Monday, February 10, 2014

Feb 10 (Day 41) - New species everywhere, white-winged scoter steals the show!

I am really starting to like a long riding day followed by a birding heavy day. Yesterday I did 78 miles and minimal birding, and today I rode 38 miles and did 7 hours of uninterrupted birdwatching! I spent from 9am to 4pm just kicking around Huntington Beach State Park just south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I was hoping of find Seaside, Saltmarsh, and Nelson's sparrow, but I struck out on these. I did find a number of other species that I was missing, and I even had the chance to do some photography today. I have really missed real photography on this trip as I normally don't have the time or the right light. Huntington Beach has woodlands, marshes, and beaches/inlets. I imagine it would be possible to run up quite a  species total during a full day of birding in migration.

Myrtle Beach sunrise 

I picked up the introduced Eurasian collared dove (#159) on the ride south, and the year birds just kept coming all day. Upon arrival I immediately added Little blue heron (white phase, #160), Green-winged teal (#161), American white pelican (#162), and Lesser yellowlegs (#163). I can't believe it has taken me this long to tick the teal, but with so much water frozen in the northeast, I guess it's understandable. I saw loads of Brown Pelicans today, but just a single American white. For the purposes of a big year though, 1 is as good as 1,000! I also tacked on Tricolored heron (#164) for good measure.

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Record shot American white pelican

A better lit Little blue heron

After thoroughly covering the marsh section of the park, I headed out for a very long walk on the beach. Leaving the bike for any period of time is a real headache. It is possible to lock up the bike, but there is not easy way to secure the bags that are attached to it. Today I stashed my bags in the refuge office and then locked the bike up down at the end of the road. I carried with me my binoculars, the scope, and my camera. My goal was to walk the 1.25 miles down to Murrell's inlet. This was very easy on the packed sand that was exposed at low tide. Once I reached the inlet, I immediately added Red knot (#165) and Ruddy turnstone (#166). 

The walk to Murrell's Inlet

After a few additional scans of the inlet, I spent the better part of the next 2.5 hours chasing White-winged scoters around the jetty that flanked the inlet. I have seen thousands of White-winged scoters over the years, most of them in the northeast in the winter. From what I have gathered from local message boards, the southern US is experiencing a scoter invasion this winter. This is not completely surprising given how cold it has been farther north this year. There were also a few Common eiders and Long-tailed ducks in the inlet. Again, these birds are very unusual this far south.

Scoters normally float around several hundred yards off the beach; This makes photographing them near impossible. This was not the case today. There were a handful of birds (4) pushed right up against the jetty, and the birds were behaving more like Harlequin ducks than scoters. These were certainly the best looks I have ever had at this species. They were picking food right off the jetty rocks. They were so close that I finally came to appreciate how big their feet are. Scoters are diving sea ducks, and they normally make long dives to find crabs and other food on the sea floor below. As they were initiating their dives right next to the jetty, I was able to see their huge red feet as they did so. These huge feet act as giant propellers to move the birds along underwater. Now I understand how they can move so far on a single dive.For those in the photography know, both of these are just about full-framers. It was rally nice to shoot these guys on water with a bit of color to it!

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White-winged scoter 
(this one was a bit browner)

 White-winged scoter 
(this one was blacker)

Ruddy turnstone on jetty today

On the walk back from the jetty, I picked up Palm Wabler for #167. A final sweep of the marsh revealed several Clapper rails (#168) that were getting pushed into view by the rising tide. I was able to snap a quick shot of one of them for your viewing enjoyment. I also found a single Dunlin (#169). 

Sneaky Clapper rail peeking out

All told I added 11 birds to the year list today, and I had a generally fantastic day. The next two days are going to be atrocious, so it was nice to get a good day in before the cold and the rain arrive tomorrow. I am going to try to make it to Charleston (SC) tomorrow, so we'll see how it goes!


  1. There are a few spots for you to try for Saltmarsh Sparrow in Charleston. I was on vacation there in Nov and had them at the Shem Creek Boardwalk and the Pitt Street Causeway. Good numbers of Seaside Sparrows at both locations as well. Good luck. We are enjoying your journey.

  2. Nice to hear that you got a plentiful day of birding today. That total keeps gradually creeping up. Just wait until you get your first burst of spring migrants on the gulf coast!

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  4. Gorgeous photos, Dorian!!! It sounds like you're having a glorious trip.