Unlike Gilligan’s Island, I wouldn’t mind being stranded on Kiawah Island. Yesterday morning I had the good fortune of having a three-hour guided tour of all the best birding spots in Kiawah. We didn’t go by boat. I was picked up by car at 6:15 am by a good friend and former Board Member of the Kiawah Conservancy (Allan Stewart), in order to be on the island for our tour departure time of 7:30 am. We arrived right on the dot!
Within seconds our guide met us in the driveway. Bob Hill is a long time friend of Allan’s and has become a serious birder, having traveled around the world photographing birds. He was prepared with bug spray to fend off the biting flies and the mosquitoes. He had water and Gatorade for us in the car. He had preplanned our excursion around the island to all of his favorite birding locations. This was an extraordinarily generous gesture from one birder to another. Many photographers do not want to disclose their favorite locations because of their competitive nature in getting the best shot.
Off we drove down streets lined with big oaks and palms. Magnificent homes with stunning architecture are all tucked back into the flora, blending in with the natural surroundings as planned out by the developer. One doesn’t get the feel that he/she is driving through residential neighborhoods, but rather through a nature’s paradise.
As we rounded a bend water was off to our right and I spotted dozens of birds all actively feeding in what appeared to be a large salt marsh. A photographer was already there with his giant zoom lens and tripod capturing the spectacle. Bob’s first stop on our tour turned out to be a sight I will always remember.
Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Black-skimmers, and I’m sure a few other species, were all actively feeding in the marshy pond. There were so many birds to focus on, some flying fast and others posing that it became a challenge to have my settings right. There was also strong backlighting, so choosing the right angle to shoot in relation to the sun was another consideration to factor in on each pic. I was torn between species! All the birds wanted my attention and I couldn’t give it to them! :-) Very stressful!
I reluctantly got in the car, for this wasn’t our only stop and I could have stayed there all day. We had so much more to see. Next stop was by the Ocean Course along the beach (famous for hosting the Ryder Cup in 1991 and the PGA Championship in 2012). For this golfer, it was a treat to walk past the Ocean Course clubhouse, by the driving range and practice putting green. I was dressed more like a golfer because we had plans to go out to lunch afterwards and a collared shirt was required.
One of the birds I wanted to see most was a Black-necked Stilt. As we were walking down to the beach past the putting green I spotted one! It was all by itself in a shallow pool in the sand. I was too far away for a good shot at it, so like a rookie birder I took off on the run in order to get close before it flew away. As I was about to stop running and take a pic the lone Black-necked Stilt took off!!! Sorry, no picture. :-(
I did manage to get a few good shots of a Tricolored Heron, also known as a Louisiana Heron. It was actively feeding, acting almost like a Reddish Egret, chasing down small fish in a bit of a frenzy.
We moved on to a number of Bob’s other favorite birding locations. As the morning became progressively hotter the birds became less active and less visible. At one location, which happened to be where my brother and his wife were recently married, we spotted a pair of Green Herons along a small river/stream. I took this picture of the male Green Heron showing off his head feathers and strutting his stuff along the bank of the stream.
We heard the distinctive call of the Osprey up high in the trees as we were driving along. Bob pulled over and we all admired and photographed a handsome bird as he proceeded to tear into his morning catch.
A Bluebird posed for us in Bluebird Meadow.
A Snowy stood atop a craggily dead tree.
And of course gators lurked everywhere!
Thank you to Bob Hill of Kiawah Island for being so generous with his time and for disclosing all of his favorite birding spots to me. Thank you to Allan for introducing us and for suggesting that we meet up and experience Kiawah together.I enjoyed our three-hour tour thoroughly!!!