My first stop on my trip south was to one of my favorite photography destinations, Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina. There always seems to be something to photograph there, especially along the causeway that separates the salt marsh from the freshwater pond. Two great habitats adjacent to one another provide plenty of opportunities for seeing all sorts of interesting critters. This is especially true if you time your trip to coincide with low tide on the marsh side occurring close to sunrise or sunset. Such was the case last week when I stopped in for the afternoon on my way south – the tide was falling and skies were partly cloudy. But, by Huntington Beach standards, things were pretty slow on this cold day.
There were plenty of ducks on the pond side, but very little activity on the marsh side of the causeway (which is where the good light is in the afternoon). Finally, a couple of White Ibis landed and started feeding in a tidal channel amongst the exposed oysters. They probed and swung their head from side to side. Periodically, they would open their long bill, and with a snap of their head, gulp down some unseen prey.
When I examined the images later i saw what looked like small, clear shrimp as their primary taste treat, most likely a common species known as Grass Shrimp.
Every now and then an ibis would land a bigger meal, usually a small fish resembling a killifish of some sort.
Another wader joined the ranks of the ibis and began searching the retreating water for its dinner. Although I was hoping for a big fish capture (it missed on this strike), the Great Blue Heron seemed content to snack on the Grass Shrimp as well.
The last wader to join the hunting party was a gorgeous Snowy Egret.
Snowy’s tend to be a little animated in their hunting style, with quick steps, jabs, and then, unlike the upward head snap of the ibis, a sideways head jerk followed by a gulping bill gape.
Suddenly, the Snowy Egret ran and plunged its stiletto bill deeper into the channel and emerged with a most unusual-looking prey.
It had a long, skinny fish, with a pointed tail and odd dorsal and anal fins. After looking online, I think it must be a goby, perhaps a Sharp-tail (or Highfin) Goby, Gobionellus sp. These elongate bottom-dwellers inhabit estuarine mud flats in the southeast.
After carrying the fish around for a minute or two, the egret finally managed to gulp it down.
That seemed to satisfy the Snowy Egret and it flew off down into the main marsh.
Right after that, one of the local Bald Eagles cruised overhead, scanning for any easy meal it could catch, or steal from another of the hunters found at Huntington Beach. I was getting hungry myself, and as a cloud bank started to move in, I headed south to Savannah for the next leg of the trip.