The others were assembled along a causeway at the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area for the same reason as my wife and me -- they, too, had heard that a Eurasian wigeon and a common goldeneye had been spotted in the Lodge Pond in recent days.
The Lowcountry is along the edge of the typical winter range of both ducks, but uncommon sights, nonetheless. As the other birdwatchers unfolded their tripods and poised their spotting scopes, a jeep appeared on the far end of the causeway -- the end where a large number of birds of several species congregated. The driver tried to proceed quietly, but as he pulled out of the forest and into the open, most of the ducks dabbling within easy range of my camera lens skeedaddled to the far end of the pond, leaving only undeterred greater yellowlegs to comb a mudflat for breakfast.
We remained on the causeway another half hour, watching the ducks from afar. But if I got a shot of a Eurasian wigeon or common goldeneye, I don't know it yet -- they're hidden in large arrays of gadwalls, blue-winged teals and assorted other ducks more common to the area.
That doesn't mean we departed Donnelley WMA disappointed, however.
We almost literally stumbled upon a little sora along the edge of an old rice field. Soras are common but secretive, so we were quite happy with the chance to watch for several minutes as the small marsh bird, a member of the rail family, crept along the bank and did not seem terribly alarmed by our presence.
We spotted the sora in an old rice field, just below an old Victorian farmhouse, long abandoned and with floors coated in bat guano (which actually makes it more interesting to explore than it sounds at first.)
We also saw enough alligators to stock half of the Everglades ...
... and a group of wild turkeys get airborne.
So, all together, not a bad day.
Donnelley, just off U.S. 17 near Green Pond, in the heart of the ACE Basin, is owned and managed by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Nature Conservancy and other conservation interests participated in establishing the property. It's purpose is to preserve wetland habitat for resident and migrant wildlife, restore representative plant life and provide hunting opportunities. This area has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. Bear Island WMA is about 15 miles away, down Bennett's Point Road, if you want to make a day of it by exploring both sites, although with 8,000 acres to roam, you could spend more than a day at Donnelley.
And Donnelley is worth return trips. With salt marsh, managed rice fields, freshwater marsh, swamp, river, mudflats, mixed hardwood/pine forest, farmland and fields, Donnelley has perhaps the most diverse terrain of any of the many protected areas within the ACE Basin.
Follow managing editor Jeff Kidd on Twitter at twitter.com/InsidePages.