I came upon them even before we got to the refuge entrance.  There they were, on the side of the road.  I stopped the car right next to them and took the above shot.  When I moved up the car a bit and got out, they started to move into the grass and pinestraw. Then we saw a bunch more emerge from both sides of the road. 
We saw maybe 20 Bobwhites, three or four at a time in groups along the road.  They made a whimpering sound, not the eponymous "bob WHITE" call.  Eponymous- Oooh, big word, impressed?
The two birders we met were doing an Audubon count and they were very impressed with our Bobwhite sighting and photos.  I think we got an assist for that one on their bird list.
I got lucky with this American Crow "action" shot! Caw...Caw!
A Snowy Egret perched on a rice field trunk.  It's quite an interesting history lesson at the Hollings refuge and other state wildlife management areas along the South Carolina coast.  You can learn about how these trunks controlled the water levels in the rice fields.  And you can easily envision the slaves toiling hard cultivating the popular "Carolina Gold" brand of rice. 
Snake! The temperature of around 70 was comfortable for us and other critters too to be out and about.
We came across this snake near the old plantation house. It was about two feet long and very beautiful in a snakey kind of way.  Some kind of water snake probably.  My friend Rick believes it to be a type of water snake. 
Glad to have that long lens! I don't think this snake is venomous, but better safe than sorry.
This ACE Basin preserve features a plantation house that dates to 1828.  It is one of only three in this region to have survived the Civil War. The park offices are in the old house.  It was closed on New Year's Day so we looked in the windows.
The walk up to the house is just glorious!
Love the Spanish moss!
Just beautiful out here!
Beauty, education, and exercise- lots to see and do if you're up for the drive and lots of walking.
The Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin is a National Wildlife Refuge located off SC Highway 174 near Adams Run.
Click here for directions and other information:
Already in 2012 I've had this and a few other outstanding nature and bird outings.  Look for upcoming postings from another National Wildlife Refuge, this one near Savannah, from Magnolia Plantation and Gardens near Charleston, and of course, Magnolia Cemetery (subject of my that came out in late 2011).