Last week a friend of mine told me he was bombarded by a yard full of Robins. I read somewhere that Robins are spirit animals, symbols for messages from the Universe, the Divine or the Great Spirit. If that’s so then he has a boatload of protectors and a whole lot of messages to read.

Though they can overwinter as far north as Alaska, the American Robin can be seen moving through our area around October as it heads south. That means winter is on its way so I’m always on the lookout for the flocks to show up in the spring. But when they make an appearance in January I get all excited.  

Some (basically the world) prefer to celebrate the coming, or postponement of spring by watching a large rodent held high in the sky as if he’s a demigod, decide our fate. According to Groundhog.org, if, according to German lore, the hedgehog saw his shadow on Candlemas Day there would be a “Second Winter” or six more weeks of bad weather. When German settlers came to the United States, they brought their traditions and folklore. With the absence of hedgehogs in the United States, a similar hibernating animal was chosen and that is the groundhog, better known as Punxsutawney Phil. On February 2, the furry bucktoothed fellow will be the star of the show, being lifted to the heavens by a man in a fancy black suit and hat while everyone hopes the sun will be covered at that precise moment. I say forget Punxsutawney Phil! I prefer to rely on my local red breasted, worm eating Robin.

Another sighting in mass proportion is the White Ibis. I’ve never seen so many in our area. And they have stayed the entire winter. Last month a field on Sumter Highway was covered with the lanky curved bill birds. White Ibis typically forage freshwater and estuarine wetlands so I was surprised to see them in a farmer’s field. A week or so ago I spotted a pile of them in a swamp right beside the Sandy Bay Road in Kingstree. I watched in amazement as hundreds of the tall lanky birds waded through the shallow water, red beak under water and groping (moving side-to-side) in search of small fish or crustaceans. Turns out both their breeding and non-breeding range includes the east coast. I don’t know why there is so many this year but it’s certainly fun to watch them.

And one last observation; I’m pretty sure I saw three Wood storks flying over Highway 52 just south of Kingstree. On January 17, our only native stork was heading toward the Black River most likely in search of fish.

This fellow can’t be missed as he is covered in white feathers with black tips on the end, a big black head and beak. Wood storks have nicknames such as Ironhead and Flinthead. Some people mistake them for Whooping cranes but there are differences.  

Data from a 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study showed South Carolina had 2,496 nesting pairs and 22 colonies of wood storks.

According to the National Park Service, the birds were abundant in Florida and the everglades but changes in the ecosystem and Hydrologic conditions resulting from water-management activities in recent years often have been unfavorable to support Wood Stork feeding and nesting requirements. The service says the dwindling population of Wood Storks in south Florida does not mean that the species is going extinct, but that they have moved to more suitable habitat in other locations and South Carolina is one. This may explain last week’s sighting of the magnificent birds. I can only hope this is a premise to another sighting. Maybe, if the habitat is just right, we’ll be lucky enough to see nesting colonies right here in Williamsburg County.

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