Rainy Lowcountry Birding

Female Downy Woodpecker at Beidler Forest

For some reason, weather just does not get along with Laura and me. We went to London during the worst heat wave they had seen. We went to Maine during a heat wave. We went back to Maine and had a week of rain. We went to the Bahamas and an unusual cold snap hit. We visited Disney World during a tornado watch. We drove through a tropical storm on our way to Key West. Sometimes I think Mother Nature just waits until we make travel plans to send her worst. It was the first time in months that we had been able to get away for a weekend, and it looked like the weather was going to be just as uncooperative. We decided to go anyway.

Our plan was to head down to the ACE Basin early Saturday morning and drive through the Donnelly Wildlife Management Area. We would spend the day bird watching and doing some photography, and perhaps run over to the Bear Island WMA. That evening I’d made reservations for an evening boardwalk tour at Francis Beidler Forest. We would stay overnight in the area, then explore some more as we leisurely headed home on Sunday. Alas…

In preparation for the trip, I went to Spartan Photo and rented a Tamrom 200-500mm zoom lens. I’ve got the 1000mm Celestron, but it’s not practical for photographing wildlife. I have been in the market for a lens, and this seemed an economical way to try one out before making a purchase.

Tamron lens

The weather forecast didn’t improve, but we headed out anyway. We drove through steady rains from Greenville to Columbia. Near Orangeburg the rain let up, and it actually cleared up for a bit. As we stopped for a few picnic supplies in Walterboro, the rain started back up. By the time we got to Donnelly, it was raining in earnest. Oh well.

We drove through the WMA anyway; not really expecting to see anything we stopped at a few of our favorite pond overlooks. There were a few wading birds out. We spotted a wood stork, some aninghas, and a few other water fowl. The rain kept blowing into the windows, though. I would try taking a few shots out the window while resting the long lens on Laura’s shoulder.

Bird Watching in the Rain
Rainy ACE Basin
Wood Stork
Great Egret

With the rain coming down heavily, we didn’t get out to hike the Boynton area like we normally do. The smaller warblers and other birds didn’t seem to be out and about, and we didn’t see any of the alligators like we normally do in these ponds. There again, it was only 45° outside – too chilly for cold-blooded critters.

At one of the pond overlooks we stopped and feasted on cold chicken with the texture and flavor of cork.  I guess that serves us right for eating fowl while we are supposedly observing and appreciating a different type of fowl.  At least the cheese-herb foccacia bread was tasty.

From Donnelly we drove over to the Bear Island area.  It was raining only slightly less.  I got a couple of shots of more wading birds, including this avocet.

American Avocet

Giving up on birding for the day, we headed back to the main road. Once back within cell range, I had a message from Beidler Forest saying that everyone had backed out of the evening tour due to weather except us. They wanted to cancel. I called back and confirmed, although we disappointed.

I did have one more place to check, though. Willtown Bluff/New London is on my list of ghost towns, and I wanted to check it out. It was located on the banks of the Edisto River nearby, so we headed that way. As we drove through this area, long shaded driveways led back to hidden estates. I would love to see what was behind those locked gateways. Willtown itself was a beautiful area with stately homes overlooking the river. As we approached one we saw that a white tent was set up with a wedding underway. We quietly back out, not wanting to disturb.

Willtown Plantation
Willtown Bluff
Willtown Bluff
Willtown Bluff

Since our evening trip had been cancelled, and since the weather wasn’t going to improve, we decided not to stay overnight in the area, but head on home at a leisurely pace. I took a road that paralleled the Edisto. It turned to dirt for a bit, and with the rain, driving on it was a challenge. The only birds we spotted along this part were vultures.

Vulture on a Pole

We came to ALT-17 and I spotted a small church that complied with Taylor’s Church Axiom #2, which states…

The exaltedness of the honorific used by the senior clergy at a church is inversely proportional to the actual size of the church.

This tiny church, Faith Deliverance Holiness Church, was overseen by “Apostle” Hampton.

Faith Deliverance Holiness Church
Faith Deliverance Holiness Church Sign

As we drove home we noticed it clearing off. Radar showed that it would be clear for a few hours, but the forecast indicated rain would be back for the evening. We decided to head to Beidler Forest after all. It was 3:30, but we weren’t far away, and they would be open until 5:00. That would give us at least a little time out on the boardwalk.

Even though the weather often deals us a bad hand, we’ve learned how to cope. When we visited Disney during the thunderstorms we almost had the place to ourselves, and were able get on several major rides with hardly any waiting. Today we had Beidler all to ourselves, with no school kids or others talking loudly and scaring off the birds.

With all of the rain the water was much, much higher than we had ever seen it. We saw a few smaller birds, but one of the best right off was a female downy woodpecker, in the photo at the top of this post.

Beidler Forest boardwalk
Beidler Forest Boardwalk
Laura on Beidler Boardwalk
Cypress Knee Creature at Beidler Forest

I spotted large, brown wings right down at the level of the cypress knees. A barred owl was hunting for its favorite food – crayfish. I waited until it landed, and was able to get several good shots of it with the longer lens.

Beidler Forest Barred Owl
Beidler Forest Barred Owl

We heard a few more woodpeckers, but unfortunately, we didn’t see any warblers. A group of volunteer college students came out to do some work on the trail, and we took that as our cue to leave. We headed on back toward home, stopping for a bite to eat in Orangeburg. Even with the rain, it was a good trip. Now I want to use this lens again, but later in the season and when it’s NOT raining.

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