Some great duck viewing just a short drive away

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Some great duck viewing just a short drive away

By COLLINS DOUGHTIE
cdad@hiltonheadisland.net
Published Friday, February 1, 2013   |  755 Words  |  

I can't tell you how many times I have heard, "It sure must be hard to come up with something new to write about every week." Most of the time it isn't, but around this time of the year when the fishing slows down I find the need to get creative. I mean how many times can I write about sheepshead and redfish? One week it's redfish, the next it's how I wish I had teeth that look at good as the sheepshead I caught. Pretty lame, huh?

This past Thursday I realized I had nothing to write about and that is not good at all considering my column is due Friday. I had gone quail hunting Monday, but I had written a story about quail hunting three weeks earlier. I began to panic. It wasn't like I was going to have a stroke or anything but I will admit I was stumped.

Then it hit me, the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.

Grabbing my camera and two pairs of binoculars, I hopped in my car with my nephew, Byron Sewell. Back after a year exploring the South Pacific aboard a mega-yacht on which he works, he was all for this little day trip because as beautiful as the South Pacific might be, the Lowcountry is his true love. With only a week left before he heads back to New Zealand, where the yacht is being refitted, he will spend another full year exploring places like New Guinea and the Great Barrier Reef. This was probably going to be his last chance to refill his memory banks with the sights and smells of home for quite some time.

If you have never visited the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge then you are really missing out on some of the best bird and wildlife viewing around. A 4-mile-long dirt road winds through the refuge, and at any time you can pull over and walk down long dikes that jut out into cattail and lily pad-strewn impoundments that, during the winter months especially, are chock full of ducks, wading birds, hawks, eagles, alligators and other wildlife.

Being a duck hunter from way back, I was especially interested to see how many different kinds of ducks were wintering there. To really get an up close look at the waterfowl, I knew we would have to walk quite a ways to see quality ducks like mallards, black ducks, pintails, gadwalls, widgeon and teal. None of these species cotton to being too close to the road (or people) so with a small backpack, Byron and I hiked about a mile down one of the dikes in hopes of seeing some of these wary birds.

Pleasantly surprised, there were more species of ducks there than I have seen in years. Teal were everywhere, as were shovelers. As beautiful as a drake (male) shoveler is, that big spoon bill of theirs makes me laugh every time I see it. All I can think about is Daffy Duck. In the mix were mallards, black ducks, wood ducks, ring necks, redheads, widgeon, coots and, if my eyes weren't deceiving me, I think I caught a glimpse of two drake pintails. I couldn't identify half the hawks we saw, but when two bald eagles flew over us riding the midday thermals, their white heads flashing in the sun left nothing to doubt as to what they were. Having more experience with ducks than Byron, I had fun telling him how different wing beats made identifying diving ducks from dabblers easier.

It was just so peaceful there and whatever the reason, I have never seen oaks with that much Spanish moss anywhere before. From bird watching to otter slides, if you've never been to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge before, it is a day trip you'll never forget.

Finally, I have decided to host a two-part fishing seminar at the Waddell Mariculture Center from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 13 and 20. These seminars are by reservation only and limited to 12 participants. I will cover inshore and near-shore fishing, rigs, baits, what to look for, how tides affect different species as well as answer questions you might have no matter what type of fishing it concerns. Want to learn how to throw a cast net? No problem. I might even divulge a few of my fishing hot spots.

Details: 843-816-6608, cdad@hiltonheadisland.net