Sunday, February 17, 2013

Winter Bear Island WMA Visit

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.
The day's bird count included four, count 'em four, "lifer" birds for me. These are birds I have never seen before, much less photographed. A new one for me is the Black-bellied Whistling Duck.
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. 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.





Monday, February 11, 2013

Winter 2013 Backyard Birds

My backyard feeders have had plenty of customers the past several weeks as winter brings familiar feathered friends as well as some first-time visitors. The highlight, by far, was my sighting and photos of a Baltimore Orioles pair in my backyard bird bath.
A friend of mine who lives in another part of our neighborhood has attracted Orioles for several years with fresh grape jelly he keeps in a small bowl-like feeder. I've tried my own jelly but didn't have any luck. So I was pretty stunned- and thrilled- to look out the window one day and see these gorgeous Os in my own yard.
This proved to be a one-time sighting for me so I'm very pleased to have captured a couple nice images.
Another winter surprise has been the Yellow-rumped Warblers that have been coming around. These are quite common in our area but I've never had one at my feeders before this winter.
Rain or shine, the Warbler has been a frequent guest in recent weeks. Love the flashy yellow spots, not just on the rump but also on the breast and top of the head.
It's been a similar story with the Red-winged Blackbird. I frequently see them in nature settings, but until this winter, never at my feeders.
Blacky is always welcome at my backyard buffet. Another black bird has been also been an interesting and entertaining winter drop-in.
The American Crow isn't too proud-- but is almost too big-- to sample the tasty treats. At least the Crows only go to this larger feeder, leaving the smaller tubes and food dispensers to the smaller birds.
I was worried about the suet holder coming apart the way the Crow was pulling at it. Fortunately it held but the suet itself was going fast as Crow and Friends took turns at the trough.
The American Goldfinch, in winter colors, not its vibrant spring and summer yellow, has been a regular guest. They first came to the thistle sock you see in the background, but the Goldies likes to sample the rest of the menu as well. The black and white color scheme on the bird's wings and tail- just brilliant..even in the winter.
We've enjoyed seeing the American Goldfinch this winter and hope they'll return in the spring and summer with their signature yellow plumage.
The Red-bellied Woodpecker has also added some bright colors to our sometimes gray winter.
Red-belly is a year-round regular and I'm glad to have such a uniquely beautiful bird enjoy the suet I put out.
They're called Red-bellied Woodpeckers but that red head is The Bomb! The real Red-headed Woodpecker has nothing on this hairdo.
I have an excellent perch from an upstairs bathroom to photograph birds. There's a narrow window that opens up and out. I've taken out the screen, so that I can shoot directly and clearly down at the feeder, which is a short distance off the back porch.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are part of the Woodpecker family...the eccentric uncle part, no doubt. I've had Sapsuckers come back to this one tree in my backyard for several years now.  You can see the holes they have made.
This bird amazes me how it blends so well into the texture and color of the trees it mines, or I should say, drills for food.
The Sapsucker is a truly unique bird. It's call is different from the other Woodpeckers too. Not the most photogenic bird around, but a really cool bird to see and hear in my yard. It's reliable in that it comes back year after year to this same tree.
Downy Woodpeckers are also perennial favorites. They too savor the suet. This one's a male, recognizable for the red on the back of his head.
The Downy isn't always down with me taking pictures! But I've found this bird isn't as, well, flighty as other types. I can walk within feet of the feeder and the Downy won't fly away.
It was nice to capture a quality image of South Carolina's state bird, the Carolina Wren. This bird is such a little beauty, with delicate, striking features and a plucky, vocal disposition, kind of like the Palmetto State itself.
The little Chipping Sparrows have been the most abundant bird this winter. They really are beautiful. Good things come in small packages, just ask the Carolina Wren.
The red strip on the top of the head is a signature Chipping Sparrow mark. Thanks for showing me your markings so clearly little sparrow!
I just added this next Chipping Sparrow photo. This guy (or gal) was on the ground right outside my back porch door. Didn't look sick but it may have been. It sat still like this for some time before finally flying to a nearby bush. Hope nothing too wrong. I do like this image because he can really see the many layers of feathers Chip has.
The one-of-a-kind looking Tufted Titmouse is a year-round regular at my feeders.
This bird is always stylish with its poofed up 'do.
The Brown-headed Nuthatch (seed in beak) doesn't come around too often. This one did while I was sitting, just a few feet away on my back porch, camera in hand. Thanks for the pix Brownie!
I was stumped by this next bird.'s bird ID forum helped me...again. It's a female Brown-headed Cowbird.
This bird is disparaged a good bit, called a nest parasite, among other things. The reason is because they lay their eggs in the existing nests of other birds, then abandon the eggs, leaving the hatching and care to other birds. Not cool Brown-headed Cowbird! Your name is not very attractive, nor is this behavior!
So far this winter I haven't seen the male Brown-headed Cowbird, which, as the name implies, has a dark brown head and neck.  The body and wings are black.
These next birds I also had trouble indentifying due to the white tail feathers. Turns out they are "just" Northern Mockingbirds doing some kind of ritualistic "dance." I couldn't tell if they wanted to mate or fight. I took some video of some other Mockingbirds doing the same thing recently. I put something together that's on YouTube.  Hope David Bowie doesn't mind me using his great "Let's Dance" song.
I'll add more winter backyard birds as I see them and photograph them! (I just did!)
Wow! I go outside to get my mail and two beautiful Red-shouldered Hawks fly by and land on a gumball tree two houses down from mine. I went inside, grabbed my camera, and thank goodness they were still there! I got this shot of the pair, before one flew away.
I like the pose here and also the gumballs. When the birds first landed minutes before they were all over each other.  Today is Valentine's Day after all!  Love is in the air!
Such beautiful feathers and coloring. I wish one of those tail feathers had fallen to the ground.
I justed add this next photo on Feb. 21 of a Downy Woodpecker and a Carolina Wren sharing a big block of yum-yum!

Here's the male Downy Woodpecker by itself in an extreme closeup.
Getting a good full-bodied shot is always challenging.
I like this one too! The Downy isn't still for long. I had to shoot several times to get these.
All for now...