A northern mockingbird balances at the end of a tree branch while eating berries in Conway, South Carolina

I grew up with mockingbirds but I left them behind when I moved to Oregon 21 years ago. We’ve been reacquainted at times over the years when I traveled back east, I met this mocker eating berries while balanced at the end of a tree branch on a trip to South Carolina in 2006. My stepfather had passed away a couple of weeks earlier and my wife and I stayed with my mother through Christmas. I took a number of walks around the neighborhood, watching the local wildlife, seeking out joy to balance the sadness.

Mockingbirds will be a part of my life once more, they are one of a small group of birds that aren’t in my part of Oregon but are in both Arizona and the Southeast where I grew up. Looking forward to the reunion.

Black and White

A black-and-white eastern fox squirrel perches in a tree in South Carolina

Eastern fox squirrels have several color variations in addition to the most common one, including this black-and-white variation in the southeast. My stepfather told me to be on the lookout for them when I visited after he and my mom moved to South Carolina. It was bittersweet when I got to spend some time with this one on a sunny winter day in 2006, as it was a week after my stepfather’s funeral after we lost him too young to cancer.

A Choice of Waters

A great blue heron waits in a saltwater marsh at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina

A great blue heron waits in a saltwater marsh at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina. It’s a wonderful park that not only has ocean access and some short hiking trails but also a causeway that runs between saltwater and freshwater lagoons. There are walking paths on each side of the road so as a photographer you can choose your type of water, as can the herons and egrets that hunt here. Although my biggest surprise seeing predators move between the marshes came one day as I was photographing alligators in the freshwater marsh when a large alligator came walking across the road from the saltwater side, the first time I learned they could spend a bit of time in the saltwater before returning to their freshwater home. After that I watched my back a bit more closely, although I never even remotely had any problems with the large reptiles.

Crab Breakfast

An American alligator lurches forward and scoops up a crab from the marsh at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina

As the sun rose, I noticed a group of alligators in this marshy section of the freshwater lagoon at Huntington Beach State Park but didn’t realize why they were there. Then one suddenly lurched forward and scooped up a little crab from the mats of organic material (algae? bacteria?) floating in the water, and then another did it, and another. It was remarkable how quickly they would go from floating motionless to catching the crabs and back to floating motionless.

An American alligator raises its head to swallow a crab at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina