Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bear Island Bonanza!

Father's Day- June 19, 2016- found this pop headed south of Charleston down Highway 17 to the wonderful ACE Basin. Destination: Bear Island. This is one of the Lowcountry's secret jewels. It is a vast preserve of former rice plantations, woodlands, waterways, barrier and marsh islands that have been protected for visitors and seasonal hunters to enjoy and appreciate.

Bear Island has been called one of South Carolina's best birding areas. With several visits over the years, I cannot argue this accolade. I have posted Bear Island photographs on this blog several times.

This trip would also offer its share of delights.

I spotted this Tricolored Heron just inside the entrance gate in the large Mary's House Pond.

This Tricolored Heron has even more flair and flash, showing the white neck plumage during mating season.

The Heron would be successful in its feeding mission, catching a small fish.

I always pay attention to the power lines at these wildlife management areas. The smaller birds sometimes frequent them, and I've been able to photograph a nice variety of species over the years.

This is, of course, the beautiful Eastern Bluebird.

Eastern Kingbirds also like power lines. The views must be great from up there!

At Bear Island, in front of one of the maintenance shops was this huge rice trunk gate. This is "old tech" going back hundreds of years that is still used to control the flow of water into rice fields from reservoirs, rivers and other water sources.

While rice is no longer grown, the wooden structures are still built and maintained to continue to control water levels in the vast ecosystems of the precious ACE Basin.

A trunk gate "in action" on Bear Island.
There are dozens of these that are still used to let water in and out of what often are former rice fields where slaves would toil cultivating the precious crop in what often had to have been hellish conditions.
A highlight of this Bear Island excursion was encountering this Green Heron which was keen on finding a meal or two in a small, murky creek.

I love, in this photo, how the Green Heron blends in so well with the plants and vegetation behind it. I also like how it is perfectly poised- and so poised in disposition- on the low branch just inches above the water.

Always the lone wolf, so to speak, the Green Heron has long been one of my favorite wading birds. It is always neat to see another one in the natural world of  South Carolina's Lowcountry.

Out in nature like this, while you are looking for birds and other animals, they may be eyeing you too. This alligator was just enough above water to watch me as I walked along the nearby path.

I like the way Bear Island is set up. There's a main road that dissects the vast property, from the entrance gate to where the state property ends two or three miles away. On either side are different path, trails, observation decks and former rice fields.

To access these, the car must be parked and you have to get out and walk. Some of these routes go for miles so you can walk as far or as little as desired.

There are not "amenities" on site, such as restrooms, vending machines and other niceties. These places are rugged, and that's what I like about them.

Time to walk and really explore!

At the crossroads of Hog Island and Pecan Trees- which way should I go?

On one of the trails, it may have been the Hog Island one, I came upon an owl that flew across the sky in front of me.
Then, as I kept walking on the river island, I came upon these feathers.

Several were still connected. It seemed like a fairly fresh kill. I used my go-to bird identification site,, to inquire what kind of feathers these might be. I was thinking hawk, but was taken aback when a few fellow birders said these belonged to a Barn Owl, which unfortunately was someone/thing's meal.

I was informed it could have been killed by another owl (perhaps the one I saw flying away) , a hawk, or maybe even a coyote.

A Red-Winged Blackbird calling out for attention (or warning) while perched atop one of the aforementioned trunk gates.

It's clear why they are called Red-winged Blackbirds, right?

This female Red-winged Blackbird wants to be heard from also.

A had a quick encounter with a Common Moorhens (or Gallinule) family near the side of a pond. That's a juvenile trailing the parent.

The fluffy youngster has some neat coloring around its bill and on top of its head.

They were very skittish, understandably. I only got off a couple shots before they ducked into some shrubs on the water's bank.

I may have saved the best for last in this post. At the very back of the Bear Island property, where the public land turns to private land, is where I had this amazing encounter with a "bowl" or group of Roseate Spoonbills. There were five of them.

What a unique creature this is, so pretty in pink with the unusual bill that it swoops through the water back and forth like a vacuum to catch its prey.

One bird website calls the Roseate Spoonbill "bizarre" and "odd."

I think they are kind of cute and definitely unique.

After a while of me photographing them, for which I was very grateful at the end of my Bear Island day, the big birds had enough, and took off. But not without losing a feather, if you look closely behind this one. Oh well, plenty more where that came from.

Cool bird, cool encounter!

I took some video with my Canon camera of the Roseate Spoonbill's sweeping feeding action.

Here is part two of my video: 

Another amazing time on Bear Island in the ACE Basin. On July 2, I was back in the area at Botany Bay beach. I will soon share some of those photographs.

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