Sunday, July 31, 2011

Birding and Brunch in the Francis Marion National Forest

In mid-May, I was invited to join a group of friends birding in the Francis Marion National Forest, to be followed by brunch (YUM!).  The birding was a bit slow in terms of the number of species.  In fact, I did not get a picture of a single bird that was worth keeping!  I missed a shot of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  We heard Northern Parulas and a Prothonotary Warbler but we could not spot him as he sang from the deep, dark understory over the creek.  We heard a Red-tailed Hawk calling, also.  We did see Wood Ducks, Eastern Towhees, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice (of course), Carolina Chickadees, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, a Mississippi Kite (!) and a Swallow-tailed Kite (!) and a Hairy Woodpecker (a first for me in Charleston County!).

I did get pictures of a few forest critters though.  Two or three members of the group walked right by a pair of Copperheads -- Yikes!  The snakes disappeared too quickly for that photo but I did manage to get a head shot of this lovely, but shy Eastern King snake before he hid in a hole.  For more information about venomous and non-venomous snakes of SC, I recommend this page.

Eastern King Snake

The damsel- and dragonflies were not shy about posing!

Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly
Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly -- female

Banded Pennant Dragonfly

The bunny and the skink were not thrilled about being photographed but tolerated it for a few moments.

Six-lined Racerunner

Six-lined Racerunner

For more information on skinks in South Carolina, recommend this site.

Virginia Day Flower

Fish Pond -- Willow Hall Road

We saw some gators in the pond and believed we heard one bellowing its mating call!  After our lovely trek in the woods, we headed to our hosts' home for a delicious brunch and interesting conversation!  Many thanks to our wonderful hosts for an excellent opportunity for birding, brunch and comaraderie in the forest!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Yes, Charlie Brown, there IS a Great Pumpkin!

And I have the proof in the photos!  On the evening of March 18, 2011, Carl and I knew we were not going to be able to be in the right place at the right time to photograph (with our brand-new, upgraded wham-dy-dine fancy Canon 7Ds) the rise of the once-every-20-years-or-so super full perigee moon the next evening.  So Carl used his astronomy "toolkit" (brain, internet and compass) to determine the time and a close-by location where we could potentially photograph the moon setting over water the next morning.  Moonset was to take plae at 5:50 am and our chosen location was decided:  the boat landing on the Stono River at  the end of Sol Legare (pronounced Luh-gree) Road on James Island.  We left the house at 5:20 and quickly figured out that fumbling around in the dark with new camera equipment takes more time than we had allotted.  And that moon went down FAST!  Thus, these are what I call my lucky shots.  Thank goodness for photo editing software as we did not anticipate that the moon would set directly behind a radio transmission tower!  Yes, I did edit out those little orange lights!  The first link above gives an excellent explanation from NASA on the super perigee moons.  I also recommend this video from NASA as a supplement to the written explanation. 

Super Perigee Moon -- March 19, 2011 -- James Island, SC -- 5:45 am

Super Perigee Moon -- March 19, 2011 -- James Island, SC -- 5:48 am
Super Perigee Moon -- March 19, 2011 -- James Island, SC -- 5:52 am   
Super Perigee Moon -- March 19, 2011 -- James Island, SC -- 5:53 am  

Feeling a bit frustrated about a potential lack of success and still nonetheless excited about this new camera equipment, we decided to make a quick run to Folly Beach to try to shoot the sunrise there.  Here's what I shot.  Enjoy!

Folly Beach Fishing pier -- sunrise, March 19, 2011

Folly Beach -- Sunrise, March 19, 2011

Folly Beach -- Sunrise, March 19, 2011

Folly Beach -- sunrise, March 19, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Follow-up: Good news! Just received an e-mail alert from National Audubon!

Brown Pelican -- Charleston Harbor -- April 2010 --  a success story of the Endangered Species Act!
The e-mail alert that I received today from the President of National Audubon, David Yarnold, contained some very good news -- a victory for the Endangered Species Act!  With bi-partisan support, the House voted 224 to 202 to remove the "Extinction Rider" from House Bill HR 2584.  I wrote to my own representative to let him know that I was disappointed in his vote as he voted to retain that language in the bill.  If you are interested in supporting wildlife, I encourage you to read David Yarnold's e-mail yourself and to perhaps communicate your thoughts to your representative as to his or her vote.  I do believe that our communications to our representatives can help to sway their votes, although such was not the case for my own ... this time. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Is it possible? .... Or, am I dreaming? ....

Here it is July 27 at 9:30 am and it is only 74 degrees Fahrenheit?!  Pinch me!  Am I dreaming?  This simply is not possible in Charleston, is it?  Here I sit, in what is normally a cave in the summer at this time of day -- blinds down to block the heat of the sun.  But the blinds are up and there is a window cracked open so that I can hear the birdsong, and the sound of the rain.  Yes, there is a steady rain out there and when it falls more heavily, I have to close the louvered window a bit.  But my AC is not running because it simply is not warm enough -- in July!  What a treat to look out the windows and to see all of the birds flitting around through our oaks.

Wait!  What was that?!  Slightly  smaller than a Carolina Chickadee maybe, but flitting about the leaves like one.  Oh, there's a Carolina Chickadee in that branch!  But, wait a second, there's another bird, slightly smaller and no black cap that just flitted into the open a foot away from the Chickadee!  Grey-greenish back, thin stubby beak (!), kind of plump, short and round, not sleek like a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. Whitish belly and breast, was that an eye-ring?  Much too small to be confused with the Tufted Titmouse and there's absolutely no tuft!  Definite short, single white wingbar and yellowish streaks through the short tail!  Where's my  bird guide?!  Where's the camera?!  Where are the binoculars?!  No birdy, don't fly away!  Come back!  Can I believe my eyes?  The brain is saying Ruby-crowned Kinglet!  But that's not possible, is it?!  It's JULY!  That's a bird that winters here.  Did I really see a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET?!  Or am I dreaming? ... I am constantly scanning the trees hoping to see it again.  I have located the guide, the camera and the binoculars.  The picture of the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet in the guide looks like what I saw.... Scanning and hoping to see it again.... Was my vision distorted by rain on the window?  Sigh....  Come back, birdy!

It is mid-morning, late July, 74 degrees outside, my AC is not running and the window is open!  Is it possible?  Or, am I dreaming?

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Charleston, SC, November 2009  Did I see one of these, today, in July 2011?  Is it possible?

Frequency graph for Ruby-crowned Kinglet for Charleston County, SC from eBird.

Day 2 of Birding with the Carolina Bird Club in Blowing Rock, NC

Ah!  It is time to finish my account of birding at the Spring Meeting of the Carolina Bird Club in Blowing Rock, NC in early May.  For the morning foray of Day 2, I joined a group of middle-aged and older birders for an excursion to Julian Price Memorial Park, just south of Blowing Rock, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, at Milepost 297.  This park is directly adjacent to the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park that I had visited the day before.  Our leader, whose name has exited my memory, was a charming, young man, who really knew very well his birds and birdsongs.  We, the older folk, were much impressed.  He helped us immensely to locate the little wigglers (aka. warblers) high in the treetops with his easy to follow visual cues and a green laser pointer.  He always carefully aimed the pointer above or below the bird, and what fun it was to watch one White-breasted Nuthatch chase the green dot on the tree trunk as though it were a bug!  If any one of us were hoping to find a particular bird to add to our life list, he made it his mission to find that bird.  And thus, with his help, I added 2 more birds to my life list, the Blackburnian Warbler (sorry, no photo, :(  ) and the Chestnut-sided Warbler!  In fact, my first Chestnut-sided Warbler put on quite a show, singing and be-bopping from branch to branch right in front of us!

My first Chestnut-sided Warbler!

Chestnut-sided Warbler in song!

As we continued on our path, a bird was heard singing from the rhododendron and I was thinking to myself "that sounds like the Canada Warbler song that I learned yesterday.  Apparently, from all the new birdsongs that I had encountered the day before, that one had stuck in my brain.  So I was quite surprised when our young guide listened intently and then said, "I don't know that song."  Dare I suggest that it may be a Canada Warbler?  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so yes I said, "Isn't that a Canada Warbler?"  And our young guide replied "I do not know.  I do not know the Canada Warbler song."  Well, that surpised us, the members of the older generation standing closeby, who were so awe-struck by this young fellow's breadth of avian knowledge.  One woman exclaimed,  "What?  There is a birdsong he does NOT know?!"  Then he called out to the whole group, "Hey, everyone, Cathy hears a Canada Warbler in the rhodendendron over there.  Let's see if we can locate him!"  And then I felt great trepidation mixed in with my self-doubt.  What if I were mistaken?  I had just heard that birdsong for the first time yesterday and I had heard a number of new songs yesterday.  I could easily have confused this bird's song for another's.  Well  off we go, phishing* trying to draw out the bird.  Finally, he popped up way above us, backlit, and continued to sing.  We trained our binoculars on him ... studied as best we could with the constrast-y light, and YES!  It was indeed a Canada Warbler!  Phew!  Beginner's lucky call!  I could not capture the bird in a good photograph due to the poor light conditions so the bird below is a picture taken on a another subsequent trip to the mountains.

Canada Warbler (from a later return trip to the mountains)

Here are more pictures of some of the birds that we were able to see thanks to the generous help from our young guide.

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Gray Catbird

Indigo Bunting

Broad-winged Hawk

Black-and-White Warbler

In the afternoon, I traveled to 2 other locales -- the Meat Camp Environmental Studies Area and Green Valley Park -- with another friendly group of birders.  Both areas were interesting and offered different birding habitats, a wetland for the former and a riverside meadow for the latter.  With it being a warm, overcast afternoon, these areas were not as birdy as the Julian Price Park had been in the morning.  Nonetheless, there were plenty of members of some individual species that wanted to show off:  such as Song Sparrows, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Red-tailed Hawks (sorry, no photo), Yellow Warblers, and another life bird for me, the Least Flycatcher (no photo : (  ) at the Meat Camp Environmental Studies Area; and Tree Swallows (hawking bugs and nesting in boxes along the river -- sorry no photos) and House Wrens at Green Valley Park.

Yellow Warbler

Song Sparrow

Red-winged Blackbird

House Wren

Below are a couple of samples of the flowers found blooming in the Meat Camp Environmental Studies Area.

A Trillium -- is it Sweet Beth (aka Vasey's trillium) or Stinking Benjamin (aka Red trillium)?

If anyone can ID this trillium, I would be grateful.  My guide shows that these 2 species of trillium -- Sweet Beth and Stinking Benjamin -- are nearly identical with the exception of their perfumes.  I do not remember it being stinky so perhaps it is Sweet Beth.

Appalachian Bluets

That evening, at the final dinner of the Carolina Bird Club meeting, a tally was completed of all species seen on field trips throughout the weekend.  For this Spring 2011 meeting in Blowing Rock, NC, 130 species were noted by the participants.  The evening presentation on High Country warblers by Curtis Smalling, the Important Bird Areas and Mountain Program Manager for Audubon North Carolina, was inspiring for it's beautiful photos and  was very useful in terms of the information conveyed -- when, in what habitat and at what elevations can the different warblers be seen.  I took notes!  It was quite the enjoyable weekend.  All told, I acquired 6 life birds:  the Veery, the Wood Thrush, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, the Least Flycatcher, the Chestnut-sided Warbler, and the Blackburnian Warbler! 

And then ta DA!  To end the evening perfectly, Carl won a door prize! -- a guided birding trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway with the expert birder Marilyn Westphal! -- a prize that I much coveted.  Needless to say, I began planning that guided tour in an exchange of e-mails the very next day.  This all resulted in fabulous trip to the mountains for a week in early June.  But that is another story for another time! 

*Phishing -- in birder's language -- blowing (often through pursed lips), kissing, clucking  and other noises made by a birder in hopes of luring  a curious bird out of the foliage (it works sometimes!).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

From David Yarnold, President of National Audubon -- Urgent advocacy opportunity for wildlife!

I received an e-mail alert for an advocacy opportunity in this letter from the President of National Audubon, David Yarnold.  In it he explains the dire consequences that the House Bill 2584 will have on wildlife conservation programs.  I hope you will read and also consider writing to your Congressman asking him to oppose this bill for the sake of our nation's valuable natural resources.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Follow-up on the Charleston Wood Duck chicks

If you read the post from July 20 on the afternoon birding with the Carolina Bird Club in Blowing Rock, then you already know that Carl and I had Wood Ducks hatching in their box at home in Charleston while we were away.  How did we know?  Well, we were pretty sure before we left Charleston that the hatching could occur that weekend since we had calculated the date based on information we gleaned from the species account from an encyclopedic site available via subscription, on the natural history of native birds, The Birds of North America (a wonderfully useful site!).  And  we also knew because Carl had set up a video camera with an internet feed in the duck box before the hen had begun nesting, and he was monitoring it while working on his MBA homework in the hotel room.  So there I was at Bass Lake at the Mose H. Cone Memorial Park in Blowing Rock, looking at a mother Wood Duck and her very young chicks when Carl called from the hotel room to tell me that our chicks were hatching!  Well since I posted on July 20, Carl has edited a video that shows a little history of our Wood Ducks.  And I decided to add a few photos from the Wood Duck parents earlier history.  Enjoy!


March 19, 2011 -- Mama Wood Duck entering box to lay an egg!

March 19, 2011 -- Papa Wood Duck waiting outside and chattering to his mate

March 19, 2011 -- Papa Wood Duck waiting in the shadows
March 19, 2011 -- Fait accompli!  Mama has laid her egg and is ready to leave the box

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Good news for the Red Knots! We hope!

For those of us who love to go out to our beaches in early and mid-Spring to admire these amazing long-distance migratory birds, the rufa Red Knot, the news that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will initiate the process of listing it under the Endangered Species Act this year, could not be more welcomed!  An endangered status will allow the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop and implement a recovery plan for this bird. You can read more details about how this came to pass here in this story posted to News & Reports section of the American Bird Conservancy site.  To learn more about this beautiful bird and it's very critical relationship to the Horseshoe Crab, you may want to consider watching this moving PBS' Nature program entitled Crash: A Tale of Two Species .  I am personally thrilled that this listing is being initiated and I hope that we can convince our Congress not to defund the Endangered Species Act with a rider, dubbed "the Extinction Rider," that has been attached to the Interior Department's spending bill now in the House of Representatives.  You can learn more about this rider in this article by Jamie Rappaport Clark, former director of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Services, current Executive Vice-President of the Defenders of Wildlife organization.  As a nature lover, I have not hesitated to write my representative on this issue.  For me, there are no tax cuts worth the extinction of any species!   Let me state that these are my personal views, and though I am blogging my individual perspective as a member of the Charleston Audubon Society, aka Charleston Natural History Society, this blog does not purport to present any official positions of this organization. 

Below are a few of my favorite photos of the Red Knot on Folly Beach and on Captain Sams Spit on Kiawah Island. The photos show different stages of plumage for these birds.  In the winter, they are  in mostly varying, somewhat mottled shades of gray.  They come into the beautiful rusty-breasted breeding plumage as they prepare for the final leg of their migration from the US Atlantic Coast to the Arctic Tundra.  The pictures also show varying levels of health in these birds -- from the emaciated to the very plump.  Hopefully, the thinner birds were able to gain enough weight before beginning the next leg of their journey. 

Captain Sams Spit -- Kiawah Island, April 2011

Captain Sams Spit -- Kiawah Island, April 2010

Folly Beach, April 2010

Captain Sams Inlet -- Kiawah Island, April 2010

Captain Sams Inlet -- Kiawah Island, April 2010

Captain Sams Inlet -- Kiawah Island, April 2010

Captain Sams Inlet -- Kiawah Island, April 2010

Captain Sams Inlet -- Kiawah Island, April 2010

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Carolina Bird Club Meeting in Blowing Rock, NC -- Day 1 -- PM

It is time to continue the recounting of my and Carl's birding weekend with the Carolina Bird Club (CBC) in Blowing Rock, NC in early May.  After our excellent morning of birding along the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), north of Blowing Rock, we returned to town for lunch and then for another field trip closer to town -- namely, my group visited Trout Lake and Bass Lake in the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park.  Because Carl had homework to do for his MBA class, he stayed behind in the hotel room (but he was still birding and I will tell you how below!)

Our group started off first at Trout Lake -- a very wooded natural area full of hardwoods and rhododendron  -- perfect nesting habitat for species such as the Veery (a life bird for me!), the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker (which is only a winter resident for us in the Lowcountry), the Canada Warbler (which I have never seen in the Lowcountry), and Black-Throated Blue Warblers (I have seen these on rare occasions in the Lowcountry -- migrating through, I assume).  The Canada Warblers were in great abundance and we even noticed females gathering nesting material!

The group with whom I was birding was especially excited about the Wood Ducks on the lake.  So I shared with them a tidbit -- "our" mother Wood Duck at home in the box behind our house was brooding eggs that we expected were going to hatch this weekend.  It was indeed bad timing for us to be away from home since we would definitely miss the chicks' grand leap from the box.  But Carl had rigged a video camera in the box with an internet feed through our own personal server, so we still hoped to at least capture the chicks' hatching and hopping around the box.

Trout Lake -- Moses H. Cone Memorial Park 

Painted trillium

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

A Veery which led us down the trail seemingly unbothered by us!

 A very perky and curious Canada Warbler

A Black-Throated Blue Warbler

A Spotted Sandpiper!

A friendly Mallard looking for a handout!

After circling Trout Lake, we took a very short drive to the other side of the parkway to Bass Lake.  From Bass Lake, there is a lovely view of Flat Top Manor, Moses H. Cone's mansion, that he built and which today houses a wonderful local artisan craft shop.  I was lagging behind the group a bit and spotted some yellow fuzz in the grass among the group of adult Canada Geese -- babies!  So I dawdled a little more to take their picture.  Someone in the group called out to me to come quickly.  They had missed seeing the baby geese but had spotted a mother Wood Duck with her very young chicks in the lake within range of my long lens!  Just as I approached to take pictures of this Wood Duck, my cell phone began to rang.  It was Carl but the reception was truly bad because of the mountains and all I could understand was "wo&* #$k".  He could not really understand me either.  But since he said "wo&* #$k" first, I assumed and I hoped that he could see "our" chicks hatching out at home over the internet feed!  What a coincidence!  I am looking at Wood Duck chicks when "our" chicks at home begin hatching!  So, yes, although Carl was stuck in the hotel room doing homework, he was still also birding.  As we continued around the lake, we encountered a surplus of Tufted Titmice, more Wood Ducks, and a few more common species.  Another treat was the beaver!  Then, we saw cows grazing in an adjoining pasture.  And our final bird was a lovely White-Breasted Nuthatch.  All in all, this was a great birding field trip!

When I arrived back at the hotel room, I found that my assumption was right!  "Our" Wood Ducks were hatching and I was able to see the recorded video! 

Bass Lake and Flat Top Manor House in the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

Wood Ducks on Bass Lake at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park


"Our" Wood Duck's chicks in Charleston were hatching at the same time that I was looking at the above chicks in Blowing Rock, NC!  A cool coincidence!  -- photo by Carl Miller




White-Breasted Nuthatch