Mon 15 Jan 2018
It’s been tough getting out to Bulls Island for the past couple of months. Multiple conflicts, including archery hunts for deer, holiday schedules, and temperatures so low that outboard motors froze, have kept me off of the island. Fortunately I was able to assist with the annual mid-winter Bald Eagle survey last Friday and that got me out to the island.
One route, of many, for the mid-winter Bald Eagle survey covers the boat ride out to Bulls and the territory of Bulls Island itself. David Youngblood and Dan Hoke joined me for the day. This one survey route, specifically on Bulls, includes a waterfowl survey that serves as the mid-winter waterfowl survey for the island. With a late morning low tide allowing the shorebirds to disperse into their feeding grounds, it was less than ideal timing for shorebirds, but that was OK because I was back on the island.
A good friend of mine is fond of saying that any day you see a Bald Eagle is a good day’s birding. (Thanks, Starr. That’s good advice that I am fond of sharing.) With that in mind, our day’s birding got off to a terrific start as one of our first birds was a mature Bald Eagle perched atop a navigation marker. That ended up being our one Bald Eagle sighting on the day; another survey team surveying up the ICWW from Garris Landing to the Cape Romain Lighthouse on the same day made up for our low count by tallying 16 Bald Eagles on the day.
Our next best birds of the day flew past our boat on the back side of Bulls. Six ducks flushed ahead of our boat, flew away before circling back by our boat then disappearing across the marsh. Through rain-spotted and fogged optics we identified six Long-tailed Ducks! David Youngblood was able to take a series of photographs through the rain and at distance (one is presented here with David’s permission). See all of David’s photos on our eBird checklist at: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S41882402.
Photo by David Youngblood.
Our third best bird for the day was the last species that we tallied for the day. Floating in a mixed flock of ducks on Jack’s Creek near the Old Fort was one Canvasback! I tallied a pair of Canvasbacks on my last Bulls survey (24 Nov 2017); perhaps Canvasbacks may be spending the winter on Bulls. I recall Canvasbacks as being fairly numerous along the S.C. coast back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially at Huntington Beach State Park, but have found this species to be rarely seen along this coast since.
So our mid-winter Bald Eagle and waterfowl survey on Bulls was bookended by really great sightings. For the meat of that survey sandwich we were left to identify and count thousands of ducks, mostly on Jack’s Creek. High numbers of Gadwall, American Wigeon, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, and American Coot were accompanied by other good waterfowl species including Northern Shoveler, Mallard (not common at all on Bulls), Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, and Pied-billed Grebe. We had a scattering of Blue-winged Teal but no Green-winged Teal. (I found 1200 Green-winged Teal on Saturday’s Charleston Natural History Society annual field trip up to Santee NWR’s Bluff Unit; maybe that’s where they’ve all been hiding out.)
I will be leading a field trip for the Charleston Natural History Society, a.k.a. Charleston Audubon, out to Bulls Island on Sat 3 Feb 2018. We’ll be taking the Coastal Expeditions (CEX) Ferry Caretta departing Garris Landing at 7:30 AM; they will drop us off and pick us up on the North Beach thus allowing us to bird the best shorebird habitat and waterfowl habitat that Bulls offers while minimizing our hiking distance on the island. Please join us for this field trip to see some of the wonderful waterfowl and shorebird numbers present on Bulls. Book your seat through CEX’s online booking site: https://bookeo.com/coastalexpeditions.