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A rare find on the S.C. coast

Eurasian Wigeon
Eurasian Wigeon Jeff Lewis

I spent last weekend in the South Carolina lowcountry attending the Carolina Bird Club’s winter meeting. It was a great weekend with numerous field trips to refuges, reserves, plantations, and public parks.

An approaching low-pressure system brought increasing winds that kicked up the surf all weekend but plenty of birds were seen despite that hindrance.

I spent all day Saturday at Bulls Island, part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Bulls Island is only accessible by boat so we had to ferry from the mainland through the marshes to the high ground. The winding trip through the marsh flushed many buffleheads, horned grebes, red-breasted mergansers, and hooded mergansers ahead of the boat.

American oystercatchers foraged on the oyster beds, oblivious to the boat close by. When the creeks widened red-throated and common loons became conspicuous. Once on the island, the impoundments held plenty of waterfowl including a very rare drake Eurasian wigeon.

This handsome duck is a rare winter visitor to both Carolinas, usually in the outer coastal plain. Other ducks were Northern shoveler, gadwall, lesser scaup, green-winged teal, mottled duck, American black duck, and redhead. Fresh water marshes produced American coot, common gallinules, soras, and some really large American alligators. In the sky, bald eagles were always present including three birds interacting together.

The next day I checked the south end of Pawley’s Island. Two small jetties there are good attractants for some shorebirds. Present that day were red knots, ruddy turnstones, sanderlings, and black-bellied plovers. The hoped for purple sandpipers did not appear though. A few black scoters and surf scoters flew by over the ocean while a few Northern gannets plunge-dived further out.

The salt water creeks on the backside of the island produced a few greater yellowlegs and feeding flocks of red-breasted mergansers. One group held a female common merganser, which despite its name is the rarest of the three merganser species we get in the winter.

The females are similar to red-breasted females but can be fairly easily distinguished with a good look. Check out my blog at piedmontbirding.blogspot.com for a comparison of the two species. And to find out more about the Carolina Bird Club and its winter, spring and fall meetings, checkout out carolinabirdclub.org.

Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com. Check out his blog at piedmontbirding.blogspot.com