Sunday, October 28, 2012

Wading Bird Rookeries Down South in early June -- Part 2: Pinckney Island NWR

Vista with White-Tailed Deer and White Ibis at Pinckney Island NWR -- Hilton Head, SC -- Jun2 8, 2012
        This post represents Part 2 of a series on two wading bird rookeries "down south" (ie in the Hilton Head area) that Carl and I visited one June day.  Part One covered our morning visit to the fabulous, Spring Island, a private residential community located on a marsh island close to Hilton Head and Parris Island Marine Corps Air Station.  That afternoon, we visited the rookery at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and thus, this post, Part 2, will show you what we saw there.

       Pinckney Island NWR is one of seven refuges in the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex which includes Savannah NWR, Pinckney Island NWR, Tybee NWR, Wassaw NWR, Harris Neck NWR, Blackbeard Island NWR and Wolf Island NWR.  All of Tybee, most of Wolf Island and parts of Wassaw are true refuges in that they are always closed to the public for the protection of the wildlife that reside there.

Map of Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex -- Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service
          The day had warmed up considerably.  It was June after all!  Following our morning at Spring Island, I could have called it a day and would have been so very happy with what I had seen and shot.  But Carl, who does not seem to feel the heat like I do, was very ready to continue our planned venture to Pinckney Island after lunch.  He had already visited this site and was completely enthralled and eager to show it to me.  Additionally, it is a long drive down south and it made sense to see it now as we had the time and we were practically there.  So, I agreed, ate a cookie (it always helps), and off we went.  I did not regret it!

Trail Map of the Pinckney Island NWR -- Credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service
          An ocean breeze blew across the marsh and as long as we were in the shade, we were cool enough.  And of course, the beautiful vistas and the rather active wildlife (even in the middle of the day! -- see the deer in the photo above!) helped me to forget the heat as we walked through the sunnier areas.  You cannot drive past the Visitor Parking but the refuge is open to both foot and bicycle traffic.  Carl and I walked up to the Ibis Pond which is where the large rookery is!  Carl had said that it seemed as though the birds nested practically one on top of another.  You had the impression of looking at a rather busy, noisy tenement!  With the midday sun high in the sky, the conditions were not right for capturing a multiple nest sites.  But the photographic opportunities for individual bird portraits, particularly of White Ibis, were not lacking at all!
White Ibis -- Pinckney Island NWR, neat Hilton Head, SC -- June 8, 2012

White Ibis -- Pinckney Island NWR near Hilton Head, SC -- June 8, 2012

        In this rookery, we also saw several Tri-colored Heron nestlings, fledglings and a few parents such as the ones below. 

Adult Tri-Colored Heron -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

Juvenile Tri-Colored Heron -- Pïnckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

           I did not see many Snowy Egrets on nests but I did see these guys.

Snowy Egrets at nest -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

           Several Little Blue Heron families with recently fledged chicks were also present.  I loved this next series of shots showing the interaction between a chick and its parent.

Little Blue Heron chick and parent -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

Little Blue Heron chick and parent -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

Little Blue Heron chick and parent -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

When I study the 2nd photo in this series, I confess to being a bit curious about the nip on the neck.  Is this a parent of a different chick chasing off a youngster who is too close to his own chicks?  Hmmm.

           A few families of very shy wood ducks milled about in the marshes of the pond.  I was lucky to be able to photograph this one as they disappeared rather quickly into the reeds.

Wood Duck -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

            As always, I enjoyed watching the birds' behaviors, such as these adult Ibis grooming themselves....

White Ibis grooming -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

White Ibis grooming -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012
..... and this young Little Blue Heron flexing his wings and exercising.

Little Blue Heron fledgling -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

          After circling Ibis Pond, I decided to continue up towards the next wetland, Starr Pond and Osprey Pond, since some other visitors had noted seeing a Roseate Spoonbill there earlier in the day.  True, we had seen a Roseate Spoonbill at Spring Island earlier that morning.  But why settle for a one-Spoonbill day when you can potentially have a two-Spoonbill day?  Well, apparently the reported Spoonbill had long departed.  But this area had its own treasures to be discovered, such as this large group of White Ibis bathing and grooming.

White Ibis bathing -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

White Ibis -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

            As I took the path around Starr Pond and Osprey Pond, I found this young Little Blue Heron molting into his adult plumage.  I always find them to be so amusing -- like awkward teenagers growing into adulthood.

Little Blue Heron -- molting into adult plumage -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

             Finishing that loop, I spotted a female Eastern Bluebird on top of her nestbox with this big juicy cricket.  Her mate soon joined her on top of the box with his own juicy cricket.  After watching me, he determined that I was not a threat and he had a job to do, feed his chicks!  So he dropped to the opening, did just that, and flew away.  He then returned nearly immediately with another bug.  Mom, however, simply was not going to follow her mate’s lead.  She was not convinced that I did not merit continuous watching.  So after quickly capturing a few shots, I backed away to give her some space to be a good Mom.

Eastern Bluebird parents bringing dinner to the nestbox -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012
             Carl had stayed behind at Ibis Pond as he seemed to have found his own little sweet spot for photography.  It was time for me to head back to him.  Since the afternoon sun had dropped a bit and a breeze had picked up, I was no longer melting in midday heat as I made my way back to Ibis Pond. So I took time to pause at the corner of Ibis Pond where a significant butterfly garden was planted.  Among the many plants, was one of my favorites -- the passionflower vine!  Carl and I once planted one of these and marveled at how quickly the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars devoured every leaf!

Passionflower -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

        What truly caught my eye here though was this recently fledged Little Blue Heron exploring the top of the vine canopy.  I think perhaps he was looking for bugs to eat.  How intriguing to see this youngster exploring and to capture him in white plumage next to the color that he would soon enough attain as an adult.

Little Blue Heron fledgling next to passionflower -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

             Thankfully, his encounter with the bumblebee had no disastrous outcomes!

Little Blue Heron considering a bumblebee snack -- Pinckney Island NWR -- June 8, 2012

           Carl and I have barely scratched the surface when it comes to exploring Pinckney Island NWR.  Now we are trying to figure out how we might return on mountain bikes to explore it further and still be able to carry our camera gear!  We are considering purchasing a tow-behind buggy for our bikes for carrying our gear.  This is certainly a place to visit and savor.  I highly recommend it to all nature lovers!  You may want to consider more than just a half day visit though! 
          Thus concluded our day trip to Spring Island (see the previous post -- Part One in this 2-post series) and to Pinckney Island NWR.  We have come to realize that this southern-most stretch of the South Carolina Lowcountry is bird rich indeed!  It is no wonder that the Carolina Bird Club tallied 203 species at the Beaufort, SC 2011 Fall meeting!  I continue to hear about wonderful birding sites in this region that merit a visit.  Carl and I have not been to Hunting Island State Park since before we were birders so it must be time for us to return!  Also, SC Wildlife magazine just published this month an article on Daufuskie Island as a great winter birding site.  The town of Port Royal, billing itself as a bird lover's paradise, offers 3 different habitat types for birdlife including the newly completed Cypress Wetlands Nature Trail with its heron rookery (video).  Of course, if you are a regular reader you have already seen the two Pluff Mud Perspective posts, one in 2011 and one this year,  that I have written on the Savannah NWR.   Hmmm .... so many great choices!  Where should we go next?

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