Monday, September 10, 2012

Pelicans and Wood Storks ... At Last!

What a wonderful day! We went on a dolphin watch cruise this morning in a Zodiac boat. A talkative Fish Crow sat in the rigging of another boat, muttering to itself as we waited to board. As the captain sped over the waves, we went airborne for a while before slamming into the trough with a BANG! Dick was hanging on to the rope as he sat on the inflated side of the Zodiac, and he's a little sore this evening.

After cruising for over an hour, we finally located a school of menhaden fish swimming in a ball, and the dolphins came in for the kill.

And the Pelicans arrived to share the bounty! I got better photos of the birds than the dolphins, and I'm sure everyone else wondered why I wasn't more focused on the water.

When it's important, the Pelicans know to show up. Otherwise, they must have someplace else to go. The folks at the dock said they are always there when fish come in with the boats. I am so much relieved to find them at last.

As we went up and down the shore, we saw only one stretch of green along the beach. No matter how long and hard you looked, there were only houses and high rises from horizon to horizon, except for Huntington Beach State Park. Along with the smaller Myrtle Beach State Park, I would bet that they are the only undeveloped beach front in the entire state of South Carolina.

When we returned to shore, we visited Huntington Beach and could have stayed forever. The boardwalks went out into the marsh, and just as the tide was turning we saw wonderful egrets, herons, plovers and sandpipers on the mudflats from closeup. I could identify the Semi-Palmated Plover (on the right here), but had to check the book for this White-rumped Sandpiper.

You can even see the leg band on this Great Egret.

But the real thrill was seeing a large group (at least 60 - 70) of Wood Storks, a federally endangered species!  One has been at the Anchorage Trail in Louisville this summer, and everyone has so excited. They don't belong in Kentucky, of course. I've seen them once in a while in Florida, but only in small numbers. Their flight profile is very distinctive, and the marsh at Huntington Beach was full of them, right next to the road.

Occasionally, a little bill clacking argument started...

The adults were feeding in the shallows using a method known as "grope feeding." They probe around on the bottom with open mouths, and when their sensitive beaks locate something edible, they snap it up, even this large blue crab!

Ornithologists waffle back and forth about whether Turkey Vultures are truly raptors or not. Sometimes, they decide the vultures are really part of the stork family. When you see the bald heads of these Wood Storks you can understand their confusion. Why would a bird that feeds in shallow water need to have a bald head? Could storks and vultures share a common ancestor waaay back that was a scavenger?

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