Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hooded Warbler and Fall Songbird Migration

Male Hooded Warbler in the Lowcountry during fall
They always seem to be on the move!
While it can come on suddenly, and then be short in duration, the fall migration of songbirds provides an uptick of activity in the Lowcountry. The first cool snap is usually enough to get birds on the move, and then periods of cloudy cooler weather associated with a North wind creates perfect conditions for them to be on the move, without getting too tired out. Typically these songbirds will be more prevalent in hardwood forests, but they are also commonly found along scrub shrub habitat along the coast.

The weather has been socked in with clouds for the past several days, with some rain, and I already began noticing changes in birding behavior. Then one morning while walking the dog I heard a distinctive 'chip chip chip' high-pitched song, and knew that a visitor was nearby. Identifying birds by ear is a way for an advanced birder to be on the lookout for a glimpse of something different, or perhaps something with vibrant colors. For instance, the song I heard was different that the one note call commonly heard everyday by cardinals.

Seen at the same time - perhaps the female?
When a male hooded warbler popped out of the bushes and landed nearby, I had to do a double take. What a beauty! I walked the dog back home, grabbed my binoculars and a camera to go back and confirm the identity of this migratory warbler. Feeding on insects both in the trees and on the ground, I was able to set up a perch in a likely spot and wait for him to return, and the plan worked like a charm. Never before had I been so close to this striking warbler, and after a lifetime of experience, I would have so say this kind of encounter is rare. So I am glad to share my story and photos here, while hoping that others keep their eyes and ears open for migratory songbirds.

The shading on this map tells the migration story
To view past blog entries about encounters with the natural world click on American Oystercatcher Bats - Snakes - Honey Bees - Wood Storks

To view my latest Birding Journal Observations click July / August 2015

To view my latest Field Notes and Photos click September 2015

Saturday, September 26, 2015

2015 Governor's Cup Awards

Governor's Cup Perpetual Trophy 
Manly Eubank receives recognition,
shown with son Graham.

The awards for the 2015 South Carolina Governor's Cup Billfishing Series were held on John's Island one day after a violent tornado touched down in the same area. There was no electricity to the Island House venue when the awards began, although the heaviest damage was around the corner on Sonny Boy lane. The skies were clear for the outdoor awards and a beautiful sunset preceded the awards presentations.
Reel Passion - Winners of the 2015 Gov. Cup

To view the standings and winners for the 2015 Gov. Cup click here.

To view all things Gov. Cup in the final newsletter of 2015 click here.

To view past blog entries from the Gov. Cup Awards click 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009

To view past winner's of the Governor's Cup Billfish Series click 2015 - 2014 - 2013 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009

Brian Bell and Edisto Mayor Jane Darby

Friday, September 25, 2015

2015 Beidler Forest - Boardwalk Bonanza

Cottonmouth snake - An impressive specimen!
Box turtle and dwarf palmetto frond
Birdwatchers know that fall is an excellent time to visit the woodlands looking for migratory songbirds. A wide array of birds are passing through the Lowcountry at the end of September 2015 and my recent sightings include hooded warbler and American redstart. The Audubon Center at Beidler Forest is located in Dorchester County near to I-26 and was founded by both Audubon and The Nature Conservancy. Noted as a wetland of International importance by the Ramsar committee, my Sept. 22 visit revealed that the swamp was almost bone dry due to a lack of rain. However, one caveat to such conditions is a lack of mosquitoes, and I can report very comfortable viewing conditions on the boardwalk.

Daily tours are available for visitors, or you can simply show up on your own and roam the boardwalk freely after paying a nominal admittance fee. There is some old-growth hardwood bottomland forest along the boardwalk, plus a mosaic of other swamp land habitat. Songbirds, wildflowers, reptiles and the ever-present cypress tree knees provide other distractions for the outdoor enthusiast. After all, this blackwater cypress-tupelo creek swamp is one of the most unique watersheds  in the world, and Audubon owns and protects a large chunk of this ecosystem.

To view a past blog about Beidler Forest with video click here.

Many of the cypress trees here are 100 years old!!
To view my latest Birding Journal Observations click here.
Visitors make their way around the Boardwalk

To view my latest Field Notes and Photos click here.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Field Notes and Photos - September 2015

Field Notes is a column I began twelve years ago in the Charleston Mercury newspaper, but as the amount of
Red wildflowers of September
newsprint space in the 'salmon sheets' has diminished, so has the space for my nature photography. Now when I have a fresh batch of observations I share them via Lowcountry Outdoors. 

To view past Field Notes click on August 2015July 2015 - June 2015 - February 2105 - October 2014  September 2014 - August 2014 - June 2014 - March 2012 - February 2012 - October 2011 - September 2011   
Banana Spider in sunlight

Fungi on dead hardwood tree

Black wasp preys on green grasshopper

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

2015 National Hunting and Fishing Day - Sept. 26

2016 will be the 45th NHFD!!
It’s late September and folks are beginning to notice that the live oaks are beginning to drop their acorns ahead of winter. It seems that a recent cool snap also reminded outdoors enthusiasts that it is prime time to hunt and fish. Wetting a line in the saltwater trumps everything else for those who fish in the fall, while others know that hunting season is short and the time to act is now.  The annual National Hunting and Fishing Day is this Saturday, September 26 and it’s a welcome excuse for making a return to the outdoors part of your routine.
Yamaha sponsors NHFD annually
It seems each state is on their own to set up a formal event for National Hunting and Fishing Day, and South Carolina leaves much room for improvement heading into the 2016 calendar year. Only a couple of events are planned for this weekend, and despite the football schedule being in full swing, we should have many more outdoor options for the general public to choose from. Utilizing both public and private resources towards this endeavor should be the future goal.

In the Lowcountry, there will be a youth fishing rodeo at the Mount Pleasant fishing pier. This pier is owned by Charleston County Parks and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources is sponsoring this free day of fishing, and they will even provide the fishing tackle for those who need it. For an event near Seneca in the upstate click on the SCDNR link.

To view a document explaining how hunting and fishing generates funds for wildlife click here.

To view the entire article in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view past blog entries about National Hunting and Fishing Day click 20142013 - 2011

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Lowcountry Saltwater Fishing Report - 9/22/2015

Fishing Report for the Coastal Lowcountry of South Carolina:
Storms can actually excite the fish in the surf zone!
Inshore Repot: Wetting a line in the saltwater trumps everything else for those who fish in the fall. The redfish are chasing fiddler crabs with renewed ferocity in the marshes knowing that any cool down in October will make the small crabs become inactive and unavailable. At the same time, larger redfish are patrolling the surf zone looking for bigger meals. Surf fishing may be the best bet between now and the end of October, so get your LONG rods into a beach buggy and head down to the north end of Folly Beach or somewhere similar and be sure to bring enough tackle to handle any bycatch of sharks.

Scott Hammond at Haddrell's Point West says it'sTime for a run! The Mullet run has hit full swing this past week and he has been getting epic reports of tarpon, bull reds, and large sharks all being caught under these schools of mullet heading south down the front beaches. Reports of 4,6, and even 8 tarpon hook-ups in a trip have been coming in through the door. Wanna use light tackle back in the estuaries instead of chasing front beach monsters? Well we are almost in October now and that means time to go do some “grubbing” for trout. As bait begins to push out of the creeks, trout will begin feeding very aggressively and provide great targets for artificial baits, such as a Zman PaddlerZ. Try trolling grubs at around high tide up along shell rakes and grass points, when ya hook up, swing back around and begin casting up to where you hooked up trolling…..where there is one trout there will likely be many more this time of year! For the latest seminar information visit the Internet at Haddrell's Point - like the Ladies Fishing 101 on Oct. 12 and Tackle for Angling Women on November 9.

Offshore Report: High-speed trolling for wahoo remains productive. Sailfish numbers should be increasing as bait pods gather. Bottom fishing over live structure can produce some tasty action.

To view past Lowcountry Saltwater Fishing Reports click here.

Monday, September 21, 2015

2015 Birding Journal Observations / July - August

Hot weather dominated July and August, and with more than enough flowering plants and insects around, the bird feeders saw the usual slowdown ahead of fall. Sometimes suet is just plain soggy in the heat, and it doesn't seem to be in demand like it is in the fall, but I still keep it out.
Summer tanager sightings were frequent this year
My observations of note include yellow-billed cuckoo on 7/11 and yellow-throated vireo on 8/22.

Other observations include cardinal, tufted titmouse, mockingbird, immature painted bunting, ruby-throated hummingbird, white-breasted nuthatch, bluebird, dove, blue jay, hairy woodpecker, female summer tanager, red-bellied woodpecker, Carolina wren, Carolina chickadee, Indigo bunting, towhee, dove, blue grosbeak, parula warbler and mockingbird.

To view my most recent Birding Journal Observations click May / June 2015.

To view past Birding Journal Observations for July / August click on 20142013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

2015 Gator Hunting and Shrimp Baiting - Opening Day

Gators must be tagged and reported with an SCDNR permit
For those who enjoy visiting the outdoors in a boat, the coastal waterways offer plenty of wild game to try and gather together. The term Hunter Gatherers came from our ancestors that lived off the land by utilizing all natural resources which included everything from berries and oysters to fowl and fish. Residents along the coastal plain in South Carolina can stay in touch with the same sentiment by hunting alligators or by casting a net for shrimp.

For those with a lottery tag to fill, the 2015 Alligator Hunting Season began on Saturday September 12 and runs until Saturday October 10. The SCDNR places Colleton county in the Southern Coastal alligator management unit, and there are three other units along the entire coastal plain in the state. Those who pursue a gator must have a valid hunting license, and a harvest tag in their possession, but a big game permit is not required. 

The bait shrimping season got underway on Friday September 11 at noon and will run for 60 days until Nov. 10. A shrimp baiting license from SCDNR is required for all recreational shrimpers casting their nets this fall. Reports from opening weekend reveal good numbers of shrimp, but with a wide variation in size from small to jumbo. The SCDNR reports that a good spawn in spring and normal rainfall thus far should equal a good chance for success. 

To view this story in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view past blog entries about the start of Gator and Shrimp seasons click here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

2015 Doe Deer Season - Opening Day

Scott Hammond harvests a doe with a bow in S.C.
In South Carolina, the traditional start date for the doe deer season is September 15. Fewer deer equals a healthier deer herd and the harvest of does is an equal part of that management objective. Read the SCDNR report for the latest info heading into the 2015 hunting season.

It states - "South Carolina's deer herd is in good condition, and after many years of rapid population growth the herd stabilized in the mid-1990s followed by a decreasing trend since about 2002. Statewide population estimates put the deer herd at about 730,000 animals with an estimated harvest of approximately 215,000 each of the last few years. Although the total deer harvest in South Carolina has trended down, indications from the antler records program are that deer quality remains good. This would make sense because fewer deer in the population would benefit from increased nutrition."

What's new for 2015 is that a locally-owned sporting goods store in Charleston is issuing a challenge to those who hunt with archery equipment. Visit Haddrell's Point to learn more about the photo contest that runs between September 15 and October 16, for hunters that harvest a doe with a bow during that time. All hunters must have an SCDNR doe tag in order to legally harvest a doe in S.C., to put some venison in the freezer, or perhaps to donate to Hunters Feeding the Hungry.

To view past blog entries about the opening of doe season click on 2013.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Longleaf Alliance Promotes Prescribed Fire in S.C.

Education Equals Success in the Field

If you are planting longleaf pine trees in South Carolina then you have a friend in the Longleaf Academy at the Webb Wildlife Center in Hampton County, to better reach out to landowners from Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina. The three-day course included plenty of classroom time, plus a nice mix of field excursions including an application of growing season prescribed fire. 

Longleaf seedling being burned
The longleaf pine forest that once dominated the Southeastern coastal plain evolved with fire as an integral part of the ecosystem. It is well documented that the range of longleaf pines was drastically reduced due to logging efforts over decades, and changing timber management practices. But that decline has been stopped now, and for the first time in a long while longleaf acreage is actually increasing. Their coffee-table book on Longleaf history makes a fine gift.
Webb Center WMA hosts an August prescribed fire

The Longleaf Alliance was formed in 1995, and they are partnering with state and federal efforts in order to see that the surge in longleaf recovery continues. There are three such Cooperatives in South Carolina including the Sandhills and Sewee regions. But the largest area of conservation is in the South Lowcountry and the ACE Basin, where Bob Franklin of Walterboro represents the Longleaf Alliance in what is better known as the SoloACE.
Johnny Stowe and Bob Franklin compare notes

SCDNR biologist Johnny Stowe was the first speaker at the Fire and Longleaf Academy, sharing his message that prescribed fire is the perfect ingredient for habitat management. He manages state-owned Heritage Preserve lands in S.C., and longleaf on his family farm in Georgia, where he also enjoys battling invasive species like kudzu. Stowe practices what he preaches and is a throwback to the days when boots on the ground were the surest way to figure out something like how to burn a longleaf pine stand and get the best effects from that fire.

Originally from Ridgeland, Randy Tate has had a long and distinguished career in conservation. He presently lives in Savannah and works for the Longleaf Alliance on the Fort Stewart / Altamaha restoration project. Having worked in Georgia for both The Nature Conservancy and GADNR, he is a federally certified RxB2 Burn Boss. His presentation asked the question – Why burn? The answers included reduction of available fuels, a cost-effective way to manage vegetation, and there is even some evidence that it can control tick populations.

To view this article in the newspaper click on Charleston Mercury.

To view past blog entries about conservation click on Migratory Bird Joint Venture Awards - Ag Secretary John Vilsack talks Longleaf 

To view past blog entries on Prescribed Fire click on Education Options - 2015 Prescribed Fire - Plowing Firebreaks - 2014 Dry Weather Fire Threat - SCDNR Prescribed Fire 2013 Prescribed Fire - 2012 Prescribed Fire 2009 Wildfire - 2009 Prescribed Fire Council

Saturday, September 12, 2015

American Oystercatcher and World Shorebird Day

American Oystercatcher on the shoreline
Local beachgoers and saltwater anglers know the Oystercatcher because of their specialized and bright red bill. True to their name, these shorebirds choose to eat oysters as their preferred food source, though they can eat other offerings like insects and worms too. The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan lists them as a ‘Species of High Concern’, and South Carolina coastal habitat plays a key role in the recovery efforts for the American Oystercatcher.

From spring into summer, S.C. hosts about 400 breeding pairs of oystercatchers that utilize our ample sandy beaches, mudflats and oyster rakes. The jet-black coloration of their head and neck provides a sharp contrast to the red bill that is unique among shorebirds. Like many shorebirds, they make their nest in a simple depression in the sand and their speckled eggs serve as camouflage against would be nest raiders. 

Representatives from Manomet Conservation came to S.C. this spring to visit the Yawkey Center in Georgetown County and to identify shorebirds, and they also sponsor the World Shorebird Day that takes place every September 6. Visit the Internet at to view the American Oystercatcher Working Group. The 2015 Shorebird of the Year is recognized as the Red Knot and while it migrates further than the American Oystercatcher, it does utilize South Carolina beaches during Neotropical travels.

To view this story in the newspaper click on Colletonian.

To view past blog entries about encounters with the natural world click on Bats - Snakes - Honey Bees