State Park program draws birding enthusiasts

  • Thursday, August 7, 2014

Clayton Stairs/South Strand News Sharon Turner, who guides the birding program at Huntington Beach State Park with her husband, Phil, shows participants characteristics of birds they see in the salt marsh using her field guide.

Walking with eyes pinned to the skies, in the trees and along the water’s edge, about 10 bird enthusiasts followed guides Phil and Sharon Turner along the causeway to Huntington Beach State Park, July 30.

Every Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. the Turners help people identify and share some facts about each of the birds they see.

Joe Lemine of Morgantown, W.Va., who owns a vacation home in Murrells Inlet, took part in the program for the first time.

As a backyard bird watcher, he said the program is a great benefit for visitors at the park.

“There is a wide variety of birds here and I especially like to see the big shore birds and water birds,” Lemine said.

“I am impressed with the range of knowledge of both guides.”

Anne Hardy of Asheville, N.C. was camping at the park for her vacation and decided to tag along for the birding program.

“It sounded like a good opportunity to find out more about the birds in this beautiful place,” Hardy said.

“I came here to sit on the beach and relax but this is great.”

She said she enjoyed learning about how each of the birds feed.

Mike Walker, interpretive ranger at the park, said what makes the birding program special is the Turners.

“They are the best birders I know and they are good at sharing their knowledge with people. That is a rare and precious commodity,” Walker said.

He added that if he is stumped about birds, they are the people he turns to.

They might not have formal training, but with more than 20 years of birding experience, they are experts, Walker said.

With salt marsh on one side and brackish water on the other side, Walker stated that visitors can easily see almost every species of wading bird in South Carolina, including Herrings, Egrets, Ibis and Wood Storks.

During the tour on July 30, Sharon Turner shared information about rare birds including the Anhingus which swims under water and spears fish with its beak.

“It is an ancient bird from the dinosaur days,” Sharon Turner said.

“You can see the claws on their wings.”

She compared that with the Cormorant that swims under water but catches fish using the hook on the end of its bill.

She explained that all of the birds fill nitches in trees, on water, on the ground and even under ground.

Another interesting fact Sharon Turner shared was the mating rituals of the Least Tern.

“The female goes down to the beach and sits and the male brings her a fish,” she stated.

“He hits her over the head with the fish and then she takes it and they fly away together.”

Sharon Turner said she and Phil keep three lists of new birds they see.

One is for birds they see in their back yard, of which they have 129 different species; another is for birds they have seen in South Carolina, which has reached 300 species; and a list of all the birds they’ve seen in their lifetime which is more than 300 species.

Needed for birding

Sharon Turner also told the participants in the birding program that three things are needed for proper birding:

A field guide – she recommends Peterson’s Eastern and Central North American Birds which has paintings of birds as opposed to photographs and black arrows pointing to characteristics to tell one bird from another and males from females. It also has range maps that are color coded.

Binoculars – she recommends paying at least $200 for a pair with a magnification of 8 and the size of the objective lense at 42 mm.

The first number indicates the strength of magnification, and the second number is the size of the objective lens measured in millimeters going across the lens.

A place to see birds – she recommends nature viewing areas including Huntington Beach State Park which is one of the top 10 birding sites in the U.S.

For more information about the birding program, call 843-237-4440, or visit http://www.southcarolinaparks.com/huntingtonbeach/huntingtonbeach-birding.aspx.

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