Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bear Island Bicycle Bliss!

A recent visit to wonderful Bear Island in the ACE Basin south of Charleston allowed for much more ground to be covered than past visits.  Why?  Bicycles!


Alesia and I threw (not literally!) our bikes in the back of the SUV on a pretty Sunday morning (May 7) and made the hour drive to the wild wilderness of this 12,000 sanctuary, which is managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

In 2012 I made a video about Bear Island. It's on my YouTube channel. Click here to check it out.  I also have it embedded at the end of this post.




A selfie taken while riding a bike- now that takes skill!


With its long straight main road that is very well maintained, Bear Island is well suited to seeing by bicycle.


We parked our car at the entrance, unloaded the bikes and were soon on our way to what would turn out to be a nearly 10 mile ride around the vast refuge.

We used our Apple Watches to monitor distance traveled, calories lost (yay!), etc.


Our start, though, was hindered by swarms of lovebugs. We put on bug spray but it was little defense against the pests.

That was the worst of it, thank goodness. Once we got moving it was better, but we would have "hate" bug encounters off and on during the three hours on Bear Island.

The  birding on this day would be pretty good. The star bird would be this lone Mute Swan we spotted on Mary's House Pond, which is located by Bear Island's entrance.

I did not recognize this as a Mute Swan initially. Bear Island is known for seasonal Tundra Swans, so that's what I thought this was. A fellow birder and photographer also thought this was a tundra.

In the background is a Black-necked Stilt.   I have seen this before here on Mary's Pond.


Mute Swans are not a common sight out in nature in South Carolina's Lowcountry.

They are European natives that were brought over centuries ago.  From what I have read, the ones seen in the U.S. likely were formerly "decorative" birds in urban and suburban ponds and parks, privately owned, or perhaps refugees from zoos or other confined facilities.


My later research at home determined this to be a Mute Swan.  I should have recognized it because last December Alesia and I were in Amsterdam where Mute Swans are commonly seen in the old city's many canals and outlying water areas.

The Mute Swan was one of several "lifer" birds I photographed in the Netherlands. I blogged about these birds and our visit.

On a few birder social media sites I shared a couple of these photos and expressed my surprise seeing them in the area.  A few respondents said that Mute Swans are considered a nuisance because of their voracious appetites. Apparently, they eat so much that it takes away food sources from other swans and birds.

Such a large and pretty bird to have such negativity!  Cornell University's "All About Birds" calls the "exotic" Mute Swan, "the elegant bird of Russian ballets and European fairy tales."


Stilt Sandpipers were also enjoying Mary's House Pond at Bear Island.
I'm not sure if I have seen and photographed this type of shore bird before.  So I'm hesitant to call this a lifer bird.  Such a striking bird with its long bills and bold coloring on its head and body.

This is one of my favorite photos of the day!


Whatbird.com lists collective nouns for groups of species.  Some of the names have me scratching my head, wondering about the origin of such names.  For example, a collection of Stilt Sandpipers has several names, including a contradiction, hill, fling and sidestep.

Take your pick!
Mary's Pond was busy with birds on this pleasant May day. I also spotted this type that I believe to be Red-breasted Mergansers.  I need to check with whatbird.com to make sure.

I posted this picture and quickly (as usual!) received responses.


I'm pleased to say my initial identification is correct.  Two whatbird.com bird ID forum followers confirmed these as Red-breasted Mergansers.

One person commented that it's not uncommon to see a "brace" of females together like this.

I wrote back, asking where are the guys?!

Following are other birds and other critters I photographed around Bear Island.


Not far within the Bear Island Wildlife Management Area is an Osprey nest. It has been there for years.

It was occupied on this day. Didn't notice any little heads sticking out and didn't see the mate flying nearby.



Glad it's not sticking out its tongue at me!


Ospreys have the sharpest and biggest eyes! Beautiful too. They don't miss much, I am sure.


We saw Bald Eagles twice on this day. The first was seen flying above Highway 17 in a remote area on the way to Colleton County where Bear Island is located.

This one was flying in the vicinity of the Osprey nest. It's always a challenge "shooting" flying birds!


I find it's always good to keep an eye on the power lines in these nature preserves. Smaller birds like to land on them and watch the world (and maybe a meal!) go by.

Here is an Eastern Bluebird with what I believe to be a juvenile Bluebird at its side.




This is a Boat-tailed Grackle.  I spotted it at the very back of the Bear Island WMA.

Below is a Northern Mockingbird.




Red-winged Blackbirds are always abundant at these remote coastal South Carolina locations, many of which are former rice fields.


This is the female Red-winged Blackbird. This is another favorite photo from the outing.


This duck I need some help to identify. After my query on whatbird.com's bird identification forum, this appears to be a Mottled Duck.

Thanks as always to the bird enthusiasts who share such expertise!


Spotted this Tricolored Heron atop a trunk device that is used to control the flow of water in and out of the former rice fields.

The trunks today serve an important role in maintaining the quality and ecosystem of these wildlife areas.


The trunks add a special accent to the beauty of these remote places!


The distinctive profile of the Anhinga.graces one of the many waterways at Bear Island.


A Dragonfly, so intricately designed are they!


A large and beautiful Butterfly, plus a smaller one on the photo's left side, enjoying something tasty from this pretty Purple Thistle. Thanks Beverly Donald for the flower identification!


A Bee gets in on the action. It's just below the Butterfly.

I believe this butterfly is a Black Swallowtail.


Is this Stilt Sandpiper in a reflective mood?


Black-necked Stilt not so reflective.


All in all, a glorious Sunday out in nature. Bird of the day honors definitely go to the Mute Swan we saw on Mary's House Pond.

Hardly a nuisance, as its critics claim, if you ask me.


Thanks to Alesia for sharing another fun and healthy adventure, hunting birds with our cameras.


I look forward to the next outing off the beaten path, wherever that may be.

Below is a video I produced in 2012 about beautiful Bear Island!

Thanks for checking out my photos and video!  

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