Monday, November 14, 2011

Donnelly WMA -- A Favorite Birding Site: Part 1: One Winter Day

        About 10 days ago, I gave a photographic presentation of a few of my favorite South Carolina Lowcountry birding sites to the local chapter of the Sierra Club, The Robert Lunz Group.  Organizing my photos for the talk gave me an opportunity to also organize another few blog posts, describing some of these favorite places.  So, I will begin with two posts on the fabulous Donnelly Wildlife Management Area (WMA), located in an area known as the ACE Basin, about an hour south of Charleston.  The ACE Basin, the watershed area of the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers, represents one of the largest estuaries  of largely undeveloped land on the East Coast.  The conservation of this area results from a coalition among several government agencies and conservation groups working with private land owners to preserve the rural character of the area and thereby to conserve large tracts of land for wildlife and outdoor recreation.  For a more detailed description of the success of the ACE Basin conservation effort, you will want to refer to the link above.  My goal in this post and the next is to present two half-day excursions to Donnelly WMA -- one in the winter and one in the summer this year.

Views of rafts of ducks and American White Pelicans in the impoundment behind the Lodge -- February 2011
        Carl and I like to visit many sites in the ACE Basin and Donnelly is among our favorites.  For a first time visitor to Donnelly, I recommend following the driving tour to orient yourself to the layout of this WMA.  You can procure a numbered map detailed with anecdotal information on the sites at the main entrance off of US Highway 17 South.  We usually visit at least once in the winter months to enjoy views of the wintering shore birds and ducks.  Views of the American White Pelicans are always welcomed. 

American White Pelicans coming into feed with the larger raft -- February 2011

 American White Pelicans are larger their Brown Pelican cousins.  They winter in our area and other warm southern coastal areas of the US and breed on isolated islands on freshwater lakes in the west, mid-west and Canada.  You can see a map of their migration routes on the Boreal Songbird Initiative site. 

American White Pelicans -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011

American White Pelicans -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011

          A bird that is now year-round here in coastal South Carolina and which we love observing is the Wood Stork. 
Wood Stork -- February 2011
Wood Stork -- February 2011

       Herons and egrets enjoy the habitat offerings at Donnelly year-round.

Great Egret -- Donnelly WMA, February 2011

Black-Crowned Night Heron -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011
          On a small hummock in the impoundment directly behind the Lodge, you can see a these Black-Crowned Night Herons roosting in the early morning.

Great Blue Heron -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011

        In the area of the agricultural fields and the utility sheds, you will often find raptors such as Red-Tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, and American Kestrels.  Some other birds that forage in these fields and which draw in these raptors include Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Eastern Phoebes, and a variety of sparrows.  On this particular trip, we found this beautiful Red-Tailed Hawk ....

Red-Tailed Hawk -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011
Red-Tailed Hawk -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011

.... and this Eastern Phoebe.

Eastern Phoebe -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011

There are many species of wildlife to observe and appreciate besides the bird life, such as deer, raccoons, fox squirrels, alligators, turtles, etc.  And now, even the armadillos have made their way into Donnelly.

Armadillo -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011
        On this particular visit to Donnelly, Carl and I had set ourselves a specific departure time due to chores needing out attention at home.  It was early afternoon and time for us to consider leaving but we decided to explore the swampy area on the main entrance road for just a bit.  Not seeing much at first, we were getting ready to leave, when we heard a splashing about 20 yards out from the road.  We turned to see ....

Young Coopers Hawk pulling his prey, a Common Gallinule from the water -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011
.... this young Coopers Hawk pulling his prey, a Common Gallinule from the water up onto a stump, where he proceeded to eat for the next hour and a half.  We watched completely engrossed!  The chores at home were forgotten. 

Coopers Hawk -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011

Coopers Hawk -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011
Coopers Hawk -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011
Coopers Hawk -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011
Coopers Hawk -- Donnelly WMA February 2011
Coopers Hawk with bulging craw at the end of the meal  -- Donnelly WMA -- February 2011
       Perhaps not for the squeamish, but if you do not fall into that category, take a look at the video below that Carl shot and edited of this event.  

At last, this young bird, sated, flew across the road in front of us and into the forest to some unseen perch to digest in the evening light.  And we too left, to return to Charleston, amazed that we were able not only to see, but to photograph at close range this event.

      Winter is indeed a preferred time for us to visit Donnelly.  But summer offers other wildlife sights.  So, in "Donnelly WMA -- A Favorite Birding Site: Part 2:  One Summer Day," I will recount our delightful visit in sultry July.


  1. I love the White Pelican photos! I got to see them one day last winter and they were WAY up there, so cool you got to see them up close!

  2. Thanks Jen! I hope you are able to see the American White Pelicans at closer range soon. It is a magnificent bird!

  3. Super reportage !!! I want more


  4. Great Coopers Hawk pictures! The large square format one is just fantastic! Could be a good magazine cover
    Phil Deken