As any birder can tell you, early morning birding can be tough. Getting up to spot birds seems ridiculous at that hour, until you see your first bird and then it all comes into perspective. That February morning was no exception for me and to complicate matters, conditions were less than ideal – late winter birding. Our first bird was no surprise as we pulled out of the Heron Park Nature Center; we spotted a Great Blue Heron, stalking the edge of a pond. While Great Blues are quite common on Kiawah, they are the one of the most striking birds found on the island and frankly, a great way to start a trip.
Next we headed out to Mingo Point, a favorite destination for birding because of the easy access to multiple habitats. There we were able to see a variety of species commonly found in maritime forest habitat including House Finches, Bluebirds and Myrtle Warblers (a variety of Yellow-rumped Warbler). Additionally, once we turned our sights to the marsh we were immediately able to catch a flock of American Oystercatchers “wheeping” their way across the surface of the water, destined for a new foraging ground, followed by the familiar clatter of a Belted Kingfisher and the silent flight of a flock of Bufflehead. One of the highlights of Mingo Point this time of year is also the wide variety of sparrows found in the area, from White-throats to Song to Chipping and as well as the abundance of Salt-marsh/Seaside/Nelson’s found flitting their way through the spartina. As Mingo drew to a close, the sun began to shine and conditions improved dramatically.
Following Mingo, we headed out to the fields in search of birds of prey and we weren’t disappointed. A brief layover at “Reynold’s Creek,” yielded White Ibis, Great/Snowy Egrets and Wood Storks foraging for invertebrates held within in the muddy banks. Upon arrival at the fields we were immediately able to spot Killdeer and Lesser Yellowlegs rummaging through the grassy/muddy field. While we got out to scope the tree tops for raptors we initially heard the “kee-yer” of a Red-shouldered Hawk and finally it broke from it’s hidden post and gave us a beautiful view of this medium sized Buteo. While we watched the Red-shoulder swooping across the field we also were able to spot a Red-tailed Hawk and finally a mature Bald Eagle patrolling the field. The personal highlight for me though was the Loggerhead Shrike perched on a Cedar limb near the margin. The Loggerheads used to be so much more abundant and their slow decline is making it harder and harder to find these amazing little birds.
Finally, we headed out to Willet Pond and the Ocean Course to spot ducks and hopefully a Clapper Rail. A quick detour into a secret spot yielded a Pine Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a small raft of Hooded Mergansers. Finally once we arrived at Willet pond we were able to scope a large raft of ducks that included Lesser Scaup, roughly 7-10 Redheads and a single Greater Scaup. Behind us moving through the tops of the spartina was a small “reading” of Palm Warblers but unfortunately no Clapper Rails were spotted. With time running out, we sped over to the Ocean Course to briefly scan the surf and we were rewarded with Black and Surf Scoters as well as a “company” of Northern Gannets diving on the surface of the horizon.
The tour ultimately ran an hour over it’s scheduled end and we had to head back to the Nature Center and again I was simply amazed by both the avian life of Kiawah and my absurd doubt that began the trip. In the end, it’s one of those trips that will always remind me why we get up when no one else does.
–Naturalist, Matthew Arnold
Click here to learn more about our Back Island Birding Tour.