Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Smattering of Southeastern Specialties

A few weeks ago, in late April, we and a dozen or so other birders from the local Audubon headed to Webb Wildlife Management Area in Hampton County, SC. With a good mix of habitats, the trip promised some fantastic birding, including specialties of long leaf pine forests, like Bachman's Sparrows and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.

I was particularly excited for the Bachman's Sparrows. Although they're year-round residents of coastal Georgia and South Carolina, you'd never know it. Notoriously difficult to find outside of breeding season, these secretive birds normally stay silent and hidden in understory. But our group was fortunate in having visited at just the right time of year, and everybody was afforded excellent, open looks of the males singing their clear and melodious song. 

Bachman's Sparrow
Bachman's Sparrow

Bachman's Sparrow with a tasty (for him) morsel

Singing Bachman's Sparrow

Red-cockaded Woodpecker, another target species for the day, took a little more patience to locate, but we were handsomely rewarded in finding a mated pair make repeated trips to their nesting cavity. The cavity was just beside the road, and we could hear the nestlings' begging call each time a parent left to forage more grubs. The experience was more than we could have hoped for, and it was encouraging to see evidence of this species recovering with the help of wildlife management. 

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpecker on the way into the nesting cavity

Both members of a successfully mated Red-cockaded Woodpecker pair

We also stopped in on a small rookery, where twenty or so Little Blue Herons were safeguarding the fruits of a successful breeding season. Occasionally, one would briefly move off of their nest, letting us see their aqua blue eggs or (snow-white) egg-sized chicks. The rookery was situated within a small pond, where we were also treated to Green Herons, Purple Gallinules, Blue-winged Teal and others. 

Little Blue Heron rookery. You can just make out the blue eggs in the nest

Great Blue Heron with an good-sized eel
Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

At one especially noteworthy spot, a covey of Bobwhites flushed as we exited our cars. Although right out in the open, they were perfectly invisible until they were already in the air, and heading toward a strip of dense understory, never to be seen again. We also managed a pair Yellow-breasted Chats, which at one point shared a tree with a Bachman's Sparrow! Seeing these skulkers out in the open together nearly sent me into a swoon, but I pulled through as best I could. 

Yellow-breasted Chat - I've been wanting to see one of these for a long while

Other notable birds for the day included Prothonotary Warblers, Blue Grosbeaks, Orchard Orioles, and Indigo and Painted Buntings. While we tallied an impressive number of species, there were noticeably few passing migrants. Taken together with a possible (heard) Blackpoll Warbler, it seemed as though we were seeing the tail-end of migration. But with residents like these, who needs migrants! 

The ol' "Swamp Canary" - Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Indigo Bunting

Afterwards, some of us stopped in at Millstone Landing (in Jasper County) to check for raptors. We didn't have to wait long before a swarm of kites appeared in the distance, including 2 Swallow-tailed, and over 30(!) Mississippi. They gradually moved farther North along the Savannah River, giving us a better and better view as they flew closer, while hawking insects in mid-air. 

Carolina Chickadee with lunch

Finally, we ended our (very) long day with a quick trip through the driving trail at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Our aim was locating migrating Bobolinks, which we found immediately on entering the refuge, congregating in the rice fields. We heard them on their way south last autumn, when we were living in Florida. Their distinctive "plink!" called out from plots of tall grasses, but we never managed to lay eyes on them. Now, they were out in abundance, and we were able to watch the (mostly male) blackbirds to our hearts' content. It was a terrific way to end a truly awesome field trip and an unforgettable (and exhausting) day of birding.





  1. Owah dang gee wizz man what a day of birding!!

    This series of outings is absolutely infused with quality and color. And people say Bachman dropped out of the running to be America's next Sparrow King...

    I'm lovin' the Bobolinks too, not only because that's a ridiculous name and those birds looks like they coun't figure out how to put their clothes on properly, but because I'm hoping to see some for the first time in Pennsylvania, and you've got me all excited NIcholas.

    I'm glad y'all are getting some prominent Prothonotaries too. As I recall, that was entirely the reason for moving to Savannah in the first place?

    Nice work. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks, Laurence! We certainly pulled a marathon that day, but when the birding's that good it's hard to call it quits and head home, no matter how long you've been out.

    Pennsylvania sounds like a grand new adventure. Good luck getting the Bobolinks - I'm looking forward to seeing what the northeast brings you

  3. Wow, I was thinking the same thing as Laurence...what a stellar action-packed day! Love the shots of the Red-cockaded WPs; they are on my most wanted list for this summer! There is a park fairly close by that has a few pairs dwelling there. Good eye on the blue eggs as well; kind of ironic that the Little Blue Herons lay such blue eggs.

  4. Red-cockaded Woodpeckers may not be the most striking birds, but they were wonderful to watch, and exciting to find. I hope you'll get to cross them off your wish list for the summer!

    It is funny about the the Little Blue Herons laying blue eggs... I wonder if it's purely a coincidence, or if blue is adaptive for the same reason at both stages. And if the latter, how bizarre that they would go from blue (egg) to white (juvenile) to blue (adult). It's food for thought, certainly. Thanks for the comment, Tammy!

    1. That is interesting! I have read some other interesting facts about the Little Blues~how the Snowy Egrets tolerate the their presence better when they are white and how the Little Blues forage better when they are near the Snowy Egrets. I recently saw several white Little Blues mixed with a group of Snowy and Great Egrets. The Little Blues were beginning their morph to blue, so I started to wonder when they would no longer be welcome....just a little more food (or less food) for thought!

    2. Those are great observations! We may yet get to the bottom of this. Thanks for sharing!