Pawley's Island, SC - 10 Mar 2023

With 4-8" snow expected today Robin and I were up and out of the house at 5 am for an 8:25 am flight to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We had been invited to visit Jack and Janet Volker, who I've known for 30+ years from our days in the Erie Shores Birding Association. They winter and bird in the small community of Debordieu and the surrounding Georgetown County, SC. From Britannia:

Georgetown, county, eastern South Carolina, U.S. The Atlantic Ocean is the eastern border, the Great Pee Dee River the irregular northeastern border, and the Santee River the southern border. It also is drained by the Waccamaw, Black, and Sampit rivers, which empty into Winyah Bay. A portion of the Sea Islands, with their sandy beaches, line the coast, and swamps and pine forests cover much of the inland area.

The region was inhabited by Siouan-speaking Winyah Indians when Europeans began settling Carolina in the 1670s. During the colonial era rice and indigo cultivation made it important agriculturally. Georgetown county was established in 1785 and named for George II of England. The deep harbour at the town of Georgetown, the county seat, made it a crucial port of entry for supplies during the U.S. War of Independence; the British seized the town in 1780 and destroyed it the next year. The county first became noted as a resort area in the 18th century; Huntington Beach State Park and oceanside communities such as Murrells Inlet, Litchfield Beach, and Pawleys Island continue to attract vacationers who enjoy fishing and swimming.

Tourism, commercial fishing, lumbering, and textile, steel, and paper production are important elements in the economy, but, apart from tobacco growing, agriculture is a minor element. Area 815 square miles (2,110 square km). Pop. (2000) 55,823; (2010) 60,158.

Snow was falling heavily as we drove to Detroit Metro Airport, but we had no issues and arrived in plenty of time for our flight. We boarded, flew and landed in Myrtle Beach by 10:30 am where Jack and Janet were waiting for us with their famous red Jeep "Willie". It was raining, and it was the start of a cold(er) snap that would last for the next several days and would affect our birding success, but only a little.

With rain falling fairly heavily we drove south along Hwy 17 from Myrtle Beach toward their home in Debordieu, but stopped for a late breakfast at the Eggs Up Grill. Jack had seen the first Purple Martin of the season just across the street but today the martin houses were quiet (we'd find several just a little while later). Once breakfast was paid for we continued south to Debordieu to unpack, introduce Robin and me to Pixie, their (adorable!) 8-yr old Collie, and get ready to go birding. 

Debordieu is a lovely (gated) community of very expensive homes on the Atlantic Ocean. Not Richie-Rich rich homes where people mulch their grounds with shredded $100 bills, but rich enough that the golf caddies get to swim in the Clubhouse pool from 1 - 1:15 pm every first Sunday of the month. I'm kidding. But, the homes are gorgeous, expansive and expensive. Jack and Janet have been renting a winter home for the past 20+ years and have a friend that found them a house to sit in this community for a couple of years now. They, Pixie and the red Jeep have become such a winter staple here that everyone knows (and loves) them. They are the birders that everyone sees and recognize, even in town. And, with their current rental just a couple hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean it is an ideal location to walk Pixie and monitor the bird life passing along the coast of South Carolina.

Just a quick note about Jack. An almost 76 yr old retired Vietnam Vet and marathon runner he is as obsessed with birds as much as he is about running. This morning he had an allergic reaction and spent a couple hours in the ER just before picking us up from the airport. With the rain falling I expected us to relax at the house for the afternoon and recuperate (all of us). Nope! We dropped Robin off with Pixie at the house and went birding. The rain had stopped, after all! We would start birding before sunrise every day and bird all day regardless of weather (and health; more on that later). He walked me more miles in 4 days than I walked all last year at Pt. Mouillee. And I loved it!

Birding around here can be largely dependent on the tide schedule. When the tides are out the salt marshes adjacent to the ocean dunes drain and expose mudflats that bring Clapper Rails, King Rails, Sora, Virginia Rails, and foraging waterbirds. Equally, the exposed beach brings shorebirds and shell hunters. And, with miles of sandy beach to access there is lots of shorebirds and shells to find. Both Jack and Janet study the daily tide schedules so they know when and where to go to find target birds. And they know where to go. This afternoon we would be heading back north to Pawleys Island to look for shorebirds along the ocean shore.

The three of us headed back north on Hwy 17 to Pawley's Island and drove around the community. The first of many Northern Mockingbirds appeared, as well as numerous Carolina Wrens and Boat-tailed Grackles. We even found the first Purple Martins flying overhead as we parked near the ocean access. A half-mile walk along the ocean gave me my first looks at Forster's Tern, Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans, and sea shells of the week.

We walked as far north as we could before reaching the Midway Inlet. There, we set up our scopes and scanned across the inlet to the sand spit on the north side to ID shorebirds. A pair of Horned Grebes were swimming in the inlet and heading toward the inland salt marsh. 

Across the inlet we found 200 Black Skimmers resting on the sand, and they were surrounded by Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Dunlin, Sanderlings, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, and more Forster's Terns

While we scoped the inlet we were visited by a half-dozen Ruddy Turnstones working the shoreline toward us. They paid us no mind and foraged among the the rocks along the inlet and the beach. With the Sony a1 and 200-600 f/5.6-6.3 G OSS this trip the birds were easy pickings.

Out along the beach the exposed sand spits played roosting spots for the skimmers, gulls, terns and shorebirds as they flew from the north to the south side of the inlet. As we scanned the birds on the beach a fairly steady stream of Northern Gannets could be seen flying out over the ocean. We counted 15 in our hour or so but Jack said that hundreds could be seen during the day around here. Double-crested Cormorants can be seen, along with the pelicans, moving along the shoreline.

Once we had our fill of the inlet we walked inland to check out the salt marsh. The tide was still heading out but the main channel had some action in the form of Red-breasted Mergansers, Bufflehead, and more cormorants. I managed to flush a large brown raptor from the pier and got only pics of its tail and wings as it disappeared over the marsh. Luckily, size and tail stripes helped ID it as a Cooper's Hawk.

An adult Bald Eagle was much easier to identify, especially since it was hovering and soaring over the inlet in front of us. Jack urged me on to get flight pics to see if we could see and identify any bands on its legs. There were none.

Farther south one of the piers in the salt marsh became a roosting location for a large flocks of Snowy Egrets and Tricolored Herons

We headed back to the car along the beach. A few Sanderlings were now on this side of the inlet along with flocks of Dunlin.

We also found a large flock of Bonaparte's Gulls foraging in the surf. 

As we left Pawleys Island we made a couple stops next to the salt marsh to look for rails in the low-tide mudflats. We managed to hear a couple of Clapper Rails respond to recordings, but they called only once, and did not appear. 

Returning to Debordieu we picked up Robin and headed south into Georgetown for dinner at SoCo Grille in Georgetown for Dinner. A short walk around town afterward in the dark and it was time to find the bed and collapse. Great first day in South Carolina!

Pawleys Island--North End
Mar 10, 2023
3:38 PM
2.1 miles
120 Minutes
All birds reported? Yes
Comments: Submitted from eBird for iOS, version 2.17.1 Build 2.17.3

1 Bufflehead
85 Red-breasted Merganser -- Actual count as they went out with the tide
4 Horned Grebe
1 Eurasian Collared-Dove
18 Black-bellied Plover
13 Semipalmated Plover
7 Ruddy Turnstone
18 Sanderling
30 Dunlin
1 Greater Yellowlegs
50 Bonaparte's Gull
140 Laughing Gull
100 Ring-billed Gull
3 Herring Gull
12 Forster's Tern
200 Black Skimmer
1 Common Loon
15 Northern Gannet
25 Double-crested Cormorant
15 Brown Pelican
1 Great Blue Heron
1 Great Egret
34 Snowy Egret
6 Tricolored Heron
1 Black Vulture
3 Turkey Vulture
1 Osprey
1 Bald Eagle
3 Purple Martin
3 Tree Swallow
1 Barn Swallow
1 Carolina Wren
1 Northern Mockingbird
2 House Finch
20 Boat-tailed Grackle
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler

Number of Taxa: 36


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