Monday, August 17, 2015

2015 South Carolina Scouting Trip

For eight or nine years now we’ve enjoyed a trip to the Charleston-area coast in the fall to go bird watching. The results have always been good, in the 100-plus species range, visiting some great spots in the backwoods and swamps. Joe McGuiness and Kim Stroud have organized these trips plus each August they go down on a scouting trip. This time Brookie and Jean Potter and myself went along.

Our count this time, mostly because we did not get to the shore line, was about 80 species. I had 57. Migrations are in a sense continual so timing is important. What we saw in August will easily not be there in October.

We stayed on the south side of Charleston on US17 at about the city limits. Out our window was a marsh/creek complex complete with clapper rail and osprey. Right out of the box, Saturday morning, we heard clapper rails.

One hallmark of each trip is eating. If you like seafood (or even if you don’t like seafood) we ate well. I was stuffed to the point that lunch on Monday on the way back I had to really cut back.

We had several good spots to bird and a couple of misses. Of the two that stick out one was at Fishburn Pond in Donnelley WMA where we spied white pelican, roseate spoonbill, and tree-trunk-sized alligators. We found Fishburn Pond the hard way. It was mostly a dot on the map with vague directions to it. We drove three-fourths of the way around Donnelley, down a two-lane county road, down a well-packed, named dirt road (which disagreed with our GPS), down a power line access road, through a gate into the lower end of Donnelley where only hunters and birders would ever go. The maps don’t show roads through Donnelley but they exist. We just didn’t quite know our way around.

In Kim Stroud's photo of the spoonbill, it is sitting on a log not an alligator. The gators were longer than that log but the birds wading close by seemed unafraid. I'm sure they kept an eye on the gator as much as probably the gators kept an eye on them!

The other surprise was at the Orangeburg Fish Hatchery, a place we’ve not noticed in all these years, where we found Mississippi kite and some inland Wood stork. The fish hatchery is probably a sure place to visit in Orangeburg along with the Sod Farm.

My impression is that the wood stork at the fish hatchery was uncommon for that far inland and the spoonbill was uncommon for that far north. In both cases were talking only 50 miles or so.

A few of the places we visited, good or bad: Fort Johnson (across the point of the Charleston peninsula), James Island County Park, Dungannon Heritage Park, Fishburn Pond, Roxbury Park, Charlestown Landing State Park, Shem Creek boardwalk, and the Orangeburg Fish Hatchery. For your first time any of these would work although I think the Landing is is least of these. Shem Creek was a busy party site on Sunday so weekdays might be better than weekends. We ate well at Shem Creek, that was for sure.

Just a highlight list not generally found in these parts: collared dove, brown pelican (all over the place), royal tern, cormorant, least tern, wood stork, white and glossy ibis, great and snowy egret, little blues, yellow-crowned night heron, laughing gull, clapper rail, anhinga, bittern, tri-colored heron, osprey, Caspian tern, wood duck, great-crested flycatcher, roseate spoonbill, white pelican, boat-tailed grackle, fish crow, cattle egret, and Mississippi kite.

The fall trip leaves Friday and gets back Monday evening (Oct. 10-13). Email me at and I’ll get you in touch with the group leaders.