05 January 2017

"...Nature, red in tooth and claw...," and recycling

Tues 3 Jan 2017

I've been counting Bulls Island for the Charleston Christmas Bird Count since the 1970s and was pleased to do so again yesterday. We had a wonderful group of four including Felicia Sanders (who graciously hauled us out to the island and back in her boat), Chris Snook, and Starr Hazard. Starr and I have very fond memories from prior CBCs of Felicia floating her Boston Whaler into the saltwater marsh grasses while chasing the three marsh sparrows; Felicia pulled that same trick again yesterday and we had Saltmarsh Sparrows and Seaside Sparrows so close that we didn't need binoculars to see them well. We also had Peregrine Falcon, American Oystercatchers, Common Loon, Western Sandpipers, Red-breasted Mergansers, and numerous Horned Grebes from the boat.

Starr and I counted the south half of the island and sent Felicia and Chris off to count the north half. We began walking around the picnic grounds, checked and recorded the weather data (temperature and rain fall), and looked up at the right moment to witness a mature Bald Eagle clutching a prey species fly into the top of one of the majestic live oak trees in front of the Dominick House. This Bald Eagle was more accommodating than even the raptors from The Center for Birds of Prey that have been trained to fly to specific perches. I quickly scoped this eagle-and-prey and was surprised to determine that the prey was a Tricolored Heron! I knew Bald Eagles would take fish and fowl, American Coots and Common Gallinules specifically, but wasn't aware that their diet included wading birds. Watch this short video to see yourself, but be prepared for the bloody content what with nature being "…red in tooth and claw…" (see below). It also vividly reminds me of Rudy Mancke's message of recycling, of taking Tricolored Heron and turning it into Bald Eagle.

Though that turned out to be the best highlight of the day, it wasn't the only one. Immediately after leaving the Bald Eagle to finish his meal, I joined Starr along a wet edge of the picnic grounds where he had found a large, mixed flock of warblers, sparrows, flickers, blackbirds, one Cedar Waxwing, and robins. Among that group was an Orange-crowned Warbler that I got two quick views of but that Starr, unfortunately, didn't get eyes on. Not to be overshadowed by all this avian activity, we also watched a fox squirrel move around the lawn. 

Lunch on the beach on Bulls is always a treat for me, even when the heavy overcast sky clears to bright overcast leaving the low winter sun to glare harshly off both sea and sand. (This great value of lunch out in the field, especially with the best of friends, has been reinforced through my association with the local Robert Lunz Group of the S.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club; lunch breaks are enjoyed by all on Sierra Club outings.) Through thin fog we did spy one Red-throated Loon among many gulls and Brown Pelicans that were mostly following a near-shore trawler. Hurricane Matthew (7-8 Oct 2016) washed away about 10 m of the dune line there but the island adapts and persists. (Check out Bob Raynor's blog posting "Adaptation" at http://www.raynoronthecoast.com/ for another recent accounting of the island and the beach, specifically, including several photos.)

We made it down to Price's Inlet and found many hundreds of shorebirds on the sand bar out in the inlet between Bulls and Capers Island. Unfortunately we were much too far away to fully identify any but the largest species. There was evidence, at least to my eye, that this sand bar might be growing taller if not larger; I couldn't make out any vegetation but there was a piece or two of driftwood high up on top of the bar. I hope that the numerous boaters who frequent Price's Inlet during warmer weather will respect the isolation of this sand bar so that, perhaps, it may develop into a good resting spot for shorebirds.

Our eBird checklists for the day are online at:


Nature, red in tooth and claw...
The line...comes from Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam A. H. H., 1850. The quotation comes in Canto 56 (it is a very long poem) and refers to man:
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek'd against his creed

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