Baby Gators

Baby Gators
Sunning Baby Gators

Sunday, April 20, 2014

My South Carolina Visit to a New Friend, Part IV, A Walk on the Beach

For the morning of the last day of my visit, Laurel wanted to share her favorite area on Edisto Island Beach.  To get there we had to cross an inlet that cannot be crossed easily except near low tide. We had to get across it, then enjoy a few miles of walking in mostly solitude with feeding birds while enjoying the clouds and water.  Then we would have to rush back to make the crossing again before the tide got too high.

My camera wasn't working and I thought it might have died. Laurel offered to share her little camera with me - she wasn't taking her expensive one where it could possibly get wet; but I told her, just to let me have her pictures.  (The camera just needed a charged battery and is working fine now.)

So, once more we got up early and had coffee and a wonderful smoothie.  Laurel put things like yogurt, kale and pineapple in it and it was both delicious and filling. Then we drove to the beach, only a few blocks from her condo. and started our walk.  We were there, under cloudy skies, just before sunrise time, and only a man walking his dog was sharing the lovely view with us. In a few minutes of walking we got to the inlet.  Laurel waded in and checked the water level, but it was still quite high.  But in a few minutes she waded across and then told me to come over on the same path.  Did I mention that Laurel, like most people are, is taller than me?  The water reached her just above her knees but hit me closer to my mid thighs.

Coming across the inlet

But I made it across and we continued down the beach, this time behind expensive homes that had the only land access.  We saw few people the entire trip  but one couple had clearly come from the one of houses. They were in long, dry pants.  The sun was working hard to drive off the clouds as we crossed the inlet. It made the mudflats shiney and backlit the birds.   We looked for treasures -  shells, coral, beach glass and birds. More and more birds arrived and  began feeding. My favorites were the oyster catchers but we saw gulls. terns, plovers and sandpipers.

Walking under a watery sun



Terns and gulls 
Heading back

Ruddy turnstone

Wilson's Plover

All too soon, it was time to head back.  After Laurel told me the time when we would have to turn around, she wanted to add another 10 minutes to the outgoing trip.  I negotiated for just five more minutes. Even with that small amount of extra time,  the water was higher and I ended up getting wet to my waist. But I had on paddling clothes and they were dry by the time we go to the car.  The accessible beach had come alive with people looking for treasure, walking dogs, hauling their gear for a day of fishing, taking a brisk walk, or just strolling. A few brave kids were wading in the cold water.

This was STILL not the end of our adventures. We managed to get in another paddle in the evening - this time up Bay Creek into Scott Creek.  We paddled by the State Park and were finally stopped by the highway which prevents the water from going further inland.  We didn't take any pictures on this trip since we didn't expect many birds.  We went up just before high tide and then raced home in front of threatening clouds.

The clouds waited until we go home to drop their load.  It rained off and on through the night and most of the way back to Okefenokee the next day.  This made these adventures all the more miraculous - we were under an 80% chance of rain every day but had some sun and no rain directly on us, although we drove through a few showers while birding.

Thus ended day three of my visit.  Thanks again, Laurel, for giving me such a wonderful time and letting me use your beautiful pictures.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My South Carolina Visit to a New Friend, Part III: Birding All Day

On the second day of my visit to Laurel, we went to two Wildlife Management areas, Bear Island WMA and Donnelley WMA.  The forecast was for the entire weekend to be rainey, and this day turned out to be the closest to the prediction.  The skies were mostly really dark and we didn't get many pictures.  I had particular trouble because my camera up and died the evening before.  I tried all my batteries but none started the camera.  I had forgotten to bring my charger so tried not to worry too much that somehow my camera had died after only a few months of use. (It WAS the batteries and it's working fine now.) Laurel gave me a little camera that could not handle the low light and perhaps not the operator either. So most of these pictures were taken by Laurel.  Again we got up early, drove an hour and were birding at sunrise. 

Black-necked stilts were everywhere - must have just arrived

We also had several avocets.  We took lots of pictures of them

Laurel also caught several in flight - I think she go one photograph of every avocet there

We were surprised to find lots of shovelers and blue-winged teal still around.  But with the combination of terrible light and the birds maintaining their distance, neither of us got decent pictures of them. 

Snowy and reflection


Double-crested cormorant looking much prettier than usual
We mostly drove around but also took several short walks and then a long one - probably around three miles.  However, we saw few birds, but did get a wood stork.  

Fiddler crab hanging to the end of my stick

Almost as soon as we got back to the car, it started to rain. That was just a shower and we had time to go to Donnelley NWR where we just drove around, stopping to get pictures. It then rained most of the night. So, other than light that made for less then great pictures, we had a wonderful time and saw lots of species of birds. We saw all the herons except for yellow-headed night herons. Also woodstorks, ospreys - on the nest - and a very bedraggled young American eagle as well as  lots of small birds.  I reported 60 species for the day. 

We got distracted by the first of the year iris - by me

And a bumblebee on a thistle bloom -  by me

We found twenty white pelicans, many of which were juveniles - by me

We had to take the picture of the wild azalea- love the color and shape - by me

We took sandwiches for lunch and then had a lovely supper of broiled chicken and vegetables and a wonderful salad. I think I had three helpings of the salad. 

Thus ended the second day of a  wonderful visit that was turning out to be way too short. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My South Carolina Visit to a New Friend, Part II: A Visit to Botany Bay WMA

Laurel is one of the most dynamic people I've met. She must have noticed that I don't handle doing nothing well, so she blitzed me with activities. By the time we finished our paddle and lunch, she still had another place to take me for most of the afternoon. Before we left, we had time to take a little break to give the animals time to take their midday naps, and to allow us to get over lunch. Then we drove a few miles from her house to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve/Wildlife Management Area.

The road to it is one of the most photographed roads in the state.  I, of course, had to take a few more photographs of the beautiful trees arcing and interlacing over the dirt road.

We started by visiting the bird feeders at the office and the surrounding vegetation. The best bird there was a female painted bunting.  Then we went to the site of an old plantation house. The house burned down but an ice house remains. It was one of the prettiest buildings I've seen.

Honey bee working the rampant wisteria

Laurel at the door to the ice house

One of the views I admired

After driving around the refuge, looking for birds,  and enjoying the views, we went to the beach.  It has a boneyard, where the ocean is flooding out trees.  A few are still standing, but many are laying on the ground.  Some look like works of art. I amused myself, while editing the pictures, by making several versions of this one.  This is the posterized version.

Tree roots in the boneyard

People are not allowed to collect any shells or artifacts here. So people pick up the shells and then use them to decorate sand houses, attach them to trees, or arrange them on the fallen trunks of trees.

Shell - decorated tree

Wilson's plover racing the waves

Anemone in world's smallest tide pool - a rotted piling 

One of these is not like the others - all are growing on downed trees

The day's most perfect shell - a knobbed whelk - I snuck its picture out

Day is almost done and so are we

Thus ended the first day of my visit with Laurel. And a fine one it was.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My South Carolina Visit to a New Friend Part I: Kayaking on Edisto Island

While working at the Visitor Center at Okefenokee NWR one day, I had a few visits with a very friendly and knowledgeable lady who was interested in finding birds and flowers to photograph.  I advised her to go on the Sunset Tour to get the best chance of finding our big  birds and  pretty landscapes.  I was also planning on going on that tour - one of the perks is that we can join tours that aren't full - and the two of us met there again and  took over the front seats so we could easily photograph anything that came along.

We enjoyed sharing each other's finds and irritated the guide who wanted to not be interrupted by bird sightings while telling his stories, but we did find a lot of birds.  I remember the barred owl and several flights of sandhill cranes.  We also had a gorgeous sunset and a full moon rising so got lots of pictures.

I gave her my card and soon had a message in my inbox, inviting me to come visit her in South Carolina.  When we looked for mutual openings in our calenders, we only had one weekend that was free for the both of us.  That was this past weekend. To encourage me to come, she told me she had two kayaks and would take paddling,  to a wonderful birding place and for walks on the beach.

I got in to Edisto Island, SC, just in time to go with Laurel to see the beach along the Atlantic ocean.  The next morning we got up, and after a good breakfast, gathered up our paddling rear and started off.  She stores her kayaks at a kayak rental place on Bay Creek so we just hauled our paddles, life jackets, water, and snacks down to the dock. We had to go on a low or high tide and that meant we had to paddle early in the morning. We got to the dock just before sunrise and were on the water in time to receive the gift of a beautiful sunrise.

First View of Bay Creek. Can you find Laurel adjusting my foot pegs?

Laurel's picture of me enjoying the sunrise

My picture of Laurel enjoying the sunrise
 We  left around low tide and  paddled out towards the Atlantic. Soon we turned into Mud Creek.

The water there was so smooth that we enjoyed taking pictures of each other and our reflections, above the clouds.

Laurel between the clouds
The creek soon got much smaller as it wound though the marsh. .  The curves got tighter, and had more mudflats that held lots of birds. We  got to watch  a clapper rail taking a drink. The creek also had lots of oyster beds, which at low tide, were out of the water.

We saw lots of dunlin

And many greater Yellowlegs

Mud Creek View


Approaching one of many oyster beds and a tight turn
Closeup of oysters

Oysters backlit

Finally the creek was too narrow and shallow to go any further so we turned around and started back. After we came back out of the creek, we paddled around in Bay Creek near where there is an outlet to the Atlantic Ocean, and watched for dolphins.  Soon we were seeing two, then three or more. There was a mother and baby jumping in unison.  I was only able to get this much of one of them. 


As we came back into the developed area, we saw lots of birds sitting on piers taking their midday rest.

Laughing gull with wind-blown feathers. 

Brown pelicans have amazing blue eyes

I wasn't ready to come back but Laurel promised me a low country boil for lunch.  AND another adventure at Botany Bay.We stopped next door to the kayak rental company and got shrimp. I felt like a princess because Laurel didn't let me do anything.  (I often do the cooking when visiting friends.) She got the corn and potatoes cooking then added the sausage and shrimp.  The we feasted until we were stuffed.

I had a very good adventure with a lady who just got more and more fun and interesting as we discovered how much we have in common.  Thus ended our first morning together. But there was to be another adventure in the afternoon. Stay tuned.

On a personal note, I'm leaving on  Sunday, April 13, as this blog comes out. I'll visit Julie and meet her family, then visit my old friend, Hulin in Louisiana. Then its on to a round of parties, adventures, and doctor visits in Texas.  I'll be sharing a lot of these adventures with you and then you can follow me to Montana.  I expect to arrive up there May 7, if enough snow melts for my little Honda to make the last 50 miles.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Stupendous Day

Last Wednesday was possibly the most awesome day of work I've done here. My boss, Gracie,  paired me and a new volunteer friend, Barbara Kramer, up to roam together. I suggested we roam on our bikes but she couldn't carry her big camera so counter suggested we get the little electric cart so loved by Judy Bell, another blogging volunteer friend who has worked here in the past.

Here are my reasons for choosing it as the best workday of my stay here.

Reason One - I got to enjoy Barbara's enthusiasm.  She is way into birds and flowers.

Barbara taking her turn at driving the cart

Reason Two  - I got to appreciate Barbara's passion. It comes through in conversation with our visitors and with me.

Reason Three - I got to delight in Barbara's humor and the back and forth between us.

Reason Four - I got the benefit of Barbara's knowledge. And both of got to learn new things. And take LOTS of pictures.

Reason Five - We had a ball driving the electric cart. It also let us get better views of wildflowers trying to hide out of view of the drivers along the auto tour. And we got to talk to a lot of the visitors passing by in cars.

Me driving the cart

Reason Six - I not only got lots of pictures of a Bachman's sparrow, but caught it singing. This is a very elusive bird who very quietly skulks among the saw palmetto fronds and is seldom seen.

Bachman's sparrow singing 

Reason Seven - We met several local families out with their children during spring break and enjoyed helping them see snakes, frogs, a racoon, and a red-shouldered hawk. We also explained the long-leaf pine ecosystem to other visitors. And we showed and discussed a moma racoon out foraging at noon along the boardwalk.

Nursing momo coon foraging at midday

Reason Eight - for the first AND second time, I finally had my camera when a Sherman fox squirrel was close enough to photograph and sat still for a few seconds. I got the same squirrel at different times of the day.

Sherman Fox Squirrel

Sherman Fox squirrel

Reason Nine - Barbara and I found the first of the year  Lady Finger Lupine (Lupinus villosus) blooming.

Add caption

Reason Ten - We got to get closeup views of the staff doing a controlled burn.

Controlled burn near the maintenance area

If Barbara hadn't had to leave at four, we probably would have had a hard time getting back by 7:00 P.M., although we usually are back around 4:15 PM. Stopping work is definitely harder than starting it.

I'm completing this blog on my next to the last day off before I leave here, if all goes well and I get packed up.   I'm just back from three wonderful and busy days, having fun with my new friend, Laurel who lives in South Carolina. (have material for a few blogs) I have four more days of work, then hopefully a visit to one of my new friends, Julie.  I'll leave a from her house and go see an old friend, Hulin, in South Louisiana.  I should get back in Galveston a week from this Thursday. I have a few parties to go to, a few doctor visits, and some adventures with my friend, Natalie. I'll migrate north in early May.