Sunday, June 16, 2013

On the Road--Down South: A Day of Birding

Yesterday, June 15, was a day devoted entirely to birding, frustrating at first, but ultimately rewarding. In the morning I headed for Edisto Beach State Park, on the coast between Savannah and Charleston. Along the way I stopped at Donnelly Wildlife Management Area, a remote expanse of woods with a lonely road through it. I drove the road for miles, car windows down, listening and looking for birds. Eastern Wood Pewees, I recognized. I got a fleeting glimpse of a pair of sparrows, but they moved off too quickly to identify. They were most likely Chipping Sparrows. The road ended at what looked like a ranger station with a decaying barn and gas pump and a small cornfield. On the wires there I saw Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Kingbirds, and doves. On the drive back, I could hear woodpeckers and flycatchers, but most of the sounds were unfamiliar except for a Pileated Woodpecker in the distance and Cardinals singing everywhere. In the end, I saw very little, and was mostly left wondering what birds were making all the noise.

Back on the main highway, heading for Edisto Beach again, I spotted an unfamiliar-looking hawk. I hastily pulled over and found myself in a patch of trees around a little-visited cemetery. The flowers on the graves were plastic, faded, and grey with dust. Slipping through the trees to get a view of the sky above, I saw that the hawk was nothing unusual--a Red-tailed Hawk--and my attention was quickly called away by unfamiliar singing in the trees. I spotted a warbler-sized bird (possibly a warbler) with a brilliant yellow throat, a collar of patchy grey, and a pale yellow-white breast and belly. It seemed greyish above with two thin white wing bars, but I never really got a good view. Its vocalization was distinctive, though--a fairly flat trill that reminded me of an Orange-crowned Warbler (but without that bird's characteristic change in pitch during the trill), finished off each time with a single chirpy note. I heard the same bird on the trails around Edisto Beach, so it's probably common. I don't know what it was, but I was able to record the song. I'm hoping to figure it out later*. Before I left I also saw a Carolina Wren in the trees.

At Edisto Beach, the usual birds were at the ocean--Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans flying in lazy rows, and a few Royal Terns out over the water. For lunch near the beach I tried a shrimp Po' Boy. The shrimp was good, but I wasn't terribly impressed by the sodden iceberg lettuce and white roll it came in. After lunch, I drove to a small visitor center and campground registration post where I parked and started on a long loop through woods with an extension back out to the coast. I spent the rest of my day walking trails winding through the woods and here and there muddy expanses of sea grass nearer the ocean. These marshy areas are strangely empty of birds except for Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets here and there, but the woods were active. I mostly saw Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice, but got another good look at a Red-bellied Woodpecker. There was a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher in an isolated stand of trees close to the coast--a bird I hadn't realized lived in South Carolina. On the walk back through the dense woods I saw a flash of red that wasn't a Cardinal. It was a male Summer Tanager. A second one appeared and two females as well, for life bird No. 19 on the trip. Finally, when close to returning to the car, a small bird caught my eye. I put my binoculars on it and was thrilled to see it was a plump male Painted Bunting--one of the birds I most hoped to see while in the South (life bird No. 20 for the trip). It obligingly flew to a nearer, well-lit perch and allowed me to photograph it at my leisure before it flew away. The whole day was worth the tanagers and the bunting (top photo). Along the way, I passed a funny little post office, the name of the town painted on by hand.

*I was subsequently able to identify my mystery bird as a Northern Parula (life bird no. 18 for the trip).

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that's a beautiful little bird. What colour! We are watching two chickadees work tirelessly in our backyard this spring with a nest in the neighbour's yard.


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