Trip to Huntington Beach State Park and Santee Coastal Reserve WMA Mar 13/14 2010
The weather forecast had been far from promising earlier in the week, but on the weekend, apart from strong winds at times, we enjoyed great birding weather.
On Saturday, I led a group of 12 participants at Huntington Beach State Park.
The individual experience level of the entire group ran the gamut from very experienced to first-time birders (it was literally the first bird outing for 3 of the group!).
We started by walking to the jetty area at the north end of the park: high tide was at 6 a.m. and the best time to be in that area for birds is around 2 to 3 hours of high tide; by going early we avoided the boaters who usually arrive after it warms up and flush the birds roosting at the sandy point.
We found a large flock of mixed shorebirds at the point including a pair of Wilson's Plovers, 3 Piping Plovers, and half a dozen American Oystercatchers. Trying to explain the differences between the commoner shorebirds to complete beginners was a challenge and I suspect that 2 of the beginners had already decided that birding was not for them.
At the jetty itself we saw distant Northern Gannets, half a dozen Common Loons, and caught a glimpse of 1 Purple Sandpiper as it flew to the breakwater across the inlet, but there was nothing unusual. (Razorbill and Long-tailed Duck had been reported a week earlier.)
The wind really picked up while we were at the jetty making it essential to keep a good hold on scopes, and the 1.3 mile walk back along the beach was more challenging than our comfortable stroll north.
After a picnic lunch at Atalaya we birded two areas around Mullet Pond, the carriageway and the causeway. The wind kept a lot of birds down and we did not find the number of ducks or the Black-crowned Night-herons I had seen when scouting the area a couple of days earlier.
The previous day Jerry Kerschner had reported a Ross's Goose at Surfside Beach. This bird would have been a lifer for 3 of our group and so 7 of us went to try to find it. We found the right place but not the Ross's Goose. However, we did add a few new birds to our trip list, including Wilson's Snipe.
On Sunday, a slightly smaller group of 9 went to the Santee Coastal Reserve WMA. We stopped along the entrance drive to check out the trees marked with white rings to indicate Red-cockaded Woodpecker roosting trees. After a few minutes we heard and then saw 4 RCWs. The birds were very cooperative and eventually flew to a few trees quite close to us. A good start to the morning!
We walked a shortened version of the 5+ miles hike/bike trail. The birding was varied and productive. Many of the ducks, of course, had already left the area and those remaining were very skittish—especially when a Peregrine Falcon soared overhead!
Highlights of the morning included 4 Black-necked Stilts, a soaring Wood Stork, a small flock (10–15) of Glossy Ibis, and my FOY White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Purple Martins (one already "settled" in a gourd near the start of the trail). We had an excellent morning's birding, aided by the fact that the notorious biting insects at Santee Coastal had either not yet arrived this year or had taken the day off! We never needed the bug spray we had taken along as a precautionary measure.
In all, we tallied 108 species (see below) which is not too bad for a day and a half in mid-March. Several birders in the group added a few species to their life-lists, which always makes a trip successful.
We dipped on some expected species such as Laughing Gull and Red-throated Loon (I had seen lots of both species earlier in the week) and some very common species were neither seen nor heard. But then - that's birding!
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Great Black-backed Gull
Eurasian Collared Dove