Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012: Today I Saw ....

Male Ruddy Duck -- James Island, SC -- November 25, 2012

            Today, Sunday November 25, 2012, I saw my FIRST EVER Ruddy Duck?  No, better than that!  I saw my first ever BLUE-BILLED RUDDY DUCK -- in my neighborhood pond!   As a birder who first learned of this duck on a Christmas Bird Count, I had not known that the male of this species had a blue bill in breeding plumage.  I learned that later after studying the bird guides a bit more seriously.  I never really expected to see a blue-billed Ruddy Duck here in SC since they breed in the western half of the United States, Mexico, Cuba and even Europe -- but not here!  They simply winter here in the eastern half of the United States. 

Male Blue-billed Ruddy Duck -- James Island, SC -- November 25, 2012

            I was out for a vigorous walk without the camera when I spotted him.  I immediately returned to the house for the camera and for Carl.  What a great find!  He was the only Ruddy Duck on the pond among the Mallards, Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks.  I wonder how long he will stay.  Since I began birding, he represents the first observed Ruddy Duck for our neighborhood.

           During the winter months, we normally see a dark, slaty-colored bill on male and female Ruddy Ducks here in SC, such as in the photo below.

Ruddy Ducks -- Bear Island WMA, SC -- March 6, 2010

        What a great find this was for my last day of a fabulous Thanksgiving and Birding weekend!  I will be back to work tomorrow but I will be thinking about my next blog post about this Thanksgiving break spent with family and spent birding in Florida!  We have interesting numbers to share so stay tuned! 

Brua, Robert B. 2002. Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Picnic On The Beach -- Bottlenose Dolphin Strand Feed on Morris Island -- October 14, 2012

Morris Island front beach -- October 20, 2012

              Having grown up in the boating life, I always delight in an opportunity to go out in the boat with my brother Jimmy, particularly if it involves a trip to one of our favorite uninhabited barrier islands, a favorite haunt of my childhood.  Thus, Carl and I eagerly accepted Jimmy’s invitation to join him on a trip to Morris Island one beautiful Sunday afternoon in October.  Within 10 minutes of leaving the family dock on James Island, we entered into the mouth of Lighthouse Creek and were deciding where along the long expanse of beach to land when we spotted some dolphin splashing next to the beach.  Jimmy quickly turned the boat in that direction because we were excited at the prospect of viewing at close range the dolphin strand feeding.

             Daily strand feeding is a behavior particular to the subspecies of Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin of the creeks of coastal waters of South Carolina and Georgia.  Bottlenose dolphin in Mexico and Portugal also strand feed, but not daily like our local pods.  What is strand feeding?  Here is how it works:  In a extraordinary, well-coordinated maneuver, a pod of dolphins (one to six) will corral fish into a tight school and  herd them towards the beach or a mudflat.  Then, in a tight line, they will surge forward, creating a bow wave that pushes the fish up on the shore where they also land, always on their right sides!  There, they catch the fish flopping around on the bank before they slide or flip back into the water themselves.  When the mullet are running strong in the creeks in the fall, the dolphin will repeat this behavior multiple times in short intervals. Shore birds, gulls and waders, astutely watch the dolphins’ behavior and position themselves on the shore to also feed on the stranded fish.  One has to marvel at the teamwork and communication involved as these intelligent, clever creatures expertly time their surge!  Watching them is an exciting, happy event for me!  For more information on these and other feeding behaviors of our local dolphin, I recommend this article, "Dinner is Served" from the 2012 March -April edition of SC Wildlife magazine.  The National Geographic video below also shows in detail how the dolphin accomplish this feat.

              I have been wanting an opportunity to improve upon my strand feeding photos taken 2 years ago in nearly the same location on Morris Island.   Unfortunately, I was not close to the event.  No, indeed, I was on the other side of the inlet on Folly Island.  My long lens did capture it but the quality of the photos was compromised by the distance.  Back in my pre-blogging days, my good friend, birding buddy and fellow nature-lover, Judy Fairchild asked to use my photos in a post for her Dewees Island Blog.  I was quite happy to be able to share this adventure.  You can see her write-up and my photos here.  Thank you Judy for a great post!

              I was thrilled to attempt some photos at closer range.  Jimmy rushed the boat to a point which was within good range but not so close as to disturb the pod from their action.  Funny thing, the dolphin were stranding right next to another boat already beached and right in front of the boat’s owners.  Though we did see the pod perform the strandings a few more times, these first shots from the boat are the best of the day!   

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin -- Morris Island, SC -- October 20, 2012

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin strand feeding -- Morris Island, SC -- October 20, 2012

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin -- Morris Island, SC -- October 20, 2012

             Though I am pleased with the results of this photographic effort, I have seen better and so I still aspire to do better.

            Once we landed, the dolphin pod appeared to have stopped fishing for awhile so Jimmy took off on his bike and Carl and I started to explore the inlet area before heading to the front  beach.  I lagged behind hoping that the dolphin would come back.  Sure enough, I turned to look back to see a single dolphin “following” me.  So I turned to watch his approach as he paralleled closely the shore.  I hoped to see another dolphin because I did not expect a solo dolphin to attempt strand feeding.  I was wrong though.  I watched this guy surge and corral to create his effective bow wave pushing up the fish.

One Bottlenose Dolphin surging  -- Morris Island, SC  -- October 20, 2012

One Bottlenose Dolphin surging -- Morris Island, SC -- October 20, 2012

Mullet pushed towards the beach by one Bottlenose Dolphin -- Morris Island -- October 20, 2012

When he stranded solo though, he did not appear to catch any fish.

Bottlenose Dolphin stranding -- Morris Island -- October 20, 2012

              Back into the water, he swirled and thrashed about.  Hopefully, that last thrash netted him a fish.  I was secretly pleased -- feeling as though maybe he performed that stranding for my benefit!  OK, I realize that is unlikely.  Still the romantic in me likes to think that a wild, intelligent creature might respond to our excitement.

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin pulling off from beach after stranding -- Morris Island -- October 20, 2012

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin leaving beach after stranding -- Morris Island, SC -- October 20, 2012

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin -- churning the water to catch more fish --  Morris Island, SC -- October 20, 2012

             Finally, I decided that it was time for me to move on to explore more of the beach.  As I scanned the marsh on the other side of a small creek at the beach’s edge, a Seaside Sparrow popped up and posed briefly for a decent shot.

Seaside Sparrow -- Morris Island, SC -- October 20, 2012
            Then I decided to catch up to Carl on the front beach.  Here, we could see the Morris Island Light from a different angle from our normal views from Folly.

Morris Island Light -- Morris Island, SC -- October 20, 2012

Morris Island Light -- Morris Island, SC -- October 20, 2012

         In the shrubs, just beyond what was left of the eroded dune line, we found our first-of-season Savannah Sparrows en masse!

Savannah Sparrow -- Morris Island, SC --Octber 20, 2012

Savannah Sparrow on Sea Oats -- Morris Island, SC -- October 20, 2012

             This lovely Palm Warbler also obliged me with a rather nice pose.

Palm Warbler -- Morris Island, SC -- October 20, 2012
              While watching the birds bounce around the shrubs, a brightly colored moth caught my eye.  It’s perched appearance, orange with white stripes and black dots contrasted significantly with it’s in-flight appearance -- bright solid pink and white wings.  I am sorry that I was unable to capture the moth in flight.  Perhaps, next time!

Bella Moth -- Morris Island, SC -- October 20, 2012

At home, I researched on line to learn that this beauty is called “Bella Moth" (Utetheisa ornatrix)!  How appropriate!

            Once Jimmy had ridden his bike the length of the island and back, we headed back to the boat.  Once there, we found that the dolphin were once again strand feeding in front of the beach-goers whose boat was in the first photos.  What a delight to watch this again!!!

             After conversing with the others, we learned that they were on the board of the “Save the Light Foundation.”  We also learned from them that they are out there every weekend as they motor over to the lighthouse for continued repair work.  Thus, they were very familiar with the habits of this pod of dolphin whom they observe regularly.
             This piece of news caused some major boat envy in Carl and myself.  One of these days, we will be buying our own boat for regular treks out to the islands and dolphin-watching!  It is on the wish list!!!!  In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy our trips with my brother!  Thank you, Jimmy for a superb afternoon on Morris Island!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Playtime for Dolphins and Whales -- Hawaii

         As I was researching resources on my upcoming blog post on Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, I stumbled across this American Museum of Natural History video posted to YouTube about observed (and photographed!) Dolphin and Humpback Whale interactions off of 2 different Hawaiian islands.  I had already read about this event on this post, "Cetacean Circus,"on the SeaNotes Blog for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  

           Looks like a great play time to me!  How little we know about positive interspecies interactions and how precious are the moments when we have the opportunity to observe it!

         And YES!  In just a few days I will have new post on a very cool behavior of our own SC Bottlenose Dolphins --  Strand Feeding on Morris Island! .... Stay tuned! 

Friday, November 16, 2012

PBS' Nature: "An Original DUCKumentary" -- Yes -- a Must See! Two Wings Up!

Blue-Winged Teal -- Magnolia Gardens, Charleston, SC -- March 5, 2011

      Wednesday night, I played hookey from the Charleston Audubon meeting.  Gasp!  And Patrick McMillan of SCETV's show, Expeditions, was the speaker -- a bigger GASP!  Sorry Patrick!  So I must have some pretty darn good excuses, right?!  Hmmm...  Well, let's put it this way.  I do not regret my decision to stay home.  I have seen Patrick speak twice this year and he is indeed a fascinating and inspiring speaker.  I also participated in a field trip to Bulls Island with him in the Spring -- a wonderful event about which I will blog later as there will be a repeat event next Spring and why not help them (those folks at the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge) with a little publicity for this fund-raiser?  No, I stayed home because last week, I had seen the preview below for a new program on Nature, "An Original DUCKumentary" and I had no plans to miss it! 

Watch An Original DUCKumentary Preview on PBS. See more from Nature.

And who does not just LOVE ducks, like this beauty?!

Female Green-Winged Teal -- Magnolia Gardens, Charleston, SC -- March 5, 2011
Thus, having already heard Patrick speak twice this year, I chose the duck show!  Yesterday, my friends at work told me that Patrick was indeed great (they obviously went to the meeting) and then they promptly began to tell me about this wonderful Nature program on ducks of which they had caught the last half-hour!  Then, at  home, I found in my inbox, an e-mail from another birding friend.  She had also gone to hear Patrick speak and had also arrived home in time to catch the last half-hour of the duck show.  This resourceful friend then found a link to the program in which you can stream the whole episode!  Thank you Cornelia!!!!  Now, none of you need miss this wonderful show with fabulous footage with multiple camera angles of baby wood ducks hatching in the nest tree and then taking their BIG LEAP.

Watch Jumping Duckling on PBS. See more from Nature.

You will enjoy the amazing underwater footage of diving ducks -- their webbed feet work like underwater wings!  You will also learn about the incredible strength of the LOVELY torrent ducks -- and so much more!  I am so excited about this show I think I may just have to watch it again!  After all, who does not just LOVE ducks?!

Gadwall -- Magnolia Gardens, Charleston, SC -- March 5, 2011

Green-Winged Teal, Blue-Winged Teal, Northern Shovelers -- Santee Delta Wildlife Management Area near  McClellanville, SC -- March 20, 2010