Notes for Newcomers: Birds of a Feather

By Phil La Borie

Notes for Newcomers: Birds of a Feather

I’ve always loved watching birds – especially here in South Carolina, where there seems to be an endless supply of all colors and kinds. There’s also something very remarkable about their flights of fancy; the way they swoop and soar so effortlessly. The long and short of it is that I get a real kick out of looking at them and listening to them.

However, since I’m not always certain what birds I’m looking at, from time to time, I consult my ancient bird book, Bird Guide: Land Birds East of the Rockies, by Chester A. Reed.

The book was originally published in 1906 in Garden City, New York. (A town I spent considerable time in many years ago, and where I once saw an irate Blue Jay actually peck a lady on the top of her head! Ouch!) Since I’m now I’m a resident of Garden City, South Carolina, it seems only right that I refer to the book once again.

Even better than the book’s old green cover with its faded gilt title and bird illustration is the loving inscription, written in pale blue ink on an inside page; “To Anna from Mother, Christmas, 1955.” I can only wonder how much use Anna made of the book, but I like to think of her poring over it on a snowy morning somewhere in New England, perhaps with a brace of bright red Cardinals sitting on some snow-covered Evergreen boughs in the background. Even if Anna wasn’t all that interested, Mr. Reed’s book has been a wonderful help to me in identifying birds over the years.

But since it’s seriously out of date, I decided that a trip to Huntington Beach State Park which is billed as “the best bird-watching location in South Carolina” was in order.

My park experience was truly exceptional – it’s no wonder that the park plays host to more than one million visitors every year!

According to Interpretive Park Ranger Mike Walker, “315 different species of birds have been seen here, that’s more than any other area in South Carolina.”

Mike says, “The reason this location is so popular with our feathered friends is the huge diversity of habitat we have in a relatively compact area. We have everything from maritime forests, sand dunes and ocean beach to salt, freshwater, brackish and shrub marshes and even a rocky coastline. OK, so the ‘rocky’ coast is actually a man made jetty with a walkway that offers great ocean views, but the birds don’t care and think it’s a pretty cool spot to hang out.”

He added that, “The two bird species we get the most questions about are the male Painted Buntings and the Roseate Spoonbills. They both sport incredible color, and folks want to know when they arrive, how long they’re in residence and where they can be seen. The Buntings arrive between the first and second weeks in April and leave in mid-September. They can most easily be seen at the feeders behind the Nature Center (which is a trip in itself, by the way).”

“The Spoonbills usually arrive the first week in July, but sometimes come even earlier. They leave for points further south between September and the end of November, and when they’re here can most easily be seen from the causeway when the fresh and salt water marshes are at low tide.”

If you’ve ever seen these particular species in person or even pictures of them, you’ll understand why folks come from far and near to Huntington to see these and the amazing profusion of other birds in the park.

In fact, when I checked out the parking lot, I saw license plates from as far away as Colorado, Iowa, New York, and Pennsylvania, as well as several vehicles sporting South Carolina plates. And it is still winter, also a great time to go birding.

Then, armed with all these great facts and an amazing set of easy-to-adjust binoculars (if you’ve ever tried to use this instrument, you know how tricky finding a focus can be), Park Naturalist Danny Susral took me on a golf cart tour of the park.

It was quite an experience!

While it was freezing cold, the sun was out and so were the birds! I saw everything from a Bald Eagle sitting watch over his or her nest high in a dead tree overlooking the marsh to a Peregrine Falcon swooping low over the channel leading from the ocean to the salt marsh.

As we were driving down the long driveway leading to Atalaya, the former winter home of Archer and Anna Huntington who founded the park; Danny told me, “At the right time of year you might even see Green Herons and Night Herons as well as a wide variety of Wood and Teal Ducks.”

When I asked why so many folks were so interested in birding, he said that, at least in his case, it could be a once in a lifetime experience.

“If you keep your eyes peeled, you might, just might see some species that you’ll never, ever see again. Some of these birds are just that rare.”

I could go on and on about Huntington, but better yet, go see it for yourself. If you’re interested birding, the park offers guided walks every Wednesday at 10 am from March through October.

If you’d like to learn what birds were sighted recently at Huntington, simply go to ebird.org. You can easily find the latest information.

One last tidbit: Motoring down the driveway, I noticed several signs that read, “Feeding Alligators is prohibited!”

My guide told me that since alligators aren’t the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, once they get an easy meal, they rather come to expect it. And, a visitor’s failure to produce a little snack on demand can sometimes lead to unpleasant consequences.

Just something to keep in mind.

About this writer

  • Phil La Borie Phil La Borie is an award-winning writer/artist based in Garden City, South Carolina. His work has been published in AdWeek, The Kaiser-Permanente Journal, Westworld Magazine and online at smilesforall.com. Phil is the 2015 winner of the Alice Conger Patterson Award offered through the Emrys Foundation. He can be reached at plaborie@voxinc.net.

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2 Responses to “Notes for Newcomers: Birds of a Feather”

  1. Phil, your revelations about the area appeal to me so much, they entice me to your part of the country. Maybe this summer we will motor to the coast.

    • Linda says:

      Linda – Sorry to be so long in getting back to you.

      The Grand Strand is indeed a very special part of the world. Do come visit, but if you do venture this way during the summer months, be sure to bring your sunscreen!

      The beach is marvelous, sunscreen makes it superb!

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