Quick Trip to Donnelley and Beidler

Alligator B&W

Alligator at Donnelley Wildlife Management Area

I did it. I pulled the trigger on a new super zoom telephoto lens for my camera. I have a very old Celestron C90 telescope that I can use with my camera and a T-Mount. The magnification is amazing, but it’s almost impossible to focus properly, and I have to put my camera in full manual mode. That makes it difficult to use for wildlife photography.

Nikon D50 attached to Celestron C-90

About this time last year I had rented a Tamron 200-500mm lens and we made a rainy trek down to the ACE Basin and Beidler Forest. Even though it rained most of our trip, I got some great shots that weekend, and enjoyed using the longer lens. I started saving my pennies so that I could get one.

I didn’t get the Tamron, but found a Sigma 150-500 that I liked that also had image stabilization. It arrived last week.

New lens - Sigma 150-500mm

Since it was the start of Laura’s spring break, we decided it was time for another Lowcountry birding trek to get the new lens a trial run. We repeated our trip almost exactly except without the rain, visiting the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area in the ACE Basin on Monday and the Francis Beidler Forest on Tuesday.

Monday’s drive down was leisurely. With the time change on Sunday we didn’t really “spring forward” and so got a later start than we intended. We left the interstate in Columbia and drove down through the countryside with the roof back on the Mini. Our route took us through the Scandinavian region of South Carolina, and through the towns of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. It was tempting to stop and take photographs all along the way. We did pause in Denmark when I spotted a “Rock City” roof in town.

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Donnelley WMA in the ACE Basin

We cut across the country and down through Walterboro, eventually reaching the ACE Basin. I made one wrong turn and had to backtrack, but soon we were on the road into Donnelley WMA. It was a warm, clear afternoon, and the big lizards were taking advantage of it. A large alligator was sunning himself out across the road.

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As small as the Mini is, it’s still bigger than the alligator, who graciously let us pass. We continued on to the Boynton Trail. As usual, I had to stop to take a couple of photos of the old house.

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Given our recent history with the house, we didn’t enter. Laura isn’t that adventurous, anyway. We continued on down the trail and toward the rice fields. We spotted another huge gator out in the lake.

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Any birds, however, were on the far side of the lake. Even with the long lens I couldn’t get a good shot. While I was trying to capture the birds, Laura took a couple of shots of me.

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I suggested walking further out on the dike. As we wandered by first one, then several other young alligators jumped into the water. Laura got nervous. Where there are several younger gators, there must be a mother. We turned around.

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We walked back to the car and headed back to several other of our favorite spots. We stopped at one lake, but there was another large gator. We didn’t get out. We continued onto the large alligator lake near the Billy Fields home. There were more gators, and several other birds.

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From Donnelley we headed over to the Bear Island WMA, also in the ACE Basin. Since it was getting late in the afternoon we didn’t venture much further than the first pond. There were an amazing number of birds, but were out of comfortable range of even my long lens.

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We had a great dinner at the Mustard Seed on James Island, then sought out accommodations for the evening in North Charleston. Breakfast was a leisurely meal at the nearby IHOP, then we headed for our next stop – Beidler Forest.

Francis Beidler Forest

We discovered Beidler Forest about 20 years ago and have enjoyed heading out to look for birds every chance we get. When we arrived in late morning there were lots of cars and one bus in the lot, and a car was following us in. The occupants of the car got out and immediately lit up cigarettes and started talking loudly. We could hear hammers and saws in the background, and wondered if we would see any wildlife at all.

Even so, we headed in. It turns out the hammering noises were from construction of a new boardwalk. The new one is much wider and a bit higher off of the ground. It’s certainly sturdier. Unfortunately, it meant that part of the walkway was closed, so we couldn’t complete the entire 1 mile loop.

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There were new benches and sun shelters. These featured cool carvings at the end of the beams.

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As we discovered on the Edisto on Saturday, there was quite a bit of ice damage. There were limbs down everywhere. Any damage to the boardwalk was repaired, and limbs were cleared from the pathway, but otherwise the brush was left in place.

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As for the crowds, they turned out not to be a problem. The gang that was smoking and talking loudly on the way in were quiet and respectful (mostly) out on the boardwalk. The bus was for a high school group that also turned out to be well behaved. Subsequently, we did see quite a lot of wildlife. We saw several brown water snakes and one cottonmouth.

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There were also lots of turtles out sunning themselves. Most of these were snapping turtles. I’m surprised we didn’t see more yellow sliders.

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Then there were lizards. I especially liked the way the lens blurred out the background.

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Of course, there were birds. we were too early for the prothonotary warblers, but there were a few yellow rumps.

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We also saw lots of woodpeckers.

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We heard barred owls, but didn’t see them. We caught a glimpse of a pileated, but didn’t get close enough for a shot.

In all, it was a great day out. The weather was just about perfect. We were both sunburned from a couple of days out and riding around with the roof down. We still avoided interstates, but we made our way back home with the roof up.

As for the lens, I’m still learning. At Beidler I set the camera for shutter priority, and set the shutter speed as fast as I could. Unfortunately, I left the ISO on automatic. This meant that some of the shots had lots of noise. When I tried noise reduction, it softened the focus. Oh well, I’m sure I will figure it out. I’m still happy with the lens, and am looking forward to many more trips with it.

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