Pool makes viewing endangered wood storks easy as a drive-thru

Posted by JEFF KIDD on September 11, 2013 

The photo gallery attached to this post shows scads of endangered wood storks searching for food early one morning. Where did I take these shots? On a sojourn to their breeding grounds in the Corkscrew Swamp of Florida? The inner reaches of a National Wildlife Management Area? On a boat trip to one of our secluded barrier islands?

Nope, nope and nope.

I just stopped on the side of the road.

There’s a little pool, probably no more than a quarter-acre, at the intersection of S.C. 802 and Meridian Road on Lady’s Island that attracts wood storks and other wading birds many mornings this time of year. You don't have to hike a mile, whack your way through underbrush or douse yourself in insect repellent to see them. Just follow the sidewalk.

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It’s a veritable drive-through window for birders, and it offers an up-close look at an endangered species, no less.

If watching critters work helps you relax — it does me — wood storks make for pretty good therapy. They have an unusual feeding method — National Geographic describes it as a underwater mouse trap — in which they skim their open bills along shallow bottoms and wait for a fish to swim by. If something ventures in, their jaws snap shut.

The storks I noticed on this particular trip didn't seem to catch much, though. One paraded about proudly with a stick in his mouth for 10 minutes or so, and a few of the other birds seemed genuinely jealous. But that was about the extent of the haul.

I also noticed these birds — perhaps because they are accustomed to the passing traffic? — were less skittish than the ones I've encountered while kayaking. Although clearly aware of my presence, these birds simply moved to the opposite side of the pool as I approached, rather than flying away.

Other birds inhabited the same pool, so you get a sense of the contrast in various birds' hunting methods — for instance, a stealthy little tri-colored heron stalked the edge of the pond and darted at his prey, rather than waiting for it to swim in his mouth. A snowy egret also plopped himself in the middle of the wood storks and stood there ... at least until a couple of the storks shooed them away with their bills.

I watched for 45 minutes or so and would have stayed longer, but I had my own work to do — that lawn wasn’t going to mow itself.

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