Huntington Beach State Park
January 7, 2015
On January 7, 2015, only a single intrepid birder (Michelle Combs) joined me for a late-addition day trip to Huntington Beach State Park in coastal South Carolina. With such a small group, we were able to really focus on learning the identification and ecology of a variety of coastal bird species from waterfowl to waders to sparrows. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, and bird activity was equally wonderful.
We began the day by birding along the causeway where we observed a variety of duck and wader species around Mullet Pond, including several Wood Storks. From there, we worked our way over to the visitor center area where we found both White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos in a large mixed passerine flock. Five American White Pelicans flying overhead were an unexpected treat. Walking out along the boardwalk behind the visitor center, we had brief looks at a Nelson’s Sparrow and lucked out when a Clapper Rail decided to walk around in the open for about five minutes! Excellent looks at a rather sulky bird. An adult Bald Eagle perched in the top of a nearby pine provided yet another distraction.
After a quick stop at Sandpiper Pond, where we observed an Osprey and a handful of ducks including Blue-winged Teal and Lesser Scaup, we made a quick jaunt to town for a lunch stop. Afterwards, we decided to complete the rather long walk along the beach to the jetty and hope for some ocean birds. Boy, we were not disappointed!
Gannets were abundant and close to shore, feeding on schools of fish moving by, and were joined by large numbers of pelicans, cormorants, and both Common and Red-throated Loons. Several hundred individuals of both loon species were present, and we were able to have some excellent comparisons of the two side-by-side at close range. Near the jetty itself, Black Scoters and Horned Grebes were scattered around not far from the rocks and we were able to pick out an adult male Surf Scoter at close range for good study. However, the real prize here was an adult male Common Eider that was associating with some scoters against the far jetty.
With the aid of a spotting scope, we were able to get some positively stunning looks at this magnificent bird! Shorebirds were plentiful here as well, although a scope was necessary to view most of them. Red Knots, Dunlin, Ruddy Turnstones, and Purple Sandpipers were feeding along the far jetty while brief views of a nearby Spotted Sandpiper feeding along the rocks provided a bit of a surprise. After returning to the car, we ended the day along the carriage path by Atalaya where we enjoyed Common Gallinules and Black-crowned Night-Herons in the reeds. All in all, a wonderful day was had by the two of us and we ended with 80 species for the day even though we weren’t actively trying to build up a huge species list for the day. Thanks to Michelle for making the day one to remember!