By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Photography by Jim White, Associate Director, Land and Biodiversity

In late May, Jim White and I traveled to the South Carolina Lowcountry at the invitation of the Lowcountry Institute on Spring Island.  The objective?  To develop a new travel program for the Delaware Nature Society.  Jim and I think we have a fantastic trip in the making for you to participate in next spring. 


Joe checking out the scene in the ACE Basin, which is a 350,000-acre Lowcountry wild area of made up of several S.C. Wildlife Management Areas, a National Wildlife Refuge, and many large private natural areas southwest of Charleston. Wildlife abounds here.


We stayed on Spring Island, home-base for the Lowcountry Institute, an environmental non-profit organization charged with environmental education and conservation in southeastern South Carolina.  Spring Island is a nature reserve first, and a residential area second.  In fact, you really don’t see houses on the island.  You see forest, tidal marsh, freshwater ponds, and lots of wildlife.  According to Thomas Blagden, Jr., author of Spring Island: Rhythms of Nature, the island…”is a quintessential Loucountry marsh island.  Perhaps what distinguishes it most is its status as the visionary domain of a group of private residents who have placed the quality of their natural surroundings as their highest priority.”  Luckily, and coincidentally, Matt Sarver, President of the Delmarva Ornithological Society, has in-laws that own a property on the island, and that is where we stayed.  Matt accompanied us on our trip and was our host, tour guide, and chauffeur.  Not bad!

Jim and I toured many areas to get a feel for the natural aspects of the Lowcountry.  Matt and the staff at the Lowcountry institute developed a schedule and accompanied us on our tour.  We visited ACE Basin, Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, various private nature preserves, and a tern and pelican nesting island on the Georgia/South Carolina border.  Our trip next year will include all of these destinations and much more.

ACE Basin is huge.  It is where the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers combine to form one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the east coast.  This area attracts many bird species that are more commonly known from south Florida.  We saw Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish Egret, Mottled Duck, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, and American White Pelican.  Vast wetlands attract shorebirds, wading birds, and raptors like Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites.  Reptiles and Amphibians abound. 

One of the highlights of our trip was a large American Alligator that growled just feet in front of us at Bear Island Wildlife Management Area in the ACE Basin.

The bird-life was amazing here.  If you have ever seen Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in the height of shorebird migration in late summer, that is what it was like.  Everything depends on water levels, however, and we struck avian gold at Bear Island on our trip, which had just enough mud and just enough water to please a wide diversity of species.

Were we in Florida? No, Bear Island WMA in the ACE Basin of South Carolina. We saw a single Roseate Spoonbill at this location on our trip.

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge was another highlight of our trip.  With 29,000-acres of wetlands and bottomland woodlands along the Savannah River, there was no shortage of bird-life.  Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites swirled above us as Purple Gallinules scooted across lily pads on the water.  The refuge has a wildlife drive that we enjoyed, plus we were given special permission to access an area closed to the public where we searched for reptiles and amphibians.

At Savannah NWR, Common and Purple Gallinules are easy to find. These odd, but colorful members of the rail family look a bit like a duck, but have huge feet for walking across lily pads and through vegetation-choked water.

We were lucky to be escorted by Chris Marsh, Executive Director of the Lowcountry Institute and an expert naturalist, and Tony Mills, their Education Director and a well-known herpetologist and co-author of the book, Lizards and Crocodilians of the Southeast.   

We found 3 Cottonmouth snakes on our trip, including this one at Savannah NWR. Having two expert Herpetologists in the group, Jim and Tony, was a great learning experience. Plus, they LIKE handling poisonous snakes, and know how to do it properly.

Finally, we took a boat excursion to Tomkin’s Island, which is an island made of dredge spoil on the SC/GA border.  A huge number of birds were resting and nesting on the island.  A large breeding colony of Royal and Sandwich Terns occupied this man-made place.  Brown Pelicans were nesting there as well, and some non-breeding American White Pelicans kept them company.  A wide range of shorebirds were stopping by to feed on their migration, including Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Marbled Godwit, and many others.  On the way back to the mainland, Dolphins swam to the boat to take a closer look at us.

Royal Terns nest on Tomkin's Island in huge numbers. They are joined by their smaller cousin, the Sandwich Tern.

And I can’t forget the Dolphins…

In the back marshes near Hilton Head Island, Bottlenose Dolphins came over to investigate us.

This trip is still in the draft phase, but you can experience these sights yourself when we offer this for next spring.  You can expect to visit all of these locations, as well as the historic cities of Charleston, Savannah, and Beaufort, plus the Webb Wildlife Area for Long-leaf Pine ecosystem and the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, as well as the historic Magnolia Gardens and Plantation…one of the most famous and beautiful plantations of the south.  Jim White will be leading the trip, and we look forward to sharing it with you.

By Joe Sebastiani: Seasonal Program Team Leader

Final post in a 4-part series about the Delaware Nature Society trip to Costa Rica in November, 2011.

We finally made it to the west coast of Costa Rica.  After a long day in the bus, we were rewarded with a gorgeous beach, new wildlife and looked forward to a few more days in this green and wonderful country.  With the Pacific Ocean in view, we stayed at Punta Leona, a quiet beach resort which is smack in the middle of the best place in the country for a very rare bird…Scarlet Macaw.  The simultaneous sounds of waves crashing and macaws screeching as they winged by will not be forgotten soon. 

Manuel Antonio National Park was a day-trip while we stayed here.  Picture a mountainous tropical forest flanked by sand and rock beaches with clear blue water.  On the beach, White-faced Capuchin monkeys walk right by, looking for a forgotten sandwiches left behind.  These monkeys have no fear of humans here, as you will see in the video below.  We stood within 5 feet of some of them, resulting of some pretty scary face to face monkey photographs.

Finally, check out the end of the video which features the highlights of our crocodile boat tour where we saw many birds, and a crocodile breakfast.  I am not a big fan of feeding wildlife for show, but I must say, my tip for the boat tour operator went up drastically after watching his dangerous skill.  I still have wonderful dreams and memories of our trip to Costa Rica with Collette Vacations.  Come join the Delaware Nature Society on a trip someday…you won’t regret it.  Enjoy the video, and check out the complete list of wildlife seen on the trip below.    


Birds seen on the trip:
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Blue-wiged Teal
Gray-headed Chachalaca
Crested Guan
Black Guan
Great Curassow
Wood Stork
Magnificent Frigatebird
Neotropic Cormorant
Brown Pelican
Bare-throated Tiger Heron
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Boat-billed Heron
White Ibis
Green Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture
Gray-headed Kite
Double-toothed Kite
Crane Hawk
Common Black-hawk
Roadside Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Gray Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Swainson’s Hawk
Crested Caracara
Laughing Falcon
American Kestrel
Bat Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Black-bellied Plover
American Oystercatcher
Black-necked Stilt
Northern Jacana
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Royal Tern
Rock Pigeon
Pale-vented Pigeon
Red-billed Pigeon
Short-billed Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Inca Dove
Ruddy Ground-dove
Crimson-fronted Parakeet
Scarlet Macaw
Orange-chinned Parakeet
White-crowned Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Mealy Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Mangrove Cuckoo
Groove-billed Ani
Short-tailed Nighthawk
Common Pauraque
White-collared Swift
Chimney Swift
Costa Rican Swift
Gray-rumped Swift
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
White-necked Jacobin
Bronzy Hermit
Long-billed Hermit
Stripe-throated Hermit
Purple-crowned Fairy
Green-breasted Mango
Black-crested Coquette
Green-crowned Brilliant
Long-billed Starthroat
Purple-throated Mountain Gem
Magenta-throated Woodstar
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Violet-headed Hummingbird
Violet Sabrewing
Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Stripe-tailed Hummingbird
Coppery-headed Emerald
Steely-vented Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Blue-throated Goldentail
Green Violetear
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Gartered Trogon
Orange-bellied Trogon
Blue-crowned Motmot
Keel-billed Motmot
Broad-billed Motmot
Turquois-browed Motmot
Ringed Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Green-and-rufous Kingfisher
American Pygmy Kingfisher
Collared Aracari
Fiery-billed Aracari
Black-mandibled Toucan
Keel-billed Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Hoffman’s Woodpecker
Pale-billed Woodpecker
Spotted Barbtail
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Northern-barred Woodcreeper
Barred Antshrike
Black-hooded Antshrike
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Yellow Tyrannulet
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Paltry Tyrannulet
Common Tody-flycatcher
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Western Wood-pewee
Eastern Wood-pewee
Tropical Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Long-tailed Tyrant
Bright-rumped Attila
Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Eastern Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Purple-throated Fruitcrow
White-collared Manakin
Masked Tityra
Cinnamon Becard
Rose-throated Becard
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Lesser Greenlet
White-throated Magpie-jay
Brown Jay
Blue-and-white Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Gray-breasted Martin
Mangrove Swallow
Barn Swallow
Rufous-naped Wren
Black-throated Wren
Stripe-breasted Wren
Bay Wren
House Wren
Gray-breasted Wood-wren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Black-faced Solitaire
Swainson’s Thrush
Wood Thrush
Clay-colored Thrush
Gray Catbird
Louisiana Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat
Masked Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Tropical Parula
Bay-breasted Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Three-striped Warbler
Buff-rumped Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Slate-throated Redstart
Passerini’s Tanager
Cherrie’s Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Silver-throated Tanager
Bay-headed Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Spangle-cheeked Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Shining Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Buff-throated Saltator
Blue-black Grassquit
Variable Seedeater
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Orange-billed Sparrow
Black-striped Sparrow
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Common Bush-tanager
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Red-throated Ant-tanager
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Melodious Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Black-cowled Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Montezuma Oropendola
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Olive-backed Euphonia
House Sparrow
Common Opossum
Hoffman’s Two-toed Sloth
Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth
Red-backed Squirrel Monkey
White-faced Capuchin
Mantled Howler Monkey
Central American Spider Monkey
Variegated Squirrel
Central American Agouti
Greater White-lined Bat
Neotropical River Otter
White-nosed Coati
Northern Raccoon
White-tailed Deer
Reptiles and Amphibians:
Spectacled Caiman
American Crocodile
Black River Turtle
Yellow-headed Gecko
Green Basilisk
Striped Basilisk
Spiny-tailed Iguana
Green Iguana
Northern Cat-eyed Snake
Hognosed Viper
Giant Toad
Smooth-skinned Toad
Tink Frog
Green-and-black Poison Dart Frog
Strawberry Poison Dart Frog
I am sure I am forgetting to include some, but you get the point…we saw lots!

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Third post in a series about the Delaware Nature Society Costa Rica Trip in November, 2011.

Arenal Volcano looms above the surrounding forest and farmland. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

For the 24 hours before it erupted, the ground shook violently and cows stopped drinking because the cool spring water had turned hot.  On July 29, 1968, Arenal released its energy with huge explosions and lava flows, filling the sky with ash and hurling rocks the size of cars 5 km away.  Toxic volcanic gas settled into surrounding valleys…80 people and 45,000 cattle were killed, and 3 towns were destroyed. 

On our visit to Arenal with Collette Vacations, the volcano did little more than emit a little steam at the top, but its perfect conical shape and black rock sides were a beautiful sight.  We spent three nights here at the luxurious Arenal Springs Resort, where the volcano sets a magnificent backdrop from your doorstep as well as the hot-spring fed pool with a swim-up bar. 

One of the rarest birds on our trip was the Keel-billed Motmot we found while touring a dairy farm near Arenal. Photo by Marilyn Henry

With Arenal in the background, we continued our nature excursions, birding everywhere we went.  The landscape in this area is beautiful.  Forest-covered hills, the volcano, and lots of farms in the lowlands.  While touring a dairy farm and learning the art of Costa Rican cheese making, we spotted one of the rarest birds on the trip, a Keel-billed Motmot.  With a spotty distribution in Central America, and considered a rarity in Costa Rica, and we were lucky to stumble upon it.

The other Keel-billed creature we found in the area was a beautiful Keel-billed Toucan. A rainstorm approached behind it, and when it called, it sounded like a chirping frog. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Our guide, Jose Saenz, warned us about Monteverde.  “Bad does not describe the condition of the road from Arenal to Monteverde.  It is going to take all day, and we might not make it.”  Despite these dire predictions, when Jose asked for hands to see who still wanted to make the trip, all but one went up.  Into our bus we went at 5:30 a.m then next morning.  We boarded a boat to cross Lake Arenal at 6:15 a.m.  Into an0ther smaller bus and a 4-wheel drive vehicle we scrunched at 7:00 a.m.  Up the muddy, potholed jeep track we meandered slowly until 7:30 a.m. when the small bus got stuck.  Out of the vehicles we climbed.  Good thing we had the 4-wheel drive vehicle to pull the bus up a steep slope and out of trouble…not once, but twice.  Out and in, out and in.  Standing on a foggy mountainside, watching the bus being pulled out of trouble someone said, “And we are doing this because…??”  When we got to Monteverde at 9:30 a.m. we found out.

The dripping, foggy, moss-covered forests at Monteverde made us forget about the cramped, long drive to get there. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

For the next 4 hours, we lost all sense of time in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.  Crossing canopy walkways, being swarmed by 100 hummingbirds of 7 species at a feeding station, finding new birds, butterflies, and orchids and soaking up the pure beauty of this world-class location made us forget all about the crazy ride up the mountain.

A Coppery-headed Emerald and six other species of hummingbird swarmed the feeders here. There were probably 100 hummingbirds all around us zipping around, fighting, feeding, and nearly touching us. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

We couldn’t tear ourselves away from the incredible hummingbird feeder station here.  Coppery-headed Emeralds, Violet Sabrewings, Green-crowned Brilliants, Green Violet-ears, Stripe-tailed Hummingbirds, Purple-throated Mountain Gems, and Magenta-throated Woodstars formed a buzzing cloud around us.

A male Purple-throated Mountain Gem visits a feeder. There were dozens swarming around us. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

We slowly walked the path at Monteverde and lingered on long canopy walkwaybridges in the treetops.  Migrant Broad-winged Hawks, which nest in eastern North America circled overhead and reminded me of the connection the tropics have with forests at home.  A Black-throated Green Warbler, another North American migrant, fed in the trees with a Spangle-cheeked Tanager, assuring me I was still in the great mountain forests of Central America.  Where to next?  The coast of the Pacific Ocean…stay tuned!

A lasting memory for all of us on the trip to Costa Rica will be walking just under the clouds on the canopy bridges in Monteverde. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader (Second blog in a series about the Delaware Nature Society trip to Costa Rica – 2011)

Think back to when you were a child, at a time when everything you experienced was new.  Each turn in life contained new surprises, new learning experiences, and complete excitement.  Think to Christmas morning or a special birthday as a child, tearing open gifts with enthusiasm, one thrill after the next.  This is a little what a good travel experience is like, and it is probably why so many people do it.  It is certainly what a nature excursion to the tropics is like, especially if you live in the temperate north.  Each bird, flower, insect, and amphibian that crosses your path is probably something you’ve never seen before.  The possible experiences seem endless when you are surrounded by so much life. 

What you don’t know won’t kill you…or will it!  Stepping through the Tirimbina Rainforest Center in the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica, our guide pointed out something that probably no one had ever heard of before.  Can you find it in the photo below?

Do you see anything interesting in this photograph? Photo by Marilyn Henry

Hiding in the wet leaf litter among the leaves was a Hog-nosed Pit Viper.  This snake is not very deadly, in fact, it is estimated that about 50 people per year are bitten by them in Costa Rica, but no fatalities are known, however deaths have been reported in other tropical countries.  At any rate, I don’t want to step on one, and it is a little uncomfortable to know that there is no way I would have seen this snake if it wasn’t pointed out to me.

Here is another look at the tiny venomous Hog-nosed Pit Viper. It might have only been a foot long. Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

Other exciting surprises met us in the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica, which is in the northern Caribbean side of the country.  We stayed at the La Quinta Country Inn, which is set along a boulder-strewn creek near the raging Saraqipui River in a part of Costa Rica that produces lots of Pineapples.  At La Quinta, there are about 10 acres of garden and forest to explore, and even here, lots of fun surprises thrilled us. 

At night, we explored La Quinta with a flashlight. This Smooth-skinned Toad was a nice find. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

By day, we were treated to various activities in this region.  We visited a pineapple plantation, went white-water rafting, enjoyed a cacao (chocolate making) program, a bat mist-netting program with a biologist, and looked for birds and wildlife everywhere we went. 

I have to admit that I wasn't too excited to go to the pineapple plantation. However, some of the greatest moments of hilarity ocurred on our tour there, mostly due to our guide, who should be in stand-up comedy. This farm turned out to be Costa Rica's largest organic pineapple farm. Next time you are in the grocery store, if you see organic pineapple from Dole, it is may be from this farm. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Even at pineapple farms you can see wildlife, and maybe get a little wild.

A fruit (maybe pineapple) feeder at the farm attracted a group of male and female Passerini's Tanagers. Quite a sight! Photo by Marilyn Henry.

Everything starts to look good while sipping a pineapple cocktail!

One of our lucky participants sipping a pineapple cocktail. Never discount farm tours on a nature trip. Farms are nature too! Photo by Joe Sebastiani

We heard that our rafting trip down the Sarapiqui River was going to be a flatwater experience.  We were told to take our cameras, binoculars, etc.  When we arrived at the river, it looked like the Brandywine Creek after a few days of hard rain.  We overheard the rafting leader talking to Jose our trip guide.  Over and over again in Spanish, the rafting leader kept saying “rapidorapido“.  I didn’t need five years of Spanish to understand what he meant.  The river was not flatwater, there were rapids!

Our group was flexible for sure. Cameras were safely stowed in the van and life-vests and helmets were donned. Into the (class I) rapids we went!!

After the rafting trip, many wet people in the group said that we should have done the class III section of this river.  Maybe next time.  We were flexible for sure, and now…confident!  This group was a lot of fun!  Although birds were the main star of the show, we saw so much more in Costa Rica.  On the rafting trip, we took a break to look for frogs.  Our guides knew just where to find a Green-and-black Poison Dart Frog. 

Handling poison dart frogs isn't something I would recommend, which is why no one in my group held it. We let our Costa Rican whitewater rafting guide pick this one up! Soon after he passed out from the pain and swelling, and we had to float him down the river to the nearest hospital! (Just kidding...he washed his hands and all was well). Photo by Ken Henry.

Finally, before we left La Quinta Country Inn, we were serenaded by Howler Monkeys in the trees.  Howler Monkeys were seen in most places on our trip, but most of the time, you just hear them deep in the forest.  This one came out in the open.  Their sounds are crazy, and if you want to hear one, try this link

This Mantled Howler Monkey picked fruit lazily in the tree as we were departing La Quinta. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Stay tuned for the next part of our amazing trip…Arenal Volcano!