I have been fortunate to have done a lot of traveling, both domestic and internationally, in my 35 years on the Blue Marble. However, one area that I have missed up until this point is The South. I have spent a bit of time in Virginia and Maryland, but these states feel to me a like a southern extension of the northeast (maybe because of the weather). The only part of North Carolina that I have visited is the Outer Banks, but these are beach communities more than anything else. I have also spent a fair amounts of time in both Texas and Florida, but I do not think of either of these states as particularly "Southern" despite their latitudes. The past week in South Carolina therefore represents what I would call my first Southern experience. I will say that I was thoroughly impressed with the state and its residents, and I would definitely considering a more extended visit at some point in the future. The weather was great, the people were incredible friendly, and the coastal plain provide some absolutely spectacular scenery. Access to some of the best birding areas can be a bit difficult, particularly on a bike. The upside of this is that there is much undeveloped land along the coast and in the vast basins that line it. I fully expect the Southern Hospitality to continue here in Georgia! There may be some major political differences between The Northeast and The South, but at the end of the day, the folks down here like a hamburger and a cold beer as much as anyone in Boston. I think the time I spend in the South will help dull, for the better, the hard New England edge that I sometimes brandish.
I started the day in Port Royal, SC. My plan was to kick around that area for a few hours, then head down to Savannah NWR in the afternoon. I knew that high tide was at 9:30am, and I also knew that high tide anywhere is generally the best time to search for marsh sparrows. The high tide forces the birds from owed areas towards to the few high areas in any marsh; High tide thus functions to concentrate the sparrows in small areas. I did have another flat tire this morning (#3), but thankfully it was also a slow leak from yesterday that I was able to handle before I rode out this morning. Not far into my ride, I found a nice marsh with some good clumps of spartina grass right near the road. Spishing and squeaking for a few minutes produced several Seaside sparrows. I was about to move on when a different Ammodramus sparrow suddenly appeared. I ID'd the bird as a Nelson's sparrow (#187), and it actually stuck around long enough for me to crack off a few serviceable frames to confirm the ID.
***Click for bigger images***
The spartina clump along the road
Manual focus to combat the reeds!
The afternoon was split between riding and the Savannah NWR. The refuge is quite a place. It has a very informative visitors center and a great 4-mile auto drive that I navigated on my bike with ease. Blue-winged teal were everywhere, as were American Coots and Common Moorhens. Other plentiful ducks included Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, and Green-winged teal. I also found a few Wilson's snipe, several Lesser yellowlegs, and a single Anhinga. At least 2 harriers floated over the impoundments looking intently for food below. I did add 2 additional species this afternoon. I was able to squeak out a male Common yellowthroat (#188), and I also flushed 2 Mottled ducks (#189) along the dikes. I also had looks at several alligators that were loafing in the afternoon sun. There will be no shortage of these as I make my way further south.
I rode 57 miles total between the 53 on the journey and the 4 around the refuge. Tomorrow I am going to head down to the mouth of the Savannah River to search for Saltmarsh sparrow. Several were reported here in eBird from the high tide yesterday morning, and I will bird that same high tide tomorrow with hopes of replicating these reports. I really want to find this bird bird tomorrow and find it early. I have an AMAZING invitation for Thursday morning, but it is an 80-mile ride from Savannah. Stay tuned for details on this offer if I can make it in time!