I was excited last Sunday to return to the state's Bear Island Wildlife Management Area, which had been closed for months during hunting season. The weather was mild and the winter birding turned out to be exceptional at the vast former rice fields south of Charleston.
This photo pretty much shows what the entire area consists of: narrow man-made waterways (where slaves used to cultivate and harvest rice in the 18th and 19th centuries) surrounded by salt marsh and other vegetation. A main road dissects the 12,000 acres. There are walking paths on the right and left, some which take you to parts of the Edisto River. (Note: the above photo was taken with my camera's color enhancement feature).
Modern wooden trunks, like the one behind Alesia, built just like the long-ago ones, are still used to control the flow of water in and out of the fields.
A Canadian couple gets the assist for this sighting. We ran into them in the back part of Bear Island. They had been walking for several hours and told us where we could find them. They saw Tundra Swans too. We didn't have the time (or energy!) to search for them. But that will bring us back soon!
There was a bunch of these colorful ducks out there too. Taking photos of ducks and birds in the water here is challenging due to the tall salt marsh that grows between the trails and the ponds, like a tall fence that's hard to clearly see and shoot through. I did my best.
I like this next shot, though it's obstructed by the tall vegetation. This "neotropical" duck is more commonly found in South America. It's really not seen that much in the U.S. Southeast, so I'm really glad we ran into those visitors from Canada who alerted us to these cool ducks.
They had a high-pitch call, though "whistling" didn't come to my mind. Another "lifer" duck for me on this day was the Northern Shoveler (below). The Canadian couple verified this for me when I showed them a few photos I had taken of these a short time earlier.
The Northern Shoveler reminds me of those perfectly painted duck decoys. But this was the real deal.
Cornell University's All About Birds website calls the Northern Shoveler "perhaps the most outwardly distinctive of the dabbling ducks." In this picture (below), that's a Green-winged Teal on the right.
I noticed the Teal among the Shovelers and then nearby spotted several more huddled together.
The variety of migratory ducks at Bear Island included the Ruddy Duck.
In the summer Ruddy Duck's can be found in the middle part of America and north to Cananda.
Ruddy Ducks are "members of the tribe of 'stiff-tailed' ducks," according to Cornell's All About Bird website. These photos show why they are called stiff tailed.
Saw a few American Coots on this day also. The coot may look like a duck and act like a duck but this is a situation in which it is not a duck. The coot is described as a plump chickenlike bird. It's another winter visitor to coastal South Carolina.
Another "lifer" bird for me on this outing was the American White Pelican. Cornell's All About Birds site says this pelican, one of the largest birds in North America, breeds on lakes throughout the Great Plains and Mountain West parts of the U.S., and winters along the coast.
At Bear Island, I saw a very large bird in flight and suspected it was a White Pelican. I knew it wasn't the very familiar Brown Pelican seen year-round along our S.C. coastline.
Then off in the disance in the water I saw this "squandron" or group of American White Pelicans- another "lifer" bird to add (or check off) my list.
Notice (above) the ducks in the background, including a Northern Shoveler.
The White Pelican's massive wingspan measures 8-10 feet, second in length among North American birds to the California Condor.
They've found a nice quiet place to spend the winter.
My fourth "lifer" bird on this day would be our sighting on the way out of Bear Island in the front pond of a few Bonaparte's Gulls. They are in winter non-breeding mode so they look much different, not having the black head that will develop come warmer weather and warmer hormones, I suspect.
WhatBird.com answered a key question I have about this bird, mainly, its name. It comes from Charles Lucien Bonaparte, who was a nephew of THE Napolean. Charles was a leading ornithologist in the 1800s in Europe and America. The gull has dark circular spots on the sides of its head that are very distinctive.
In that same pond at the front of Bear Island (on the right from the road) were also a large number of American Avocets (above). This is a bird that I really like because of its cool name and look.
The Avocet, with wings extended, is much bigger than it looks in the water. What beautiful coloring too. Like the Bonaparte's Gull, the American Avocet was in a more subdued non-breeding form.
The lighting on the Avocets was much better later in the day from this angle. You can see here how they do their feeding.
That front pond at Bear Island was jumping with birds all day. Here are some shots I took. First a White Ibis pair- always a photogenic bird, especially in wedges or congregations, as they are called collectively.
They've got each other's back!
The front pond at Bear Island was teaming with bird activity. It's nice to see different breeds co-habitating like this, though they seem to be ignoring each other. From left, Wood Stork, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis.
The Wood Stork will always be a special bird to me. It was the "gateway" bird that first got me interested in birding and bird photography in 2008 when I saw and took pictures of a Wood Stork pair at Magnolia Cemetery.
Classic coastal South Carolina bird- the Little Blue Heron- in a classic pose.
The Tricolored Heron is another favorite of mine. How about the red eyes?
The Great Egret is also a very photogenic coastal regular.
I saw these Buffleheads right away in the front pond. But they got spooked (by me most likely) and didn't stick around for more photographs.
A Black Vulture scans the area. Yes, all kinds of birds were around on this day.
Here's, I believe, a Song Sparrow. I see lots of Chipping Sparrows at my backyard feeders. This one has much more bold coloring on its breast.
I photographed 16 different types of birds at Bear Island on this day. A great outing, perfect winter weather. Need to get back soon to try to see the Tundra Swans.
Here's a link for more information on the Bear Island Wildlife Management Area.