RAVENEL -- Perry Nugent leads a small group along a canopied path, then suddenly stops and listens.
There are very few rules if you are walking among the birders on one of Perry's guided tours, but the first rule is never get in front of Perry.
When Perry stops. You stop. Because when you do, you hear the most amazing sounds.
Like the caw of a crow, the whistle of a chickadee, the chirp of a Carolina wren, the rustle of a painted bunting up ahead.
This is the world of birding, where Perry lives, at least each Wednesday and Saturday morning at Caw Caw Interpretive Center south of Charleston, or Sunday mornings at Magnolia Gardens along the Ashley River.
Considered the consummate bird man by many, the 74-year-old retired scientist knows when warblers are on the move and where to find them.
Box of chocolates
Along on a recent trek through the old rice fields at Caw Caw were nine adventurous souls, including a veterinarian, a horticulturist, a research scientist, a forensic consultant, a fitness instructor and an X-ray technician.
"Birding really gets under your skin," said Pam Ford, the X-ray tech. "It's addictive. It's like that box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get."
On this cloudy, muggy morning, we saw swarms of Barn Swallows, oohed and aahed over the anhinga, marveled at a great blue heron, pointed out a prothonotary warbler, beheld a least bittern, babbled on about the pied-bill grebe, were escorted by several red-shouldered hawks, almost missed some high-flying Mississippi kites and swooned every time a snowy egret sailed gracefully by.
It is, as you might imagine, a learning experience, no matter how much you think you know about the world of birds.
Eat, prey, love
Turns out, bird watching can be low tech or high tech.
Perry is famous for his pishing, which involves making bird sounds to bring out the curious cuckoo, or interested titmouse.
But one lady came armed with an iPhone with an app that brought up pictures of each animal and produced audible bird calls for each species.
It is, however, considered impolite to pish when Perry is pishing, so she muted her technology in deference to his local knowledge.
Perhaps the best line I learned during this four-hour walk is that birds simply eat, prey and love. Which is a very similar description of the animals on the other end of the binoculars.