Sunday, February 9, 2014

Feb 9 (Day 40) - Collecting species along the road, Le Conte's troubles.....

Today was basically scheduled as a moving day, but I ended up adding a number of species along the way. The day started in Wilmington, North Carolina and ended in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina 78 miles to the southwest. I got a nice early start this morning with the hope of finding more rails in a marshy tract that was right along my planned route. The marshy area was actually adjacent the now retired USS North Carolina battleship. This provided a unique backdrop for birding! 

USS North Carolina

We managed to flush 6 Wilson's snipe along the road as we looked for rails. We also found several Killdeer and American pipits in the field adjacent to the boat. We heard several rails that I assume were King rails, but, without visual conformation, I think it would be premature to count this species. I should be able to definitively tick this species in the next few weeks as I transit through the freshwater marshes of South Carolina and Florida. I did, however, find and photograph a single marsh wren for #152. Soon thereafter, an Orange-crowned warbler (#153) surfaced just long enough to be identified before it buried itself in a thicket that paralleled the marsh. 

Marsh wren

The first 45 miles of the day were along Highway 17 which meant that, minus the marsh, I did not make any birding stops for the first half of the day. Once I got of of this main road it was a really nice ride with clear skies and temperatures in the mid-50s. At one point I saw an interesting small bird dart across the road. I quickly stopped to see if I could locate it; I could not. However, I did find 2 Red-headed woodpeckers (a personal favorite for #154) instead. I actually saw a number of these birds over the course of the afternoon. One even sat still enough for me to break out the camera and actually get a shot of it from the road! I was also able to tick Snowy egret (#155) and Anhinga (#156) just down the road before I crossed into South Carolina for state #12!

The aptly named
Red-headed woodpecker

Jacket not needed this afternoon!

I am particularly excited to visit South Carolina on this east coast portion of the trip. I visited Charleston when I was 6 or 7 years old, but other than that brief introduction, I have spent zero time in South Carolina. I have seen pictures of the coastline, and I think I am in for a really nice time for the next 5-6 days. My first night is in Myrtle Beach, which as far as I can discern is just one big beachside development. I am excited to move into less developed areas tomorrow as I plan to bird Huntington Beach State park before heading to Georgetown for the night. The weather this afternoon was just great when I arrived. I was able to find 5 Common moorhens (#157) along the road into Myrtle Beach, and I found my first Laughing gull (#158) of the year when I checked out the beach upon my arrival. 

Myrtle Beach

One bird that is causing me major headaches is Le Conte's sparrow. There is only 1 place in this state where they have been seen recently, and it is over 100 miles out of my way. This is a bird that is very tough to find unless you go its breeding grounds. I won't have time to do this in 2014 (it breeds in central Canada). I was thinking about trying to make it to the area where these birds have been seen, but the weather for the Tuesday and Wednesday when I would go is going to be atrocious - loads of rain and temperatures in the high 30s for 48 straight hours (***update, they are now calling for freezing rain except along the coast). Cold is manageable, and rain is manageable, but cold rain is the death nail. I reminded myself of this yesterday on my miserable morning ride to Wrightsville Beach. So, I am going to pass on these potential birds and just stick to the coast instead. This way I can make distance towards Florida, and I can spend a bit more time searching the coastal marshes for Seaside, Saltmarsh, and Nelson's sparrows. I am not sure I will have another chance at Le Conte's, I just feel that given the weather it would be so miserable it isn't worth doing. Plus, as we all know, nothing is for certain when chasing birds.  Maybe I'll get one further south or on the Gulf Coast, but I'm not counting on it. Here's a photo of a Le Conte's sparrow I took in Massachusetts. This was the single most cooperative Le Conte's sparrow in the history of the universe. It was feeding on the roadside where I almost drove over it! Its perhaps the most beautiful sparrow we have in North America.

HA! Dorian is never going to find me in 2014!


  1. Hi Dorian,

    You should be able to get Le Conte's fairly easily on the Texas Coast in April.

  2. Dorian, not exactly an issue in this entry, but it is often unclear which state you are in when you mention town names (and your maps often show no easily identifiable features so they too are unclear). If you could put ", State" after town names in your blog entries, it would be greatly appreciated! Keep up the good work!

  3. I found a Le Conte's Sparrow visually in the fall of 2012 and I agree, it is the prettiest sparrow. Although a Fox Sparrow comes close.

    Actually that Le Conte's Sparrow was probably the birding highlight of 2012 for me.