Threatened piping plover Wild Dunes beach, Isle of Palms – Don Hendershot photo

Friends and followers of “The Naturalist’s Corner” know I’m keeping a year-list of birds I see/hear this year. As I wrote in an earlier column, “I was just curious about how many different species of birds I normally run into throughout the year.” And I have a great core of birding activities that provide a good nucleus for a list including Christmas Bird Count, George Ellison’s Great Smoky Mountains Birding Expedition, my annual point count contract with the Forest Service and other opportunities such as leading a trip for the Franklin Bird Club, generally leading birding trips during the annual Wildflower Pilgrimage (which, regrettably, I missed this year due to a scheduling conflict with spring break) and an annual summer trip to Isle of Palms. The Isle of Palms trip is the one I was counting on for a list boost. The Christmas count, the Forest Service contract and birding with friends and organizations across Western North Carolina provide a great chance to see an amazing array of migrant and resident birds, throw in a trip to the coast – even in late summer – and you have a recipe for a respectable year list.

Birding is kinda like real estate in one respect – location, location, location. The herons, egrets, night herons and wood storks plus gulls and terns one normally encounters along Coastal Carolina can easily provide new species for a predominantly WNC list. I had 169 species on my list when we headed for IOP Saturday morning, August 5. A Mississippi kite appeared overhead as we were crossing the marsh on I-526 near our IOP exit, making my first “island bird.” Wood storks in the marsh as we crossed the IOP connector added another tick and a walk along the pier behind the home, where we stay at Wild Dunes quickly added six more species – so, just arriving at the beach added eight species to the list.

The beach at IOP is not particularly birdy. It is more for play time and with one teenage and one tween-age daughter I got plenty of beach play time in. On one trip to the beach I noticed a couple of small shorebirds running about. I figured they were sanderlings – which would be a new species, so I decided to get closer to check ‘em out. When I got a better look I could see they were piping plover and while I didn’t have my bins, I did have my camera and took a few shots. The piping plover is a globally threatened species and there are efforts across the country to protect nesting sites and band and monitor populations. I didn’t realize this bird was banded until I downloaded the photos. These bands tell the story of this particular plover – where it was banded; when; age; sex etc. I don’t have a handle on the color codes at this time but I’ve sent the photos off to find out the particulars.

There is great birding up and down the coast within 30-45 minutes from IOP and I was able to make a few quick trips to Pitt Street Bridge in Mt. Pleasant, Moore’s landing, a quick shelling expedition to Bulls Island with my daughter Maddie and a trip to Santee Coastal Reserve to see red-cockaded woodpeckers.

All and all it was a productive trip to the beach – bumped the list by 33 species. And as always after our annual IOP trip, I reflect on how fortunate we are to have great friends like Bill and Elaine Cave who allow us to experience their beautiful marsh residence. I mean, what better way to add roseate spoonbill and glossy ibis to your year list than by sitting in a comfy chair at the end of the dock with an adult beverage.