Friday, February 14, 2014

Feb 14 (Day 45) - Seaside Sparrow, Shorebirds around Charleston

Today was a very nice day around Sullivan's Island and Mt. Pleasant. There was a fair amount of wind all day today which complicated the sparrow hunt, but it was at least partially successful as I located a number of Seaside sparrows (#175). I arrived at the Pitt Street Bridge at 7am for the hide tide that occurred at the same time. Seaside, Nelson's, and Saltmarsh sparrow normally winter in tidal marshes. As the high tide floods the marsh, the sparrows tend to concentrate on higher ground or taller vegetation. Thus, one generally needs to search fewer areas at high tide versus low. I found a 3 Seaside sparrows in a clump of reeds not too far from the bridge. Over the course of the next 10 minutes, ~10 of these birds emerged from this same clump and flew out into the center of the marsh to forage. Despite my best efforts to turn one of the these into a Saltmarsh or Nelson's sparrow, I was unable to do so. I was not able to find either of these birds today. I did, however, find lots of Savannah sparrows and other marsh birds such as White Ibis and Tricolored heron at this spot.

Savannah sparrow from today

White Ibis from today

Tricolored heron from today

I also visited the Shem Creek boardwalk. This well-maintained path over the marsh is definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the the Charleston area. There weren't many birds present as the tide had dropped significantly by the time I arrived. The boardwalk also gives a nice view of some local fishing boats and Fort Sumter in the Charleston harbor. I did from this spot add American Oystercatcher (#176). After lunch near the boardwalk, I returned to the Pitt Street Bridge. The tide had dropped enough to expose a series of mudflats which now held a multitude of shorebirds. In addition to Willets, Dunlin, Semipalmated plovers, and Oystercatchers, I also found Marbled godwits (#177) and Short-billed dowitchers (#178). It was nice to compare all the various shorebirds at a medium distance. I also added Western sandpiper (#179) at the end of the day.

I tried to do some sea watching during the middle part of the day, but given the strong west winds, this wasn't going to work today. The wind was a headache all day. Given the tough birding conditions, I decided to try something new: beach biking. The pitch of the beach on Sullivan's Island is very shallow; This means that at low tide there are very wide, hard packed sandflats exposed. I decided to try biking along these flats. This turned out to be a fantastic decision. The sun was shining, the wind was at my back, there was no one else on the beach, and my blood pressure was lower than is has been in decades. I biked in a slow, rolling sinusoid, and I stopped periodically to examine the winding track behind me. I had absolutely nowhere to be, and I took full advantage of this as I repeatedly biked over the same ground just because it was possible. At one point, a small group of dolphins surfaced only 25 yards from the beach. They were playing with one another and slapping their tails on the water as the rolled around in what seemed like waist deep water. A flock of Red knots zoomed by with purpose, and a Royal tern floated by with apparently less care than even I had at the time. It was a really surreal experience, and one that I will certainly never forget. So much of a big year, both in the traditional and bicycle styles, is rushing from place to place to find birds. It was so satisfying to let all that go for an hour and just enjoy the moment.

It looks as though I am going to be trapped in Charleston tomorrow by high winds that are going to blow between 20 and 40 MPH from the west - the exact direction I have to go. There is no way can I bike the 70 miles to my next stop under those conditions. There is nowhere to bail out half-way either.  I have to wait for a day with good conditions when I can make the whole ride. Ugh, another day lost to weather, and its surely going to be too windy to bird. On the bright side, I guess I can watch USA versus Russia in hockey tomorrow morning!


  1. Wow, wow, wow. Just caught wind of your blog. I am an avid birder, casual cyclist, who has thought about a biking big year for years; always thought of a southern route, ie Florida to California and back. I'd say after your Winter in the northeast, the rest should be a relative cakewalk. Sad that I am not on your route (Minnesota), as I would be honored to put you up. Truly inspiring.

  2. There's no crying in baseball!