Saturday, March 23, 2013

Transitioning into Spring!

Yellow Jessamine -- State flower of South Carolina -- February 16, 2013

              Here we are, the first few days since the official start to Spring, and I confess to wanting to hang onto winter a bit longer!  My mentor and birding buddy, Keith McCullough -- a naturalist for Charleston County Parks and Recreation, has expressed to me his impatience and excitement about Spring's arrival.  He works outdoors everyday whereas I work indoors five days a week.  For me, I simply do not feel that same level of excitement for Spring.  I have not yet had enough time to enjoy the wonders of the winter season!  I know, I can hear, the chorus of  groans, particularly from way up North, where our weather-wearied neighbors are up to their knees in snow.  But here in the SC Lowountry, our mild winters delight me.   To some, I imagine, our winters may seem like their Springs.  After all, we have both cultivated and native flowers blooming all winter.  It rarely drops below freezing and, best of all, we get birds -- wonderful species who come to SC to vacation!  Alas, the coming of Spring though translates into their departure.  And I will miss them as I wanted to spend more time observing them! 

Tundra Swans at sunrise -- Bear Island Wildlife Management Area -- February 18, 2013
Tundra Swans -- Bear Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) -- February 18, 2013

 The elegant, athletic Tundra Swans left a few weeks ago.

American White Pelicans should soon push northward, too.

America White Pelican -- Bear Island WMA -- February 16, 2013

At the beginning of this month, we stood in awe as we witnessed the departure of this large flock of 70-plus Snow Geese from their winter roost on Murphy Island.  We heard their approach from Murphy and then they flew directly over us while we were birding in the Santee Coastal Reserve Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

A portion of the large flock of Snow Geese flying to the North from Santee Coastal Reserve WMA -- March 3, 2013

Ring-necked Ducks were among the first of the duck species to leave.  Their numbers had already dropped significantly when the photo below was taken in early February.

Ring-necked Ducks -- Savannah National Wildlife Refuge -- February 9, 2013

The Blue-winged Teal will be one of the last duck species to leave as we still have some hanger-ons in May.

Blue-Winged Teal -- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens -- January 1, 2013

Just 2 days ago, I spotted a handsome male Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker in the yard and I wondered when these busy birds would leave to nest further north.

Young Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker -- Parc Perlière, Charleston, SC -- December 1, 2012

Eventually, nearly all of our sparrow species will leave, such as this adorable Vesper Sparrow! ....

Vesper Sparrow -- Meggett, SC -- January 21, 2013

or these equally precious Savannah Sparrows!

Savannah Sparrow -- Dewees Island, SC -- January 5, 2013

I will have only one more weekend in which I will be able to help my birding buddy and mentor, Aaron Given, Wildlife Biologist for the Town of Kiawah Island with marsh bird banding!  The Saltmarsh, Nelson's, and many of the Seaside Sparrows that winter here are completing their Spring molts and are fattening up for their long journeys north to their breeding grounds.

Comparing 2 subspecies of the Saltmarsh Sparrow -- Kiawah Island, SC -- March 10, 2013 -- Photo by Claire Stuyck

Myself and Aaron discussing the 2 subspecies of Saltmarsh Sparrows in hand -- Kiawah Island, SC -- March 10, 2013 -- Photo by Claire Stuyck

"My" over-wintering (and highly unsusual) Red-breasted Nuthatches are now gone! 

Male Red-breasted Nuthatch -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC -- November 2, 2012

The male had not stayed long but the female came daily.  I will miss her soft yank-yank and so hope she considers returning next year. 

Female Red-breasted Nuthatch -- Parc Perlière -- Charleston, SC -- November 2, 2012

I suspect that this will not happen since the high density of Red-breasted Nuthatches everywhere along our coast was due to an irruption year brought on by a cone crop failure in Northeastern Ontario. 
        What an extraordinary Fall/Winter birding season  we have experienced here in our state for birds that usually are much harder to find!  While birding here in South Carolina this season, I added 10 hard-to-find birds to my Life list!  The Fall birds are: Bay-breasted Warbler (no photo); Lark Sparrow;

Lark Sparrow -- Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve -- Folly Beach, SC -- September 16, 2012

Philadelphia Vireo;

Philadelphia Vireo -- Eastatoe Baptist Churchyard in Pickens County, SC -- September 28, 2012

 and a Le Conte's Sparrow (no photo -- sorry). 

The Winter collection of Life Birds begins with the 3-in-1 day in the Lowcountry along with a great Bonus critter.  They are the Dickcissel in Charleston;

Dickcissel -- West Ashley, Charleston, SC -- December 28, 2012
Buff-bellied Hummingbird in McClellanville;

Buff-Bellied Hummingbird -- McClellanville, SC -- December 28, 2012

the Razorbills at Huntington Beach State Park;

Razorbills -- Huntington Beach State Park -- December 28, 2012

After the achievement of 3 Life Birds in one day, my birding group and I then encountered this wonderful Bonus critter -- a mink! -- on the jetty rocks landward at Huntington Beach State Park! 

 Mink -- Huntington Beach State Park -- December 28, 2012
Now that is a day worthy of its own blog post!  I will work on that.

            Continuing down the list of new life birds obtained this season here in SC, we saw the Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal -- Savannah National Wildlife Refuge -- February 9, 2013 -- Photo by Carl Miller
 and the Ross's Goose.

Ross's Goose -- West Ashley, Charleston, SC -- February 8, 2013

Was there ever a cuter goose than that?!

          And that Snowy Owl just across the border in Georgia would have made it 11 Life Birds acquired in SC  had he just flown across to our side of the river! 

Snowy Owl -- Tybee Island, GA -- February 8, 2013

If the last 3 birds look familiar to you, why yes, I did write recently about them in this post, "This Weekend: The Chase for 3 Extraordinary Life Birds!"

      Finally, my last new life bird of this winter season located here in South Carolina was the elusive Eurasian Wigeon in the Santee Coastal Reserve Wildlife Management Area.  I say Whew and Hooray!  We had to work for that one!  It was the proverbial needle in the haystack!  But thanks to Chris Davies' sharp eye and everyone's perseverance, we managed among the 4 of us a total of about 2 minutes of observation over 2 separate sightings in a 3 hour period of circling an impoundment!  I regret to say that no, there is no photo of said bird -- just a sweet memory of his fleeting beauty! 

       Sadly, I missed a few key species this Fall and Winter season that I should have been able to see here in SC rather easily due to this being an irruption year.  Yikes!  So what have I missed, these nemesis birds?:  Purple Finch, White-Crowned Sparrow and Pine Siskin!  Sigh!  Only one would have been a life bird -- the White-Crowned Sparrow!  I have had Purple Finches once before but I just was never in the right place at the right time this winter.  I have seen plenty of Pine Siskin in North Carolina so it would have been nice to have added it to the SC list.  Carl photographed the White-Crowned Sparrow below and I identified it for him.  But that does not allow it to count for me!   I was not there to see the bird, alas.

Young White-crowned Sparrow -- Botany Bay Plantation WMA -- December 16, 2012 -- Photo by Carl Miller

        What a fabulous winter birding season!   How wonderful to look back on the photos and to reminisce.  And yes, indeed, let's say reminisce because Spring has sprung and it is time for me to transition my mindset into what Spring and Summer offer!  After all, the volume and variety of birdsong is increasing out there.  Yellow-throated Warblers and Barn Swallows have already arrived.  Our innumerable, perky Yellow-Rumped Warblers, tail-pumping Eastern Phoebes, curious Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, gorgeous Baltimore Orioles and feisty Chipping Sparrows will depart but they will be replaced by equally charming Prothonotary Warblers, Northern Parulas, Swainson's Warblers, and Kentucky Warblers as well as Orchard Orioles, Great-Crested Flycatchers, Acadian Flycatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, White-Eyed, Red-Eyed and Yellow-Throated Vireos.  Some have already reported the arrival of Cattle Egret, Swallow-tailed Kites and Black-necked Stilts.  If you hurry, you will be able to see the Black-necked Stilts feeding next to Northern Shovelers in the impoundments at the Santee Coastal Reserve WMA before the latter head north!  Bald Eagles and Great-Horned Owls have long been on their nests and many have chicks along with the Great Blue Herons.  The Great Egrets are courting and nest building!  With the azaleas blooming now as well, it must be time for me to return to Magnolia Gardens to record the activity in the rookery!  Speaking of nests -- our nest box contains 5 Carolina Chicadee eggs as of today! 

Carolina Chickadee eggs -- Parc Perlière -- March 23, 2013
          Remembering what Spring brings helps me to let go of our winter birds.  No sense in being wistful.  The birds are going to leave no matter what.   Most will come back and the winter treasure hunt will begin again.  In the meantime, writing is a cathartic activity and planning Spring birding adventures is helping, too!

          Ah yes, we are filling our calendars this Spring.  Carl and I have reserved our spots on April 20 for the Francis Beidler Forest's Wine and Warblers event (W&W) (highly recommended!) -- a naturalist-guided tour around the boardwalk, sipping wine, enjoying fine hors-d'oeuvres and being serenaded by evening birdsong! 

Prothonotary Warbler at Wine and Warblers -- Francis Beidler Forest -- April 16, 2011

I look forward to it all year!  Bonus: it is a great fundraiser for Francis Beidler Forest!  In addition to the link above, you can find more information about what transpires at W&W on the SC Audubon blog or in my promotional post for last year's event.  Be careful, do not confuse the dates.  This year's event takes place on Saturday, April 20.  We hope to see you there.

         From April 26-28, Carl and I will also attend for the first time the 6th annual Santee Birding and Nature Festival!  Since participating in Christmas Bird Counts and bird walks in the Santee National Wildlife Refuge as well as a Carolina Bird Club meeting held there in September 2007, Carl and I have fallen in love with the area.  A number of bird walks, butterfly walks and kayak/canoe trips are offered and some of these are located here on the coast, too.  We opted to stay in Santee though to explore with the locals their neck of the woods.  I am sure we will not be disappointed.

Carl overlooking Lake Marion in the Santee National Wildlife Refuge -- Carolina Bird Club Meeting -- September 29, 2007

           I will also participate for the first time in SC Audubon's 7th annual Swallow-Tailed Kite Survey which runs from Saturday, April 6 through Sunday, April 14.  The Swallow-Tailed Kite, recently added to the Audubon watch list,  is listed as endangered by SC Department of Natural Resouces (DNR) and threatened throughout its North American range. 

Swallow-tailed Kite -- McAlhany Nature Preserve -- June 19, 2010
 The data gathered on sighted pairs and active nesting sites will allow researchers to track population trends over time and then to develop appropriate action plans for the conservation of this magnificent species.  If interested in participating, contact Mark Musselman, Education Director at SC Audubon at the above link.

         On May 5, Charleston Audubon will conduct its Spring Count / Bird-a-thon.  I am happy to say that I am territory leader again for Dewees Island

Dewees Island, SC -- May 5, 2012
Once again, we will conduct another "treasure" hunt!  Finding a Chuck's-will-widow on the nest qualified as the top treasure for me during last Spring's count.  

Chuck-will's-widow -- Dewees Island, SC -- May 5, 2012
 Hmm, or, perhaps seeing the late-nesting Bald Eagle with her chick on THEIR nest on an Osprey platform should receive top billing, too. 

Bald Eagle with her chick on eagle nest on Osprey platform -- Dewees Island, SC -- May 6, 2012 -- Photo by Carl Miller

I have been informed that they began nesting much earlier this year on the same platform.  We may not see a chick on the nest this year.  If you are interested in helping out with the Charleston Spring Count, check out the latest issue of the newsletter, the Lesser Squawk (p. 5 & 6) for more details and for contact information for Andy Harrison, the count compiler. 

         The following weekend, May 11-12, Charleston Audubon is hosting a Bio-Blitz at the McAlhany Nature Preserve.  Carl and I will likely participate one day at least.  The goal of a Bio-Blitz is to document all the species of flora and fauna in a given area to gain a true picture of the bio-diversity of that area.  This should be a fascinating event as the results of the different scouting teams come in!  Volunteers are needed and are welcome.  To learn more about the Bio-Blitz and the preserve's diverse habitats and how you might also participate, turn to page 8 in the the latest issue of the newsletter, the Lesser Squawk.

         Our Spring calendar is filling up!  And my catharsis is complete (as is this blog post  ; - ) ).  Fait accompli, by writing about it, I am now excited about SPRING!  Those temperatures may be cool in the coming week but the flowers will still bloom, the birds will still sing and my spirit is looking forward again!   I hope that all my readers are finding a sense of renewal and joy at the sights and sounds of Spring!  Who knows, maybe I have also inspired some of you to join in some of the activities that I have shared from our calendar!  Happy, happy Spring everyone! 


  1. wow! A wonderful summary of winter and a very full calendar this sping. ENJOY and keep sending us beautiful pics! g