SIB Travels: Hammock Coastal Bird Festival

In October, we published a blog telling you about a scheduled Bird Festival sponsored by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce called Hammock Coastal Bird Festival. Melanie Jerome, Jennifer Jerome, Susan Markum and Judy Morr decided to have a “girls weekend” to participate. After finding a 4 bedroom condo, deciding on meals (the conference provided dinners), we could focus on BIRDS!

We easily agreed on which of the wide variety of tours to register. Mark, from the Chamber, worked with us to be sure we all got on the same tours. The weekend was a success with 94 species identified…Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Mute Swans, Screech Owls, and more!

Friday morning we arrived early to Hobcaw Barony. While waiting for the tour, we saw Purple Finch at a feeder. A small bus took us on an 11 mile tour of this 16,000 acre property. It is a private reserve dedicated to history, ecology and research. Our tour stopped to see the Red-cockaded Woodpecker boxes, ponds, fields and the mudflats of the Wacammaw River. Although we didn’t see the Red-cockaded woodpecker, we did see 45 species. Three Northern Harrier flying over while viewing the mixed flock of Oyster Catchers, Willets and Greater Yellowlegs was probably the highlight of this tour.

Friday afternoon we decided to do our own tour of Huntington Beach State Park. The Mute Swan was gracefully swimming on Mullet Pond along with literally hundreds of Gadwall. Melanie and Jennifer opted at 3:00 to watch Purple Haze, about the Purple Martins while Susan and Judy stayed at Huntington Beach to search for the American Bittern…to no luck. We did see a fine display of birds at the Nature Center feeders including my favorite…a Black-and-white Warbler. We were disappointed that no birds came to eat the peanut butter and jelly the rangers put out in cups. I wonder what they were hoping to get? The rain held off so it was a much better day than we expected.

Grainger McKoy’s Clapper Rail

Saturday was all about Brookgreen Gardens (and the rain). It was forecast to rain all day but luckily the morning was just a light drizzle. The guide of our walking tour (31 species seen) told us much about the history of this 9,100 acre property where only a small portion is the noted statuary gardens. We next had a barge tour (13 species) on the canals feeding the historic rice fields.

In free time between tours, we walked over to the Bliefield Gallery, getting our first Dark-eyed Junco along the way. The gallery includes many bird carvings by Grainger McKoy. Although these birds didn’t make it to any eBird lists or counts for the weekend, we were impressed with the detail of the sculptures.

Screech Owl at Brookgreen Gardens – Susan Markum

Our last tour on Saturday was another bus tour, this time through the long-leaf pines of Brookgreen. Our tour guide knew the route and stopped just short of a tree with a Red-cockaded Woodpecker hole. He said more likely to be seen was a curious Screech Owl who would often look out of his hole to watch the visitors. He was right! An adorable Screech Owl posed for us to take his picture.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker – Susan Markum

At Brookgreen Gardens, the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers make their own nest holes, unlike the human assisted boxes we saw at Hobcaw Barony. The tour guide wasn’t promising any sightings but the birders were confident. We heard them calling to each other then we got a brief glimpse as two flew away. Then two more flew. We were able to see where two flew into a nearby tree. The guide had lost control of his tour as we refused to get back on the bus until everyone was able to see at least one of the pair.

Small part of Wild Turkey flock at Brookgreen Garden – Susan Markum

As we came back through the parking lot, it started to rain harder. The 28 Wild Turkeys roaming the parking lot didn’t seem to mind. After we got off the bus, several of the die-hard birders went back to that area to not only see the turkeys but to search for the Great Horned Owl nest the guide had pointed out as we drove by. We were able to see it stick its head out of nest…I’m sure to laugh at those crazy humans standing in the rain. This last tour resulted in 21 reported species.

Red-tailed Hawk with lunch at Yawkey Wildlife Center – Susan Markum

3 inches of rain let loose Saturday night meaning the mudflats at Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center were more water than mud. The sun was shining and we were in a bus so it was a great tour with very bird knowledgeable guides from SCDNR. We saw 63 species just on Sunday! White Pelicans, American Avocets and a good view of four Wilson Snipes were among the highlights. A Red-tail Hawk conveniently flew in with his lunch to impress us. Towards the end of the morning, the entire group helped me see the Glossy Ibis…they were concerned I really wouldn’t leave until I saw one. Unfortunately, no picture was possible.

A lot of birding in 3 long days but well worth the trip to Georgetown. The “girls” are already talking about what festival we’ll attend next.

Submitted by: Judy Morr
Photos by Susan Markum, Melanie Jerome and Jennifer Jerome

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