Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lesson: Do NOT Leave the Camera at Home!

             When I go to James Island County Park, which is about a mile from my house, my goal is always to stretch my legs and get some exercise in a more inspiring setting than my neighborhood.  Yet, sometimes I realize that a less inspiring location might help me to focus more on the goal of EXERCISE!  The scenery over the Stono River and the wildlife often provide wonderful photographic opportunities.   But if I take the camera, I do not get much exercise because I pause too much in my attempts to photograph the wildlife.  And yet, when I leave the camera at home, I also often regret it because then I miss a fabulous wildlife shot!  For example, this Spring, Carl and I decided to go for a walk in the park for EXERCISE!  When quizzed by Carl on the camera, I said that I was not going to take it which meant that I would probably miss a great wildlife shot like the Pileated Woodpecker that was feeding on the ground 30 feet from me the last time I left the camera at home.  Of course, we also know that taking a camera is no guarantee of a great wildlife shot.  Because we both really wanted to walk vigorously, we agreed to leave the cameras at home.  Carl, however, did bring his little video camera -- lucky for us!  --  because of course, we came across, not one, but a whole family of Pileated Woodpeckers -- right in front of us!  Here is the video that he captured and edited!  Enjoy!

Video by Carl Miller -- James Island County Park -- May 13, 2012

             Ah!  When I think of the photos we could have had!  So, the camera must go EVERYTIME .... or, I should walk in the neighborhood instead of the park.  Naaah!


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Introducing the Kiawah Island Banding Station (KIBS) Blog!

Header to the Kiawah Island Banding Station Blog -- Credit: Aaron Given, Town of Kiawah Island
            Just in time for Fall Migration and the Fall migration bird banding season on Kiawah Island, Aaron Given, wildlife biologist for the Town of Kiawah Island, has launched a blog, Kiawah Island Banding Station (KIBS), to be updated several times a week with banding reports and photos, through November 30. Congratulations to Aaron on this endeavor! 

           If you have not read my previous posts on banding, you may want to check out Birding Up Close and Personal -- Bird Banding 101 -- Part 1 and Part 2, and Marsh Bird Banding on Kiawah -- March & April 2012.  Although I outlined Aaron's goals for his Fall bird banding project in "Birding Up Close and Personal -- Bird Banding 101 -- Part 2," I will reiterate them here for clarity:

The goals of fall migration bird banding project on Kiawah Island are to:

  • Gather baseline information on resident and migratory birds on Kiawah Island.
  • Collect data to enable long-term monitoring (i.e. population tends) of birds on Kiawah Island.
  • Monitor fall migration to determine the importance of Kiawah Island as stop-over habitat.
  • Assess the effects of development on bird populations.
  • Provide data to better manage habitat and guide future development plans.
  • Contribute high quality data to the North American Bird Banding Program. 
 Specific data on the birds banded and other information on this project, as well as other bird banding and wildlife projects ongoing on Kiawah are also explained in-depth on the site, Wildlife on Kiawah Island.  I fully recommend taking a look at this site as well.  The Kiawah biologists' work is impressive.

       And yes, as of August 15, Aaron has begun the Fall Bird Banding!  So check out the KIBS site to see what he has caught in the nets thus far!  Aaron's passion for his work is infectious, the numbers are interesting and the photos are great!  Some parts of the site are still a work in progress.  However, the link to Past Season's Totals gives a good overview of what kinds of birds are passing through at different times throughout the Fall.  I probably will be returning to the station soon myself  this season to volunteer.  In the meantime, it is exciting to know that I can follow the birds on KIBS!  Thank you Aaron for another window into birdlife in the Lowcountry!      

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Morning Coffee, Poetry and Nature -- Grab a Cup & Enjoy! -- August 14, 2012

            In order to enjoy the moment as I did, grab a cup of coffee before continuing.....

You see, this morning, I was reading my e-mail while sipping my morning coffee.  In the newsletter from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, there was a link to footage of a young Osprey taking his first flight from the nest.  How cool to watch the parent's and the siblings' faces after the youngster takes off!  Here's the video for you.  Do you have your coffee in hand?

Be sure to read the newsletter article about this family of Ospreys!  The above video was posted to YouTube by Cornell.  However, there is a link to another cool  video from two weeks ago about these young Ospreys being returned to their nest after being banded.  This video, made by Conservation Media, was posted to Vimeo, another video hosting website.  Here it is for you now.  Funny --  my cats do not like the water spritzing bottle but these youngsters seemed to!

Returning Osprey Chicks to Hellgate Nest After Banding [Researcher POV via GoPro] from Conservation Media on Vimeo.

        You are probably wondering where the poetry is now since I promised it to complete your morning coffee, nature and poetry experience.  I found this little video posted by Conservation Media when I finished watching the above Osprey video.  So here is your morning poetry!  Take a sip and contemplate the meaning! 

A Road Through the Woods from Conservation Media on Vimeo.

           Mmmm!  Beauty!  Reminds me of so many wonderful tranquil moments in the woods communing with nature while hiking down an overgrown path that was once a logging road, such as this one, the Cataloochee Divide Trail that we hiked this past June in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Cataloochee Divide Trail -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- June 18, 2012

Last day of vacation before returning to the classroom ... I think I will go to Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest today to contemplate some roadless nature in the old growth Four Holes Swamp! 

         To end this morning coffee-nature-poetry meditation, here's a little video from Beidler .... where I will soon be...  What a great way to end my summer vacation! 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lessons Learned from a Spring Photo Shoot on Dewees Island -- April 13, 2012

View of the impoundment --  Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012
           My friend Judy Fairchild, a resident of Dewees Island, and I had been wanting to do a "Girls' Day Out Photo Shoot" for several weeks.  Judy and I have birded together in the Christmas and Spring Bird Counts that we do on Dewees.  We both love nature in general and birding in particular, and we also both aspire to become better photographers.  "A Girls' Day Out Photo Shoot" would allow us to concentrate on just that without the responsibilities of being a count territory leader or a hostess to a group of birders.  We hoped that we could learn from each other as we worked to improve both our birding ID skills and photography skills.   So, we chose April 13,  a day during my Spring Break from school, for our shoot.  And of course, our destination was Dewees Island!

           When I arrived on Dewees, Judy picked me up at the ferry landing, and in short order, we birded our way around to the opposite side of the impoundment, where a young, late-nesting Bald Eagle pair had built a nest on an Osprey platform and were raising, presumably, their first chick!  How exciting!  Judy led me up to one of her neighbor's rooftops for a birds eye view!

Bald Eagle nesting on an Osprey platform -- Dewees Island, SC --  April 13, 2012

Bald Eagle on its nest on Osprey platform -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012
Parent Bald Eagle stretches while child looks on -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

Bald Eagle and eaglet on nest -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

          Bald Eagles in our area generally nest much earlier than this -- usually they have chicks in January or February.  Also, I have never heard of eagles choosing an Osprey platform as a nest!  It will be interesting to see if this pair returns to nest here next Spring.  Eagles tend to add more nesting material to their nests year after year.  The human residents of the island, I have been told, have plans to reinforce the Osprey platform to support more weight.  Judy reported to me that the returning Ospreys were not too happy about the intrusion but the Bald Eagles held forth in the ensuing dispute.  Living on the island, Judy was able to follow this young nestling's progress.  I highly recommend her exciting post to the Dewees Island Blog on the youngster's fledging! 

Bald Eagle leaves nest to hunt for lunch -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

              The rooftop perspective helped us to easily locate and shoot some newly-arrived Spring migrants -- this singing Orchard Oriole and this chattering Great-Crested Flycatcher

Orchard Oriole -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

Orchard Oriole -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

Great Crested Flycatcher -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

Great Crested Flycatcher -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

           Before leaving the rooftop, I took another picture of the impoundment -- what a fabulous view!         

Another view of the impoundment -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

           After our rooftop birding, Judy and I continued around the impoundment.  An upbeat rhythm to life seemed to permeate the Spring air full of birdsong.  Singing birds threw their whole bodies into their songs.  What a delight to witness their enthusiasm!  Though we did not see any,  we verified by ear that the Painted Buntings had arrived.  We enjoyed watching the Laughing Gulls laugh and chase.  All the birds seemed full of frisky energy. 

            Back on our route, rounding a corner, we stopped short.  In the impoundment we saw some Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, in breeding plumage, fattening up for a journey north to their nesting grounds in Canada and Alaska.

Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Yellowlegs -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

Immediately after finding the Yellowlegs, we spied the newly-arrived Black Necked Stilts -- my first view of these since last year!  

Female Black-Necked Stilt -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

Female Black-Necked Stilt -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

            Judy and I had great fun watching and photographing the male catch and eat a dragonfly!

Male Black-Necked Stilt -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

Male Black-Necked Stilt -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012
         I recently learned to distinguish the male from the female Black-Necked Stilt.  I began to notice some of the differences when editing these photos.  The female has a brown back, white breast and shorter legs.  The male has a black back and in breeding plumage, he has a buff wash on his breast. The Black-Necked Stilt breeds on our Carolina coast.

          After watching the Black-Necked Stilts, we decided to stop at another favorite wildlife viewing spot, a small secluded pond behind a neighbor's house.  With plenty of brush between us and the wildlife, we hoped to be able to view the birds without their spotting us.  First, we noticed some late-staying  female Hooded Mergansers in the water.  And then, we saw 3 female Red-Breasted Mergansers on the floating dock.  NOT!  What I did not realize until yesterday when I was researching links for this blog post, is that I had mis-identified these birds! 

A female Hooded Merganser?  -- NOT!  It is a MALE Hooded Merganser -- Dewees Island, SC  -- April 13, 2012

A female Red-Breasted Merganser?  NOT!  -- It is a female HOODED MERGANSER!  -- Dewees Island -- April 13, 2012

             I was unaware that the male Hooded Merganser had such a dramatic plumage change from breeding to non-breeding.  Who knew?!  Neither my Kaufmann nor my Sibley bird guides showed the male in basic, non-breeding plumage!  I was used to seeing male Hooded Mergansers that looked like the one below.

Male Hooded Merganser in breeding plumage in neighborhood pond -- Charleston, SC -- December 3, 2011
OK!  So a male non-breeding Hooded Merganser has basic plumage very similar to a female Hooded Merganser.  So how do you tell them apart?  For example, in the photo below, is the bird in front of the obvious male, breeding plumage Hoodie a male in non-breeding plumage or a female?

Two Hooded Mergansers with a Boat-Tailed Grackle -- Bear Island WMA -- March 6, 2010
 Drum roll please ...... It is a female Hoodie!  So how do we tell them apart?  We look at the eye and the bill color.  The female Hoodie always has a yellowish bill (slightly tinged orange) and the male always has a black bill.  Also, the male always has a gold-colored eye and the female'e eye is a rusty brown.

         Now what about that bird on the floating dock?  I had originally identified it as a Red-Breasted Merganser.  But when I looked at the pictures of the female Hooded Merganser on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds site (referenced also in the links above), their picture of a female Hooded Merganser out of water looked like our bird on the dock.  With further study, I had to change my original identification to female Hoodie.  The bill of the bird on the dock is not thin nor long enough, nor is it red enough.  For comparison, here's a photo that I took in March of a Red-Breasted Merganser on the beach on Kiawah Island at Captain Sams Spit.  Lesson learned -- I corrected my eBird listing and decided to bring this recently learned lesson to the blog post. 

Red-Breasted Merganser -- Captain Sams Spit -- Kiawah Island, SC  -- March 25, 2012

By blogging, I seem to be educating myself as I look to find details to share with the readers -- a happy endeavor it is!

           Now, I wonder if anyone will challenge me on my ID of the Boat-Tailed Grackle in the Hooded Merganser photo above.  Believe me, I have studied this photo closely and I will admit to a certain small amount of uncertainty.  Though the angle of the photo makes it more difficult to judge the relative thickness of the bill (thicker on the Common Grackle; thinner on the Boat-Tailed) or the length of the tail (shorter on the Common; longer on the Boat-Tailed), I finally concluded  that this was indeed a Boat-Tailed.  But hey, if someone has any other input into that ID, bring it on!  Challenge me; educate me!

           Returning to the birds in this pond that Judy and I visited, there was a Snowy Egret enjoying the sun, along with a turtle, on the floating dock.

Snowy Egret -- Dewees Island -- April 13, 2012

And because we were hiding in the brush, a flock of Blue-Winged Teal came flying in and landed right in front of us!

Blue-Winged Teal -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012

           Before I had to catch the ferry back to the mainland, Judy took me to a place where she knew of a Killdeer on a nest! 

Killdeer -- Dewees Island, SC -- April 13, 2012
Check out this very cool, infornative post that Judy wrote later for the Dewees Island Blog on the nesting Killdeer and her hatchlings!

       Sadly, it was time for me to go.  Of course, there were birds, such as the Brown Pelican,  to photograph on the way back to the mainland.

Brown Pelican -- Intracoastal Waterway off of Isle of Palms -- April 13, 2012
 Time flies when I am on Dewees and I always find it hard to leave this little piece of paradise.  It was great to have a "just girls" photo shoot.  Capturing good nature shots takes practice and we can share more of what we are attempting to do with the camera when it is just the two of us.  It is great when we can learn from each other.  Most importantly, Spring on Dewees offers many lessons on nature to the observant.  The camera certainly helps us to become more observant -- even after the fact when we study the photos and the available literature in preparation for a blog post!  Thank you Judy for the invitation, your blog posts, your expertise and for your wonderful company!  I am looking forward to doing this again! 


  •  Dugger, B. D., K. M. Dugger, and L. H. Fredrickson. 1994. Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus). In The Birds of North America, No. 98 (A. Poole, and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
  • Elphick, C. S., and T. L. Tibbitts. 1998. Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca). In The Birds of North America, No. 355 (A. Poole and F. Gill,eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
  • Post, W., J. P. Poston, and G. T. Bancroft. 1996. Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major). In The Birds of North America, No. 271 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
  • Robinson, Julie A., J. Michael Reed, Joseph P. Skorupa and Lewis W. Oring. 1999. Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:
  • Titman, R. D. 1999. Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator). In The Birds of North America, No. 443 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
  • Tibbitts, T. L., and W. Moskoff. 1999. Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes). In The Birds of North America, No. 427 (A.Poole and F.Gill,eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Oh Limpkin, Where Art Thou? - Savannah NWR? -- Roadtrip!

Limpkin! -- photographed by Philip Hodgkins at Savannah NWR -- July 28, 2012

        Here's a much sought-after bird this past week!  A Limpkin, rarely seen in South Carolina, appeared  Saturday, July 28, 2012 in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). He has served as the catalyst for many a SC birder to head south towards Savannah, myself included.  Philip Hodgkins of Savannah took the superb photo above that day and posted it in the Carolina Bird Club Gallery on the next day, Sunday, July 29.  I saw the photo there Monday morning (July 30) and immediately began recruiting birding buddies to go with me the next day in search of the wondrous bird.  By the way, if you like Philip's photo, you should visit his site to admire some of his other work!

        And why is this a wondrous bird?  As I mentioned previously, it is extremely rare for South Carolina.  I learned during my adventure that this particular bird above is only the third limpkin ever seen in the Savannah NWR!  For me, it would be a bird for my life list!  Well, yes, I had seen a few, in the days before I was a birder.  Once upon a time I lived in southern Georgia, the very northern reaches of this bird's normal range.  I could have already added the bird to my life list.  I probably could  still determine a date from old photos of visits to the Okefenokee Swamp.  But, unless I change the rules (and they are my rules to change), I only have birds that I have seen since I became a birder on my life list.  But that's a debate for another day.... back to the Limpkin!  This bird feeds on snails, insects and fresh-water mussels.  Using a bill whose tip is slightly curved to the right, this bird can easily extract the meat from the right-handed chamber of the snail.  Extraction takes about 10 to 20 seconds and the shell is rarely broken.  Also, having first heard the Limpkin's eery, unforgettable call in the swamplands of Georgia, it will always conjure up for me images of the Okefenokee.  How I would love to see this bird here in South Carolina!

         The search for this Limpkin was on.  My friend Keith McCullough took advantage of his day off to go down Monday.  He picked up some 64 species -- but no Limpkin.  He was able to give me some good tips for where to find the Purple Gallinule that I wanted for my year list.  In the meantime, I recruited my friend Carl Broadwell to join me on my trip for Tuesday.  I also communicated with Philip Hodgkins, the photographer of the Limpkin, for specifics about where he saw the bird.  Well-prepared, I hoped, Carl B and I took to the road early (5 am) to arrive at the refuge at just after 7 am.  I will go ahead and let you know that we also did not see the bird.  In fact, no one has re-sighted the bird since last Saturday, July 28. The Limpkin was a one-day wonder!  Several very nice folks, including Phil Hodgkins (very nice to meet him in person!) and Fish and Wildlife Service personnel, were out there looking though on Tuesday.  Certainly, this bird could easily remain hidden in the vast marshes of the refuge.  Thus, changing gears here, this post is no longer about the disappearing Limpkin -- on to the other fabulous birds and critters seen and photographed this day, Tuesday, July 31, 2012! 

        Inspite of the dreary weather, overcast skies and a bit of misty rain when we started, the temperature was quite agreeable and our spirits were high as the birds were thick.  There was no shortage of Red-Winged Blackbirds, of course.  What surprised me though was the number of Least Bitterns!    The elusive bird, which breeds in our freshwater marshes and migrates to the tropics for the winter, was not so elusive, but he was distant.  In the first mile of the Wildlife Drive, I conservatively counted 10. The distant bird, lack of good sunlight and the drizzle made for poor photography conditions.  And yet, I tried.  I was thrilled to see so many in one place!

A distant Least Bittern -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

            Likewise, the Anhinga was not so very photogenic in a misty drizzle.  Nonetheless, I always appreciate seeing the "snake bird" come up from underwater with a fish impaled on its beak!  It usually pierces its prey through its side, a behavior that suggests that it stalks its prey underwater rather than pursues it!  The Anhinga is another waterbird that nests here in the Lowcountry, frequently in heron rookeries, and usually winters points further south.  Occasionally, though, we spot some lonely bird here in the area on our Christmas Bird Counts.  After a meal, this bird will perch sunning its wings outstretched to dry them. 

Anhinga -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012
                A Little Blue Heron was more obliging than the early morning weather.  Though some of our Little Blue Herons are year-round, their numbers do increase in the Spring as more migrate in from the south to nest in our southern swamps. 

Little Blue Heron -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

          We heard the next bird calling from the marsh before we saw it.  In fact, it may be the first time I have ever seen the King Rail!  I had learned to identify its call, which is a bit similar to that of the Clapper Rail.  This fellow seemed larger than the Clapper Rail.  He certainly amused us as he played around in the grass, danced around on the right hand side of the road before crossing over to the left hand side.  Little is known about the migratory patterns of the King Rail but it appears that this species is year-round on our coast. 

King Rail -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

King Rail -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

Throughout our visit, we saw Gallinules, young and adult, Common and Purple.  

Common Gallinule -- noisy chick and patient parent -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

Common Gallinule -- noisy chick -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

Another Common Gallinule youngster -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

         The photo below represents our first view of the Purple Gallinule from a distance as a parent beckoned her very young, black, fuzzy chicks across the road in front of us. 

Purple Gallinule hen with very young chicks -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

Yes, I decided to show you the very poor quality photo above so that you can see how much the coloration of the chicks change as they molt into their juvenile plumage.  Soon enough, Carl B and I enjoyed a very close encounter with a couple of Purple Gallinule families.  And thankfully, the drizzle had stopped and though still overcast, the skies became lighter.  The longer we stayed parked, sitting quietly, the more accepting these birds became and the closer they approached.  The car served as a fabulous blind.  I did sit on the ground at one point outside of the car and the birds still approached!   See how blond the juvenile birds become from their initial black fuzzy plumage!

Purple Gallinules -- juveniles and parents -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

Purple Gallinule -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012
I saw my first Purple Gallinule at the Savannah NWR last year in August and had not seen one since.  I had heard that they were rather secretive so I was dumbfounded by how readily this family accepted our presence.

Purple Gallinule -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

This colorful, tropical marsh bird only spends its summers here.  Typically, they are hard to find north of this area.  A bird of freshwater marshes, it feeds primarily on seeds, flowers, grains and some invertibrates. How delightful to be able to see a parent feeding its child just feet from where I was sitting!

Purple Gallinule -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

Purple Gallinule -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

              Why does the Purple Gallinule cross the road? 

Purple Gallinule -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

To lead his family to the other side, of course!  Look at those feet!  With those feet the Gallinule can walk across vegetation on top of the water including lily pads!

Purple Gallinule -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

 While I was sitting at the edge of the road, these birds came out of the  grass just a few feet away and then the family crossed the road in front of where I had parked the car on the right hand side of the road.

Purple Gallinule juveniles have safely crossed the road -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

Carl B was still in the car.  I returned to the car and before I knew it, the birds were making their way down the right hand side of the car!

Purple Gallinule juvenile -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

Carl B could have reached down and petted them!  He did not, of course.  We looked at each other and just shook our heads.  We were amazed by and grateful for this close encounter with this family.   We had just spent 45 minutes watching the family.  It was 10:15 am and we had spent nearly 3 hours wildlife watching and we still had not yet reached the first mile marker on the Wildlife Drive.  If we had had to leave right then, we would have been more than satisfied with our roadtrip.  But we did not have to leave yet and we had more wonderful encounters to come!

        We had already noticed a few Yellow Warblers in the marsh grasses on the left.  Carl B called my attention to a few that were perching in the shrubs on the right where we parked to watch the Purple Gallinules.

Yellow Warbler -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012
Yellow Warblers breed throughout most of North America but north of our area.  Thus these birds had already begun their Fall Migration!  They are known to migrate much earlier than other warblers both in the Spring and in the Fall.  They spend their winters in southern Central America and northern South America.   We had heard from a few local birders of some sightings of Yellow Warblers.  We did not expect to see the large number that we did.  We finally made it past the first mile marker and stopped at the first wooded area.  The trees seemed to tremble with birdlife!  Carl B and I were trying to point out specific birds to each other but we could not focus on the other person's bird of the moment because there were too many other birds diverting our attention.  Yellow Warblers were definitely in the majority.  We conservatively estimated 24 of these little wigglers bee-bopping about the branches.

Yellow Warbler -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012
          Some of the other species that we saw among the little wigglers in this corner include 4 Prothonotary Warblers.  This beautiful songbird has begun dispersing from its nesting sites in the hardwood swamplands and is now seen more frequently in coastal areas.  The bill which is black during breeding has now faded to a beige. 
Prothonotary Warbler -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012
A few Prairie Warblers were also fluttering  in and out of the foliage.  Though we occasionally find a Prairie Warbler on our Christmas Bird Counts, this species is considered migratory and centers its winter range in the West Indies.  So is this bird a migrant or a bird still on its breeding ground?  Hard to tell... They are known to begin migrating from more northern areas in mid-July.

Prairie Warbler -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

 In this large group of  birds flitting about the trees, we also saw a few of our non-migratory Carolina Chickadees (no photo on this one) and this Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.  Most Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers migrate from our area for points further south but some remain to spend their winters here.              

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

We also saw a family of Painted Buntings.  These colorful buntings of our summers are still feeding fledglings  but will soon be ready to migrate south to the tropics in September. 

Painted Bunting -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012
           While I was trying to photograph some of these numerous wigglers, the observant Carl B tapped me on the shoulder and pointed up the road.   A wonderful little family of Raccoons was trotting towards us down the road .... Oh my! 

Mother Raccoon halts in her tracks when she spots us -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

Mom halted in her tracks when saw us and she observed us for a moment.  The children became jittery as they read her alarm. 

Raccoon family assessing the situation -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012
Finally, after a frozen moment of indecision, she grabbed one of her babies by the scruff of the neck and the other one followed at her heels as they made a 90 degree turn into the woods!   I checked my camera to see if the photos had turned out.  Yes!  In spite of the poor light, I got the shots I wanted!   

Detour for the Raccoons -- Savannah NWF -- July 31, 2012

               Right after the raccoons disappeared, we heard a wheezy, whistling noise and turned to watch the arrival of some Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks, followed by their squabbling over a perch.  I had already seen these ducks this summer but for Carl B, it was another bird for his year list.  A regular population of these tropical, cavity-nesting ducks has now established itself in the Savannah NWR and we also find them  each summer in Donnelly WMA.  This species migrates to Mexico for the winter.  But I have heard some conjecture that some may now actually over-winter in our area now rather than migrate. 

Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks squabble over a perch -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

          AS Carl B and I continued on our trek scanning the wetlands for the missing Limpkin, we encountered several Cattle Egret feeding on insects in the grasses along the roadside.  I wonder when these guys will begin to migrate. 

Cattle Egret -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012
        Carl B and I had not yet completed the first two miles of the 5 mile Wildlife Drive and it was nearly noon.  Needing to depart the refuge by noon, we stopped one more time to scan for the Limpkin.  Again, we heard that unmistakable wheezy whistling of an approaching Black-Bellied Whistling Duck.  He was flying straight towards us.  Cameras ready!  Success!  Thank you duckie!  Carl B and I just turned and looked out each other shaking our heads, amazed by all of our wildlife encounters for the day!

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck -- Savannah NWR -- July 2012
Just yards from us, the duck veered to the left and landed in the grass near a wooded area 50 yards away, which is where we found him ready to oblige us for this final photo of the day!

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck -- Savannah NWR -- July 31, 2012

            It was now most definitely time to return to Charleston.  We found it difficult to drive the next three miles out of the refuge without stopping to observe more of the wildlife but deadlines are deadlines and we had to be cognizant of our responsibilities.  We regretted absolutely nothing though.  What a crazy, wonderful day of fabulous, continuous close-up encounters with wildlife.  The Limpkin and the sunshine may have been missing but all of the other critters and birds well made up for their absence!  Seriously, I should consider more frequent trips to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge ... particularly as the Fall Migration season progresses!         


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