That's Lauderdale

Lowcountry birds depend on people who take time to notice

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comDecember 17, 2013 

  • Untamed Lowcountry blog

    The Christmas Bird Count provides a reminder of the value of an open mind and a glimpse at a rare specimen. Click here.

Birds of a feather flocked all over Beaufort County on Saturday.

Hundreds of people participated in the 114th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

We talk a lot about what they see -- how many buffleheads, common loons and horned grebes.

But what do the birds see in us?

In a black-and-white photograph by Doris Bowers, we can picture one of these little gaggles of nature-lovers on a Sunday afternoon bird walk, circa 1971. Strolling the Hilton Head Island beach were Beany Newhall and Virginia Harrall in tennis shoes, Nancy Butler in boots, Charlotte Inglesby in a suit, Anne Reddy wearing pearls, Alva Hines Cunningham gripping her bird book, and Billie Hack, who probably came straight from church, in a plaid skirt and square-heeled shoes.

From a column by Corinne VanLandingham, we learn of the amazement and excitement of an early Christmas Bird Count party that discovered a lagoon full of rare ducks. They banged on a nearby door to tell a neighbor what glories he was missing, only to see him bend over laughing. He said he had just bought those decoys at an antique shop.

Some were experts, and some were not, but together Hilton Head was one of the first communities in South Carolina to participate in the Christmas Bird Count. And last year, Hilton Head's count had the most participants in the state, with the Sun City Hilton Head Bird Club a close second.

Today, the birds might see three-person teams: one to spot birds, one to identify them and a scribe to write it all down. Dick Work, who headed the 22 volunteers who scoured Fripp Island, said the birds might look up to see a human holding an iPad mini with an app that includes pictures and information on all birds. Give it a tap and you can hear the bird's call.

"We've actually had birds respond to it," Work said.

He jokes that the birds would look down and see a bunch of wackos who on a bitter winter day don't have the sense the birds do to seek shelter.

But primarily, Work said, the birds of Beaufort County see people on the other side of binoculars and cameras who are simply curious about the lush world around them, and then want to protect it. The birds are a great excuse for them to get outdoors.

As longtime bird count leader Barry Lowes once put it: "If you didn't have good people, the birds would just fly by and no one would notice."

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