Saturday, October 25, 2008

South Carolina 2007

Ten of us from the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter (a charter chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society) ventured to the back country of South Carolina for three days of bird watching in October, 2007. Our group included: Jim and Darla Anderson, Diane Draper, Don Holt, Joe McGuiness, Charles Moore, Brookie and Jean Potter, Kim Stroud, and Mary Anna Wheat.

We spent most of our time at the Santee National Wildlife Refuge, Santee, South Carolina, where I-65 crosses Lake Marion, and at the Congaree National Park, 20 miles southeastly of Columbia, with a side trip to the Old Santee Canal State Park (for our lone ibis.) For the weekend, we listed 78 bird species, untolled butterfly, and an assortment of other wildlife including alligators, coyote, spiders, anole, White-tailed deer (with yearling) and water mocassin. While it was easy to imagine a sense of danger being around alligators, water moccasin, and spiders, the real nusance was from the ticks. It was that season and, in the dried woods, ticks were abundant.

As expected we saw: comorant; osprey; eagle; fish crow; shrike (several); Caspian tern; Northern harrier; Barred and Screech owls; little blue (white morph) and great blue heron; snowy and great egrets; wood stork; red start; palm, black-throated blue, black and white, and Tennessee warblers; common yellowthroat; Eastern towhee; anhinga; Cedar waxwing; white-eyed and red-eyed vireo; ibis; red headed, piliated, and downy woodpecker (but no red-cockaded nor ivory billed); scarlet tanager; collared dove; and many of our area birds including blue jay, cardinal, phoebe, peewee, bluebird, and kingfisher.

There were several species that were underpopulated or missing including robin and killdeer, most of the waterfowl, pipers and plovers, and geese. For example, we didn’t see wood ducks until just before sundown the second day in an nearly dried up, back water inlet where nothing much else stirred. In the afternoons, the temperatures were very warm and the air still. You could hear boats on the lake and airplanes, and even though we were 10 miles from two interstates, we were spared the incessant road noise.

Because the water levels were also low in South Carolina--the drought there is as bad as any--Lake Marion was too shallow for our excursion boat to undock, let alone pick us up at the public dock. This lake was so wide that while the banks don’t show the dramatic decline in levels like our upper East Tennessee lakes, stumps were showing when they shouldn’t have been showing. The swamps were dry when they should have been under water. Where you would expect a swamp pond was instead a firm tract of land with lily pads, high and dry like sunflower. This same drought may have pushed birds further east and south or they simply were in small ponds not easily accessible from the roads.

Santee offers a good variety of habitat: lake, shoreline, swamp, forest, and farm lands. We went from lake to corn fields with just a short walk.

We spent an afternoon at Congaree National Park, outside Columbia. The contrast between this twenty-two thousand-acre park and metro-Columbia, just 20 miles up the road, is impossible to describe. Congaree boasts the largest collection of championship-sized trees in the east and they are magnificent. Also, we were able to enjoy a rare canoe trip in the back country, down a lazy creek and watch for birds (and snakes and turtles) from the river’s point of view, for once. It was pointed out to us that at flood stage the water level would be 12 feet above the current level. But, this was in the middle of the afternoon and the forest was pretty quiet.

In Congaree N.P., they watch for rain in the western North Carolina mountains, as opposed to local rainfall, to determine the water levels. What first appears as stereotypical swamp land is more accurately described as floodplain forests. The periodic soaking drives the growth of the forests. One result are a forest of champion sized trees.

A one-hundred-sixty-foot loblolly pine is a tall tree! One-hundred-foot Tupelo is ordinary. But, canoeing under a tree branch that may harbor a brown water snake --priceless.

Our thanks to Joe McGuiness and Kim Stroud for organizing this trip.


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