Congaree National Park, SC May 6–7, 2006
By Robin Carter
I have just returned from guiding the Carolina Bird Club special field trip to Congaree National Park and nearby areas. We had a great time and saw or heard about 95 species of birds, without going to a marsh or lake. We stayed in Sumter, SC, which is fairly close to Congaree National Park and very close to the other main destinations for the weekend, Manchester State Forest and Longleaf Pine Heritage Preserve. The weather was good on Saturday, but this morning (Sunday) we had a period of hard rain, which disrupted the trip.
We left Sumter at 5:30 AM (ouch!) Saturday morning, in order to be at a Red-cockaded Woodpecker cluster in Manchester State Forest at dawn. We were rewarded by great looks at a Red-cockaded Woodpecker for about 10 minutes as it flew from tree to tree near its roost tree. Later we went down to the floodplain of the Wateree River (the Beidler Tract of Manchester State Forest). Here a Swainson's Warbler responded to our recording playback by perching in the open for about 3 minutes, singing all the while. It was one of the best looks that I have ever had at a Swainson's Warbler.
After walking on an old hunt club road into the floodplain for a while we went to the agricultural area near Wedgefield, where Lloyd Moon discovered the July congregation of Swallow-tailed Kites a few years ago. We saw no kites there, but did encounter several hundred Bobolinks. We spent some time trying to get a look at one of the local Painted Buntings, but only heard them at Wedgefield.
From the Wedgefield area we went to an agricultural area near Eastover in Richland County. Here we got glimpses of a pair of Painted Buntings, and we got excellent looks at about 7 Mississippi Kites as they kited over some grain fields.
We then drove to nearby Congaree National Park for a picnic lunch and a short hike into the floodplain after lunch. We got a good look at a migrant Ovenbird, but were unable to get more than a glimpse of a singing Kentucky Warbler. The Prothonotary Warblers at Congaree were very impressive.
From the main part of Congaree National Park we drove over to the US 601 bridge over the Congaree River, where we were able to admire the Barn and Cliff Swallows that are nesting under the bridge. Then we returned to Sumter.
A small group of hard-core birders accompanied me on an evening trip to Manchester State Forest, where we searched for Chuck-will's-widows on the back roads. We did not see any goatsucker on the roads, but we heard 28 Chuck-will's-widows and 4 Whip-poor-wills calling, some very close to the road.
This morning (Sunday morning), despite the threat of hard rain, we left Sumter at 7:30 AM. First we explored the agricultural lands along Bethany Road, just south of the village of Mayesville. We saw a couple of Loggerhead Shrikes and got glimpses of Horned Larks over the corn fields. We got great telescope views of Grasshopper Sparrows on the roadsides, and also found another large flock of Bobolinks.
As the rain was beginning we drove up to Lynchburg Savanna Heritage Preserve in nearby Lee County. Since there was some lightning, and since the rain looked like it might keep up all day I declared the field trip over. Some of us stayed around, and in about a half hour the rain let up. The few participants that remained came with me over to Longleaf Pine Heritage Preserve, which is five miles from Lynchburg Savanna Heritage Preserve. We were able to take advantage of an hour-long break in the rain and hiked in to the savanna at Longleaf Pine HP. We saw lots of birds, including a pair of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers that appeared to be attending a nest and a good look at a Bachman's Sparrow. The best bird was a migrant Willow Flycatcher, which we heard calling ("fitz-bew") and which we studied for several minutes. We were able to get back to the cars before the skies opened up again.
We had a great weekend, getting some good looks at a few specialty birds.