Sea Pines Forest Preserve was listed as a South Carolina Important Birding Site at the local Audubon website. I looked it up before visiting there last week. Upon entering the preserve, I was impressed by finding 4 or 5 active Yellow-crowned Night Heron(click here) nests immediately upon entering the trail. They were very close and the herons seemed accustomed to people passing by. I got some great images of one of the YCNHs performing his mating dance. (click). (click for another). Further along the trail and boardwalks, I came upon a field of poppies (click) and some ponds with picnic shelters and such. But the wild parts called to me. I saw snakes, turtles, and many birds, including my first Orchard Oriole (click).
The real treat came at the end of my walk, when I heard a fluttering sound nearby. It took some searching, but I finally found the source: a fledgling cardinal that had accidentally landed in a small wetland pond. She was near the edge, but had sunk to her shoulders, her feet caught in submerged roots (click). She was flapping her wings helplessly on the water's surface. I grimaced at the span of deep mud, water, and poison ivy between me and her, but knew I was already committed to the rescue. When I got her untangled, I examined her to be sure she wasn't injured. At that point, she began crying out in distress. Almost immediately, a huge Barred Owl swooped in, nearly snatching her from my hands. The raptor had second thoughts at the last moment, but landed low in a tree just a few feet away. Wow! ...and darn!... naturally, I had left my camera on the ground near the trail, some 20 feet away.
By now, both cardinal parents had arrived and joined in the fussing. I decided to carry my hostage back with me to protect her and to see if the owl would stay put. Sure enough, I had plenty of time with the squawking youngster to get to my camera, put her under cover of poison ivy, and make a few shots of the owl (click) before it flew off in digust.
After hearing the story of the owl and cardinal, my 3 young cousins were itching to spend the afternoon exploring the Preserve again. Jack, the middle boy at 10 years old,proved to be the "eagle eye" of our group, spotting most of the birds we saw. As I was retelling the story onsite, Jack said, "there's the owl!" It was hard to see through the leaves so we shifted down the trail a little and were even more surprised to see not only the barred owl, but also his/her mate on a nearby branch - TWO owls! They were further away, but we had a great binocular-view of these two beauties. The cardinals were long gone, and peace had settled over the Forest Preserve. I mimicked the owl's call for the boys, "Who cooks for youuuu", and to our delight, we heard 'the real thing' from a distant 3rd owl.
It was a great day of adventure in the Preserve. Big alligators, lots of turtles, many wading birds, including 7 different herons/egrets. Thomas spotted the single Black-crowned Night Heron we saw. Charlie-the-snake-spotter found two banded water snakes for us. There were fields of wildflowers, lakes, swamps with winding boardwalks, many Yellow-crowns nesting along the lakes, and the great Barred 'hooty' owls of the Forest.