South Carolina's Coast as You’ve Never Seen It

South Carolina's Coast as You’ve Never Seen It

SCDNR coastal bird biologists counted 5,210 brown pelican nests in South Carolina in 2015. (Photo: Christy Hand)

If you’re already a South Carolina Wildlife magazine reader, you may have seen a story in the November-December 2016 issue about the exhilarating flights undertaken by SCDNR pilots and biologists to document wildlife numbers from the air.

Over her years as a bird biologist for SCDNR, Christy Hand has amassed thousands of aerial photos of wading bird rookeries and seabird sanctuaries. The primary purpose of these images is to provide data: photography by plane is an effective, noninvasive way to survey birds such as the wood stork, brown pelican, and bald eagle. SCDNR's coastal bird biologists use software to individually count and tally up the birds seen in these photos, a critical first step in studying and protecting their populations. But the images are also beautiful, offering an unusual view of South Carolina’s stunning coast and the wildlife that make it such a special place.

Only a few of those images could be included in the SC Wildlife story – so we’re sharing more of these impressive views of the coastline with you today. Check back later this month for a second installment of photos taken by Christy Hand over public lands with nesting wading birds.

Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary is an important nesting ground for seabirds and shorebirds, including the brown pelicans, royal terns, and sandwich terns you can see in this 2013 photo. The Sanctuary is closed during breeding season to protect the birds and their chicks, but you can get a terrific view of the island by kayak. (Photo: Christy Hand)

Just two years later, in 2015, the vegetation on Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary has grown in some. Barrier islands are constantly changing, making it important that seabirds along the South Carolina coast have enough protected beaches  to weather these fluctuations. (Photo: Christy Hand)

A close-up of pelican nests and a mixed tern colony (royal and sandwich terns) on Crab Bank in 2013. Images are taken at an altitude high enough that birds are not disturbed; thus these images show parents on their nests incubating eggs. Seabirds nest in colonies for protection and social interaction. (Photo: Christy Hand)

Living in such exposed environments makes seabirds and shorebirds susceptible to both human disturbance and natural disasters, such as hurricanes. Luckily, Hurricane Matthew hit South Carolina's barrier islands late in the breeding season in 2016, after most chicks had already fledged. (Photo: Christy Hand)

Shrimpers head to the docks at Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant. In the foreground lies Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary. (Photo: Christy Hand)

“It’s much better for the birds than surveying from the ground, but it’s kind of like taking photos from inside a blender.”
— SCDNR Biologist Christy Hand on the challenges of aerial surveys in the Nov.-Dec. 2016 issue of SC Wildlife Magazine

A close inspection of this Deveaux Bank Seabird Sanctuary shot reveals a crowded beach scene -- towards the end of summer, chicks flock to the water's edge to learn the behaviors they'll need when they head out on their own, or fledge, in early fall.  (Photo: Christy Hand)

Like many coastal birds, terns nest directly on the sand, making their eggs difficult to see. Always respect roped-off areas and avoid disturbing these birds to give their eggs and chicks the best chance at survival! (Photo: Christy Hand)

A mixed colony of terns and several groups of pelicans nest within throwing distance of the Atlantic Ocean on Deveaux Bank Seabird Sanctuary. (Photo: Christy Hand)

A flock of black skimmers rests at the water's edge during low tide on Deveaux Bank Seabird Sanctuary, which hosts one of the largest black skimmer colonies in South Carolina. Parents take turns tending nests, and off-duty parents rest together. (Photo: Christy Hand)

Look closely -- how many different species can you spot in this one photo?

(We count at least ten, not all of which are birds.) (Photo: Christy Hand)

Beautiful Aerial Photos of Wood Storks

Beautiful Aerial Photos of Wood Storks

Oyster Harvesting Made Easier With New Map

Oyster Harvesting Made Easier With New Map