Saturday, January 28, 2012

'Tis the Season: My CBC no. 5: The ACE Basin

         Ahhhh!  The ACE Basin is indeed one of my favorite places in the Lowcountry!  For the last 4 years, I have been able to participate in the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) there.  This season's count was scheduled for Sunday, January 1.  Thus, whatever birds I saw there would be my first birds for the new year 2012 bird list!  And the ACE is a bird-rich environment so I was sure to add many birds to my new list.

View of former rice field -- now an impoundment managed for wildlife -- ACE Basin -- January 1, 2012

          I last posted about birding in the ACE with a 2-part series in November entitled, Donnelly WMA -- A Favorite Birding Site: Part One and Part Two.  In Part One, I described the ACE Basin as such:

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.

Because the ACE is a large area that encompasses both private and public land holdings, many of us were assigned to bird on private land.   The ACE Basin CBC group has been accorded special permission by several property owners to count birds on their land.  As such, our team (composed of Ann Shahid -- our leader, Andy Harrison and myself) was given two such properties to bird -- both of which are former plantations.  Because these properties are not open to the public and because I do not have the owners' permissions to blog about or to post representative photos of them, I will not reveal the names of these properties or publish identifying photos.  Instead, I will blog about the experience of the day in general terms and will show a few photos of the birds and birding activity.  The birds that we found on these properties are not unique to these particular properties.  They can be found on many of the public lands that are open to visitors in the ACE Basin.  The public sites are:
 I suggest clicking on the links to each site to learn more about the place, it's potential for birding, and each site's visiting hours.  For an overall view of the 15 mile count circle for the ACE Basin, you can view a map here on the Carolina Bird Club site.

        The day began early, and a bit chilly -- 36F -- Brrrr!, with a 7 am rendez-vous in Jacksonboro.  After receiving our assignments, maps and instructions as to where to find particular birds, we set off for the first property.  This is an area that I have birded in the past so I was familiar with it.  We experienced an intense quietness when we arrived at our first stop -- a swamp of cypress and tulepo trees.  Gradually, we began to hear a few birds here and there chirping.  But as the sun began to rise and the light began to filter down the bare tree trucks, the swamp and adjoining field came to life with multiple species of birds.  They were suddenly EVERYWHERE -- chirping and flitting about with a spunky energy!  It was birdy to an extreme!  I had difficulty focusing on any one bird because others would flit by and distract me.  "There's another Ruby-Throated Kinglet -- no maybe I already counted that one."  We found in that one spot Pileated Woodpeckers, Downies, 6 Blue-Headed Vireos (more in one location than I have ever seen!), American Goldfinches, Carolina Chickadees, Carolina Wrens, Northern Cardinals, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Golden-Crowned Kinglets, Eastern Bluebirds, Hermit Thrush, some Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers and the list continues.  Wow!  Now that was quite a start!  Eventually, the lively flock of birds moved on and we left that area for another.

         We came to a field that had been so very birdy last year with many Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows and others.  By contrast, this year, we heard some light chip notes but we could only occasionally flush a bird from the grasses.  These birds were simply not coming out.  I doubt that there were nearly as many birds seeking cover as the year before.

Andy phishing for sparrows -- ACE Basin CBC -- January 1, 2012

Ann phishing for sparrows -- ACE Basin CBC -- January 1, 2012

 We did get a few Eastern Meadowlarks in the fields and we had a Bald Eagle and later a Merlin fly over.  We continued through a stable area and here I found several Chipping Sparrows, Bluebirds and a Pine Warbler.  We were also beginning to see some Turkey Vultures, a few small flocks of Red-Winged Blackbirds, and a few Northern Mockingbirds.  We also began to spot more Downies and Northern Flickers.  The American Crows were beginning to raucously call as well.

Turkey Vultures -- ACE Basin CBC -- January 1, 2012
         Next we passed through a wooded area on our way to an impoundment.  In the woods, we continued to find several delightful birds who happily came to investigate when I phished.  I seem to be able to speak Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Carolina Chickadee and Ruby-Crowned Kinglet quite well.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet -- ACE Basin CBC -- January 1, 2012
              Apparently, I do not speak Marsh Wren very well.  We came out onto the dike that led across the impoundments.  Andy and I lagged behind a bit because we both heard the rustling in the marsh grass so typical of Marsh Wrens.  We both phished but to no avail.  So we continued down the dike until again we heard the rustling in the grass and then we would phish again.  Ann, in the meantime, was scanning the water for ducks.  We helped to count the American Coots which were plentiful but again we were distracted by the rustling in the reeds.  I found an immature Bald Eagle perched on a snag and later we saw an adult fly over.  Ann was already at the intersection of the dikes scanning the next impoundment and counting the ducks while Andy and I sighted 4 or 5 Black-Crowned Night Herons with his scope.  We also saw some Black Vultures arrive and land on some snags close to Ann.  A few Great Egrets also flew by.  But still there was the rustling in the marshes close to our feet.  Suddenly, a small rail-shaped bird flew out of the grass a few feet and landed ahead of us, hiding itself quite well in the marsh.  Andy and I hoped to flush it or phish it out into the open again so that we could get a positive identification.  But that bird was not budging.  As we phished, we heard a bit more rustling further down the path and saw the marsh grass move.  We were fairly certain that it was a wren -- but was it Marsh or Sedge?  We continued to phish and the bird continued to move about and chip. Finally, we gave up, we stopped phishing and began talking softly about the possible rail and whether we thought this wren was Sedge or Marsh.  I hypothesized that it was Marsh because I am usually successful phishing out the Sedge Wrens.  As we were talking, lo and behold, out pops the little booger who began chirping to his friends up and down the marsh -- who chirped in response, as he eyeballed us with seeming indignation.  It was indeed a little Marsh Wren who apparently did not like being ignored?!  We joined up with Ann who reported on the Blue-Winged Teal that she counted -- and we compared notes on the Black-Crowned Night Herons, Great Egrets, and Black Vultures.  When Ann returned with us to the area where the rail had landed, she played on her iPod a couple of different rail calls based on our description of the bird.  And the little fellow responded with a nearly identical repetition to the Virginia Rail call!  So there we had it, a Virginia Rail!

            After leaving that area, we birded some fields where we found an American Kestrel.  We had hoped for some Wilson Snipe and more Eastern Meadowlarks in that area but they were absent.

American Kestrel -- ACE Basin CBC -- January 1, 2012
           This sunny morning had warmed up nicely and we could remove layers.  Next we found a place to eat lunch overlooking a marsh.  While eating, we saw a couple of Northern Harriers and a couple of Bald Eagles and more Black Vultures and a few Turkey Vultures.  In the marsh, I was able to phish up some Song Sparrows.  After lunch, we continue to another low-lying wooded area where we found an Eastern Phoebe, several White-Throated Sparrows, American Goldfinches, Yellow-Rumped Warblers (of course), and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker among others.  We continued up a hill to an area that was mixed agricultural fields, hardwoods, pine and burned woodland.  There we had a surplus of White-Throated Sparrows and some Chipping Sparrows as well as a few Mourning Doves.

            Realizing that we had yet another property to visit, we decided to leave this property and head out to the other.  None of us were familiar with this nest property.  Following directions received from the compilers of the count, we took a shortcut across Donnelly WMA -- not part of our bird count territory, to reach the other property.  In Donnelly, in the fields approaching the utility sheds, I spied this resident American Kestrel (he is nearly always there), who is probably more used to gawking photographers trying to take his picture, and so he did not fly away when I drove past and posed quite nicely for his photo shoot!

American Kestrel -- Donnelly WMA -- ACE Basin CBC -- January 1, 2012
             We arrived at the next property and began our count there.  The area along the river was rather quiet and we only picked up a few Forster Terns, Brown Pelicans, a Northern Cardinal and a Red-Breasted Merganser.  We then continued past some agricultural fields lined by grand Live Oaks where we found Song and White-Throated  Sparrows, Carolina Wrens, a couple of Eastern Towhees and a few Eastern Bluebirds. Eventually, we continued down a long road along which the habitat varied from hardwood to Longleaf Pine and then old rice impoundments.  In the areas of the pines, we found a large flock of approximately 70 Rusty Blackbirds!  Unfortunately, I could not get a decent photo of them.  Closeby, we also frequently saw  Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers and a couple of Red-Headed Woodpeckers!  And in the grasses under the pines, the number of sparrows popping up was simply incredible!  We were running out of light though and not able to spend more time in those grasses trying to ID the sparrows, the majority of which appeared to be White-Throated, Swamp, and Song Sparrows.  But we had been given a specific task of trying to find ducks in this impoundment towards the end of this long road.  How I would like to go back and investigate that area further!  We came to our last stop and explored the impoundment area a bit on foot.  As we crossed through the woods to the impoundment, we saw at least 4 more Red-Headed Woodpeckers!  At the impoundment we found a chattering Belted Kingfisher, an Eastern Phoebe and this handsome Bufflehead.

Bufflehead -- ACE Basin CBC -- January 1, 1012

Bufflehead at sunset -- ACE Basin CBC -- January 1, 2012
              As we explored the area further, we found some Greater Yellowlegs, more Bufflehead, several Tri-Colored Herons, and an Otter!  We also flushed a flock of about 40 Gadwall.  The light had dissipated such that we could not longer effectively bird.  Being concerned that the owners of the property might lock the gate and lock us in, we decided it was in our best interest to leave.

             My personal tally for the day was 65 birds and I know that our territory count was a bit higher as I did not see all the birds that Andy and Ann saw.  Those two are great birding partners and we worked well together to find the birds.  The properties were beautiful and the birds fascinating.  I look forward to birding with Ann and Andy again and to my next opportunity to return to the ACE!  What a great way this was to start the New Year!   

Thursday, January 26, 2012

We Interrupt the "'Tis The Season: My CBC" Series To Bring You A Wild Goose Chase!

           Perhaps you have heard the accounts of a goose of a different color in the neighborhood over the last couple of weeks.  If not, well let me fill you in.   Rumor (in reality, reports from eBird -- a fabulous online site for recording bird sightings all over the world!)  had it that a Greater White-Fronted Goose was seen hanging out with resident, non-migratory  Canada Geese on the Charleston Southern University Campus (CSU) in North Charleston, SC.   I was initially rather surprised at the location.  The CSU campus?!  It is a rather busy, urbanesque high-traffic setting.  Yet it does sit at the edge of the urban boundary of the city with still a good deal of rural area just adjacent to it to the northwest.  After the first report, I suspected, wrongly, that this would be a one-time sighting and this goose would move on.  As the reports continued, however, I came to the conclusion that I should perhaps try to find this bird for my South Carolina and Charleston County bird lists.  I had already seen the species twice in trips to visit family in Tennessee so it was not going to be a life bird for me.  But I like expanding both my South Carolina and my Charleston County lists!  And it did seem as though this goose was sticking around.

       Saturday, on a return trip from the Charleston Audubon fieldtrip to the Santee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) (sounds familiar? -- I recently wrote this post about my Christmas Bird Count there), I decided to give it a try.  CSU was on my route home from the Santee NWR.  And on that route home, we had outrun a thunderstorm, in which we had birded a bit before leaving Santee, and so the weather was ominous -- the storm was still coming.  My birding companions and I did find several Canada Geese in the pond next to the CSU fieldhouse where we were told we should look.  But alas, there was no Greater White-Fronted among them.  My clothes were damp, the breeze was cool, I was a bit chilled, and the storm was threatening, so I had no intentions of hanging around myself.  Thus my first efforts at the Wild Goose Chase were thwarted!

         Then, on Sunday evening, I read on eBird how David, one of my companions from the day before, had got the goose!  I was envious.  Knowing that he would be generous with details, I sent him an e-mail:  "How did you do it?  What do I do?"  He very nicely responded that he had gone to the campus just before sunset and had gone to the same pond.  He had waited behind the fieldhouse for the geese to arrive for their evening roost.  Apparently, the site is an evening roost!  I had not understood that part before!   This means that the geese we had seen Saturday afternoon had simply arrived early due to the approaching storm.  Birds are so dang smart! -- I should have been so smart on Saturday and not have allowed myself to be caught out in an open field birding in that lightening storm.  Then again, I would not have gotten that Yellow Rail -- a life bird! --Yea!   But that is another story with no pictures, sadly :-(  .

        Back to the story -- I was home from work on Tuesday, a sick day, recovering from the ill effects of a medical procedure (details, not necessary) to which I submitted on Monday.  By late afternoon Tuesday, the 24 hour limitations on my activities had long expired, I was suffering from a bit of cabin fever, and I thought it best to run some errands.  I knew that the next few days at work would be very long and afternoon errands would be out of the question.  And why shouldn't my errands include a side-trip out to CSU!?   If I waited until the weekend that bird might be gone!  Off I went -- errand downtown -- check!  Errand West of the Ashley -- check.  It was 4:30 and I turned onto the highway to CSU!  Then Carl called.  He told me that my Mom had called to ask if we would like to come to dinner for her fish stew (Hmmm -- delicious!  It is the BEST fish stew -- a contest-worthy recipe!).   I responded that I could be there by maybe 6:30.  I could hear him frowning and knew that he was going to say, and he did say, "Your Mom always serves dinner at 6 pm."  My response: "Sorry dear!  I am on a Wild Goose Chase and I cannot get there any sooner!  Bye."  My destination was fixed and I was not turning around, not even for Mom's fish stew!

           I arrived on campus at 4:45 pm.  The road improvements on I-26 have indeed improved traffic flow during rush hour, and thankfully there were no accidents.  The campus was bustling, unlike Saturday, with plenty of students milling about.  The weather was bright, sunny and warm and no air was stirring.  Before sunset, I decided to circumnavigate the campus on foot to scour all areas where the geese might congregate.  I did pass by the CSU fieldhouse pond -- no geese!  Hmmm.  I optimistically told myself that it was too early still.  I returned to my car and then drove to the fieldhouse and parked in the lot on the opposite side from the pond and watched the skies for arriving geese.  And, as the sun was setting, I spotted a few geese flying in and I began scanning the small arriving flocks to see if I could ID the "other" goose.  But they were backlit.  More geese had arrived and I decided to exit the car to watch at closer range.  It was 5:30 and then Carl called.  "Are you going to make it on time?"  "The geese have just started to arrive and I am going to find my bird now.  I will call when I am leaving," I responded.  By this time, he had already figured out which bird I was after, of course.  I started moving towards the pond with binocular and camera with the big zoom.   I wondered a bit how I, this middle-aged woman with camera and birding gear, might appear to the young co-eds behind the gym.  Then I realized that perhaps they had already seen a few middle-aged, binocular- and camera-toting fools traipsing across their campus in recent days!  Halfway across the field, I saw another such person slowly moving towards the pond.  I raised my binocular and saw what he saw -- our Greater White-Fronted Goose!  Yea!  I moved in slowly.  The geese were not alarmed and grazed the grass as we approached from our separate directions.  The man and I waved.   He took his pictures and then watched for awhile, then he left.  I sat down at the corner of the fieldhouse and watched and took pictures as this silly goose approached me. 

Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Charleston Southern University -- North Charleston, SC -- January 24, 2012

Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Charleston Southern University -- North Charleston, SC -- January 24, 2012

Eventually, he made his way over to the pond with his companions, the Canada Geese.  Look at the size difference! 

Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Charleston Southern University -- North Charleston, SC -- January 24, 2012

              The sun had set and the light was decreasing.  But I was quite happy that this little goose was not camera shy and I was able to snap a few pictures in the diminishing light at a high ISO.

Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Charleston Southern University -- North Charleston, SC -- January 24, 2012

Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Charleston Southern University -- North Charleston, SC -- January 24, 2012

Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Charleston Southern University -- North Charleston, SC -- January 24, 2012
         At 5:50 pm, I called Carl to say that I was on my way back to the car and that I had got my bird!  Carl was at the family home and told Mom that I would be there in 30 minutes (it took 40) and she decided to hold dinner for me!  Yea!  So I got my bird and my Mom's wonderful stew, too!  HMMMMM!  

          I posted a map below which shows the campus and the location of the fieldhouse and pond.  If you click on the link in the caption, it will take you to a larger version of the map with details. 

View CSU -- Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Winter 2012 in a larger map

          So just how special is this bird for us in the Lowcountry?  I asked my friend and fellow birder Dennis Forsythe, retired professor of ornithology, what light he could shed on such details.  He told me, and I quote:

Here is a quote from Post, W and S.Gauthreaux 1989. Cont. Charleston Museum XVIII  page 9 "Greater White-fronted Goose Rare Winter Visitor on coastal plain, except for Santee NWR, Clarendon Co, where it is an uncommon winter visitor since 1970...."  

          What great fun -- that Wild Goose Chase!  Second time was a charm!  And that bird is a beauty!

           And now to continue the ''Tis the Season: My CBC series," the final post, no. 5, is in production and will be published this weekend!  Stay tuned, folks!

Monday, January 23, 2012

'Tis the Season: My CBC no. 4: Charleston -- Dewees Island Territory

       Saturday, December 31, 2011, the last day to add species to a year's list, was also the day of the Charleston Christmas Bird Count (CBC).  The 15 mile circle  of the count lies north of Mount Pleasant and includes Dewees Island, Capers Island, Bulls Island, Laurel Hill, parts of the Francis Marion Forest including the I'on Swamp, and Cainhoy.  A map of the circle can be found here, on the Carolina Bird Club site.   This year, again, I was the designated leader for the Dewees Island Territory.  If you are a regular visitor to the blog, then you may have already read my very first blog post, written about the Charleston Audubon Spring Count on Dewees Island.  Carl and I were delighted to be returning to bird with our friends and to see the beautiful natural barrier island landscape that this sea island community protects.  This time, the count was occurring on a Saturday, which is a bonus for the Dewees Island group, since the Dewees Island Ferry makes its first run at 7 am on Saturdays, as opposed to 8 am on Sundays!  We were going to be able to start much earlier! 

View of impoundment -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- Decemeber 31, 2011 -- photo by Carl Miller

Below, a Google Map shows the routes and areas birded on Dewees throughout the day.  If you click on the caption, you will be redirected to a larger map with captions and explanations of the route. 

View Dewees Island CBC 2011 in a larger map

      Several members of our team joined us at 6:45 am at the ferry landing in Isle of Palms.  They included Ruby and Curtis Holcomb, Lori Sheridan Wilson, the Environmental Program Director for Dewees Island, Ann Shahid, Carl Broadwell and Aaron Given.  The weather for our count was ideal with a morning temperature of 57F, clear skies and a light South wind.  Of course, we began our count as soon as the ferry turned out of the Intracoastal Waterway and into creek leading to the dock on Dewees.  Here in the creeks, we saw our first Red-Breasted Mergansers, Tri-colored Herons, American Oystercatcher, and Snowy Egrets as well as Ring-Billed Gulls. 
       Island residents and friends, Judy and Reggie Fairchild, and Judy's parents, Bob and Connie Drew, were at the ferry landing on Dewees to greet us upon our arrival.  We scanned the marshes quickly and Aaron found a Seaside Sparrow! And we began spying the Northern Mockingbirds.  Then we loaded our golf carts and drove the very short distance from the Landing Building to the corner of the impoundment.  Water levels in the impoundment were too high for the usual shorebirds that are normally there.  But we did see plenty of Great Egrets, some Great Blue Herons, White Ibis, a few Pied-Billed Grebe, a few Hooded Mergansers, Double-Crested Cormorants and a few species of ducks including Gadwall and American Wigeon.   Across the impoundment, Judy pointed out where a pair of bald eagles were nesting on an Osprey platform!  She had seen the pair cavorting that morning!  And of course, as we progressed towards the Huyler House Pond, the marsh, mytles, live oaks and cedars lining the road revealed Common Yellow-Throats, many Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Eastern Phoebe, a pair of Blue-Headed Vireos, a few House Finches, Carolina Wrens, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, Northern Cardinals and surprisingly some Carolina Chickadees, a bird which is a bit unusual for us on the Dewees Island counts.  As we passed a section of the impoundment where the water levels were lower, one of our teammates spotted some small peeps with his scope.  Also, Carl found 1 Wilson's Snipe.  Unfortunately, we were also staring into the sun.  So we decided to advance a little further to an area under some large live oaks around the bend so that we could scope the peeps at closer range and in better light.  There we tallied 28 Least Sandpipers, 12 Western Sandpipers, some Killdeer, several Greater Yellowlegs and 2 Lesser Yellowlegs.  Dershie McDevitt, another island resident, joined us here.  Next we arrived at Huyler House Pond and there we saw more Great-Crested Cormorants, Northern Cardinals, a few Hooded Mergansers and, 1 Anhinga and several Black-Crowned Night Herons!   We also saw and heard in this pond area some Northern Flickers.

Black-Crowned Night Herons -- Huyler House Pond -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011
Female Hooded Merganser -- Huyler House Pond -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011
Next, we decided to visit the bird blind behind the Huyler House since the light would be to our advantage for scoping the ducks.  And there, Carl took the requisite Dewees Island Birding Team photo.

Front from lft to rt:  Dershie McDevitt, Lori Wilson, Judy Fairchild, Ann Shahid, Connie Drew, Ruby Holcomb, Bob Drew.  Back from lft to rt:  Aaron Given, myself, Carl Broadwell, Curtis Holcomb and Carl Miller -- photo by Carl Miller
      While scanning with the scopes here, we saw more American Wigeon and Gadwall as well as some Green-Winged Teal and Mottled Ducks.  At this point, Dershie invited the group to her house to bird from her deck which overlooks the impoundment.  From that vantage point we were able to see at close range some Common Gallinule, more Hooded Mergansers, BLack-Crowned Night Herons and American Wigeon.  We also watched several Wood Storks descend down to a roost in the marsh just behind some close-by myrtles!

Hooded Mergansers seen from Dershie's deck -- Charleston CBC -- Dewees Island -- December 31, 2011

Immature Wood Stork from Dershie's deck -- Charleston CBC -- Dewees Island -- December 31, 2011 -- photo by Carl Miller

American Wigeon from Dershie's deck -- Charleston CBC -- Dewees Island
American Wigeon from Dershie's deck -- Charleston CBC -- Dewees Island -- December 31, 2011

          When we finished enjoying the birds and the view from Dershie's deck, we drove back around the impoundment to Judy and Reggie's house where we were treated to another viewing opportunity from the Fairchild's deck as well as a delicious brunch prepared by Judy!  The Fairchild's spoil us with their hospitality every time we bird on the island.   Yum!  And the sightings of the birds from there was quite good as well! We were able to add some Blue-Winged Teal and a Northern Shoveler to the list.  We were also able to tally the 13 Wood Storks, many of which we had seen from Dershie's deck landing behind some myrtles.

       After birding and brunching on the Fairchilds' deck, we divided into 2 teams in order to cover the island well.  Team A went with Judy and Reggie Fairchild and consisted of Dershie McDevitt, Ann Shahid, the Holcombs, Lori Sheridan Wilson, and Connie Drew.  Team B consisted of myself, Aaron Given, Carl Miller, Carl Broadwell, and young Ted Fairchild (Reggie and Judy's 10 year old son -- whose future career is predicted to be naturalist, ornithologist, wildlife biologist?).  Bob Drew stayed behind at the house as the contact person for emergencies (dead battery on golf cart, for example -- it happens!).  Team A's mission was to bird the island roads, specific houses where permission had been granted and to cover the Dewees Inlet (southwest end of the island).  They would then go out in Bob's boat to bird the waterways at high tide to find more American Oystercatchers on the shell banks.  Team B would bird the northeastern end of the island and cover Capers Inlet and the sand dunes.  On the return from those areas, Team B also covered the docks on the back side of the island.  The map above illustrates the routes taken by the 2 teams.  For more detail, again, you will want to click on the link in the caption.

          While birding the roads and the docks, our team saw a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks.  This is probably the same pair that have been known to nest in a pine at the foot of one of the docks.

Red-Tailed Hawk -- Dewees Island -- Christmas CBC -- December 31, 2011

Red-Tailed Hawk pair -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011 -- photo by Carl Miller

              It was the middle of the day now and we were experiencing the general drop in bird activity for that time of day.  We hoped we had not dawdled too long over brunch to miss out on some significant birds!    As can be expected though at this time of year, there was no shortage of Yellow-Rumped Warblers in this island habitat!           

           Once we arrived on the northeastern end of the island, we split into groups again to better cover this expansive area on foot.  I went solo through the dunes and wax myrtles on the left.  Aaron and Ted covered the area on the right.  Carl and Carl covered another area much further to the north, along the inlet and away from the open ocean.  It was not long before I began flushing many sparrows such as Song, Savannah and even Field Sparrows (a first for me for Charleston County).

Savannah Sparrow -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011
Savannah Sparrow -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011

And then I found my favorite target bird for Dewees Island, the Common Ground Dove! Just as I was photographing this lovely, perky Savannah Sparrow ....

Savannah Sparrow -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011
..... a Common Ground Dove popped up onto the same branch to steal the limelight!  Thank you, birdie!  You just made my day!

Savannah Sparrow sharing his perch with the newly arrived Common Ground Dove -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC
After a few shots, the Savannah Sparrow left but the Common Ground Dove stayed and posed oh so very nicely! 

Common Ground Dove -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011
Common Ground Dove -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011
               After covering the dunes on my side, I joined on the beach Aaron and Ted who had finished the dunes on their side.  The two of them had come up short on the small birds but had seen a deer, the Red-Tailed Hawks and another Bald Eagle.  At first, the beach appeared empty of birds, but then we spotted a large-ish flock of shorebirds.  Aaron returned to the golf cart to retrieve his scope while Ted and I kept watch on the shorebirds feeding at the water's edge.  Unfortunately, we also saw two women walking along the beach towards OUR birds which we wanted to count.  Aaron was coming back across the dunes with the scope but he was still too far away to count the birds.  If we did not stop the women, they would flush our birds.  So I sent Ted to run after them and waved to Aaron to take a shortcut across the dunes.  Ted was able to stop the 2 ladies and I caught up to them to ask them to pause a moment so that we could count the birds -- pointing to Aaron who was now setting up his scope at the dune line.  The ladies were most gracious, and curious about the significance of the bird counts.  Thus, I happily explained how scientists use the data from the bird counts to understand how our populations of birds are holding up.  I shared with them the fact that scientists have found that most of our bird species are in a state of decline and that, due to climate change, there seems to be a definitive northward shift in migration patterns of birds.  The type of data that we gather can then be analyzed and used to inform environmental policies to protect the birds and other natural resources.  The women seemed genuinely interested.  Hopefully, I expressed the information coherently.  Aaron waved that he had finished counting and the ladies continued their walk.  They did indeed flush the birds who flew back to an area of beach that we had already covered.  In that flock, Aaron tallied  21 Short-Billed Dowitchers, 50 Black-Bellied Plovers, 5 Ruddy Turnstones, and 196 Dunlin!  And I added 6 Sanderling which had scurried up to join the larger group.

        After counting the shorebirds, we scanned the inlet to the approximate middle for sea birds.   We could not count birds on the Capers side of Capers Inlet since this island was a different territory.  We found some Ring-Billed Gulls, 4 Forster Terns, a Common Loon and a Horned Grebe.

Common Loon and Horned Grebe -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011
Horned Grebe -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011

Suddenly overhead,  coming from the Dewees side, we suddenly saw 8 large white forms flying over -- American White Pelicans (a new bird for Aaron for his Charleston County list)!    The birds then flew across the inlet to Capers.  We, of course, counted them!

American White Pelicans -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011

             While birding the beach, we got phone calls from Team A reporting their findings from various points.    They had found a pair of Great Horned Owls at a residence and Bonaparte Gulls among others at Dewees Inlet.  By this time it was early afternoon and we planned to rendez-vous back at the Fairchild residence.  Heading back to the golf carts, we spotted a male Northern Harrier skimming the dunes.  We joined up with Carl and Carl and began working our way back towards the house stopping at various points along the way.  Since Team A had not tromped through the wetlands in the middle of the island, Aaron, Ted and I decided to do that while Carl and Carl checked out the back side of the island via the two docks called Lone Cedar and Big Bend.  It was at the latter that Carl took the photo below with his very short, wide-angled lens.

A bend in the creek from Big Bend Dock -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011 -- Photo by Carl Miller
Meanwhile, Aaron, Ted and I were tromping through a very dry wetland to check the Wood Duck boxes for nesting Eastern Screech Owls.  We picked up a few more woodland birds along the way as well, but no Screech Owls.

Aaron checking Wood Duck box for nesting Screech Owls -- Dewees Island -- Charleston CBC -- December 31, 2011

             The day had warmed up quite nicely.  Eventually, the temperatures reached the low 70s and we had shed our jackets.  As we continued our route, we picked up a few more bird species here and there.  Yet, we were still under the impression that this was not turning out to be a very "birdy" day.  On this last leg, we finally heard our first and only Red-bellied Woodpecker.  Carl also heard our one and only Downy Woodpecker of the day.  We also finally heard and then sighted some Golden-Crowned Kinglets.  

            Team A had finished their birding assignment and had dispersed.  Ann Shahid and the Holcombs had left on an earlier ferry and Lori was in her office.  But Judy, tireless in her search for birds was still birding around her house.  And as we drove in, she had just spotted the first Dark-Eyed Junco for the day and then, as we were sharing stories, Aaron spotted our first Orange-Crowned Warbler of the day along her driveway! We compared notes again on each team's finds.  Though it seemed that the count had been less "birdy" this time, we all agreed that the day had been simply wonderful.  It was time to call it a day so we gathered our gear, wished our islander friends a Happy New Year and boarded the ferry.

Part of the Dewees Team  before boarding the ferry -- myself, Carl Broadwell, Lori Wilson, Aaron Given

           On board, we continued to bird as we covered again our territory in the creek out to the Intracoastal Waterway and we were able to add another Common Loon and more Bufflehead to our list.  Then it was time to tally it all up.  After a few e-mail exchanges on some photographic evidence, we determined in the end that we had done very well, indeed!  Although individual bird numbers seemed lower, our species count was high -- 89 species!  --- the highest count since I became the designated leader of this territory in December 2008!  It is also the highest count for any of the Charleston CBC territories this year.  The credit goes to the great teamwork!  Thank you everyone on the Dewees team!  Your participation was significant to this count!

              While it is true that a little competitive spirit helps to bring more fun to the adventure, I would like to say to all participants in bird counts that your volunteerism is important to the overall ecological health of our natural communities.  We should always remember, as I pointed out to the ladies on the beach, each count provides valuable data to the scientists tracking them, and the analysis thereof informs the conservation efforts required to sustain our natural resources.  Bravo to all!  Let's go birding!

           Just to let you know, the last in this series "'Tis the Season: My CBC no. 5: ACE Basin..." will be posted soon... January 1 -- the beginning of a New Year's birding list in one of my favorite Lowcountry destinations!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

'Tis the Season: My CBC no. 3: Santee National Wildlife Refuge -- Bluff Unit

Map of the Santee National Wildlife Refuge -- Click here to see a larger version -- Image from the US Fish and Wildlife Service

             The Santee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Christmas Bird Count (CBC) became an immediate favorite for Carl and myself when we began doing it 3 years ago.  On Thursday, December 22, 2011, we joined up with our friend, David McLean of Charleston and drove to Santee in the wee hours arriving at the Visitor's Center at 6:30 am happily ready to bird again.  Though we were willing to bird anywhere they needed us, we were very delighted to join again with the talented Roger Smith,  territory leader for the Bluff Unit.   Other members of our group included Lewis Burke, Kent Bedenbaugh and Susie Heisey, FWS Park Ranger.

Map view of the Bluff and Dingle Pond Unit of the Santee NWR -- Image from the National Fish and Wildlife Services
            Most of the Bluff Unit is closed to public access from November through February due to the need to protect the migratory species which use it during these months.  These birds need the rest and reprieve from humans in order to be able to recover from the Fall Migration and then to prepare for the long flight back to their breeding grounds in the Spring.  So it is a special privilege to be assigned to such a sanctuary area as this on a Christmas Bird Count.  If you study the maps above, you will see the Bluff Unit is a little finger of land that juts out into Lake Marion.  The red-dotted lines in both units represent the nature trails open year-round.  In the Bluff Unit, the black lines to the north of the nature trail are in the area closed to public access during the aforementioned fall & winter months.  

            A 40% chance of rain had been in the forecast but the temperatures were also guaranteed to be quite agreeable.  The skies were cloudy when we began with a temperature of 62F -- quite balmy for the first day of winter!  When we started  in the dark, we were intent on listening to discover the birds who were just beginning to call.  The more expert among us identified the chip notes and calls of Carolina Wrens, Golden-Crowned Kinglets, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, Northern Cardinals and Yellow-Rumped Warblers as we progressed down the wooded road towards the first open field area.  We had continued past the nature-trail, which is heavily wooded and, which we would thus bird in the afternoon after having completed the outer loop of the northern end of the Bluff Unit.  In the open field, we tried to identify the many sparrows that were popping up and diving back down into the grasses.  But for the most part, these little sparrows disappeared too quickly in the low light.  I found it frustrating but knew that eventually, with more daylight, we would be more successful on our identifications.  We were in the area where the Sandhill Cranes are known to arrive to forage in the morning but the skies were relatively quiet.  We did observe an American Kestrel circling the field.  We continued to the left towards a boat landing.  From there in the gray, early morning light, we caught sight of a long train of Double-Crested Cormorants leaving the cove moving out in 2 or 3 long continuous lines onto more open water.  Conservatively, we estimated 2500 birds!
Double-Crested Cormorants leaving the cove -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011 --  Photo by Carl Miller
                  The first area we visited just beyond the boat landing had been rather birdy on previous counts.  This time it was relatively quiet with the exception of a close-by, but unseen Red-Shouldered Hawk.  Yet, as we moved back out onto the main road that circles the unit, the bushes and vines along the roadside bustled with more and more birds.  Everyone was waking up!  The Ruby-Crowned Kinglets seemed to be in surplus like the Song Sparrows, White-Throated Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows!  We also found a Gray Catbird, Northern Cardinals and Eastern Towhees.  We heard American Goldfinches and Northern Flickers.  Eventually, we also spied a Northern Creeper while we were trying to follow a Downy Woodpecker!  Peering through the brush across the grassy fields, Carl was the first to spot the Eastern Meadowlarks popping up from time to time in the grass.  At the same time, we noticed to the northeast large flocks of Great Egrets flying in and landing in the distance.  We would find these same birds later in the early afternoon foraging on a pond on the eastern side of the unit.  We were also beginning to see small flyovers of Red-Winged Blackbirds.  We were still hoping to soon see the Sandhill Cranes, wondering what the hold-up was and worrying that we might miss them for this year's count.

          We continued heading north on the west side of the unit when Roger decided to leave the road and cut through the stand of hardwoods to reach the lake which was blocked off from view.  There, where we came out to the water's edge, we found a large mixed flock of mostly Common Grackles and some Red-Winged Blackbirds feeding at the water's edge and then flying up into the treetops.  After habituating to our presence, they descended again to feed along the shoreline where they were joined by a small group of White Ibis.

Large flock of Common Grackles with a few Red-Winged Blackbirds -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

Common Grackles and Red-Winged Blackbirds -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011
Kent Bedenbaugh, Carl Miller and Lewis Burke scoping birds -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

By cutting through the wooded area, we also gained a wonderful view of the lake with the bare bald cypress just beginning to glow in the first glimmers of sunshine peeking through the clouds. 

Bald Cypress illuminated by first rays of sun breaking through clouds -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

         Our team also began scoping for ducks, cormorants and wading birds.  We found a few Wilson's Snipe, Bufflehead, Anhinga, Cormorants, Great Egrets, an Osprey and Great Blue Herons all at a distance too great for good photos.  Ah but the trees lighted against the dark sky -- that was magic!

         More magic to be found:  Our mild Fall meant that we could still find a few straggling, but colorful maple leaves on some trees.

Sweet Gum leaves on the first day of winter -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

David McLean & myself -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011 -- photo by Carl Miller

       Back to the road, David McLean and I lagged behind the group slightly.  I heard rustling close by in the grasses on the side of the road.  So I began to phish.  Then I caught a brief glimpse and called out to the group that I had a Sedge Wren.  We could see the grasses moving, and so I continued to phish.  It seemed the bird was coming closer.  And so I phished more.... and finally, ta DA! -- the loveliest, little Sedge Wren that I have ever phished out of the grasses!  Camera ready!  Clickity-click!

Sedge Wren -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011
Sedge Wren -- Santee NWR CBC -- December 22, 2011

          I am surprised when people tell me that they find the Sedge Wren to be very elusive.  And yet, I have had regular success phishing this bird out of the grasses.  Marsh Wrens, on the other hand, seem to be far more frustrating for me.   Perhaps I "speak" Sedge Wren better than Marsh Wren.  At any rate, I was pleased that this little guy finally decided to pop out to give us all such great views!

         We had also by this time begun to encounter a few Eastern Phoebes.

Eastern Phoebe -- Santee NWR CBC -- December 22, 2011

              I was still lagging behind a bit, which allowed me to acquire this shot of our birding team in action.

Santee NWF CBC Bluff Unit Team: Roger Smith, David McLean, Carl Miller, Kent Bedenbaugh, Susie Heisey, Lewis Burke December 22, 2011

           We had also seen by this time perhaps our third Northern Harrier, a bird for which I am still trying to acquire a great shot!  In the meantime, I will be content with these photos.

Northern Harrier -- Santee NWR CBC Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

Northern Harrier -- Santee NWR CBC Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011
               While we were watching the harrier, we suddenly heard the magical call of several Sandhill Cranes!  It had been a year since I last heard it, but this call is unmistakeable.  If you click on the link, it will take you to a site where you can play the sound of these birds and then you will know what I mean!  We spotted the flock of 20 flying towards us!  Again, I had lagged behind and someone called back to me.  "I got 'em!"  I replied with my long lens already pointed upward.  So I took a few shots, adjusted the camera settings and then shot again.  It was a gray sky and the birds were backlit so I am not thrilled with these images.  Do not worry, I had another opportunity later in the day so there are better photos further down.  No peeking ahead!  Do check out their call by visiting the link above.  I remember Roger saying that he would like to have the call of the Sandhill Crane for his morning alarm clock!   

Sandhill Cranes -- Santee NWR CBC Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

Sandhill Cranes -- Santee NWR CBC Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

        The Sandhill Cranes decided to circle away while we continued to bird around the loop.  We had reached the apex -- the northern most part of the loop and found this particular area to be rather birdy with several bright blue Eastern Bluebirds, more Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, and Yellow-Rumped Warblers.  The Eastern Phoebes, Song Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows were also there.  In addition, we found a Carolina Wren, a House Wren and a Common Yellow-Throat.  The sun was beginning to shine full force now and we were thoroughly enjoying our day.  We estimated that the temperature was perhaps now 77F.  As we continued down the eastern side of the loop, we checked Wood Duck boxes for evidence of Eastern Screech Owls and came up empty.  Yet, we were lucky enough to flush a Barred Owl out of the bush along side the road!  We were not expecting ducks on the inland ponds on the unit since they were dry from the drought.  But we did hope to be able to count some via the scopes along the eastern side of the Bluff Unit in the cove called Cantey Bay.  And we were indeed successful in finding, numbering in the low hundreds, Green-Winged Teal, Gadwalls, American Wigeon, and Mallards, as well as a couple of American Black Ducks, a few Northern Shovelers and a couple of Lesser Scaup.  In addition, we counted well over 300 Canada Geese, but sadly, no Snow Geese this year. 

        We were delighted to have already spotted a few Bald Eagles, when this poser showed up and showed off for us flying towards us and then right over us!  Thank you Mr. (or Mrs.) Bald Eagle!

Bald Eagle -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

Bald Eagle -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

Bald Eagle -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

            We then arrived at the one pond in the Unit which still had water.  It was occupied primarily by the Great Egrets that we had seen earlier in the day as well as several shorebirds such as Killdeer and Least Sandpipers.  We also spotted 4 Wood Storks which are rather rare in this part of the state!  A few Gadwall flew in and then left.  We also spotted several Wood Ducks in a flyover.

Great Egrets -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011
          Continuing on our path, I finally was able to photograph well one of the MANY Ruby-Crowned Kinglets!  They were quite active, frequently chasing each other. 

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011
          Along the roadside, Carl spotted this interesting phenomenon of gnats swarming over an ant bed.  Susie conjectured that perhaps they were drawn by the warmer air radiating from the sand.  Indeed, the air over the ant mound was warmer.

Gnats over ant mound -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011 -- Photo by Carl Miller

Gnats swarming over ant mound -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011 -- Photo by Carl Miller

Swarm of gnats -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011 -- Photo by Carl Miller

              Before we arrived at another area along the eastern side of the unit where we would have a clear view of Cantey Bay, I had looked through some trees and I was able to spot some Sandhill Crane resting on a sandbank in the lake.  I knew that we needed  to approach the cleared area stealthily in order to be able to see them up close.   Sure enough, we did manage a quick look at them on the sandbar before they took flight!

Sandhill Cranes and Gadwalls -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011
Sandhill Cranes -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

Some of the team: not all of us are paying attention to the returning Sandhill Cranes!  -- OK, so I realized it soon enough to get the next shot!  -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011 -- Photo by Carl Miller

Sandhill Cranes -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011
          Such a beautiful moment seeing these large elegant birds moving over us with their rythmic, slow wingbeats and listening to their musical lute-like, yet throaty calls!

           After the Sandhill Cranes had passed, we concentrated on the ducks before us.  It was then that I spotted the Peregrine Falcon in the same tree where we had seen one last year!  Carl, Roger and I told stories of how we had witnessed a much smaller Merlin harassing the Peregrine in this spot and then a few minutes later, we saw the Peregrine bullying a larger Red-tailed Hawk!   Well no Merlin arrived on this day to add more drama and the Peregrine tired of us peering at him through the scope and left.  We scoped more ducks and geese and then we took a short-cut through some tall grass back to the road.  As we progressed, we flushed many Savannah Sparrows up out of the grasses! 

Front to back:  Lewis Burke, Susie Heisey, David McLean and myself -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011  Photo by Carl Miller

           At this juncture, we had completed our route in the off-limits sanctuary area and had returned to the nature trail.  By this time, it was about 1:30 or so in the afternoon.  Susie, Kent and Lewis needed to leave and Roger led them out as he returned to his car to retrieve his lunch.  Carl, David and I had carried our lunches with us so we sat on a bench in the wooded area overlooking Cantey Bay.  While we ate, a few birds showed up to investigate, including this Golden-Crowned Kinglet.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011
              Waiting on Roger to return, we had begun to investigate the sandflat in front of us (which was actually one time the lake bottom).  I had heard that a group of birders had seen American Pipets in this area a week earlier.  And that morning we had already missed on the American Pipets where they had foraged in the fields the year before.  Sure enough, as I headed out across the sandflat, I found Savannah Sparrows, Killdeer and American Pipets.  On a wide-open sandflat, I could never get close to the Pipets before they flushed but I managed a couple of so-so photos of them in flight.

Savannah Sparrow -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011
American Pipet -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

Killdeer -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011 -- Photo by Carl Miller

         Soon, I had another target -- I had spotted the Peregrine again in a tree on another sandflat.  I took advantage of a zigzag approach to try to photograph the bird at closer range.  While approaching, I was also photographing him at a distance.  This is how I managed to capture an additional 31 Northern Shovelers for our count!

Northern Shovelers flying over Peregrine -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011
            Unfortunately, the Peregrine Falcon was rather sensitive about my approach and took off as well but not before I captured this photo. 

Peregrine Falcon -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

            When Roger returned he found us out exploring the sandflat.  He then informed us that he had completed a preliminary tally of species and we were already into the 80s!  We were quite delighted at that news!

David McLean, myself and Roger Smith -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011 -- Photo by Carl Miller
             While I was concentrating on Savannah Sparrows, the American Pipets and the Peregrine Falcon, Carl was working on photographing the above Killdeer and this interesting tiny bloom that you can see at our feet in the above photo.   

Interesting flower on the sandflat -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011 -- Photo by Carl Miller
        Next, we returned to the Nature trail for our woodland species.  We stopped at the observation deck momentarily.  From there we saw a coyote in the far field and another Northern Harrier cruising over the grasses in front of us.  I regret to say that the coyote was too distant for a decent photo.

Northern Harrier -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

         Then, Carl spotted a faraway dot in the field.  Through our binoculars, we could tell it had the coloration of an American Kestrel or of a Peregrine.  The photos eventually revealed that it was indeed again the Peregrine who, we believe, was standing on his prey.  The photos at that distance though were not blog-worthy.  Hmmm.... is it time to add a 2x extender to the camera equipment?
          Before catching up to David and Roger who had progressed ahead, I ventured back out towards the boat landing to try to capture a picture of the sun shining through the trees now out of the west. 

Afternoon sun at the boat landing -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011
           We were able to add a few more species to our list as we progressed through the woods.  I learned from Roger how to identify a Blue-Headed Vireo call, and then later used it to locate another one at the Visitor's Center, which was also part of our territory.  Even there, at the Visitor's Center, our last stop before delivering our tally sheet, we got 2 more species that we had missed during the day -- Tufted Titmouse and American Robin!  In the end, we tallied 93 species!  What a great birding day for this Christmas Bird Count Team!

Carl and David birding on the nature trail over the wetlands area -- Santee NWR CBC, Bluff Unit -- December 22, 2011

           Carl and I want to thank everyone on the team for helping us to learn and also for your delightful company!  We look forward to birding with all of you again, hopefully, in the near future.  There is, by the way, a Charleston Audubon birding field trip to Santee NWR next Saturday, January 21.  I plan to be there!  Though we will obviously not be intruding upon the birds again in the closed-off area,  we will have more time to explore other wonderful areas of the Santee NWR!  In the meantime, Happy Birding, everyone!