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Monday, July 23, 2012

Nerdy Birdy: Huntington Park, A Hidden Gem

As I was browsing online for fun things to do in the Myrtle Beach area I of course looked for a place nearby that might have some good birding. What I found was what one blogger touted was one of the best birding spots on the east coast. Huntington Park was located only about a half hour south of where we were staying so I convinced Mrs. Painter and Ms. Pixie to go adventuring with me.

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What we found was a MECCA of wildlife. When we first drove into the park I cursed myself for leaving my big lens at home. There was a major roadway through the center of the marsh, one side was a pure salt water marsh and the other was a freshwater, saltwater combination marsh. It was a perfect habitat for all kinds of herons, egrets and water birds.

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BIRDS, BIRDS, AS FAR AS THE EYE COULD SEE

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Along both sides of the road was a walkway where people could view the wildlife and off those walkways were viewing platforms. I knew that our arrival time at 7:30am was way too late. The sun was already high, the temperature was already getting up there and as we were pulling up many of the birds were taking off overhead. Tomorrow, and yes I would have to be coming again soon, I would have to come earlier. For now I would make use of the time we had by taking as many photos as I could.

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There were of course several birds that are common in LALA land. Many of the birds here in fact are herons and egrets that I know well. No matter how many times I see these birds though I am struck by how beautiful they are, and despite the fact that I may have hundreds of photos of a specific bird I cannot help but take another one. Birds, they are all just so beautiful.

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GREAT BLUE HERON

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GREAT EGRET

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GREEN HERON

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SNOWY EGRET

Even though I love seeing birds of all kinds I cannot help but get a rush of excitement when I find a bird I have never seen before. With only 284 birds crossed off my Nerdy Birdy List whenever I travel I almost always find some new birds. This park was amazing; within the first few minutes I had snagged several new birds.

The first of the new birds, and the only one I saw, was a single lone Little Blue Heron. He was hunting pretty close to the path however the lighting was still a little dark. I only managed to grab a few photos of the bird catching a rather healthy sized breakfast before he took off to the far side of the marsh. Too far for me to photograph sooner I assumed where one was others would be but the bird for the rest of the week was not seen again. I am thankful then for the photo I did manage to get even if it wasn’t a Kodak shot. The Little Blue Heron was the first new bird to cross off my Nerdy Birdy List.

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LITTLE BLUE HERON

My next new bird was EVERYWHERE so I didn’t have to worry about missing a shot. The Wood Stork seemed to be the most dominant bird at the park. I talked to a local birder, who is always ready to share their knowledge of the area birding, and he stated that there was over triple the normal amount this year than usual. No one knows exactly why but being as this was a new bird for me I was grateful. Since there were so many it was easy to get great photos of many of the birds, flying, eating, and sunning themselves and in a pack. Out of all the birds I found on this trip this was my most photographed bird. The second bird today to cross off my Nerdy Birdy List.

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A TON OF THE WOOD STORKS

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WOOD STORK

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JUVENILE WOOD STORK STILL HAS FEATHERS ON HIS HEAD

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WOOD STORK FLYING RIGHT AT ME, I LOVED HOW THE SKY AND THE ANGLE CAME OUT ON THIS ONE

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WOOD STORK IN FLIGHT

And then new birds I found just kept walking right up to me. The next bird is the White Ibis. Once the tide went down on the salt water side of the marsh these birds came out in the droves. They were slopping around in the muck and pulling out what looked like tiny worms. Most of the birds were quite messy, but some seemed to be a little cleaner than others. My third new bird today to cross off the Nerdy Birdy List.

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WHITE IBIS

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WHITE IBIS JUVENILE

My last new bird of the day was the Tricolored Heron. This was the last Heron I needed to cross off on my list. It feels so fantastic to get to a point where whole groups of birds are being seen. I loved the last of my herons, he was so uniquely patterned and I got to see a juvenile as well as an adult. FANTASTIC beautiful bird. I love this place. And the Tricolored heron made it my fourth new bird of the day to cross off my Nerdy Birdy List.

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TRICOLORED HERON

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TRICOLORED HERON JUVENILE

The birds weren’t the only ones to be enjoying the marshes. There were also a ton of alligators, some extremely large ones were in that mix and I was glad for my elevated perch. I watched several of the gators stalk birds but I didn’t see any catch a bird. Fish however were a totally different story, those gators are master fishermen and fish after fish was brought to the surface and slid down elevated throats. The alligators would first just glide along looking as calm as can be.

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Then in a flash they would twist and roll. I cannot even describe how fast the strike was and I could never quite capture the motion as I would have liked in a photo. The most I could do were blurry jaws slamming and twisting into the water.

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Most often they would return to the surface and you would get just barely a glimpse of a fish being swallowed down. When I say these gators were big, I mean that they were HUGE. And looking at the attack and those gigantic teeth through a zoom lens gave me shivers. I didn’t want to get anywhere near these guys. NO THANK YOU!

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Other less intimidating wildlife but equally necessary to the food chain were the millions of tiny crabs populating the mud-bed floors. The tide would move back and the crabs would come out, the garbage cleaners of the marshes. Standing on the boardwalks all you had to do was look down and the floor was covered with these little guys. The males had one gigantic claw and one tiny claw. The females only had tiny claws.

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MUD CRAB

Mussels also play a key role in the ecosystem of the marsh. All Mussels are filter feeders and draws water through a chamber to feed. Usually found clumped together on flats of rock or manmade piers the muscles in this area are making a comeback. The mussels in this area didn’t have enough to anchor onto. Manmade beds of cement and old recycled mussel shells from local restaurants were used to make rock beds that the muscles could use. Now the mussels in this area are doing well.

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Something that I found the birds chasing often were the little fish in the marsh shallows. Some of the fish started jumping out of the water and I was able to get one photo of a little head coming out of the water. Strange fish you would think that they would want to stay as far from the surface as possible.

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Although Mrs. Painter, Ms. Pixie and I spent a ton of time at the entrance of the park where the marshes are we still wanted to explore a little bit. We took off through a path in the woods to what a boardwalk. Walking through those woods was creepy. There were spiders everywhere and if you didn’t watch out for your footing you could easily step on something. In fact Ms. Pixie shrieked when she find a tiny little harmless baby corn snake hardly bigger than a pine needle.

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After a ten minute walk we got to the boardwalk but we really didn’t see anything new. More of the same awesome bird but it was getting HOT. In fact the temperature seemed to be going up ten degrees a minute. The birds were all taking off for the day so we decided it was time to go home as well.

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Time for us to get home and spend the rest of the day napping and hanging out at the beach with the family. Ahhhhhh hard work deserves some R&R and an ice cold Diet Coke.

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2 comments:

paul peggy zeus said...

Great pics! Loved the alligator in action. Rare to see them do anything other than sun bathe or float. COOL !

Jennifer Arens said...

uh, later gator! I love living vicariously through your lens :) permanent vacation!

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