One of the perks of being a Junior Curator at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences is being able to go on some fun field trips to "naturey" kind of areas. This weekend we went camping at Edisto Island, south of Charleston. We arrived at the campsite around 10 pm Friday night (it was a long drive) and stumbled around in the dark setting up the tents. The "bird herd", myself and my fellow birders Sam and Edward, were in the same tent. Around 12:30 AM that night, I was busy listening to a very emphatic conversation in the neighboring campsite about strategies to stockpile ammunition, and how one of their guns had been stolen, used in a murder, and then returned to the guy with the blood still on it - when Edward shot up out of his sleeping bag and said "Chuck-will's-widow". We quickly unzipped the tent door, all three of us scrambling to get our heads outside, when the nightjar called again, from only about 100 feet away. A lifer for me, I was excited to hear this one.
That morning, some of us got up early and walked around the campsite. I got three year-listers there alone - Northern Parula, Wood Stork, and Yellow-throated Warbler, as well as more Chuck-will's-widows. We then headed out as a group to the beach. Five White-winged Scoters (a rarity in SC this time of year according to eBird) flew along the water, and we watched a Willet feed along the shoreline. I somewhat jokingly mentioned how the jetty would be a great place to see a Purple Sandpiper, and sure enough one was sitting on it. Number 150 for the year, and a lifer! Halfway to my goal of 300. Here is my mediocre photo:
Next in line was Botany Bay plantation, where I hoped to see Painted Buntings, but they were a no-show. Pine Siskins were feeding at the kiosk, though. We drove through the park, but it was raining and there wasn't much activity. After that, we visited the Serpentarium to check out some of the native snakes, such as Pygmy and Diamondback Rattlesnakes, as well as a Coral Snake. Even though they weren't birds, they were still very interesting.
The rain let up, and we headed down to ACE Basin NWR, and walked a short trail. I wasn't expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised. I moaned about how much it sucked that we (the "bird herd") have never seen or heard a rail, and within seconds a rail started calling from the marsh. It flew up briefly, and the red coloring combined with the slower call confirmed that the bird was a King Rail, a very elusive bird and another lifer. When I was waiting for the rail to reappear, an American Bittern flew by, another secretive marsh bird. On the way to dinner, we saw a colony of Purple Martins, finishing off our day of birding with a First-of-Year bird. After gorging on pizza, we headed back to the campsite. Some of us went out on a night hike hoping for owls. No luck, but several raccoons were prowling the marsh.
The next day was raining buckets, and we hustled to pack up our tents. Our last stop on the trip was the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, but our traffic was impeded by over a foot of water on the roads of downtown in some places (I'm not exaggerating). We eventually got there, and toured the aquarium for several hours. Out on the deck of the aquarium, we spotted several dolphins, a Bonaparte's gull, and a dozen Northern Gannets, which are always fun to observe. The trip to SC turned out to be a blast (despite the rain), and I came away with eight more birds for the year.