If you ever have the chance to visit Charleston, South Carolina, I would suggest you visit a lovely public gardens close by—Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. When we visited South Carolina, my father and I got a chance to go there. Both of us enjoy photography, so we made sure to take our cameras.
As we unpacked our camera gear in the parking lot, a couple walked toward us. The man was carrying some of his own camera gear. “There’s a Barred Owl in the bamboo forest,” he told me as they walked past. “If you’re lucky, you might be able to find him and get some good pictures.”
One of my favorite things about nature photography is the challenge of trying to get good shots of animals or birds! I instantly resolved to find that bamboo forest, if at all possible. It shouldn’t be too hard, I reasoned as we walked toward the entrance. I had been in places like this one before, and everything is usually easy to find!
I quickly learned that that was not to be. As soon as we received a ticket for entrance, my mind began swirling in different directions as we tried to decide which trail to walk first. Finally, we decided on a path exactly opposite from the ticket booth.
We didn’t have to walk far before we came upon a beautiful bridge across the water. It was painted a bright, fire-engine red! However, it was designed so well that it did not look out of place at all. Dad and I instantly began looking for the right angles and setting our cameras.
After taking some pictures of the bridge, I decided to zoom in closer on the lily pads and algae on the surface of the pond. I made the subject of my picture a bright, shiny log—and to my surprise, the log looked back at me! I was seeing, for the first time, a baby alligator! I knew that alligators were common in South Carolina, for we had passed many signs in parks and swamps saying “Beware of Alligators!” Since I came from Pennsylvania, this was a new experience for me.
After we finished taking pictures at that bridge, we doubled back and walked other trails, crossing many bridges and seeing the beautiful flowers, birds, and even some full-grown gators! However, I was still determined to find that bamboo forest. But then Dad pointed to the map. “Here’s a lookout tower this way; do you want to go there?”
I agreed, and with little wooden signs on the trails for our guides, we soon found the lookout tower. It was three stories high! After climbing several flights of open stairs, we came to the top. In front, a wide plain extended, and behind, the tops of trees. There wasn’t much that was interesting to photograph, though, so after admiring the view and pointing out some birds and plants, we started back down.
On the second level, there was a man in a straw hat looking out over the terrain. He was a worker there, and he and Dad struck up a conversation. It seemed this man knew quite a bit about photography, so we talked about that for a while. When the conversation slowed down many minutes later, I asked him where the bamboo forest was.
“Oh, you want to find the Barred Owl? Well, the bamboo forest has a lot of mosquitoes, but…” and he proceeded to tell us how to find it.
He and I started talking about owls, and it was evident that he was a nature lover as well. He gave his name as Stacy, and I was sorry when Dad suggested it was time to move on. We thanked him for his time and left the lookout tower, leaving him on the second level.
As I had suspected, Dad decided we should skip the bamboo forest because it was getting late, and we weren’t dressed to meet up with the mosquitoes. That made sense, but I was still disappointed.
So we walked down the path, using a guide map to find the quickest way to the parking lot. However, as we came out of a thicket of tall trees into a little clearing, a man waved at us and started beckoning us to come over. As we got closer, we could see that it was Stacy! He was pointing up into a tree right outside the bamboo forest and seemed very excited.
We got closer, looked where he wanted us to look, and there was the Barred Owl sitting in a sunlit tree, sleepily blinking his big black eyes. But he was looking right into a branch, so that from whatever angle I tried, I couldn’t capture his face. So, Stacy instructed me where to stand and checked my camera settings. Then he walked down the path and started whistling between his teeth. He succeeded in getting the owl to look over so that the bird’s face was highlighted in the sunlight as I snapped away.
Just as we began to think we had taken every picture possible of the Barred Owl, something flew into the little pond at our left and landed with a splash. “A Little Blue Heron!” Stacy whispered. “See, there?”
The Little Blue Heron is actually a rather large bird, and the term “little” is used merely in comparison with the Great Blue Heron. His neck is a maroon color while the rest of the body is dark blue. The bill, according to Stacy, will turn a brilliant electric blue when in sunlight.
When I looked at the pond, I thought I saw the biggest bird I had ever seen! Eagerly I began taking pictures until I realized that I was taking pictures of a lifelike bird statue. How embarrassing! I finally found the real bird and listened to Stacy’s instructions to “stay still and very quiet”, for the bird was creeping closer and closer. He was only about six feet away now, and suddenly he plunged his head forward and grabbed a crawfish in the pond. I got it! After he finished eating the crawfish, he walked into a patch of sunlight, and the bill promptly turned an electric blue. I got it! I snapped several more pictures before he walked farther away and finally took off.
I was so excited! I had not only succeeded in taking several good photographs, but I had seen two birds that I had never seen before, zoo or wild. As we thanked Stacy over and over for his help, he suddenly seemed to remember something.
“Do you folks have another moment?” he asked. “This Barred Owl has a mate somewhere else, and I think I know where she is.”
Dad agreed, so Stacy led us down another path. We followed him for a while, and it seemed that he was just about to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t find her today,” when he pointed to yet another tree, this one in the shade. There was the mate! She was more photogenic than her mate, because she was low to the ground and at a place where I could easily take her picture.
After trying a few different angles and approving the pictures, Stacy finally said he should be going. We thanked him again, and with the help of our map, Dad and I found our way back to the parking lot. We slid our cameras into their bags and hopped in the car, eager to share with everyone back home about our adventures.