Tuesday, November 27, 2012

We Coulda Gone Shopping

 Brown Pelican at sunset

 I read in the paper, several days after the fact, that Black Friday’s online shoppers spent about a billion bucks; Monday’s crowd $pent another 1.5 billon and there’s more to come--or go.
Birding buddies Pat and Karin, along with Susan and I, opted to do something different. We headed to South Carolina for some serious birding--well, as serious as it gets for us. The impetus for this adventure was the fact that Pat had visited every state in the union except South Carolina; reason enough for an adventure. We’d heard and read lots of good things about birding in the area of Huntington Beach State Park, it was a holiday and campsites were available. So what’s not to like?

Saltmash Sharp-tailed Sparrow

Twenty-three hundred miles and 100-plus species later, I can tell you it was one great trip, assuming you like seeing thousands of perfectly choreographed Black Skimmers in flight, Wood Storks fishing 25 feet from your feet, and one of the more endangered birds on the plant, Red Knots, 57 of them, feeding like there’s no tomorrow--and for them, that might be the case.

A skulking Clapper Rail provided an excellent photo op

Perfect camo colors of the American Bittern

Okay, so maybe sleeping on the ground when temperatures are a balmy 29 degrees is not for everyone. For us, the rustic tent sites (that’s what they're called) were perfect for our week-long adventure. Although there were many other spots to bird in the region, we found the Huntington Beach area most attractive. The joy of romantic, long walks on the beach lugging tons of spotting scopes, camera gear and day packs filled with almost-nutritious snacks are the things birders look forward to. Susan and I needed time to relax and unwind from the stresses of being retired, ya know. Youngsters Pat and Karin do have jobs so I guess it was relaxing for them, too.

A Wood Stork positions its lunch

There were many highlights during this trip; good and not-so-good restaurants, Great Horned Owls serenading while we set up our tent the first day, and happening upon a small group of Wood Storks feeding close to the road on our way out the last day.
Of ornithological importance was Pat’s early Friday morning sighting and identification of a group of Red Knots, an endangered species. Pat returned to camp with the news and we flocked (that’s what birders do) to the beach. We were able to get close enough to the birds to read the leg tags on several, even to see a tracking device on one bird. I’ll be reporting on the results of these tagged birds. Red knots undertake one of nature’s longest migrations, flying from the southern tip of Chile and Argentina in Tierra del Fuego to the high arctic tundra, where they breed. About 13,000 miles roundtrip. On the way, they stop along the Delaware Bay, timing their arrival with late spring’s full-moon tides, when horseshoe crabs crawl out of the surf by the thousands to lay their olive-colored eggs above the water’s edge.

A half dozen of the 57 Red Knots we saw. Note the yellow positioning device on the center bird.

Seventy-five percent of the birders in our group of four are not as addicted to listing as me. So I have to toss in the fact that I saw life bird (lower 48 states, no pelagic trips) number 606, a Purple Sandpiper. Again, the high-five for that one goes out to sharp-eyed Pat who spotted it loafing within a group of about 100+ Dunlin, a quarter mile away. Any questions about why we enjoy birding with Pat and Karin?
Isolated from the daily news, somewhat concerned about peace in the Middle East (hey, that war has been going on for 10,000 years so I hardly expected to hear anything positive), and happy to not see a big box store for a week, made each birding highlight shine a bit brighter. I think only one or two dozen times a day did I say, “Well, we coulda gone shopping.”

A small fraction of the Black Skimmers at Huntington Beach State Park