Sunday, January 06, 2008

Charleston Christmas Bird Count

This was definitely a memorable Charleston Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for Jeff Mollenhauer and his crew, who were assigned to cover the Dewees Island portion of the count circle this year. Their trip started at 8:00am on December 31st in thick fog aboard the Dewees Island Ferry with an ominous forecast of 90% chance of showers. Although they could barely make out the shoreline of the creek through the thick fog, the temperature was a balmy 65 degrees. Many of the participants found it strange to be conducting a CBC in t-shirts.

The thick fog made it difficult to count birds at a distance in the salt marsh or ocean, so we focused much of our effort in the morning on counting woodland birds. Our best bird of the trip came at about 9:30am, a beautiful adult female Prairie Warbler! While we were counting a large flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers in a juniper out popped the Prairie Warbler. There was no mistaking the identification of this rare winter visitor to South Carolina, as we all got great looks its olive-green back and bright yellow under parts with distinct black streaks along the flanks. Prairie Warblers have only been seen on four of the last ten Charleston CBCs.

Another unusual bird for the Charleston CBC that was seen shortly thereafter was a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches. Red-breasted Nuthatches are an irruptive winter visitor in the coastal plain of South Carolina. During years of low food abundance in the north, these small nuthatches “irrupt” into the southern end of their wintering range. During the past 20 years, Red-breasted Nuthatches have only been seen on one Charleston CBC. This year is an irruption year for the Red-breasted Nuthatch and they have been reported throughout much of the coastal plain.

Some other highlights for the day were counting a roost of forty Black-crowned Night-Herons on a small pond; sorting through hundreds of resting Black Skimmers, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Western Sandpipers on the beach; watching more than seventy five North Gannets as they made spectacular dives for fish along the front beach of the island; and finding two Piping Plovers, one of South Carolina’s most imperiled species. As for the 90% chance of rain, thankfully we never saw a drop of it! We ended the day with much better visibility on the returning ferry and were able to spot a half dozen Common Loons in the creek and an adult Bald Eagle perched in a dead snag overlooking the salt marsh.

Special thanks to the rest of the team: Mark Musselman, Erin & John Sabine, Joe Fontaine, Linda Zinnikas, and especially Jonathan Lutz for guiding us and providing transportation on the island.

The totals for the count will be posted shortly at our new webpage Images by Joseph McAlhany, Jr.

Here is information from Bill Hilton, Jr. for a Piedmont CBC in York County.

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