Thursday, May 21, 2020

ACE Basin Excursion- “At Least (Bittern) A Lifer” Bird For Me

What better way to celebrate the end of another school year- and what a strange one it has been thanks to the coronavirus pandemic- then to head south to one of my favorite Lowcountry nature preserves.

It’s a long drive (59.5 miles from my house to this entrance sign, taking about one hour 10 minutes) to the Bear Island Wildlife Management Area, but well worth it to experience a vast protected preserve interesting in its layout and teeming with wildlife, especially alligators (avoid these) and multitudes of bird species.

The trip was a pleasant one as I drove with my window and sunroof wide open on a very mild mid-May day.

The time flew by as I listened to a favorite podcast (“Civil War Talk Radio”) that I hadn’t heard in a few months since school was closed as COVID-19 began to hit and shut down America.

It was only 60 degrees when I arrived at 9:30 a.m. at Bear Island (official location is TiTi Road, Green Pond, S.C.).

I needed the sweatshirt I wore and would keep it on until I departed at 1 p.m. when it was in the low 70s.  I kept it on also because I did not have bug spray. This is a cardinal sin. I thought the can I always keep in my car was there but it wasn’t. A few times the mosquitoes and horse flies were bad. So it helped to have my arms covered.

Remnants of the long-ago rice culture give a historical perspective to Bear Island and other S.C. Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) in the ACE Basin and similar preserves north of Charleston.

Wooden trunks like the one shown here remind of the technology used then and now to flood and drain the narrow dikes where rice was cultivated.

Today the waterways are maintained for the benefit of wildlife and seasonal hunting.
These wooden trunks are identical to the type used in the 1700s and 1800s when the rice culture was king in making white planters rich off the backs of slave labor.

Alligators, as seen through this trunk, are numerous today as they were back then. Imagine having to go in the water knowing these beasts could be nearby, as the slaves had to do during the rice production process.

Bear Island consists of more than 12,000 acres made up of wetlands, tidal marsh, woodlands, and agricultural sections.

A straight road dissects the property with named trails and waterway access parts on both sides of the road. This makes it easy to drive a little, park, then walk around to explore different areas, each remote and quiet. See this map of Bear Island. 

You never know what you may come across as far as critters on the ground, in the water or air.
This is an example! I was standing by one of the wooden water control trunks when I looked down and saw this baby alligator.

I think it was alive but I’m not positive about that. I was alert to the parents possibly being nearby so I was very careful, taking a few photos then moving on.

This time of year you are sure to see alligators, lots of them, here at Bear Island.

And know that they will usually see you before you see them so you must always be alert and proceed carefully and cautiously.

Just a mess of gators here!

LEAST BITTERN- Catch of the Day!

 It was exciting near the end of my visit to come across a bird I have never seen or photographed before. This is a Least Bittern (odd name!), The smallest member of the Heron family of wading birds.

Two of them flew in to view as I was photographing some other birds. When I saw the colors I knew I had something new and that it was likely a Bittern (there’s a larger American Bittern that I have never seen).

I was very fortunate to get the photos that I did because my camera battery was blinking red meaning I was almost out of juice. This was mistake number two not making sure my battery was fully charged. I mentioned earlier about not bringing bug spray. 

This grown man would’ve cried if I had not been able to get pictures of this “lifer” bird encounter! 

Glossy Ibis was the next most unique bird that I spotted during this Bear Island visit.

The White Ibis I see regularly even in my neighborhood on occasion. The Glossy I have only seen in nature a few times

Some of the old rice fields were very low on water. So I guess there was easy pickings for the gathered Ibis, Snowy Egrets and other birds.

(Above) Not the best capture but you see some of the reddish sheen or gloss of the Glossy Ibis. describes the Glossy Ibis colors as "iridescent bronze and red-brown overall with thin band of white feathers around bare dark blue face and long, down curved, gray bill." My photos didn't capture that color palette, unfortunately, but there's always next time, hopefully!

A Mottled Duck pair swims in the back of the large Mary’s House Pond, which is located just inside the preserve’s entrance gate.

To accurately name these two, I needed an assist from the bird identification forum on the site.

I thought this may be a second lifer bird for me on this day. But a check of this blog finds that I have seen and photographed the Mottled Duck before. It was also here at Bear Island in May three years ago. See that blog post here. 

The colorfully unique Common Moorhens was seen in a couple different places.

This photo shows a family of them.

This bird is also called Common Gallinule. The type also has a nickname: swamp chicken.

The always picturesque Snowy Egret.
Tricolored Heron mined some shallow water for food.

A mainstay at the ACE Basin WMA is the Red-winged Blackbird.

The male has a very distinguished red patch on what you could describe as the shoulder area.

A female is also shown. Both have a very distinctive shrill call.

The Boat-tailed Grackle is always fun to see, and fun to say...three times.
I have this bird at the end of the post but it was the first one I photographed on this day, in the waters to the left of the entrance area by the welcome sign with the maps.

I delayed adding this one because I'm not sure what it is. I suspect it's a Stilt Sandpiper but I will go to a higher authority ('s identification forum) to find out for sure. 

Actually, this is a Lesser Yellowlegs. Thanks to birders who corrected me!  I will check to see if I photographed this bird before.

I was also happy to get a nice photograph of this beautiful butterfly. I have a South Carolina butterflies guide and was able to ID this as a Common Buckeye. I shared this lovely on a Facebook site for butterflies and moths called Carolina Leps (short for Lepidoptera, their scientific name.)

 It was a great day for birding at Bear Island! On my way home I had an excellent outdoor meatloaf lunch at Harvest Moon restaurant in Ravenel. I know tons of calories on this plate but it sure was good after a long walk in nature!  

To see my past Bear Island posts, enter Bear Island and/or Bear Island WMA in the "Search This Blog" box above in the right column.  Also, I produced a video about this special place in 2012 that can be viewed here via YouTube.  

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