During our recent holiday in the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina I had the opportunity to spend some time photographing birds at Murrells Inlet. Early February is not the best time for bird photography as the number of birds and range of species is somewhat limited. Never-the-less I persevered and visited the inlet a number of times, usually going out to the end of the pier.
For the first few days of our visit even the pelicans seemed to be in short supply. The ones that were there seemed to be more interested in perching and hanging around the fishing boats looking for handouts or waiting for scraps from the fish cleaning tables.
As a result I had very few opportunities to capture images of pelicans in flight and had to settle for other types of activity such as the bird below smacking its wings on the water and creating a commotion.
Things did pick up during the second half of our stay as a few more birds were at the inlet, although the number of bird-in-flight opportunities was still quite limited.
Since I had some prior experience photographing birds at Murrells Inlet I was aware of the more common flight paths the pelicans tend to use so I was able to make the best of the situation. Often times a few hours waiting patiently at the end of the pier would only yield a handful of shooting opportunities.
One afternoon after returning to the beach house we had rented, I was reviewing my images from the day and noticed that one of my BIF photographs was of a pelican with a damaged beak, as you can see in the image above. One can only speculate whether this injury was healing or if it would lead to negative consequences.
During my visits to Murrells Inlet I usually shot in AF-C with subject tracking at 15fps. I had a few opportunities to capture pelicans taking off from the water and my Nikon 1 V2 with a 1 Nikon CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 zoom attached did a good job tracking and holding focus.
Most of the time I used centre-weighted metering, and shot in Manual mode with Auto-ISO. The only time I missed a few shots with my Nikon 1 V2 was when I was testing my newly acquired Nikon 1 GP-N100 GPS. Likely due to increased battery drain, there was a noticeable lag in the time it took for an image to appear in my EVF. This was quickly countered by holding the thumb of my shutter hand over the EVF sensor.
As in many coastal areas there were quite a few cormorants around. They seemed even more content to perch than the pelicans. Having shot thousands of cormorant images over the years I ignored the birds most days. Late one afternoon I noticed some interesting light illuminating one of the cormorants and I couldn’t help but press the shutter.
While rarely in flight, I did catch a cormorant landing close to one of the docks.
Boat-tailed grackles were quite numerous and I took the odd image.
The egrets were particularly scarce during the early part of our trip and those that were at the inlet tended to be a fair distance from the end of the pier making photographing them rather pointless. I did get a couple of decent AF-C runs, producing some useable images when the odd bird ventured within shooting distance.
Even when shooting against some cluttered backgrounds the AF-C of my Nikon 1 V2 did a good job maintaining focus.
There were a few other birds in the channel from time to time, often diving to feed. Although I’m unclear of the exact species I was able to capture a few images of the loon below.
Most visits to Murrells Inlet were pretty predictable in terms of the small number of birds and species present. For whatever reason Lady Luck smiled down on me during one particular visit and I was able to get this image of an oyster catcher in flight. I’ve always found these fast and erratic flyers a challenge and this is one of the few useable images I’ve ever captured.
Amazingly later that same visit I noticed a larger bird approaching from the north. I initially thought is was an egret but soon noticed its curved beak. During my entire stay this was the only adult ibis I saw at Murrells Inlet and the one and only opportunity I had to capture any images of it.
I went out quite early one morning and braved the -3 Celcius (28 F) temperature along with some strong winds coming onshore that contributed to a wind chill temperature of approximately of -9 Celcius (16 F). I was rewarded with my only decent opportunity to catch a Great Blue Heron in flight. This is one frame from a long 42-frame AF-C burst I did with my Nikon 1 V2.
While many of us who visit the Grand Stand area of South Carolina think of it as a ‘sun and sand’ type of destination it does offer some interesting birding subjects for photographers. Other interesting photo opportunities in the area include landscape and sculpture images at Brookgreen Gardens, and a fascinating swamp walk at Beider Forest in Harleyville which is about 2 hours away.
Article and all images Copyright Thomas Stirr. No use, duplication of any kind, or adaptation is permitted without written consent.