Huntington Beach

Trip Video Produced by David Shuford


A favorite Churchill quote comes to mind “The length of this document defends it well against the risk of its being read.” A large gaggle/flock/group of more than 30 Birders escaped the snow and ice for a tremendous weekend in South Carolina.  We braved the 60-degree weather toenjoy two-plus days in abundant sunshine to observe 137 species of birds. Reptilian count came in at only two species with multiple sightings – all sizes- of American Alligators and one slightly deceased Legless Lizard nicknamed Legolas.  Throw in a pod of Dolphins and a few – well, more than a few -dragonfly-sized mosquitoes and what more could you want?  Excellent accommodations/hospitality at the Litchfield Inn contributed hugely to the success of the weekend. Common Loon photo by Don Adamick. 

Our travel day, Friday, saw the experienced team of Dickinson, Morris, Shuford & Reiskind scouting the Conway area and the experienced team of Thompson& Thompson scouting the Charleston area.  Both teams had very productive results which are included in the official trip count.  The Conway group located a female Common Goldeneye. The majority of the group met at 6:00 in Litchfield’s Spirit Room to reacquaint and discuss the upcoming tours of Huntington Beach State Park and Santee Coastal Reserve.


We left the park’s Carriage Path and trooped over to the beach where the intensity increased.  On the beach front, we immediately began seeing Common and Red-throated Loons, Double-crested Cormorants and Bonaparte’s Gulls directly in front of us with a sizable group of Horned Grebes off to the right. Scanning to the left, we saw another sizable group of Horned Grebes (photo left by Cindy Thompson). Groups of Willets, Western Sandpipers and Sanderlines also fed at water’s edge. And, then there were the dozens of Red Knots – a threatened species.


Someone stated that Red Knots (photo left by Sven Halling) often travel in such flocks causing Rob Rogers, our group leader, to go charging down the beach as if on a mission.  Catching up to the flock, he began ticking off field marks and although winter shore birds can be tough, the id began to add up to Red Knots.  Members of the group began to trickle up and the debate ensued.  Killian Robinson took the point and moved closer to the flock.  Returning from his advanced reconnaissance, he reported that one of the birds was tagged,left leg, with the lime green flag 5A4.  That cinched the id and added to the enjoyment of the experience.  Howard Coston eventually ID’d four tags – including 5A4, he added 36T, K4A and 7HT. 7HT also had a yellow band on the right leg that held some sort of transponder.As we tired of observing the flock, we looked to the left and saw another group of Horned Grebes.  Another group of Horned Grebes was in front with yet a third group to the right.  A short break for lunch and it was time for the afternoon jaunt.  Ron Morris and Phil Dickinson led a small group to the Education Center boardwalk and located a Nelson’s Sparrow.


The larger group staggered their departure for the deceptively close appearing Jetty, breaking into smaller groups of 2, 5, 7…etc.  Along the way they observed loons,Red-breasted Mergansers and, you guessed it, Horned Grebes.   Having covered two-thirds of the distance to the Jetty a group of several were scoping loons trying to find a Pacific Loon (no luck) when Cynthia Donaldson asked”what is that black bird?”  Her next sentence, “it just attacked a sea gull!” grabbed everyone’s attention.  We began calling field marks and quickly concluded that it was the Parasitic Jaeger that had been observed during the CBC. Beach birders photo by Heather Moir.


Somewhere down the beach, Jeff Turner witnessed the same attack and came up with the same identification.  The bird was tracked until we lost sight of it as it flewover the unsuspecting group of birders on the jetty.  Completing the 1.2miles to the jetty, groups began to reassemble and catch their breath. The opposite jetty yielded scoped views of Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstone, Semi-palmated Plover, Western Sandpiper and several gulls.  The more interesting species observed were Razorbill and Piping Plover (some pronounce it like clover and some like “plahver”) as well as Purple Sandpiper. Piping Plover photo left and Razorbill photo below by Jeff Turner.


Sunday morning, we left at 7:30 headed for the Santee Coastal Reserve near McLellanville. Just inside the entrance, mature pine trees were marked with white rings indicating the possibility of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.  Judi Durr urged us to stop and we began scanning the forest.  Just as we were preparing to”saddle up” and move on, sharp ears/eyes (more on that later) said to wait another moment.  We were rewarded by sighting a flock of 7-10Red-cockaded.  All (including Cindy Thompson) got excellent, extended view of the foraging birds.  The mixed flock included White-breasted,Brown-headed Nuthatch, Blue Headed Vireo, Purple Finch, Pine Warbler, and a possible Orange-crowned Warbler.  We proceeded to the South Santee River area to walk around the impoundments along the Big Well Trail.  We had good looks at a Marsh Wren and some members located a Sedge Wren.  Ducks included Blue and Green Winged Teal, American Widgeon, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, Hooded Merganser and Northern Shoveler.  The ducks were overflown by alarge number of Tree Swallows. 


Approaching the 3rd impoundment pond, we had a scare as multiple shotgun blasts rang out -the consensus is that it was at the hands of poachers out on the river. Palm Warbler was seen by some of the group as we walked out.  In the parking area, we were treated to a pod of dolphins swimming around the fishing pier.  The group split for lunch and most headed to the Morrison’s house in McClellanville for a special treat.  The magnanimous Mr. Morrison came out to welcome the group to his back yard.  There, we observed the Buff-bellied Hummingbird (photo by Cindy Thompson) that has been visiting his feeders since December.  A smaller group stopped back by the Audubon shopon Pawley’s Island to observe a Ruby-throated Hummingbird visiting the feeders there.  We missed the reported Baltimore Oriole, but we concluded that hummers and orioles cannot read – else they would have headed south long ago!

We met back in the Spirit Room to wind down and share tales of the two-day event.  We all agreed that we have an excellent and congenial group that genuinely enjoys each other’s company and the experiences that we have.  We checked our observations against the “checklist” and topped out at 136species.  That was not to be the final count.  A couple of small groups were to press on the following morning. One group decided to bird the salt marsh on either side of the road leading tot he Litchfield Inn.  There, Heather Moir, Bruce & Nita Colvin, Brent& Carol Gearhart along with Rob Rogers had extended looks at a pair of Nelson’s Sparrows.  It was a lifer for the entire group.  A second team, Phil Dickinson, Ron Morris, Jeremy Reiskind and David Shuford went to the  Oyster-recycling boat launch.  They located a warbler wave consisting of Palm, Pine, Yellow Rump, Orange-crowned and Yellow-throated – that’s right – Yellow-throated raise the final species count to 137 and proved that warblers cannot read either.  Second final count now stands at 137 139 counting the Charleston birds).  Keeping with tradition, there are a few awards to hand out.  This year, we are not going Gangnam but we are going Hunger Games on the Eagle Eye award. Meaning – there is a Male and Female winner.  The Eagle Eye Female winner- Cynthia Donaldson.  To her credit goes the Seaside Sparrow, Red-cockaded and Parasitic Jaeger.   Male winner – Jeff Turner.  To his credit goes the Eared Grebe, Barred Owl and the Parasitic Jaeger as well. Congratulations to both!   Best Point Man Award goes to Killian Robinson.  He fearlessly reconnoitered the Red Knots to report the tagged bird on Saturday.  Sunday, with total disregard to personal safety, he charged into the withering shotgun fire to scout the third impoundment pond.  Congratulations, Killian.  The Nemesis Eliminator Award goes to Cindy Thompson.  Despite her best efforts to avoid seeing the Red-cockadeds, she gave up and watched the flock until the group pulled her away.  Congratulations, Cindy!

Submitted by Trip Leader Rob Rogers

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