Wednesday, November 11, 2009

South Carolina 2009

This year's crew to South Carolina included Joe McGuiness, Kim Stroud, Roy Knispel, Mary Anna Wheat, John and Emily Bays, Jim and Darla Anderson, Don Holt and Diane Draper, John Hay, and Eric and Kathy Noblet.

We drove from Johnson City through Asheville and around Columiba ending up in Hartsville, S.C., on Friday night, after work. Hartsville is in the eastern part of South Carolina in the sandhills border between the coastal plain and the piedmont.

The sandhills are a distinctly recognizable geographical feature of the eastern coast. The sandhills run in a vague gap between the fall line and the coastal plain. Think Myrtle Beach: a million years ago.  The terrain is not “hilly” in the way of east Tennessee. It’s just not pancake flat like the coast. Or, smooth like the beach at the water line. This is pine country. Cotton ruled for many years but now they grown corn and soybeans.

Hartsville was also the home of Coker College which I’m told has a pretty campus, in a town of moderate size that was also a rather nice place.  We were within a few miles of Darlington, S.C., home of the famous race track. I could see in my mind’s eye the thousands of cars streaming up the US Route 1 to Hartsville and I could see lots of dreams riding on all those hungry mouths and sleepy heads and I could see a lot of disappointment and slow times when there was just nothing else going on in that part of the state. We’ve been across South Carolina a few times and it’s a curious state with Columbia and the coast holding the population and the interior of the state just empty.

We started Saturday morning: beautifully clear, windy, and chilly. From there the weather got worse. But, also, right out of the box, Eurasian Collared dove, and Fish crow which are not found too readily in these parts.

We explored the Carolina Sandhills Nature Refuge (45,000 acres, twice the size of Congaree National Park) which is nestled next to the Sandhills State Forest. We’re talking a nice spread undeveloped land. Our first big excitement was walking into a brown-headed nuthatch and red-cockaded woodpecker colony. They were so abundant we could easily see them and enjoy what would overwise be a rare find. This is a pine forest, of course, with ponds, (some of them
constructed)  and few through roads.

Besides a good look at many birds (listed below are those not likely we’d see in east Tennessee) we also spotted Lady tresses orchids, pine Barrens gentian, Pearl Crescent butterfly, and Gerardia.

Saturday afternoon, we visted Sugerloaf Mountain, in the state forest. Mountain by our standards it wasn’t, but then, by Rocky Mountain standards, our’s aren’t either.
But, the view was first rate. I felt like we could see clear to Myrtle Beach.  Sugerloaf Mountain is a monadnock which just means a sand hill. What we saw bird-wise were more brown-headed nuthatch and pine warbler, but at eye level. By this late in the afternoon the weather had turned sour with a chilly wind and sprinkles which later became a downpour.

Sunday we started at the exquisite Kalmia Gardens named after the Kalmia latifolia which around here we would identify as mountain laurel. South Carolina has a lot of public gardens and over the years I’ve visited a few.
I’m not all that much of a gardener but I did appreciate the variety and display of plants. We later matched Kalmia by visiting the botanical gardens at the Riverbanks  Zoo in Columbia on Monday. Coker College cares for Kalmia and with the variety of swamp and tended gardens should be able to offer some good instruction in botany. The bird watching was a bit less than spectactular.

Sunday afternoon, again, just ahead of some more rotten weather, we spent a long time at Lee State Park just down from Sandhills. Their boardwalk led us back into the blackwater swamp that had been topped by Hugo in ‘89. When we visited the Francis Beidler Forest, in the Four Holes Swamp area, last year (2008) in the dark, on their boardwalk, that canopy had not be removed by Hugo. The contrast was striking. You can see a line across the tree tops where all the canopy was missing. What remained was a forest of snags which the red-headed woodpeckers just love.
We had seen a dozen or more easily in 90 minutes on a quarter-mile boardwalk. We found yet another orchid (of which the details escape me) that had also not been identified by the park staff yet somehow escaped the mower.

Monday, the weather finally cleared up and we had a spectacular day at the Columbia Riverwalk and the Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens. The riverwalk yielded nothing really new but held promise. Perhaps during the warmer weather more waterfowl would patrol below the spillway. We had a lone Great Blue heron, some Kestrel, and several woodland/thicket birds.

Riverbanks Zoo and Botannical Gardens was worth the trip; inexpensive and diverse. Checked out the penguin exhibit and the Carolina country displays. Way too many cottonmouth snakes but lots of different critters. The eyecatcher was the python swallowing a small chicken before your very eyes.

It wasn’t  pretty but it sure was fascinating. The kids loved it. The parents were freaked out.

Of note: Eurasian collared-dove, Fish crow, Red-cockaded woodpecker, Brown-headed nutchatch, Marsh wren, Pine warbler, Palm warbler, Swamp sparrow, Pied-billed grebe, all 7 of the remaining woodpeckers on the South Carolina list, one lone Canada goose, no Mallard, one Shrike, plenty of Kestral, no Killdeer. 

Sometimes your luck just goes away.