I have been to numerous wildlife refuges in the southeastern United States and I considered Sanibel Island and Merritt Island in Florida to be the best locations to photograph birds. But based in my experience last week, this one is the best due to the ease of accessibility to the marsh areas and the tameness of the bird life.
This park is located near Murrells Inlet in South Carolina and the first time I went there was in 1973. I visited this park various times throughout the years but the last time I was there was 2o years ago. At that time there was just an access gate (no entry fee!!!) and a narrow causeway that crossed the marsh to access the beach. The area was very rustic and the wildlife not as abundant and tolerating of people as they are presently. Now the park is more regulated with a campground, a store and a exhibition building as well as walkways over the marsh areas to observe the wildlife.
I was surprised as to the photographic opportunities here. The birds are easily approached or rather they approach you. So a 70-200 mm lens is more than adequate for most photographs. There were great congregations of great egrets, snowy egrets, wood storks, little blue herons and also got to photograph an anhinga and a roseate spoonbill; the later not commonly seen here. There were also ospreys and rails were heard but never seen.
The snowy egrets above are really jewels to watch and photograph. They would just fly in just next to me and start fishing like I was not there. The first one above caught what looks like a small crab that is about to be swallowed. These birds have problem swallowing shrimps and worked them by throwing them in the air to align the bodies along the length of the bill to swallow. While in this process another egret may try to snatch it away.
The great egrets were more agile at swallowing the shrimps. It is amazing that these birds could swallow a mature blue crab; one can see the bulk going down the throat. The great egrets will also spear fish but I did not see the snowy egrets doing it and limited themselves to minnow size fish.
The wood storks feed in family groups but when it came to sharing, that was not in their behavior and in the case above, it flew away with a blue crab. These birds just walk around with the bills in the water moving the head side to side.
As they wade they open a wing and form like an umbrella; I assume that they do this to scare the prey with the shadow or perhaps to create a shade to eliminate the glare from the water surface so that they can see better.
There is a lot of interaction among the wood storks. It appears that the two in the backgrounds were having an affair and when the one to the right approached closer, it was promptly chased away. Later on, one of the pair in the background picked a twig floating in the water and passed it to the other which in turn flew away; maybe they were making a nest. Part II will follow soon.