Trip report: SIB visits Bear Island and Donnelly

On February 16, a small group from SIB visited these wonderful Wildlife Management areas. Bob Mercer provided a wonderful trip report of the day we thought you would like to see.

Tundra Swans at Bear Island – Bob Mercer

Getting started at 5:30 AM is not everyone’s idea of a good time. The three people who made the effort to set out for Bear Island Wildlife Management Area were rewarded with a stunning sunrise over a foggy almost dry pond. Seeing Tundra Swans before they left the pond at dawn set the early departure time from Seabrook Island. With the pond almost dry, the only swans seen was a family unit of five birds on the far side of the road in excellent morning light. On the other hand, the herons, egrets, and ibis passed by or landed in the mudflats in large numbers. The mudflats also provided space for hundreds of shorebirds, most either backlit or far away. Those we could identify included both yellowlegs, Dunlin, and Killdeer. We would see another family unit of seven Tundra Swans later in the morning.

In the first few ponds, we spied a few Mottled Ducks and numerous Pied-billed Grebes. A pair of Bald Eagles sat close together in a tree close to the road. In the wooded sections we saw or heard many of the expected birds like the very vocal Pine Warblers.

As we rounded the corner of one pond, Ann and Shelly called out in unison, spoonbill! One lone individual in perfect light graced us with a good view. Also there, a flock of 140 American Coots clustered together slowly moved away from us. Here we found another Bald Eagle and our first Northern Shovelers.

After leaving the Pecan Grove, the pond contained our first large collection of duck—Northern Shovelers by the score. One hundred and forty or so American Avocets waded around swishing their bill back and forth feeding. Farther back were rafts of ducks too far for even the spotting scope to sort out the species.

Everywhere we stopped, we added new species. By the time we left about 11:30 AM, the list of species stood at 71 species. Nothing super rare, but still a respectable count.

The next stop—Donnelly Wildlife Management Area for a much-needed lunch and rest stop. During lunch an Eastern Meadowlark gave all a good view. We eventually saw 35 Eastern Meadowlarks rise up out of one of the fields and fly past, exciting, but not as good an opportunity to study the bird. Pine Warblers were singing everywhere in both WMAs, but we heard our first Yellow-throated Warbler in Donnelly. In the big pond, we found more Roseate Spoonbills and American White Pelicans (and at least 10 impressively large alligators).

On the way out of Donnelly, we stopped at the last big lake where a couple of Red-headed Woodpeckers gave a show.

Tallying up the list, we had 51 species at Donnelly and ended the day with a total of 81 species of birds.

Text and photos by Bob Mercer

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