Fishing Lessons

IMG_8330 - CopyAfter spending a lot of time this winter watching birds, I learned that they have a wide variety of fishing styles, techniques, and skills.  I thought that shorebird fishing consisted simply of a dive or beak stab, followed by a quick swallow.  But no, bird fishing is a sophisticated and fascinating business.

For example, one evening at South Carolina’s Huntington Beach State Park, this brown pelican fished for about an hour off the causeway.  He patiently harvested tiny fishes through the sieve method—lots of work for not much protein.   IMG_8339 First, he took aim and lunged.

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Then he slowly, slowly pulled his head and bloated throat pouch up, engorged with water and minnows.   It was a gradual process, with the water slowly seeping out his beak until his head was fully up. IMG_8392 - CopyIMG_8394IMG_8395IMG_8397 - Copy

IMG_8336IMG_8327 - Copy (2)He held his head fully upright, beak down, while the remaining water dripped out his beak tip and then abruptly pulled his head back, with great bill chomping, and swallowed the little fishes.IMG_8398

IMG_8399 - CopyAfter attracted a bevy of photographers, he flew off to fish elsewhere.IMG_8378IMG_9199IMG_9200IMG_9203

This egret was after larger prey.  She suddenly went into a frenzy of wing flapping and stomping, all around the edge of marsh tidal pool.

IMG_8435IMG_8436IMG_8437IMG_8439IMG_8440IMG_8441IMG_8442IMG_8443IMG_8444Then she went in for the kill—a good-sized fish that she carried onto the mud bank.  IMG_8447She dropped it and let it slither around in the mud for a bit before picking it up and awkwardly downing that sucker. IMG_8452IMG_8455IMG_8458

One Gator, Two Gator, Three Gators, Four …

IMG_9025Some places are more of a surprise than others.  When we headed south in the fall, we stayed at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina based on rave reviews by several RV bloggers.  Not surprisingly, we loved it.

Six months later, now heading north in the almost-spring, we stayed at another South Carolina coast state park with a similar name–Huntington Beach State Park.  We had no blogger recommendations for this park, and knew little about it, but it looked interesting.  It was … and more–a very nice surprise.

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To start with, it had alligators–huge armored grandfather gators, adorable smiling-like baby gators, and everything in between.  And there were lots of them, very close, swimming and sunning. IMG_8837

This is a "how many gators can you spot in this picture" puzzle.

This is a “How many gators can you spot in this picture?” puzzle.

I count five in the picture above, but you have to look really closely at the foreground.  Here is a close up, with three baby gators.

I counted five in the picture above, but you have to look really closely at the foreground to see the babies. Here is a close up, with three baby gators.

It was a gatorpalooza.  Throw in miles of empty beach and more birds than you can throw a stick at and you have one of my favorite campgrounds in our travels.

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IMG_8653The park is right off a main road leading to the highly commercialized Myrtle Beach, which battles with the Panama City, Florida area for the title of Redneck Riviera.  So it was a surprise to find an oasis of alligators and birds, left alone in relative peace.

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There is a causeway leading to the campground, with cars randomly stopped while their occupants take pictures of alligators sunning on a little island a few yards away.

Causeway.

Causeway.

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This fellow was right at the edge of the causeway, about three yards from the road.

This fellow was right at the edge of the causeway, about three yards from the road.

Birders with spotting scopes lined the road, trying to catch site of the eaglets in a nearby nest or photographing the birds fishing, sparring, and courting in the oyster beds and marshes.IMG_9067IMG_9328IMG_9069

The campground was a mix of wooded and open spots with two pathways directly out to a beautiful dog-friendly beach.  IMG_9058

The park was established as a bird and wildlife preserve by Archer and Anna Huntington, a wealthy and somewhat eccentric couple who first came to the island seeking ease for Anna’s tuberculosis.  She was a successful sculptor and he had various interests, including a love of all things Spanish.  The house they built in the 1930s, Atalaya, is open to the public, but is in pretty bad shape.  IMG_8879The park puts on an interesting tour, but the house itself was ugly, dark, damp, and cold.  I couldn’t wait to emerge into the sun again.  IMG_8880The land around Atalaya, however, is lovely and, thanks to the Huntingtons, isn’t covered in water slides and Ruby Tuesdays.

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I spent a lot of time watching alligators and birds.  Their eyes,

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and wings,IMG_8598IMG_8954IMG_9097

Check out the reflection of the bird in the middle.

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and signs of spring.IMG_9004IMG_9009IMG_8483IMG_8622IMG_8969IMG_8607