Beautiful Aerial Photos of Wood Storks
This is part two of a series on SCDNR biologist Christy Hand's aerial photographs of seabirds and wading birds. See the first set of seabird sanctuary photos here.
They clock in at nearly four feet tall on skinny legs and sport naked black heads. But don't ever call a wood stork ugly -- at least not in front of an SCDNR biologist. Seeing these impressive birds freewheeling in the sky, where their distinct size and black-and-white patterning make them easy to identify, is a joy for many coastal residents and visitors. Thanks to conservation efforts across the Southeast, it's a treat that's becoming more common in South Carolina.
After steep mid-century declines due to loss of habitat and food sources, the federally protected wood stork (Mycteria americana) appears on the upswing. In 2016, the birds had a record nesting year in South Carolina, which has become an increasingly significant nesting ground outside the species' historic population range in southern Florida.
To understand how the wood stork is faring in South Carolina, and whether the species is meeting its recovery goals under the Endangered Species Act, SCDNR wading bird biologist Christy Hand flies three different types of aerial surveys each year with pilots Owen Barker and Don Garbade. Each is flown at a high-enough altitude to minimize the disturbance to these special birds, which nest in trees typically found over swamps and other wetlands. Read more about SCDNR's use of planes to study wildlife in SC Wildlife magazine.
Below, enjoy the photos Hand has taken over the years of wood stork nesting colonies along the South Carolina coast.
NOTE: All of these photos were taken by an experienced biologist for research purposes, with every attention paid to the welfare of the birds. Wildlife watchers and photographers should always avoid disturbing the animals they're watching (check out Audubon's Guide to Ethical Bird Photography for tips).