Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Visit to Bear Island Wildlife Management Area -- May 20, 2012

          As we contemplate the arrival of Spring and the re-opening of the Bear Island Wildlife Management Area down in the ACE Basin this weekend on Saturday, February 9, I have been reviewing some of our photos of a visit there in late Spring last year.

Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012 -- Photo by Carl Miller
            Come summer, Carl and I are always eager to catch sight of our first Roseate Spoonbills of the season.  By the third week in May, we had read that a few had been spotted at Bear Island Wildlife Management Area  about an hour south of Charleston.  Roseate Spoonbills breed and raise their chicks in Florida in the winter and early Spring months.  In recent years, more and more Roseate Spoonbills make their way north in a summer post-breeding dispersal from their nesting grounds.  Sighting this species in our area is still a thrill for us and we eagerly respond to opportunities to see them.  Thus, that Sunday, we decided to run down and check it out ourselves.  We invited our friend and birding buddy, Carl Broadwell, along as well.  The Roseate Spoonbills had been reported in the Hog Island impoundment area off the left hand side of Ti Ti Road.  So that is where we started.  When we first arrived at the impoundment, we scanned for the big pink birds and managed to see three tiny pink dots in the far trees on the other side of the impoundment.  Binocular and scope views confirmed the ID.  We decided to follow the dikes around the impoundment to see if we could get any closer.  I will tell you now that we never did see the Roseate Spoonbills again that day and alas, we could not take any worthwhile photos from that distance.  However, that morning at Bear Island was one of my best visits ever for witnessing and recording wild bird behaviors!

         In this first impoundment, the water was very low as it was being drawn down.  Thus, the fish were were thick and the birds were feeding happily.  When Carl and I began birding seven years ago, finding American Avocets in our area was difficult.  Apparently, this is also now a bird that we can see readily in the Winter and the Spring months in places such as Bear Island.  We were used to seeing this bird in it's white and black winter plumage.  We were surprised that they were still in the area and delighted that we could see for the first time this beautiful bird in breeding plumage!

American Avocet at Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012 -- Photo by Carl Miller

American Avocets resting -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

The elegant American Avocet -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012
American Avocets feeding at Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012
We had seen the circular flock movement of a feeding flock of American Avocets before from a distance.  This time we were much closer.   A pair of Black Skimmers and Forsters Terns were also fishing in this area of the impoundment. 

American Avocets and Black Skimmer feeding -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

          Carl M, Carl B and I continued our trek around the impoundment to find an area bursting with wildlife and photographic opportunities.  For example, we were entranced by the bugs on the blooming thistle!  I do not recall ever seeing a white spider before.  Does anyone know what it is called?  Perhaps one of the "bug" men that I know can help identify these red ant-like bugs as well.  You know who you are, my friends, help us out, please!

Spider and bees -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

Some sort of ant-like bug  -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

Red ant-like bug -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012 -- Photo by Carl Miller

         As we continued along the trail going around the impoundment, we were impressed with the vast quantity of birds including the very large number of waders.  These Snowy Egrets and Glossy Ibis were just a hint of what we would soon find further down the trail.  

Snowy Egret and Glossy Ibis -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20. 2012

Glossy Ibis -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

              Carl M likes to crouch down low in a marshy area next to the water and wait on the birds to photograph them.  As he sits still, eventually the birds become used to him and begin to behave as though he is not there.  In warm weather, I, on the other hand, do not care to join him alongside the potential gators.  So I let Carl go for those shots solo.  And he does get some great shots while I stay up on the bank and worry.

Black-necked Stilt -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012 -- Photo by Carl Miller

Semi-palmated Sandpiper -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012 -- Photo by Carl Miller

Tri-colored Heron -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012 -- Photo by Carl Miller

Tri-colored Heron stalking his prey -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012 -- Photo by Carl Miller

While Carl photographed his birds at eye-level, I made do with a couple of decent shots of shorebirds from my position on the trail.

Semi-palmated Plovers with a Semi-palmated Sandpiper in the background -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

Lesser Yellowlegs (left) and Greater Yellowlegs (right) -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

       Carl B and I worked our way down the trail still hoping to find the Roseate Spoonbills while Carl hunkered down in the marsh with his Tri-colored Herons.  It was mid-morning and warming considerably so we were grateful to come to the shade of a wooded area next to the impoundment full of busy woodland birds and marsh-edge birds.  We delighted in seeing Painted Buntings and Great Crested Flycatchers as well as the usual assortment of Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Mockingbirds, Northern Cardinals.  We soon noticed that several waders -- Wood Storks, Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets -- were flying just over the tree canopy above us to an open area just ahead.  We also began to discern through the wind a good deal of noise coming from a horde of waders ahead.  When we arrived at the edge of the marsh, we peered through the trees out onto this open area in the surrounding marsh.  In this small "watering hole", we saw at least a couple hundred waders -- Wood Storks, Snowies, Tri-coloreds, Great Egrets, and Little Blue Herons -- fishing in water that literally trembled with fish!  The Snowy Egrets literally danced across the surface of the water as they snatched up their prey.  Here's a video that I shot that shows a bit of the action followed by stills. 

Great Egrets, Wood Storks, Tri-colored Herons, Snowy Egrets -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

Great Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, Snowy Egrets lined up on the bank and then a line would move out in unison to feed -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

Wood Storks also lined up along the bank and moved out in small lines for "line-fishing!" -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

Snowy Egret on collision course with Tri-colored Heron -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

Wood Storks -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

Snowy Egret with Wood Storks in background -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

          Seven Black Skimmers had joined the in on the feeding frenzy.  For the most part, their synchronized skimming passes were organized in a clockwise fashion.  This made it easier to anticipate their approach for photography!  Of course, they, too needed skill in timing and navigation in order to not collide with the many waders in this tightly packed area!

Black Skimmers with Wood Storks -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

Black Skimmers -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

Black Skimmers -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

Black Skimmers putting on a show for a photographer -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

        Carl M had sortied from his hideout in the marsh at his previous location and had joined us to witness this feeding phenomenon.  As long as we were still, the birds were not bothered by our presence.  As another birdwatcher and a photographer approached from the other side, the birds eventually became uneasy with this amount of human presence in this small area and began to move away deeper into the marsh.  We determined that it was time to leave to them their "trembling" (with fish) watering hole.  

        As we retraced our steps back to the car, I captured one more view of egrets flushing from the marshes.

Egrets flushing from the marshes -- Bear Island WMA == May 20, 2012

             We paused at Mary's House Pond on our way out to take a final glimpse at what Bear Island Wildlife Management Area had to offer us that day.  Mary's House Pond was also partially drawn down and several species of peeps were happily feeding on the mudflats.  Among them, a pair of Black-bellied Plovers rumbled a bit over turf.  They seemed willing to share with the many smaller birds but not with each other!

Black-bellied Plovers in a rumble among a variety of other peeps -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

I was also able to capture one more shot of an American Avocet reposing in the afternoon sun.

American Avocet -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012

This Loggerhead Shrike posed briefly for his portrait on the wires along the roadside.  We believe a pair was nesting in the small oaks along the dike at Mary's House Pond.

Loggerhead Shrike -- Bear Island WMA -- May 20, 2012
          What a fabulous day spent observing wildlife interactions in one of our favorite wildlife destinations!  Bear Island WMA never disappoints!  Below is a video that Carl composed that captures some of the highlights from his perspective from this glorious Spring day in nature!


  1. Nice post as always! Incredible images. The red bugs on the thistle plant are nymphs in the genus Leptoglossus. As adults they will be Leaf-footed Bugs. Notice the expanded segment (tibiae) of the hind legs. In this case the use of the term "bug" is actually correct!

  2. Beautiful! Congrats to Carl for his Avocets taking off and the tricolored Heron. Stunning images. And Cathy's black skimmer couple in a Top Gun like flight are amazing too.