Tag Archives: South Carolina attractions

Brown pelicans now thrive along nation’s coasts

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A young brown pelican fishes along the causeway at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina. These pelicans usually dive into the water, capturing prey in a large pouch that is connected to their bill. Pelicans also snatch fish while floating on the surface.

Back in early March I enjoyed a trip to coastal South Carolina, visiting locations near Pawleys Island such as Huntington Beach State Park, Myrtle Beach State Park and Brookgreen Gardens.

During my six-day stay in the South Carolina Low Country, I observed 95 species of birds, including several that should be making their spring return to our region any day now. I saw blue-gray gnatcatchers, yellow-throated warblers and a few shorebirds, including a greater yellowlegs. All of these birds usually migrate through Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia in April and early May.

I also saw some coastal specialties that don’t usually come close to my landlocked home state of Tennessee, including anhinga, tricolored heron and brown pelican.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A young brown pelican floats on the water in a salt-water marsh at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina.

The brown pelican is the smallest of the world’s eight species of pelicans, which are grouped in the family Pelecanidae. Saying that a brown pelican is small, however, is a relative term. The brown pelican is about half the size of the related white pelican.

The brown pelican lives on both coasts, from around Seattle, Washington, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, southward to the tropics. This pelican also lives along the Gulf Coast, as well as ranging south as far as the mouth of the Amazon River in South America.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s website, there are two geographically and genetically distinct regional populations, or subspecies, of brown pelican that occur in North America. They are the California brown pelican, ranging from California to Chile, and the eastern brown pelican, which occurs along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as the Caribbean and the Central and South American coasts.

Pelicans have been documented living about 30 years in the wild, but the average age may be much less due to factors such as predation, disease and starvation. Many young pelicans, unskilled at catching fish, sadly do not reach adulthood.

DDT, which negatively affected breeding for birds such as bald eagle, osprey and peregrine falcon, also had a detrimental impact on the brown pelican. According to their website, in 1970, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the brown pelican as endangered. The listing was possible through a law that had been passed before 1973’s Endangered Species Act. A recovery plan was published in 1983. In November 2009, the pelican was removed from the Endangered Species List, becoming another success story akin to that of the bald eagle.

Summer-Pelicans

Photo by Bryan Stevens • Brown pelicans fly in a line over the Atlantic Ocean on the South Carolina coast, conjuring forth fantasies of ancient flying creatures.

Visitors to beaches along the Atlantic Coast have probably seen the impressive flight of brown pelicans in a single file formation of birds gliding only a few feet above the surf. The span of the wings can reach seven feet six inches. Seen near dusk, an observer could be forgiven a flight of fancy that allows these pelicans and their graceful flying formations to be compared to the long-extinct flying reptiles, the pterosaurs.

At a distance, the birds can readily be described as majestic and even graceful. On closer inspection, some different adjectives come into play to describe the brown pelican. At close quarters, a brown pelican is an ungainly, almost ugly bird. Pelicans have long necks and bills, and on land, they shuffle awkwardly. Young bird are drab brown and gray, often looking much more disheveled than adult birds.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A large pouch that is connected to its bill is one physical trait that makes pelicans distinct from other birds. Although these birds often appear ungainly, they are quite skilled at using their pouch-equipped bill to capture fish.

According to the website All About Birds, the brown pelican feeds mostly on small fish such as menhaden, mullet, anchovies, herring, and sailfin mollies. These large birds may plunge from 65 feet above the surface of the water to capture fish in their famous throat pouch. In addition to fish, a pelican can take up to 2.6 gallons of water into its pouch with every dive. The water gets expelled, leaving behind the fish.

When not feeding, pelicans will rest on sandbars, pilings and rock jetties. These “loafing” spots are important places for pelicans to rest and recuperate after the rigors of diving and fishing for their fish meals.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A young brown pelican fishes along the causeway at Huntington Beach State Park. These birds capture fish in an elastic pouch that is attached to their bills.

The closest avian relatives of the pelicans are a couple of oddball birds known as the shoebill and hamerkop. The world’s other species of pelicans include Peruvian pelican, great white pelican, Australian pelican, American white pelican, pink-backed pelican, Dalmatian pelican and spot-billed pelican.

One state — Louisiana — has even made the brown pelican its official state bird. Most state birds are songbirds. The brown pelican is one of the exceptions, along with such birds as Minnesota’s common loon and the wild turkey, which has been adopted by Massachusetts.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A young brown pelican dips its bill into the water along the causeway at Huntington Beach State Park. Pelicans are skillful at snatching fish while floating on the surface.

On a handful of occasions, brown pelicans have made brief appearances in the region, usually generating a great deal of excitement among birders. White pelicans are also rare visitors, but they make slightly more stops in the region than their smaller relative. For instance, a white pelican spent a few days at Middlebrook Lake in Bristol around Thanksgiving in 2015. To increase your odds of observing a brown pelican in the wild, it will be much more productive to simply spend a few days along the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia or Florida.

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If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

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Early American naturalist and artist John James Audubon painted this representation of a brown pelican. Today, the state of Louisiana has even made the brown pelican its official state bird.

Newest attraction at the Native Wildlife Zoo at Brookgreen Gardens introduces public to migratory waterfowl

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All Photos by Bryan Stevens                                                    The entrance to the new waterfowl habitat at Brookgreen Gardens.

During my recent vacation to Pawleys Island in South Carolina, I’ve been able to visit Brookgreen Gardens, which is one of my favorite attractions in the area.

I was particularly eager to visit “Flights of Passage: Migratory Waterfowl of the Lowcountry,” which is the latest habitat to be added to the Native Wildlife Zoo and Domestic Animal Exhibit at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina.

“Flights of Passage” joins the popular Cypress Aviary, an enclosed habitat housing several species of wading birds, such as Black-crowned Night-heron, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, White Ibis and Cattle Egret.

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Fulvous Whistling Ducks take a nap in the afternoon.

Among the waterfowl on display in the “Flights of Passage” habitat are Wood Duck, Redhead, Blue-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Hooded Merganser, Northern Pintail, Black-bellied Whistling Duck and Fulvous Whistling Duck.

The Fulvous Whistling Duck, also known as Fulvous Tree Duck, breeds across the world’s tropical regions in Mexico and South America. It is a widespread duck, ranging across four of the world’s continents. This duck has also expanded its range into the West Indies and into the southern United States.

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Black-bellied Whistling Duck stands at attention to greet visitors.

The Black-bellied Whistling Duck, formerly also called Black-bellied Tree Duck, is a whistling duck that breeds from the southernmost United States and tropical Central to south-central South America. In the United States, it can be found year-round in parts of southeast Texas, and seasonally in southeast Arizona and Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. It is a rare breeder in Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina. In the wild, this duck usually forages for food at night.

The Ruddy Ducks, especially the male with his bright blue bill, wins many fans among visitors to “Flights of Passage.” The Ruddy Duck is a native of North America, but can also be found in South America along the Andes Mountains. This duck belongs to a family known as the “stiff-tailed ducks.” These ducks migrate to avoid the colder winter conditions, usually spending the winter months on coastal bays or unfrozen lakes and ponds.

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The male Wood Duck is one of North America’s most colorful ducks.

The Wood Duck, also known as the Summer Duck and the Carolina Duck, is one of the few ducks that breeds in the southeastern United States. It is a cavity-nesting bird and will accept nesting boxes provided by humans. Males, or drakes, are considered among the most colorful of North American waterfowl. The Wood Duck is one of two ducks in the genus Aix. Its only close relative is the Mandarin Duck of East Asia and Japan.

The Redhead is a species of diving duck that nests on prairie wetlands across the United States and Canada. It belong to a family of ducks known as “pochards,” which are adapted to foraging underwater. While the Redhead can be legally hunted, the federal government has in place restrictions on the number that can be taken during a hunting season.

Pintails

A pair of Northern Pintails enjoys a swim in their pool.

The Northern Pintail is a duck with a wide geographic distribution. Pintails breed in the northern areas of Europe, Asia and North America, but this waterfowl is migratory and winters south of its breeding range to the equator.

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This Lego sculpture of a peacock is located in the waterfowl habitat as part of the “Nature Connects” exhibition.

The Hooded Merganser, according to the website All About Birds, are excellent divers and can catch numerous aquatic insects, crayfish, and small fish. Males court females by expanding their white, sail-like crests and making very low, gravelly, groaning calls. Hooded Mergansers fly distinctively, with shallow, very rapid wingbeats. Like the Wood Duck, the Hooded Merganser is also a cavity-nesting bird.
Since March 5, visitors to the zoo have also been able to see 12 larger-than-life LEGO® brick sculpture installations in the Native Wildlife Zoo. Created by Sean Kenney, renowned artist and children’s author, “Nature Connects” is an award-winning exhibit currently touring the country. The exhibit is open daily and is included in garden admission through Sept. 5.

Made from almost a half million LEGO® bricks, the sculptures bring nature to life with a six-foot tall hummingbird hovering over a trumpet flower, a deer family made from 48,000 bricks, a giant tortoise, a seven-foot-long giant dragonfly, a bird bath attracting cardinals, bees and a squirrel and much more.

The exhibit features interpretive panels with an educational message for each sculpture to connect children with the natural world and promote conservation.In addition, there are educational activities such as a LEGO® sculpture building contest, scavenger hunts, and 30,000 LEGO® bricks available for guests to play with when you are here.

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Ruddy Duck keeps one eye open to monitor visitors to the enclosed waterfowl aviary.

Other animals displayed throughout the Native Wildlife Zoo are Great Horned Owl, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Barred Owl, River Otter, American Alligator, Grey Fox, Red Fox and White-tailed Deer.

The grounds and walking trails of Brookgreen Gardens also offer birding opportunities. In the early summer months, visitors can observe Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Brown Thrasher, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Red-headed Woodpecker and many other wild birds.

Redhead

The male Redhead shows the namesake coloration on the drake’s head.

Brookgreen Gardens is a National Historic Landmark and non-profit organization located on U.S. 17 between Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island. For more information, visit the website at http://www.brookgreen.org or call (843) 235-6000.

According to the attraction’s website, the Native Wildlife Zoo has been an important element of the mission for Brookgreen Gardens since its inception. It is the only zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums on the coast of North and South Carolina. The AZA is America’s most respected organization for zoos and aquariums. All of the native animals in the Native Wildlife Zoo were either bred and raised in captivity or have sustained a major disability due to injury. In either case, these animals could not survive in the wild.

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Female Wood Duck perched on a tree branch.

Whistlers

Black-bellied Whistling Duck, foreground, with a Fulvous Whistling Duck.

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Male Ruddy Duck sporting his blue bill.

Mergansers

Hooded Merganser flaps her wings.

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Wood Duck, background, and a Fulvous Whistling Duck.

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Blue-winged Teal splashes in the pool.

Redhead-Hen

A female Redhead rests by the side of the pool.

Redhead

Male Redhead takes a swim in the pool.

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Northern Pintail

MERG-Hen

Hooded Merganser stands next to the pool.

Woodie-Cute

Wood Duck rests at side of the pool.

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Ruddy Duck dives beneath the surface of the pool.

Pintail-Hen

Female Northern Pintail.

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Male Northern Pintail.

Ruddy-Hen

A female Ruddy Duck takes a refreshing dip in the pool.