Nine Piedmont Bird Club members and one birding spouse participated in some or all of the field trip. Some came early and others stayed a few extra days. Altogether we covered about a week's time with some birds added from the alternate list (birding done before or after the official trip dates).
When the group met for dinner Thursday evening the weather forecast for the weekend was discouraging. Luck was on our side, however, and despite continuing predictions of rain for parts of each day, we barely missed any birding due to the weather. But we did experience unusually cold temperatures for mid-April and significantly more wind than would be ideal. An adverse effect was that some birds were hunkered down, particularly the passerines, and we had to work to find the ones we did. Our warbler numbers were way down.
Early Friday morning we headed to South Litchfield Beach, an area introduced to us last year by Carolina Bird Club member Paul Serridge; it is one of his favorite birding spots in the area and one he considers to be seriously under-birded. The 1.2 mile walk down the beach and back was well worth it. Some of the group (no novices among us) even got life birds. We watched a large flock of Black Skimmers as they flew around in perfect formation, all tipping their wings in unison, giving us breathtaking views whenever disturbed and taking flight, then settling back on the point until something got them up again. A group of Sanderlings was huddled together so tightly with their feathers blowing in the wind, making them look like little puff balls, that we required a scope to identify what they were. Highlights included good views of Oystercatchers, Caspian and Royal Terns, and several species of gulls and other shorebirds. Thanks to all who helped carry scopes to and fro!
That afternoon we went to Huntington Beach State Park where we were fortunate to have two very cooperative male Painted Buntings to entertain and thrill us near the feeders at the Nature Center. A crowd of visitors joined us to see what was going on and we enjoyed sharing our excitement by introducing them to the buntings and offering them looks through our binoculars.
The next morning it was raining hard at our usual departure time and we made plans to spend the day at the condo rented by Julien McCarthy, Jude Pate, Mike Howard, and Diana Bowman. But the rain soon stopped and although it was still cloudy and windy we headed for the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk. The Oystercatchers that have been nesting there for several years on a small island between the Marsh Walk and the backs of restaurants on Business 17 did not disappoint. Two birds were sitting on nests among the accumulated sand and oyster shells on a ridge above the water line. While we were ogling them we observed resident goats approaching the nest area. Some expressed concern that the goats were eating the Oystercatcher eggs, but it was finally concluded that they weren't (at least that was what we wanted to believe), and the birds soon returned to sitting on their nests. Julien and Jude were there the day before and saw someone in a boat deliver the 7 or 8 goats to the island for their summer stay. They keep the shrubbery and other plants in check.
Far across the water from the end of the Marsh Walk, a Brown Pelican could be seen at the end of a marshy area. We could see something with fuzzy little heads moving next to the pelican. The pelican seemed to be tending to these much smaller birds and we became excited thinking these might be young pelicans. But upon further examination through scopes, it was determined that a group of female Red-breasted Mergansers were resting near the pelican.
Next, we drove down Sandy Island Road where we saw Wild Turkeys and eight deer. We drove around Waccamaw Middle and Intermediate Schools in hopes the colony of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers might have returned to their former nest sites there. They had not, but we picked up Killdeer and of a couple of other new species.
As the weather prognosticators were not calling for rain before evening on Saturday, we set out for Brookgreen Gardens. Some went directly to the observation platforms overlooking a large area of old rice fields; these watery fields attract waterfowl and wading birds as well as raptors looking for a meal. Others walked through the gardens in search of more warblers in the numerous old live oak trees. Most of us returned there the next morning (Easter) and were rewarded with new birds as well as some of the same noteworthy species seen Saturday. A few highlights included Blue Grosbeak, Anhinga, both juvenile and adult Little Blue Heron. Three families of Wood Duck thrilled and delighted us with their antics, especially the little ones "walking on water" as they scampered from one hiding place to another. Now you see them, now you don't. Hearing the mating call of the Pied-billed Grebes was special, and new to some. Sora were also calling.
That evening we were treated to dinner at the aforementioned condo, where we enjoyed great food and fellowship and completed the checklist of the birds seen up to that time.
Overall we recorded a total of 102 bird species, which includes five from the alternate list. All in all, weather notwithstanding, we had a great trip to the S.C. coast for Easter weekend.
HUNTINGTON BEACH STATE PARK (SC) AND VICINITY
EASTER WEEKEND, 2014 (April 17-20)
Double-crested Cormorant Anhinga
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Cattle Egret (A)
Moorhen (Common Gallinule)
Bonaparte’s Gull (A)
Great Black-backed Gull
Barred Owl (C)
Belted Kingfisher (A) Red-headed Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker Northern Flicker
Great Crested Flycatcher
Carolina Wren Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Prothonotary Warbler (A)
Yellow-breasted Chat (A)
Painted Bunting Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle Boat-tailed Grackle
102 Species - Total
(A) = Alternate list (birds seen in the area before or after group birding)
(C) = Possibly in Captivity (Barred Owl)