Exciting Birds and Beasts

Whee! Yesterday was so much fun for me, as it tends to be when I go to a state park in any state. As we do every year we visit this area, Lee and I made a pilgrimage to Huntington Beach State Park, which is just a beautiful place full of nature, in addition to being a beach where zillions of people go. Last year we looked at the house where the Huntingtons lived, which was weird, to say the least, but this year, I just wanted to look at some birds. So I did.

Birds at lunch

We lucked out, because since it was a Sunday, the place was getting crowded by the time we arrived. But, in we got, and we were pleased to see only fellow bird nerds at the nature center boardwalk. I really enjoy learning more about birds and the marsh from people who know more than me, so I was in heaven. In fact, I learned a lot from a couple of little kids and their grandparents. It must be such a joy to have grandchildren to teach about things you care about.

Reflections.

There were birds a-plenty on the boardwalk , mostly dunlins and sanderlings, but I was happy to get to watch a beautiful plover in breeding plumage and the big thrill, a clapper rail. It’s a fairly large brown bird, but since they are shy, they are often hard to find. This one was preening, so we got to watch that really well.

There was also a very pretty snowy egret, who was later joined by a buddy. I love all their fancy feathers this time of year. There were lots of great egrets (bigger white birds), too. The best in the heron family, though, was a tricolored heron that I got to be the first to spot. It was gorgeous, with shiny feathers, red eyes, and a bright blue bill. We got to watch it for a long time, and the dude with the immense camera lens must have gotten some great photos.

Birds weren’t the only attractions, though. In addition to listening to the fun sounds of popping shrimp, we got to watch hundreds of fiddler crabs busy at work in the mud, and we were enthralled watching the oysters spitting. Some of them can really spit (sorry, no photos). It’s how they breathe, so when they are exposed, the water turns into a fountain. I also so lots of pretty fish and a blue crab doing its crab work. There is SO much life in a marsh!

In the wildlife center, we watched birds at the feeder for a while, then I enjoyed seeing what they had in some aquariums with native life in them. Watching the ray swimming around was mesmerizing.

After we left there, we headed over to my favorite nature walk along the marsh. I was happy to see that the area is recovering nicely from a fire a couple of years ago. I can tell woodpeckers are loving all the dead trees. You can hear them everywhere. As usual, I took lots of pictures, many of which I shared on Facebook, but here are some highlights. We were charmed by the signs some group had hung on some of the trees. Every sign had an uplifting, positive message that added to the pleasure of walking among all the huge trees and listening to the variety of birds.

I was pretty thrilled to see many painted buntings on this trip, but the best sight was in one eastern red cedar tree on this walk, where there were so many songbirds it felt like you were in an aviary. There were multiple painted bunting pairs, a cardinal family, a blue jay, tufted titmice, and a tiny, tiny bird that I think was a vireo. I had to take a picture of the tree and thank it.

After getting some pictures at the Octopus Tree (one that fell in a storm but didn’t die), we moved on to the next exciting portion of my day.

I knew I couldn’t leave without walking across the dam the road into the park is on, checking out that boardwalk, and seeing what was there. On the little boardwalk, I turned to take a photo of some “old man moss” and scared the heck out of a large white-tailed deer doe. I was happy to see something other than a bird! As I looked out across the water, I saw multiple alligators, and I soon learned why there are so many.

Another Diversion into Memories

As I walked down the dam, on the side that’s a lake, I saw a familiar sight, mullet jumping out of the water and making a big splash. It brought back memories for me. One was when my brother and I were pretty young and took the bus from Ft. Lauderdale to Gainesville to visit our grandmother. We ended up on the local bus that stopped over and over. We befriended an older black woman, who told us all about where we were. When we got to Lake Okeechobee she told us to look out the window, NOW. There, in the light of the setting sun, were dozens and dozens of mullet flying into the air and splashing down, creating diamonds of water droplets. I’ve never forgotten this sight.

A mullet

When we lived in Plantation (1972-1980 or so), there was a Corps of Engineers canal behind us (C-10). These were the canals they used to drain the Everglades so crappy suburbs could be built where the alligators once roamed. Well, alligators still roamed there, but the best part for my family was sitting on an old footlocker we’d found and labeled “Davy Jones’s Locker” and watching the mullet as the breached in the late afternoon. Dad said they did that to kill parasites by exposing them to the sun. All I know is they sure were pretty. I’m glad I have some good memories of that place!

Back to the Present

Anyway, I enjoyed watching the fish jump and move around right under the surface of the water. I was watching a particularly rollicking roil of fishie exuberance when I realized I was not the only audience member. Someone was trolling for lunch.

Fish in the front, gator in the back

I continued to watch the alligator as I defended my spot on the observation deck from a couple of barn swallows who were busy building a nest next to where I was standing. That reminded me of hanging out on the patio at home!

Coming in with nesting material

As I prepared to leave, I heard a noise where the fish were and picked up my binoculars. What a sight I saw! The alligator had found something to nosh on and was chomping away. I’d never seen a gator eat a meal before, despite living in Gator Country much of my life (really wish you could hear my mom’s gator call). There was lots of stuff sticking out of its mouth, and I could not tell if it had caught a blue crab or a mullet that had been surrounded by reeds (a recent storm had really filled the water with reeds).

ON patrol

All that gator action made up for the fact that there weren’t all that many interesting birds out, since I was there around mid-day. I enjoyed the ones I did see, then graciously allowed poor Lee to go back to the condo, since he was distressingly hangry. Here are a few more bird and people and landscape pix!

We had a surprisingly good meal at the Mexican restaurant next to the condo building. The food was very fresh and different from Tex Mex. The salsa was obviously fresh, but not quite what we were used to. However, when I declared it to be gazpacho, I loved it.

We just chilled in the room the rest of the evening, so I made great knitting progress and caught up with HGTV.

Lee is driving home today, so that’s it for me traveling anywhere, unless I take an Uber to the nice shopping center one evening or a guest magically appears (it HAS happened before). I have plenty of work to do, have the beach and hot tubs and pools at my disposal, and there is always someone friendly downstairs. I’m good. I do miss my friends, family, and animals, though.

Another Post about Birds, Beaches, and Beauty

Judging from my stats, people are getting tired of my beachy posts about nature in South Carolina. Unfortunately, that’s all I have right now, since the rest of my brain is in total shutdown mode, which has not made me popular with folks who want me to do things. But, I needed a break.

So, today was a real vacation day! Lee and I went on a long boat tour to North Island, an uninhabited place an hour by boat from Georgetown, from where we embarked. It was most definitely NOT a fancy boat, but it did the job.

It’s ocean worthy!

We were promised lots of bird sightings, and we did get those, though on the way out to North Island, the water was a bit choppy for photography. I did learn my lesson last time, and got a seat near the front of the boat. That meant a bit of splash got on us, but if you’re on a small boat, you need to expect to get wet at some point!

These guys were holding still, though.

They had a naturalist doing the narration, and she was not as cheesy as the previous tour guide was. She did have a few ghost stories, since she’s written three books on it, but really had a lot of interesting history of the area to share. There’s some old stuff in this area! She also shared a lot of information about rice plantations, so I feel full of the knowledge.

We eventually got to the island and embarked on an excursion on the beach. I found one really nice shell, then got sort of dazed by how many colors of oysters they have on that beach, and I did get a few of those.

A variety of oysters, cockle shells and a whelk or something. I am not a shell person.

I was there more to look at living things, and I was not disappointed at this interesting beach. I’m glad I wore my sandals, because the beach was littered with jellyfish, but also had a lot of fascinating patterns of water, since it was low tide. The most beautiful things I saw were blue crabs, though. We had a lot of fun looking for them among the rocks in the jetty. There was lots of seaweed, barnacles, and other interesting stuff. The weirdest thing, though, was this area of clay, really slippery clay. I am going to have to look up what’s up with that.

I really enjoyed watching the crabs crabbing along and interacting with each other. They are so blue! I also found a number of hermit crabs in moon shells, but I put them back in the water before taking any photos. I sure hope no one picked those up thinking they were empty, because they are in for some bad smells, and bad karma, I guess.

Blue crab under ripples. So beautiful

Of course, I wanted to find birds. I don’t think I ever saw so many pelicans in my life, and they were a lot of fun, splashing, diving, swimming, and flying.

Brown pelicans having fun

There were also many gulls, particularly laughing gulls, who were also swooping, diving, and swimming. They were quite loud. They are entertaining and beautiful birds.

Whee, gulls on patrol.

There were also many beautiful shore birds, but we didn’t see egrets and herons on the island (there were plenty on the beaches near the old rice fields, though). I think there were sandpipers and plovers, including another black plover.

There was one more bird we were promised a sighting of, and that was the bald eagle. You can sure tell they are on the comeback trail, because we saw multiple birds (plus a couple of ospreys and one juvenile bald eagle). No, these are not great pictures, but that’s all the ole iPhone X can manage.

It was nice to just ride along and look at the scenery, even though it wasn’t a really beautiful day or anything. I haven’t been on boats in the ocean but one other time, when Anita and I took that tour of marshes. I enjoyed the relaxation aspect of being on the water as much as anything else.

Oh wait, I forgot we got to see this lighthouse, which is still doing its duty, and has for hundreds of years. There is a lot of OLD stuff here.

Even the loud motorcycles didn’t ruin my mood. Going to the island was a really different and pleasant activity. I’m going to share a couple of more photos, just because the island was so ruggedly beautiful.

Driftwood

I hope this day brought you some peace and focus.

Weathered beach

Birds, Trees, Castles, Oysters, and Adventure

Here’s another blog just chock full of photos, and not all of them are nature. It’s all good though. We just had a long day of visiting a variety of sights and sites.

This broad-headed skink is not a bird.

We set out early (for us), determined to see everything possible at Huntington Beach State Park. It’s across the road from Brookgreen Gardens, and features nature, birds, beaches, and a really interesting house that belonged to the people who used to own both the properties, the Huntingtons. Last year I saw better birds, but we still had a good time today.

We first went out to see the nature, where, of course, I spent a lot of time taking close-up pictures of plants. Lee says this is what I always look like.

Taking pictures of plants

I did find some pretty things to take pictures of, though some of them were Lee. There were many native berries, a spider, and the MOST exciting, a painted bunting.

From there, we headed over to Atalaya, the “castle” where the Huntington family lived in the winters. Folks, this is a really, really weird house. It’s all brick, even the floors, and all one story. It’s in the shape of a huge square with a very large courtyard in the middle. Every room, even the bathrooms, has a fireplace. I find that interesting, but it does get cold enough, even in South Carolina, to need some winter warmth.

Continue reading “Birds, Trees, Castles, Oysters, and Adventure”
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