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Field Guides Tour Report
BIRDING PLUS-Do the Charleston! Spring in South Carolina & Northern Georgia 2015
Apr 26, 2015 to May 2, 2015
Jesse Fagan

A really fun spring tour this year. We couldn't have hoped for better weather, really. Spring showers and thunderstorms are always a possibility on this tour, but we avoided them for the most part. We had one morning of rain, but thankfully on a travel day and it didn't stick around. We expected hot and humid in the Low Country, but it was biting cold in the mountains! However, that didn't stop the birds along the Appalachian Trail from being in full song. It was a glorious, crisp morning indeed, on Preacher's Rock. Speaking of preachers, it was clear we all enjoyed our visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial site in Atlanta. Quite moving to say the least. This tour struck a nice balance, I believe, between a few "must" cultural sites (like a Charleston bus tour: What is a single house? Why do they paint the ceiling of the piazza sky blue?) and some serious birding. And speaking of the birds, where to begin?

Well, the highlights were many, according to y'all. Nancy really enjoyed those Eastern Bluebirds at Amicalola Falls; the mother feeding her young was just too cute. By the way, how many steps up to the top of the falls? Too many. Penelope thought the Bachman's Sparrow teed up in the longleaf pine tree, singing his head off, was pretty special. And it was. Diane also enjoyed our time in the longleaf pine savanna and voted the federally endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker one of her favorites. Lenny couldn't believe our Swainson's Warbler experience. Neither could I; seeing three different birds was far beyond my expectation, but hey, I'm not complaining! The Veery seen along with the warbler was not lost on Sue, nor were the "Wayne's" Clapper Rails! And what about the colorful male Blue Grosbeak and Summer Tanager? Dave was mesmerized.

Lastly, is it worth mentioning all that good eatin'?! Shrimp and grits (again), hushpuppies (a lifer cornbread for some), and we ate French, Italian, Cajun, and even a Cracker Barrel!

Personally, I want to thank this most excellent group. Dave and Sue left us for a few days, so it was the Golden Girls and me. They took good care of me! I can't wait to do it all again soon. Western Mexico? The Caribbean? Whatever we decide, all the best in travels for 2015, and continue to enjoy the road. A big hug to all.

-- Jesse (a.k.a. Motmot) from Lima, Peru

In the following list, ACE Basin = Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Basin and AT = Appalachian Trail.

One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa) – Several in flight over the ACE Basin marshes.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos) – A few on the reservoir in Dahlonega looked legit.
MOTTLED DUCK (Anas fulvigula) – Native to the southeast (Florida and Georgia), but apparently introduced to the SC coast.
SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata) – Three birds mixed with the big Black Scoter flock.
BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana) – One of our best surprises was finding a flotilla of 50 or so birds just offshore of Sullivan's Island.
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (Mergus serrator) – Two flew by on our walk along Pitt Street Bridge.
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
WILD TURKEY (Meleagris gallopavo) – We nearly hit one as we were leaving ACE Basin!
Ciconiidae (Storks)
WOOD STORK (Mycteria americana) – Several flyovers while birding ACE Basin.
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus) – Still a few around most days in Charleston, but also again on the Dahlonega Reservoir.
Anhingidae (Anhingas)
ANHINGA (Anhinga anhinga) – At least four soaring over the marshes of ACE Basin, and a few more perched in trees.
Pelecanidae (Pelicans)
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis) – Common along the coast.
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
LEAST BITTERN (Ixobrychus exilis) – This was exciting finding several calling (breeding) birds in the marshes of ACE Basin. We got lucky enough to see a few in flight.
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias) – Just a couple at ACE Basin were our only ones of the trip.
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba) – Seen most days in the Low Country.
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula) – Fairly common around Charleston, especially at Pitt St. Bridge.
TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor) – ACE Basin NWR and at Pitt Street Bridge.
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis) – Just one (!) on our first day.
GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens) – Singles or pairs on two different days.
Cathartidae (New World Vultures)
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus) – Seen most days.
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura) – Seen every day.
Pandionidae (Osprey)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus) – Francis Marion NF and a nest on one of the harbor markers at Pitt St. Bridge.
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus) – Lots were calling (and seen) in the Francis Marion NF.
BROAD-WINGED HAWK (Buteo platypterus) – Fairly common in the mountains of North Georgia.
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis) – Seen in the lowlands, but more common in the mountains.
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
CLAPPER RAIL (ATLANTIC COAST) (Rallus crepitans waynei) – This grayer subspecies "Wayne's" Clapper Rail was seen well at Pitt St. Bridge.
SORA (Porzana carolina) – The best looks ever! Seen just after we crossed over the flooded causeway at ACE Basin. It was worth it, however.
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata) – Lots were heard at ACE Basin, but one was eventually seen.
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana) – Still a few wintering birds around at ACE Basin.
Recurvirostridae (Stilts and Avocets)
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus) – Two flybys at Pitt Street Bridge.
Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus palliatus) – A pair was on the sandbar just off Pitt Street Bridge. Looked like a good nesting spot.
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola) – One on the beach in the rain at Folly Island.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus) – A large flock of at least 50 birds flew by Folly Island in the drizzling rain.
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus) – Several at ACE Basin NWR.
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius) – A pair along the dike at ACE Basin NWR.
SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria) – One in flight at ACE Basin. Initially picked out by call in flight, but we could see the distinctive tail pattern as well.
WILLET (Tringa semipalmata) – A few Easterns were identified at Pitt St., but at this time of year we could still have wintering Western Willets. We left the majority of winter plumaged birds as Willet only.
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes) – A large group of 25 individuals were seen at ACE Basin (mostly in flight). Identified by size and call.
WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus) – In flight along the coast at Folly Island.
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres) – Good numbers at Pitt Street Bridge.
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla) – Nice studies of several birds foraging along the dike at ACE Basin.
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla) – Common along the coast.
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis) – Just one along the Sullivan Island beach.
HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus) – A first-cycle bird flew over us at Folly Island.
LEAST TERN (Sternula antillarum) – Good numbers along the coast at Sullivan Island.
FORSTER'S TERN (Sterna forsteri) – Several sitting on the dock at Pitt Street Bridge. Most were in breeding plumage.
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus) – Fairly common along the coast.
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) – Surprisingly none in the Low Country, but seen in the Dahlonega area. [I]
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) – Seen in the Mt. Pleasant area of Charleston. [I]
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura) – Common on this tour. Seen all days.
Cuculidae (Cuckoos)
YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO (Coccyzus americanus) – Seen well in the Francis Marion NF; however, heard more often than seen.
Strigidae (Owls)
BARRED OWL (Strix varia) – Heard in the Francis Marion, but seen well in the early morning at ACE Basin.
Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)
CHUCK-WILL'S-WIDOW (Antrostomus carolinensis) – Good looks in the pre-dawn light at Francis Marion NF.
Apodidae (Swifts)
CHIMNEY SWIFT (Chaetura pelagica) – Fairly common. Seen most days.
Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)
RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris) – One briefly on our walk in the ACE Basin forest.
Picidae (Woodpeckers)
RED-HEADED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) – This lovely woodpecker was seen well in the pine forest of Francis Marion. Heard again at Kennesaw.
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes carolinus) – Seen a few times in the Low Country, but again at Kennesaw.
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Picoides pubescens) – Seen a few times.
HAIRY WOODPECKER (Picoides villosus) – This larger version of the Downy was seen at ACE Basin and heard again on the Appalachian Trail.
RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER (Picoides borealis) – We had nice looks at a family group on our first morning in the Francis Marion NF.
PILEATED WOODPECKER (Dryocopus pileatus) – Good numbers along the coast and in the mountains. One seen flying over the visitor center at Vogel State Park was memorable.
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius) – Just one on our drive to Dahlonega.
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus virens) – Lots heard especially in the Low Country. Seen a few times.
ACADIAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax virescens) – Found from the swampy bottomland forest to the mountains of North Georgia.
EASTERN PHOEBE (Sayornis phoebe) – One was seen at Amicalola Falls.
GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus crinitus) – Good numbers in the coastal forests. Quite vocal this time of year.
EASTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus tyrannus) – Small numbers around Charleston.
Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)
WHITE-EYED VIREO (Vireo griseus) – Seen well at ACE Basin though it gave us fits flying back and forth across the trail!
YELLOW-THROATED VIREO (Vireo flavifrons) – Seen in the canopy of the tall pine trees at ACE Basin NWR.
BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius) – Lots along the Appalachian Trail.
RED-EYED VIREO (Vireo olivaceus) – Another species that can be found in the bottomland forest in the Low Country and again in the mixed hardwood forest along the Appalachian Trail. By voice, it seems one of the most common songbirds: "Here I am, where are you?"
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
BLUE JAY (Cyanocitta cristata) – Good numbers seen or heard most days.
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos) – Often difficult to separate from the next species, but slightly larger and often more solitary. The call is the best way to separate the species.
FISH CROW (Corvus ossifragus) – By call, encountered in the Low Country and around Dahlonega. This is also the crow most likely to turn up in downtown Charleston.
Hirundinidae (Swallows)
NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) – On one day at ACE Basin.
PURPLE MARTIN (Progne subis) – A male over ACE Basin, but again over Kennesaw Mountain.
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor) – Seen most days in the Low Country. Especially fond of coastal wetlands in the winter.
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica) – Seen every day in the Low Country and again at the Dahlonega Reservoir.
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) – Several over the Dahlonega Reservoir.
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
CAROLINA CHICKADEE (Poecile carolinensis) – Fairly common on this tour.
TUFTED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus bicolor) – Also common on this tour, often in small groups with the previous species.
Sittidae (Nuthatches)
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta carolinensis) – One heard at ACE Basin, but eventually seen along the Appalachian Trail.
BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH (Sitta pusilla) – These little rubber duckies were seen (and heard) at Francis Marion and again at ACE Basin.
Troglodytidae (Wrens)
SEDGE WREN (Cistothorus platensis) – One lingering winter resident was seen well in the tall grass behind the Grove Plantation house.
MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris) – The one seen in the marsh at ACE Basin was a wintering bird. It is darker overall and more richly colored than the resident coastal subspecies.
MARSH WREN (WORTHINGTON'S) (Cistothorus palustris griseus) – This gray subspecies is resident in the coastal marshes. Seen well at Pitt Street Bridge.
CAROLINA WREN (Thryothorus ludovicianus) – Common, but mainly heard.
Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea) – Lots singing, but also seen well.
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis) – More common in the mountains. The mother feeding her young at Amicalola Falls was cute.
VEERY (Catharus fuscescens) – A pair in the Edisto forest was a highlight for Jesse.
WOOD THRUSH (Hylocichla mustelina) – Their beautiful song was heard in the mountains of North Georgia. We also managed to see a few.
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius) – Common in the mountains.
Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)
GRAY CATBIRD (Dumetella carolinensis) – Seen or heard most days in the Low Country.
BROWN THRASHER (Toxostoma rufum) – A pair were just outside the Smith House in Dahlonega.
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos) – Most days.
Sturnidae (Starlings)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) – Yep. Pretty much everywhere. [I]
Parulidae (New World Warblers)
OVENBIRD (Seiurus aurocapilla) – A number of breeding birds along the Appalachian Trail.
LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia motacilla) – Seen well at Amicalola Falls; heard again at Vogel.
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (Mniotilta varia) – Good number of breeders in the Low Country and again in the mountains.
PROTHONOTARY WARBLER (Protonotaria citrea) – The yellow canary of the bottomland forest. Seen well at Francis Marion NF.
SWAINSON'S WARBLER (Limnothlypis swainsonii) – Yes! Edisto Natural Trail paid off. What a great bird to see so well.
KENTUCKY WARBLER (Geothlypis formosa) – A pair were in the Edisto forest.
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas) – Lots singing in the Francis Marion NF.
HOODED WARBLER (Setophaga citrina) – One of the more common breeding warblers in the Low Country. We heard one later at Kennesaw.
AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla) – Lovely males were seen along the Appalachian Trail where they are a breeding resident.
NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana) – Singing on territory in the Francis Marion where we saw several.
BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER (Setophaga fusca) – A few breeding pairs were along the AT. A lovely warbler.
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia) – Singles around Charleston.
CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER (Setophaga pensylvanica) – On breeding territory along the AT. Such a pretty warbler especially when in full song.
PALM WARBLER (Setophaga palmarum) – Our last new bird of the trip! A gift from MLK Jr. :-)
PINE WARBLER (Setophaga pinus) – Good numbers in the Francis Marion NF and ACE Basin.
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata) – A few wintering birds were still around the Dahlonega area.
YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (Setophaga dominica) – Usually in mixed hardwoods with pine. We saw our first in the Francis Marion and in the ACE Basin.
PRAIRIE WARBLER (Setophaga discolor) – Seen nicely in the second-growth pine forest in the Francis Marion NF.
BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER (Setophaga virens) – Breeding males were on territory along the AT.
Emberizidae (Buntings and New World Sparrows)
EASTERN TOWHEE (RED-EYED) (Pipilo erythrophthalmus erythrophthalmus) – Interior breeders and northern migrants have red eyes, as we saw on the AT and around Dahlonega.
EASTERN TOWHEE (WHITE-EYED) (Pipilo erythrophthalmus rileyi) – Coastal residents in the Francis Marion NF have pale (white) eyes.
BACHMAN'S SPARROW (Peucaea aestivalis) – Endemic to southeastern USA and found only in longleaf pine savanna. We had a male perched and singing his heart out, albeit over the sound of gunfire!
CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina) – Several at Vogel SP.
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis) – A few winter birds were still around ACE Basin and at Pitt St. Bridge.
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia) – Lots singing in the mountains.
Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)
SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra) – Good numbers in the Francis Marion NF. We had a brilliant male in the scope for some time.
SCARLET TANAGER (Piranga olivacea) – Always a favorite. Several males were singing on territory along the AT and at Vogel.
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis) – Lots singing everyday.
ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus ludovicianus) – One male was singing along the AT, but he didn't stay around long.
BLUE GROSBEAK (Passerina caerulea) – Nice views in the tall grass at ACE Basin.
INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea) – A male singing along the AT was a nice surprise.
PAINTED BUNTING (Passerina ciris ciris) – In the rain on Folly Island, it was really the only responsive bird. Thank you!
Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus) – Good numbers along the coast.
COMMON GRACKLE (Quiscalus quiscula) – Most days.
BOAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus major) – These were common in the Charleston area.
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater) – Lots around in the Francis Marion and a female along the AT.
ORCHARD ORIOLE (Icterus spurius) – Several young males along the dike at ACE Basin.
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus) – More common in the mountains.
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis) – Beautiful males were foraging in the grass at Vogel SP.
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) – Pretty common throughout the tour in cities and town. [I]

PLAIN EASTERN CHIPMUNK (Tamias striatus) – Seen and heard in the mountains of North Georgia, especially along the AT.
EASTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis) – Seen in the lowlands and in the mountains.
WHITE-TAILED DEER (Odocoileus virginianus) – A few on our early morning drive in the Francis Marion and again in Dahlonega area.


A few other cool critters seen on the tour:

1) Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula getula) = Lovely snake we found crossing the road in the Francis Marion NF. It was fairly long, approx. 5 ft, and posed for some nice photos.

2) Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) = This cute turtle was found along the road in the Francis Marion NF.

3) Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus) = This lovely snake was found crossing the paved road at Kennesaw Mountain.

Totals for the tour: 135 bird taxa and 3 mammal taxa