Sunday, January 8, 2012

'Tis the Season: My CBC no. 2: Four Holes Swamp -- Territory 3

Four Hole Swamp Christmas Bird Count Circle -- Google Earth Image with GIS work by One Earth GIS  -- obtained from  Audubon SC -- label by Cathy Miller
        Back in November, as soon as I learned the date of the Four Holes Swamp Christmas Bird Count (CBC) hosted by Audubon South Carolina , I signed up with count compiler Mark Musselman, who is also the Education Director at the South Carolina Audubon Center -- Francis Beidler Forest Sanctuary.  This was my first opportunity in the 3 year history of this count to participate as it was scheduled this year during my Winter Break from teaching duties!  I was thrilled.  The scheduled date for this count was Monday, December 19.  Then, on Thursday, December 15, I was surprised by an e-mail from Mark asking me to be leader for a territory!  I was flattered and honored but I needed to let him know that I was no expert.  I know that my birding skills and knowledge had improved significantly over the last 5 years but I would still only categorize myself as an intermediate birder at best.  Whereas it is true that I have been the leader for the Dewees Island territory of the Charleston CBC (Charleston Audubon) for four years, I also immediately recruited expert birders to my team when assigned that territory.  This count was just 4 days away!  I was certain that I needed someone more expert than myself to do the area justice.  So I accepted on the condition that Mark find me such an expert ... which he did!  Don Jones had originally been assigned to Mark's team but agreed to help me out on Territory 3, my newly-assigned area (the pale turquoise area in the southeast quadrant of the above map).  Fortunately for me, Don Jones is one of the best!  He is the Outings Chairperson for Charleston Audubon and I have learned a great deal from him over the last few years by attending the birding trips that he has organized! 

        To clarify the maps a bit, when you look at the above count circle, you see a large area and some smaller ones all outlined in red.  Those areas are the 15,000+ acres acquired by SC Audubon over the years to expand the conserved area of Four Holes Swamp that is Francis Beidler Forest.  Territory 3 included portions of the red-outlined areas!  The Visitor's Center with the boardwalk into the virgin cypress and tulelo swamp is in the adjacent reddish-brown territory.  The one red line that comes off of the largest red-outlined area is the access road into the visitor's center.  Territory 3 is also bordered on the Southwest by Interstate 26.

Google Earth Image with GIS work by One Earth GIS  -- obtained from  Audubon SC -- label by Cathy Miller

         Now that I was in charge of a territory about which I knew very little, Carl and I decided to go scouting on Saturday.  I was already a little familiar with the area since we drive through it to reach the Visitor's Center and I had once hiked in an area of the forest there where SC Audubon has built a nature trail in the Carolina Kids' Preserve.  But I wanted also to be sure of the boundaries of this territory and try to establish where some of the "birdiest" areas might be.  Mark had already informed me that much of the birding would be from along the roadsides as much of the area is privately-held land.  Yet, there were areas to explore on foot and by car through Audubon lands as well as private property where the owners were granting us access.  I felt I needed to know more about those areas as the leader of the territory.  Carl and I were also both excited about the prospect of exploring more of the Francis Beidler Forest outside of the visitor center's limits.  So below you will see a Google map of the scouting that Carl and I did.  Click on the caption below the map to see a larger version with captions about the areas that we scouted. 

View Four Holes Swamp CBC -- Territory 3 -- Scouting in a larger map

After scouting, I felt much better prepared to lead the count in that territory.

           Sunday, I participated in the McClellanville CBC count and then Monday, I awoke again very early to meet Don Jones in Summerville at 6:30 am for the Four Holes Swamp CBC Count!  We then drove to the territory to begin birding.  Since we were granted access to some private property for birding, in deference to those owners, I did not create a map of the route that we took on Monday, the day of the count.  Hopefully you will find the scouting map helpful in understanding the territory.  The car thermometer read 26F when we arrived and, of course, the frost was thick on the ground.  We saw large flocks of Common Grackles, Brown-Headed Cowbirds and Eastern Meadowlarks.  The Eastern Meadowlarks, at first flew to the tops of some pines where they seemed to shine like bright, yellow Christmas ornaments, before descending and disappearing into the grass of the frosty pasture below!  We also found a large group of Black Vultures sunning on a cell phone tower.  Then we heard a pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks calling loudly.  What a great start!  We continued birding slowly along the roads.  The birds were very active initially -- particularly the Chipping Sparrows, the White-Throated Sparrows, the Carolina Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, a Northern Flicker, and a lovely Blue-Headed Vireo!  I also heard the Eastern Bluebirds.

       Eventually, two members of our team, Carol Swan and Chris Morrow, joined us along the roadside and we decided it was time to continue to the trailhead for the Carolina Kids' Preserve and to bird on foot awhile.

Sign at trailhead of Carolina Kids' Preserve -- photo from June 13, 2009
The first part of the trail and the parking area were very birdy.  We heard a Pileated Woodpecker, saw some Red-Bellied Woodpeckers and a couple of Downies.  We also saw more Northern Cardinals, White-Throated Sparrows, Northern Flickers,  many Yellow-Rumped Warblers, several Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, an Orange-Crowned Warbler and a Hermit Thrush, among a few others.  Chris also sighted his first Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker -- a life bird for him!  The areas of this trail that were birdy for Carl and me on Saturday were rather quiet on Monday.  That was a bit disappointing.  Unfortunately, our team did not find the Winter Wren in the wood pile where Carl and I had found one on Saturday.  Although we failed on the Winter Wren, a Sharp-Shinned Hawk made an appearance over the trail just as one had when Carl and I birded there.  It perhaps was the very same bird!  Also, since the trail was becoming less birdy as we progressed down it, our birding team decided against continuing too much farther,.  We instead decided that we might have more luck in other areas.  And with this being such a large territory with more ground to cover, we decided to turn around.  But before we turned around, we did find an Eastern Phoebe, and my bird of the day -- Fox Sparrows!  It had been 3 years since I had seen one of those!  And this was a much better look at one!  Unfortunately, I missed the photographic opportunity with those birds. 

Carol Swan, Chris Morrow and Don Jones on the trail -- December 19, 2011 -- Four Holes Swamp CBC
           After a picnic lunch at our cars, we decided to explore an area of private property to which we had been granted access.  This was initially also a rather birdy area.  Here we saw more Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, Chipping Sparrows, White-Throated Sparrows and, of course, several Yellow-Rumped Warblers.  Don was also able to introduce to Chris and Carol, our more novice birders in our group, some Pine Warblers in varying plumage.  They were both thrilled with this new life bird!

Pine Warbler -- December 19, 2011 -- Four Holes Swamp CBC
Pine Warbler -- December 19, 2011 -- Four Holes Swamp CBC
I had fun phishing the birds into our area and seeing how they responded.   As I was photographing a pine warbler taking multiple photos rapidly with a high speed shutter, I saw through the lens 2 birds flying quickly right for me!  It was 2 Ruby-Crowned Kinglets attracted by the rapid clickity-click of my shutter!  They stopped in a wax myrtle just a few feet away.  Alas, those 2 little wigglers did not cooperate for their photo shoot.  But this Chipping Sparrow made up for it.

Chipping Sparrow -- December 19, 2011 -- Four Holes Swamp CBC

       I confess that I was not concentrating too much on the photography that day.  So you have now seen all of the photos.  I will continue to tell you about the birds that we saw, however.  After leaving this property, we birded for a bit on a piece of Audubon property where a longleaf pine restoration project is in progress.  There we saw Mourning Doves, a few sparrows, a Red-Tailed Hawk and a couple of Red-Bellied Woodpeckers.  Since it was the warmest part of the afternoon, this area was fairly quiet.  Before long, we soon decided it was time to cover other areas before we ran out of time.  We were expected to turn in our data sheets at the Beidler Forest Visitor Center before 4:30 pm.

        We recovered an area from the morning so that we could show Chris and Carol some Eastern Meadowlarks.  While there, we saw more Eastern Bluebirds and Northern Cardinals and we heard and saw some Golden-Crowned Kinglets and Brown-Headed Nuthatches.  We finished out the other side of the Mizell Road loop with several more White-Throated Sparrows and another Red-tailed Hawk.  We were then delighted to find in this one area 37 Dark-Eyed Juncos!  While the others were studying the Juncos, I exited the car (sans camera, unfortunately) and began phishing leaning up against the car.  And they came!  And they kept coming!  Within just a few feet!  The very bold and curious Yellow-Rumped Warblers (with a few other curious species mixed in)!  I SO wanted my camera but I knew that as soon as I stopped phishing and turned to reach for the camera the magic spell would be broken. Eventually, I had to stop, my lips were tired and I was running out of breath.  Don said that I probably phished in 30 birds!  Now, that was FUN!

        We had about an hour of birding time left and I wanted to go to the northwestern side of our territory and try for the American Kestrel that Carl and I had sighted on Saturday.  As we approached the field where we had seen him before, with sun in our eyes, we saw him perched on a power line.  I had hoped for a picture but I have often found that Kestrels will flush when you drive by them.  Sure enough, this one did too.  But he would have been back-lit so there was no loss on that missed photo!  We needed to finish birding the length of this road.  I hoped that we would find him again and that I would have a great photo-op.  Chris and Carol had missed seeing the Kestrel so they were looking forward to seeing him upon our return.  As the sun began to drop, our route became more birdy.  We found a decent-sized flock of American Robins, Blue Jays and Cedar Waxwings soaking up the last rays of sunshine in a tree on the side of this road.  We also added another Red-Tailed Hawk to our list as well as more Mourning Doves.  Then we turned around to return towards our Kestrel and then to continue to the Beidler Visitor Center.  Sure enough, our bird was on the line.  I stopped the car and aimed the camera ...  but my carpal tunnel syndrome in my wrist was causing numbness and I could not feel the shutter release to focus the lens.  Suddenly, I heard a loud truck coming up behind.  My shot was lost!  Oh well!  Another Kestrel, another day!  There were more CBCs to do! (I did not miss again!)  

         Don tallied up our count.  I was surprised to learn that we had only 43 species!  But I was thrilled with our day nonetheless!  The weather and the territory had been beautiful, the company exceptional, and I had seen Fox Sparrows for the first time in 3 years!  All in all a great birding day!  I am looking forward to doing the Four Holes Swamp CBC next year!   I thank Don for his expertise on the count and Mark Musselman for his guidance and for entrusting me with the territory.  And, of course, you cannot beat Audubon SC's hospitality after the count!  

1 comment:

  1. Your narrative certainly suggests a trip I would have enjoyed. I feel certain all who participated agreed.