| Georgia's Coast
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Bryan Camden Chatham Glynn Liberty McIntosh
Georgia's Coast is associated with the Lower Coastal Plain Province, a low, flat region of well-drained, gently rolling hills and poorly drained flatwoods. The Coastal Plain extends east and south of the Fall Line Hills, the old Mesozoic shoreline still marked by a line of sand hills. In Georgia, the Atlantic Ocean forms the eastern border of the Coastal Plain. The southern border of this province is formed by the Gulf of Mexico, in the State of Florida. The entire eastern Coastal Plain stretches from southeastern Virginia to eastern Texas, excluding the southern tip of Florida. Its soils, sands, and sandy clays are of marine origin and are usually acidic. They possess a low native fertility due to excessive leaching. An important Lower Coastal Plain district is the series of marsh and sea islands forming the Barrier Island Sequence. While a chain of these islands stretches from New Jersey to Texas, the islands between roughly Cape Romain, South Carolina, and Amelia Island, Florida, share similar recent histories and physiographic characteristics. Barrier islands are between 5-40 km (3-25 mi) long and 1-5 km (1-3 mi) across. Island elevations are usually less than 6 m (20 ft) above mean sea level, although individual dunes may be higher. The major plant communities on the Barrier Islands are maritime oak forests and pine forests. Georgia's primary "Golden Isles" include (from north to south) Tybee Island, Little Tybee Island, Wassaw Island, Ossabaw Island, St. Catherine's Island, Blackbeard Island, Sapelo Island, Little St. Simons Island, St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, and Cumberland Island.
"Heading down to the coast" - a phrase that seasoned Georgia birders love to hear, but love to say even more, because it means they will soon experience the natural beauty of Georgia's coastline and its unique array of habitats and birds. In scrubby dunes and marsh habitat at the edge of pine and maritime oak forests the rainbow-colored Painted Bunting is making a comeback in Georgia. Dancing Reddish Egrets in summer and probing Long-billed Curlews in winter stalk Georgia's beaches, along with a vast array of wintering shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Offshore, pelagic species like shearwaters, tropical terns, and storm petrels spend virtually their entire lives on the wing, searching for food near the surface of the ocean. Many birders prefer the colder months for heading to the coast, when along with interesting wintering birds a rare vagrant may show up such as Common Eider, Pacific Loon, or Cave Swallow. Both spring and fall can be spectacular as well, with a mix of wintering birds, residents, and migrants. In fact, the only time the coast is not a very popular birding destination is in the heart of summer when breeding birds are raising families and the heat and bugs can be downright oppressive. Georgia's Atlantic beaches are actually not on the immediate coast but on barrier islands. Access to many of these islands is limited and development has been kept in check, which is a wonderful thing for the plants and animals who rely on this undisturbed habitat. However, there are many opportunities for visitors to drive in to some of the best coastal birding that Georgia has to offer at places like Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, and Tybee Island. With a little extra planning and effort you can take ferries to visit less-birded islands like Sapelo and Cumberland; or with a little extra cash you can experience the wonders and solitude of Little St. Simons Island. Opportunities to visit true gems like St. Catherine's Island, Blackbeard Island, the sandbars of the Altamaha River delta, and much more come along with the Colonial Coast Birding and Nature Festival, held annually in October. No matter when and where your journey takes you, a unique and exciting birding adventure awaits you on Georgia's coast!
COPYRIGHT NOTICE: All photos and other content on this website are the exclusive property of Ken Blankenship (KB), unless otherwise credited. Unauthorized use and reproduction is strictly prohibited; you can usually obtain friendly permission to use images by sending me an email.
Su = summer
F = fall
W = winter
Sp = spring
YR = year-round
[July 2005] = Most recently checked by KB
[N/A] = Not yet checked by KB
= Location is within +/- 10 miles of the indicated interstate highway. This is especially helpful for out-of-town birders who may be passing through Georgia while travelling and would like to get a quick birding fix. This is also helpful for birders planning a "Big Day," where staying close to a major interstate corridor is essential for covering the greatest diversity of habitats in 24 hours.
= Location is a "Georgia Birding Hotspot." Though this designation is subjective, it generally means that the area should be given high priority when planning a birding trip to a region. Some Hotspots offer incredible, productive birding virtually year-round (Jekyll Island), while the best birding of the year may be more seasonal at others (Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park).
SBM = Shorebird Migration; this very generally refers to mid-March thru May in spring and mid-July thru mid-October in fall. Fall is the prime shorebird season. Baird's and Buff-breasted Sandpipers likely only in fall. Peak passage of specific species is quite variable.
PM = Passerine Migration; this very generally refers to April and May in spring and August thru mid-October in fall. This includes all songbirds - wood warblers, vireos, tanagers, thrushes, flycatchers, etc. Peak passage of specific species is quite variable. Spring migration is much more concentrated and birds are often in colorful breeding plumage. Fall migration is more spread out; fall wood warblers can be notoriously difficult to identify (or even impossible to determine sex), with numerous juveniles which do not exhibit the same obvious field marks as adults.
IBA = Important Bird Area; the aim of the IBA Program is to identify and conserve key breeding and feeding sites for birds. An Important Bird Area is a place that provides essential habitat for one or more species of bird, whether in breeding season, winter, or during migration. These sites are considered to be exceptionally important for bird conservation; see Georgia's IBA Webpage.
'width' is a duplicate attribute name. Line 1, position 37.Bryan
1) Ft. McAllister State Historic Park [N/A]
mid F-early Su
[DeLorme pg. 55, D-10]
Black Tern, Least Tern. More information needed! Visit the park website.
Photo by Steve Barlow.
2) Ft. Stewart (primarily in Bryan and Liberty Counties) [N/A]
PM, late Sp-summer for breeding birds
[DeLorme pp. 54-55]
Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Bachman's Sparrow. More information needed!
3) Richmond Hill WMA [N/A]
PM, late Sp-early Su for breeding birds
[DeLorme pg. 55, 9,10-D,E]
More information needed!
4) Sterling Creek Wastewater Treatment Area [N/A]
mid F-early Su
More information needed! The following important note was posted on GABO-L in 2000; more updated information is needed as to access status, species observed, etc. I have not seen any recent reports from the area, which may indicate that either a) it is no longer accessible to the public or b) it is simply under-birded. I feel that it is more likely that the area is restricted or else more reports would be filed from here. If anyone knows the status of this area, which seems to have great potential, please post to the ListServ GABO-L or email me. IMPORTANT (2000): The Sterling Creek Wastewater Treatment Area in Richmond Hill, Georgia, is a wonderful birding site. It is private, however. It's owned by the city of Richmond Hill and there is a municipal police firing range contained within. The powers that be in Richmond Hill understand the significance of the site for birds and ask that anyone wanting to bird there contact them first. You can call the Richmond Hill City Hall and speak with the City Manager or other officials to schedule with them, as they have to make sure there is no police firing going on when you want to visit. They have also had a problem with vandalism and are understandably a little wary of folks simply showing up. Since this is such a great place to bird in the coastal plain, let's make sure that we can continue going there by giving them a call first so that birders don't lose the privilege of accessing the area.
'width' is a duplicate attribute name. Line 1, position 37.Camden
1) Cumberland Island [June 2005]
IBA, mid F-late Sp
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme p. 71, 7-A,B,C,D]
From I-95, get off at Exit 3 and take GA Hwy 40 (Kingsland-St. Marys Rd) east into the city of St. Marys. The road will virtually dead-end at the southern edge of the city on the St. Marys River, and look in this area for the newly renovated Cumberland Island Visitor's Center and parking lot adjacent to the docks. (See the park website for more details on getting there; in summer 2007 the adult fees were $17 for the ferry and a $4 day-use fee). This is a beautiful and harder-to-access location for birding, great nearly all year except the heart of summer when the birding is slow and the heat intense. It's not really "hard" to access, it just takes some planning and effort; think of your adventure as a backpacking trip because once you're off the boat there are no amenities aside from restrooms with running water. Just find out the ferry schedule for the day(s) you'd like to visit; it varies seasonally. Because you will be doing some hiking around to enjoy the great birding that the island has to offer, be sure to wear comfortable shoes or Teva-style amphibious sandals (not flip-flops!) Depending on season you may encounter Reddish Egret, Least Tern, American Oystercatcher, Painted Bunting, Black-necked Stilt, Western Sandpiper, Dunlin, Red Knot, Caspian Tern, American White Pelican, Roseate Spoonbill, Northern Harrier, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, neotropical migrants, and a lot more. NOTE: on April 2, 2006 a Short-tailed Hawk was seen (by Florida birders) soaring over Amelia Island, just to the south of Cumberland Island. They reported it seemed to be headed north towards Georgia. This is a South American hawk and would represent a first Georgia record if it is seen in the state. Speculation is that habitat and/or climate presssure may be pushing the species north (in the right season, which apparently is spring or early summer - there is surely no data to base any predictions on, but its range only extends into Florida in the summer). Also, believe everything you hear about the heat down here if you decide to go in later spring or summer. Definitely bring along plenty of water for walking down to the jetty and mud flats at the southern tip of the island - I consider myself to be in average shape and nearly reached heat exhaustion in mid-June 2005.
Text and Photos by KB.
2) Crooked River State Park [N/A]
W for waterfowl, PM
[DeLorme pg. 71, B-6]
From I-95, get off at Exit 3 and take GA Hwy 40 (Kingsland-St. Marys Rd) east towards the city of St. Marys. Approx. 1-2 miles before you get to the city, look closely for Hwy 40 Spur on your left and turn here. The road will eventually dead-end at the park. There should be good signage for the park to guide you in from I-95. Waders, waterfowl; Bald Eagle, Wood Stork; American White Pelican has been seen. Crooked River State Park, 6222 Charlie Smith Sr. Highway, St. Mary's , GA 31558. Located 7 miles north of St. Mary's on Ga. Spur 40 or 8 miles east of I-95 exit 3. Visit the park website.
3) Woodbine River Walk / Bird Sanctuary [N/A]
PM, mid-April-June for breeding species
[DeLorme pg. 62, H-4]
In 1893, Woodbine was founded south of the new railroad crossing of the Great Satilla River on part of what was then the 4,000 acre Woodbine Plantation. Today, our River Walk begins at the Riverfront Park southeast of US Highway 17, goes west along the Satilla River bank, then follows the old rail bed south with a paved walkway through town to 11th Street and continues one mile beyond to Liza Rudolph Road on a pine tree lined path. Our natural bird sanctuary provides shelter, protection, water, food, and nesting sites for many bird species. Enjoy a walk from the “Great Saint Illa,” across the grassy freshwater marsh-lands to the upland open fields and piney woods and cypress bog of Dunn Branch headwaters. Walk and drive about town and the surrounding Camden County neighborhoods. Woodbine is located on the eastern United States bird migratory flyway. You may see different birds seasonally; large oaks may be particularly productive for passerine migrants in spring and fall, including warblers, vireos, tanagers, and flycatchers. Many species stay year-round, especially our favorite Eastern Bluebird. Other breeding birds include Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Parula, and Summer Tanager along with Marsh Wren and Clapper Rail out in the marsh. You may see several species of waders in the marsh or waterfowl on the river, as well as numerous raptors overhead. The Woodbine Woman’s Club distributed and placed more than 200 bluebird nesting boxes throughout Woodbine to encourage nesting and to raise public awareness. The Club and the City of Woodbine through sponsorship by businesses, civic groups and families have placed the Woodbine Bird Sanctuary street banners you see along US Highway 17, Spur 25 and State Highway 110. We hope you will take note, learn more, enjoy, and help us protect this unique environment for all of us, including the many “feathered friends” in our town. The Bird Sanctuary Project, supported through sponsorship of street banners at $265, is open to individuals, families, civic groups, churches and businesses. We have license plates with “Woodbine Bird Sanctuary” for $15 and bluebird note cards for $10. Contact: Woodbine Woman’s Club PO Box 64 Woodbine, Georgia 31569.
Text by Woodbine Woman's Club
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1) Tybee Island and Fort Pulaski [March 2008]
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme: p. 39, B-10]
Georgia's northern and eastern-most barrier island is easily accessed via paved roads, and lies just east of the historic city of Savannah. This being said, it is obviously quite popular with tourists and birders alike, but don't let this deter you from enjoying a wonderful birding destination! As you head east on Victory Dr (Hwy 80) from Savannah, before coming to the island you will see Fort Pulaski on your left; turn here and pay the $4.00 per vehicle fee. At high tide from late fall through early spring, park in an area to the right under some palms just before crossing the bridge (PHOTO 1), walking just a bit into the marsh and pishing for saltmarsh sparrows - Seaside Sparrow (year-round), Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. You may also find Marsh Wrens, and if you get good looks at any birds that are very drab and gray-looking overall you have found the Worthington's subspecies, which is a permanent resident of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Continue over the bridge and try the spartina grass just beyond for the same species (PHOTO 2). A pair of high boots or even waders is helpful in this very muddy area - but try to avoid crushing the spartina grass; there are usually well-trodden fisherman trails you might stick to. When you're done looking for salty sparrows, you can walk a series of dikes just beyond the bridge to get nice views of more marsh habitat along with scrubby palm, oak, and pine woods that are great for migrants in season. Be sure to check out the visitor's center and the fort itself, an interesting Civil War site. When you're finished, turn left back onto Hwy 80 to continue to the island. When you cross a bridge over Lazaretto Creek to access the island, note a wharf to your right where shrimp boats are docked; this is where Amick's Deep Sea Fishing company is based, which runs pelagic birding trips to offshore Georgia waters. Just a little further down the road you'll see signs for the Crab Shack on your right, needless to say there is some great seafood here along with live alligators in an artificial habitat and friendly stray cats looking for hand-outs. When you get onto the island itself, you'll come through an area of arts and crafts shops; slow down when you see a curve to the right coming up and turn left onto Polk Street (there is a sign just off the road reading "River's End Campground and RV Park"). Continue down the road through a marshy area (good for waders) and turn right into the RV Park. As you pass the RV's on your left, you'll also be going past a row of homes on your right that back up to the marsh. At about the 4th or 5th house down, you'll notice a very nice garden area and several feeders hanging from the deck. From fall through early spring you should always check here for a rare White-winged Dove to show up. Retrace back to Polk St and turn right; at the end of this road is a gate and a trail that accesses the north beach of Tybee Island but parking can be tricky; there is a sand area on the left before the gate but it is currently being developed (PHOTOS 3-4). A better idea is to go back to Hwy 80 and turn left, then left again at a light where there is a gas station on your left. Follow the signs to the famous Tybee Lighthouse (PHOTO 7), and just before you get to an old concrete artillery station, turn right and drive to the rear parking lot to access the beach. Pay for a few hours at one of the new digital pay stations and print your ticket, and you might also take advantage of the public restrooms and a little restaurant here. Several boardwalks will take you out to the beach (PHOTOS 5-6). Spending time out on Tybee's north beach is great birding and a wonderful experience any time of year - be sure to take your scope. It is perhaps most often visited in winter, for this is the only reliable spot in the state to find Purple Sandpiper (PHOTO 8). Pay attention to the tide (view Georgia Tide Charts), and show up just before the peak of high tide. At this time and throughout high tide, the foraging grounds of the Purple Sandpipers around the delta of the Savannah River (rocky jetties and rip-rap) are submerged and they will come in to roost on the northern tip of the island. They are usually found mixed with Ruddy Turnstones and other shorebirds. If you get there late, and the water has come down just enough, they will have dispersed all around the area; however, at other tides you can pay close attention to the rock jetty on Tybee and you may spot one foraging with Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings. Also in winter, always scan the waters off the beach for diving birds like Red-throated Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, Common Loon, Double-crested Cormorant, and (more rarely) scoters such as Black, White-winged, or Surf. Northern Gannets can be seen doing spectacular dives further offshore in winter, and on rare occasions you may see a Parisitic or Pomarine Jaeger chasing gulls near shrimp boats. Other birds you may expect in various seasons on the north beach include Black Skimmer, Royal Tern, Caspian Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Forster's Tern, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sanderling, Dunlin, and more. Many rarities have shown up on Tybee over the years, such as Brant and Common Eider. It is a major longshot, but you should look carefully at all cormorants in winter for a possible Great Cormorant to show up. One of the threats to the birds of Tybee Island is people; though the northern tip of the island is not at all as busy as the beaches to its east and south, it only takes one careless person walking through a roosting flock of birds to disturb them and send them elsewhere to rest. Take a few moments if you like to visit the Tybee Island Lighthouse, with tours available. When you are done here, you can go back to Hwy 80 and head to east and south beach access points further down the island. These are areas that deserve a quick check even though they tend to be less birdy in general than the north beach due to larger crowds; a Black-headed Gull was found on the south beach in August 2005. Another quick stop is the west end of 6th Street, where there is a marsh and some good scrubby edge habitat that can harbor a few passerines; good birds found here recently in winter include Lark Sparrow (very rare), Prairie Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and American Goldfinch. Always look twice at doves on the wires on Tybee for a rare White-winged Dove to show up, usually fall through early spring.
PHOTO 1 PHOTO 2 PHOTO 3 PHOTO 4 PHOTO 5 PHOTO 6 PHOTO 7 PHOTO 8 (RC)
2) Savannah-Ogeechee Canal [October 2005]
PM, late May-June for breeding birds
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme pg. 55, B-9]
As of fall 2005, the property was at risk of losing funding and no longer had a paid maintenance crew. A nice older gentleman there told Rachel and me that a small volunteer workforce was trying to keep up the place, but it was quite overwhelming and the trails might eventually start reverting back to wild bottomlands. We saw some of this already happening, and I will honestly say I've birded fewer places with more mosquitoes, huge spiders, and snakes to top it off. Now, now - don't push each other over trying to go here based on my rave review. However, an interesting report to GABO-L in April 2007 made no reference to access problems and, in fact, some great birds were seen including Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Worm-eating Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Scarlet and Summer Tanager, Bald Eagle, Great-crested Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, and Yellow-throated Vireo. At any rate, it makes a quick stop in some pretty swamp habitat as part of a trip to the Savannah-Tybee Island area so go check it out!
Text by KB; Photos by Steve Barlow.
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1) Paulk's Pasture WMA [Oct 2008]
PM, W for sparrows, late Sp-Su for breeding birds
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme pg. 63 6-C,D & pg. 62 5-C,D]
From the town of Brunswick, take GA Hwy 341 north for a total of about 12 miles. Along the way, you will pass under I-95 (Exit 36A & B), and through a major light with Hwy 99 in the town of Sterling. 3-4 miles north of Hwy 99, keep an eye out for the brown wooden sign on the left marking the WMA - this is Main Rd, the gravel and sand entrance road for the southern part of area. I think that this is bar-none the best location for wintering Henslow's Sparrows and Sedge Wrens in state. Perhaps it isn't, but it may be the easiest accessed public spot for these beautiful, reluctant species. As you enter the property from GA Hwy 341 on Main Rd, the very first powerline cut area to the left (with a power transformer station on the right) is just awesome for these species and other sparrows (such as Grasshopper) from Nov-Mar (PHOTO). It may be very difficult to get good looks at birds if you are alone. The best strategy is to get a small line of birders and walk forward, flushing birds. You must quickly form a semi-circle where a bird lands, slowly walking forward, which may encourage the bird to climb a tall weed for a look around (and for you to get a look at him) or fly to the woods' edge, where it may perch briefly as well. In spring, you can enjoy Chuck-will's Widows calling after dusk; if you bring a spotlight-style flashlight you may even catch their glowing eyes as they cruise around the area. Be wary of large fire-ant piles as you tromp around... and ankle-twisting ditches and branches in the ground, too. In other words, while you're mainly keeping your eyes up for the birds, watch your step, too! You can explore a few roads deeper into the property to access swampy and thick pine and cypress habitat. The whole area can be great for migrants like wood warblers, vireos, flycatchers, etc. and also has interesting residents like woodpeckers, nuthatches, and owls.
Text and photo by KB
2) Jekyll Island [Oct 2008]
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme pg. 63, G-F, 7-8]
This is one of Georgia's truly premier birding destinations and should be made a part of any excursion to the coast. From points south, on I-95 get off at Exit 29 and take Hwy 17 east for 5.4 miles and you'll see signage for the causeway on your right. Be careful not to miss it; if you do you'll have to cross the suspension bridge before you'll have a chance to turn around. From points north, on I-95 get off at Exit 38 and take Hwy 25 Spur (Golden Isles Parkway) SE for 4.4 until you hit US Hwy 17; turn right. You'll go through Brunswick - note F.J. Torras causeway on the left after 1.6 miles, which leads out to St. Simons Island. Continue south on US 17 for 4.2 miles beyond F.J. Torras Causeway (total of 5.8 miles from where you got on US 17), crossing the suspension bridge, and you will arrive at the Jekyll Island causeway on your left immediately after the bridge. There is plenty of signage guiding you in from the interstate in either direction. When you turn onto the causeway, make an immediate left on a side road with a white sign that reads "Gisco Marina" and park on the right shoulder near the sign. Get out and scan the mudflats in this area for shorebirds in season, such as Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Black-bellied Plover, Willet, Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, and more. A warning that here and at the Visitor's Center later the biting insects can range from non-existent to truly unbearable so don't get caught without a strong repellant (10% DEET minimum). At 4.3 miles down the causeway from US 17, turn left into the Visitor's Center for some air conditioning, brochures, cold sodas, clean restrooms, and more tidal birding. The mud flats that can be viewed from the NW side of the Visitor's Center (PHOTOS 1 & 2) will also produce a mixed bag depending on season, with rarities showing up from time to time. You may see Roseate Spoonbill, Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Marsh Wren, waders, and lots of other shorebirds; Reddish Egret and even Long-billed Curlew have been observed. When you're finished here, continue another 2.2 miles beyond the VC (total of 6.5 miles from US 17) onto Jekyll Island. As of late 2006, when you pay the $3 entry fee your ticket is good for the 24-hour period beginning and ending at midnight. This is a nice upgrade; previously you had to pay the fee every time you left and returned to the island. Turn right at the first available road onto Riverview Dr, and in 0.6 miles turn right and park at "Tidelands Nature Center," where bird feeders are filled regularly and are a nice place to get good looks at gorgeous Painted Buntings in spring and summer (PHOTO 3). If you continue down the shell road towards a boat launch, you'll come around a pond which may have waders or divers, and a nest platform where Osprey raise a family almost every year (PHOTO 4). Turn right out of Tidelands, and continue until you come to a large antenna tower on your right, and turn here into a picnic area. Interesting breeding birds like Great-crested Flycatcher, Northern Parula, and Yellow-throated Warblers will mix with migrants in season, and you can get a view on the intra-coastal waterway which may have divers or (rarely) Northern Gannets in winter. A pair of Great-horned Owls may be heard calling near the antenna at dusk but do not play audio here; the entire island is great for nocturnal Chuck-will's-widows in spring, and on very rare occasions Whip-poor-wills winter in the woods. Head back to the perimeter road from the picnic area and turn right; a total of 1.9 miles from the Tidelands Nature Center look for Macy Lane on your right, turn and park near the stop sign (PHOTO 5). The trail from here out to the South Beach - and the beach itself - is another of my personal favorite places to bird in the state (PHOTOS 6-9). The combination of an often secluded walk through some of the most beautiful, unique habitat on the coast and the year-round possibility of encountering something out of the ordinary is just exhilirating. Since 2005, birds such as Greater Scaup, Black Scoter, Surf Scoter, Parasitic Jaeger, White-winged Dove, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Wilson's Plover, Piping Plover, Marbled Godwit, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sedge Wren, Henslow's Sparrow, Wilson's Warbler, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, well... you name it, it just might pop up on the trail, beach, or out on the water. This unique location requires the utmost respect and care from birdwatchers. Do not approach resting birds along the surf line too close, keep your distance and enjoy them with a scope. If you see an interesting bird flush deep into the scrub and dunes anywhere along the boardwalk on your way to the beach, pish all you want but do not leave the trail to pursue a bird under any circumstances. This habitat is highly sensitive and declining. A major victory for its protection took place when a grassroots effort in spring 2007 - including the Birding Community and championed by Senator Jeff Chapman - helped push state legislators to amend HB 214, protecting the South Beach while allowing for more development elsewhere on the island. When you've enjoyed the birding here, turn right from Macy Lane onto the main road; in 0.3 miles note a 4H Center on your right and a field with a rope fence around it; check this area for Western Kingbird in winter. In another 2.2 miles, you'll come to the island's only shopping center (but not for long) on your left and the convention center on your right. Park in this area and walk the parking lots, checking all the wires for Gray Kingbirds in spring and summer. Continue north on the perimeter road along the beach, stopping at any spots where you'd like to scan for birds or enjoy getting your feet in the sand and surf; 3.9 miles after the convention center you'll come to a little parking area on the right, just past Villas by the Sea (PHOTO 10). A short trail will provide you with a lookout from the north end of the island, good for scoters in winter. It is possible to observe all three scoters - Black, Surf, and White-winged... the vast majority will be the first species, but you may be lucky to pick out the other two along with lots of scaup (Greater and Lesser). Anywhere on the eastern side of the island you may see scoters (or even a rare Long-tailed Duck) in late fall-winter, but they are quite "hit or miss" - the most productive scoter watch spots tend to be the north or south tips of the island. Also in fall and winter, though the picture cannot convey the experience in person, there are immense swarms of Tree Swallows that converge on various areas of the island, especially along the causeway and the west side (PHOTO 11). From the Villas lookout, continue for another 0.7 miles and you can turn right to head out to the pier for another view of open water or some fishing, and then head back and cross the street into the campground. In the very back of the campground is a feeding station and a drip-bath that is usually quite birdy when there aren't scads of people around, and you may see wood warblers, vireos, tanagers, thrushes, and other neotropical migrants anywhere in the huge oaks and pines as you enjoy a walk back to the feeders. Turn left out of the campground, and continue for 3.4 miles to an unmarked shell driveway on your left; here under some large oaks is the parking for the Jekyll Island Amphitheater, which can produce lots of great migrants in the surrounding woods (and Eastern Screech Owls may be heard at night). You can go in either direction on the trail just beyond a little archway to go around the amphitheater and arrive at a small freshwater pond. This area has a small but very impressive rookery in spring and summer (and roost in other seasons) with species such as Wood Stork, Yellow and Black-crowned Night-Herons, Green Herons, Tricolored Heron, Snowy and Great Egrets, Anhinga, Little Blue Heron, and sometimes Roseate Spoonbill will roost here. Please do not disturb the birds and tread quietly in this special area. Turn left out of the amphitheater and you will come back to the toll booth in 1.3 miles after a left turn at a stop sign; alternately, you can take a right at this stop sign to park at the marina for a quick check of the intracoastal waterway and mud flats at lower tides or to patronize the restaurants that serve the historic hotel and marina. Take your time to enjoy the historic district near the amphitheater, especially the brand new Georgia Sea Turtle Center (PHOTO 12).
PHOTO 1 PHOTO 2 PHOTO 3 PHOTO 4 PHOTO 5 PHOTO 6 PHOTO 7
PHOTO 8 PHOTO 9 PHOTO 10 PHOTO 11 PHOTO 12
Text and photos by KB.
3) St. Simons Island [Aug 2008]
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme pg. 63, 8-D,E,F]
From I-95, get off at Exit 38 and take Hwy 25 Spur (Golden Isles Parkway) SE until you hit Hwy 17; turn right. In 1.6 miles you'll come to a major intersection with F.J. Torras Causeway; get in one of the left turn lanes and turn left to head out to the island. You can also come from the south - get off I-95 at Exit 29 and take Hwy 17 SE. You'll pass the Jekyll Island Causeway on your right, then cross a huge suspension bridge. A total of 9.6 miles from I-95 you'll come to a major intersection with the F.J. Torras Causeway; turn right here to get to the island. From both directions, there is plenty of signage to guide you in from the highway. St. Simons still has a lot to offer for birding. This being said, Rachel and I generally don't spend a lot of time birding out here simply because it is very developed and there are many more condos, shopping centers, and tourists than birds. However, we often base out of here for coastal trips. While the larger number of people may not make for the greatest birding, there are lots of friendly-operated creature comforts and convenient services (banks, groceries, restaurants, shopping, etc.) and the location is away from the urban feel of Brunswick but still fairly central for hitting lots of the usual coastal hotspots. The Holiday Inn Express works fine, with interior room entry, and it's easy to start your day with a quick check of productive spots like Bloody Marsh and Gould's Inlet before leaving the island for other locations. It is also the first major hotel as you get onto the island so it doesn't take long to make a mid-day rest stop here as opposed to driving farther onto the island for other lodging options that are out on the beach. Gould's Inlet - and Bloody Marsh on the way out there - are the best birding spots on the island in my opinion, and are usually quick stops; Gould's Inlet is actually not worth it at high tide, however, because the sand bars that host shorebirds, terns, and gulls are underwater. To reach these hotspots, drive 4.5 miles on F.J. Torras Causeway until you reach the first traffic light on the island, at Sea Island Rd. Go straight through this light, and you'll pass several shopping areas and restaurants, the fourth intersection is Frederica Rd, which is a key intersection leading to shopping and hotels and is now (2008) a round-about instead of a light. Go right into the round-about and continue out the other side, staying on Frederica Rd. Pass a new fire station on your right (look for Gray Kingbirds on wires in this area in summer), and approx. 1.7 miles from the first light (with Sea Island Rd) you'll see Bloody Marsh Park on your left; this is a quick stop to scan the marsh from the west side, but the gate is not always open here. Turn left out of this small park and 0.5 miles further down, turn left at a flashing yellow light onto East Beach Causeway [I must admit that the directions here are sketchy b/c a re-routing of the roadbed may not pass the entrance to Bloody Marsh Park but you will certainly still see East Beach Causeway on your left so watch for it!]. You can get great views of Bloody Marsh along this road briefly, then turn left onto Ocean Rd just 0.4 miles from the flashing light to continue scanning the marsh for waders and shorebirds including Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Semipalmated Plover, Black Plover, waders such as White Ibis, Great Egret, and more. It is important not to stop for very long, as the road is fairly busy with local traffic and lined with private residences. Turn right when you reach 15th street, and park at the end in a little public parking area that provides access to a little fishing pier and the beach at Gould's Inlet (PHOTOS 1-3). This is a good spot to look for Reddish Egret and Least Tern in summer; in migration you may see Red Knot along with many other shorebirds, and Peregrine Falcon or Merlin (especially in fall). In late summer (mid-Aug) this can be a wonderful opportunity to study various migrating or breeding terns including Black Tern, Forster's Tern, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, and Royal Tern. Winter birds include Great or Lesser Black-backed Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, and other diving ducks. At all times of year there should be an assortment of shorebirds, gulls, and terns on the sand bars along with Osprey and Eurasian Collared Doves. If you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a mink hunting along the rocks (PHOTO 5). Bloody Marsh (PHOTO 4) is a great place to see Whimbrel, White Ibis, and many waders; you may hear Clapper Rails sound off, and along the edges you may find Marsh Wren, Palm Warblers, or Common Yellowthroats. Be considerate of local traffic; do not stop in the road or block driveways as you cruise along the edge scanning for birds. Gray Kingbird have nested somewhere in The Village (main touristy drag near the lighthouse); in July 2006 Rachel and I saw two adults and two juveniles, and some feeding behavior, which was pretty cool even though this species isn't exactly rare and may be increasing in Georgia.
PHOTO 1 PHOTO 2 PHOTO 3 PHOTO 4 PHOTO 5
Text by KB; Photos by KB & RC.
4) Andrew's Island Causeway [Oct 2008]
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme pg. 63, F-7]
Along with good birding in all seasons, this is one of the best locations on the coast for seeing all three of the saltmarsh sparrows from Nov-Mar; Seaside Sparrow, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and Salt-marsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. From the major intersection of the F.J. Torras Causeway and US Hwy 17 in Brunswick, head south on US 17 for 0.6 miles to a light with Gloucester St and turn right. After 1.0 mile, turn right at a light onto Newcastle Street in the middle of historic Brunswick (incidentally, you can also stay on Gloucester all the way to its end and you will end up at the city docks lined with shrimp boats [PHOTO 5] where local shrimpers sometimes sell their fresh catch right off the boat, and a small pavilion in an adjacent park is a produce market on weekends). After turning right onto Newcastle back in town, continue for 1.1 miles and turn left just after passing a dry dock (ship repair) on your left onto Homer L. Wilson Way, and you are now on the causeway. It is essential to pay attention to the tide (view Georgia Tide Charts), and look for the hour of highest tide when you search for the "salty" sparrows. Bird your way down the causeway (PHOTO 1), parking and walking around when you see something interesting. You will find shorebirds and waders at lower tides, and diving waterfowl in winter such as Horned Grebe, Red-breasted Mergansers, and sometimes Red-throated Loon. Watch for Clapper Rails along the edges of the marsh, or Roseate Spoonbills (summer) in shallow water along the edge. Park at the end of the causeway on the right side of a turn-around loop, and bird a side road that starts right where you parked (PHOTO 2); at particularly high tides this side road can be submerged. The ox-eye daisy and spartina grass along the edges will hold all three species of saltmarsh sparrow in winter. A good strategy is to wear waders or hip-boots and walk parallel to the shoreline a few yards out from dry land, herding a few birds while other birders follow on shore to get looks at the birds as they move along (PHOTO 3). They may perch briefly in scrubby bushes but generally they zip like trapeze artists through the vegetation out of sight. If you see that you are approaching a higher bush and you know there are birds moving in front of you, slow down and give them a moment to get to the bush. If you do not push them too quickly, they may climb up for a better look around, and of course giving you a nice look at them! Looking east from the opposite side of the causeway, you are looking across the East River at the city of Brunswick, including the marina, shrimp boats, and Georgia Ports Authority (PHOTO 4). A recent effort to remove a huge rusted barge and a lot of other industrial trash from the causeway has improved the area, but careless people still drop lots of trash along the road. In winter, you may have Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated Loons, Common Loons, or Horned Grebes in the river on either side of the causeway. This area may hold other diving birds, and usually has lots of gulls as well. A mega-rarity Common Eider showed up here in October 2006 (PHOTO 6). In the area, American White Pelicans are fairly reliable (PHOTO 7); look for them loafing and feeding on the river, or soaring overhead. Clapper Rails are vocal year-round, and Northern Harriers patrol the marshes in winter. Also from winter through early spring, you may have the unique opportunity to see literally hundreds of American Avocets out on the large mudflats created at lower tides in the river to the west. The best place to scan for them is from the side road on the west side towards the end of the causeway; simply walk the road to the same places you were stalking the sparrows (though now at low tide) and scope all the flats in front of you as you face west. Other birds to look out for at various times of year include Marsh Wren, Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Roseate Spoonbill, Bonaparte's Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Least Tern, American Avocet, Osprey, Loggerhead Shrike, Eurasian Collared Dove, and various shorebirds on the exposed mud flats at low tide such as Black-bellied Plover, Willet, Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, and more. UPDATE: Be wary of any reports about access to the island itself as opposed to the causeway. The Georgia DOT administers this property and strictly forbirds access to the public. Regardless of any supposed "permission" granted to birders in the last year, all such reports are false and the area cannot be accessed. Do not attempt to walk or drive past the obviously signed gates at the end of the causeway. Trespassers may be severely fined or much worse if they are seen by any spoil site employees or, worse, by patrolling DOT officials. Enjoy the great birding along the causeway and stay outside the gate. As of early 2008, there is much less reason to want to visit the island itself as the dredging project is now complete and the "empty bowl" which used to be filled with fresh water, mud, and sand flats no longer exists; instead, there is a barren desert landscape raised a full 20-30 feet above the surrounding marshes.
PHOTO 1 PHOTO 2 PHOTO 3 PHOTO 4 PHOTO 5 PHOTO 6 PHOTO 7
Text and photos by KB.
5) Little St. Simons Island [Oct 2008]
[DeLorme pg. 63, D-9]
UPDATED BIRDING DETAILS AND PHOTOS COMING SOON!
This is a private island, but is accessible to birders in several ways: 1) Take part in an organized, guided field trip as part of the Colonial Coast Birding and Nature Festival (it is one of the most popular trips), 2) take advantage of special private birding tours that are usually announced on GABO-L by the island's naturalists (+/- $65), or 3) stay at the rustic all-inclusive lodge on the island. We have talked about Option 3 many times, and surely will enjoy this experience someday but it is not cheap (starting at +/- $400 per night). As a guest, you could have one of the naturalists take you birding and/or use your preferred method to get out into the field, which are provided by the lodge for guests to use any time - horseback riding, bikes, kayaks, powerboats, etc. On field trips, the lodge naturalist will drive your group around in a pickup truck with benches in the back. Technically, you can also come to the island to take a "day trip" tour which is offered to the general public for +/- $65 per person and includes a nice picnic lunch; you should call ahead to let them know birders are coming so they will bring a scope with them. However, you must keep in mind that these tours are offered to the public to give them a taste of what the island and the lodge have to offer over-all and, thus, you will not be birding the whole time. A limited-access barrier island with a unique history, LSSI is managed in various ways for wildlife. Little St. Simons has incredible birding to offer all year, but is perhaps best from September through mid-May. Just a few birds that may be seen at various times during the year include Piping Plover, Mottled Duck, Black-necked Stilt, Whimbrel, Peregrine Falcon, Least Bittern, Painted Bunting, Roseate Spoonbill, American Bittern, Merlin, Marbled Godwit, Red Knot, American Oystercatcher, Northern Gannet, Snow Goose, nesting Bald Eagles, Reddish Egret, and the island's winter gem - Long-billed Curlew. This is hands-down the best location to observe this species in Georgia; I have heard a naturalist comment that "if there are 10 Long-billed Curlews on the entire Georgia coast in a given winter, 8 of them are probably on Little St. Simons." It is simply an awesome place to be, and the birding will be just one highlight of your experience on Little St. Simons!
6) Marshes of Glynn Park [Oct 2008]
[DeLorme pg. 63, F-7; approximately where the "F" in "F.J.Torras Causeway" is printed]
This quick stop is fairly reliable for roosting Roseate Spoonbill and other waders at high tide from late spring through fall. They are usually found in a roost in some low trees that can be seen directly across the water and just to the north, looking out from the picnic tables (you can see them on the right side of the PHOTO below). You may also see night herons, Wood Stork, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, or other waders at this roost; a scope is necessary. At lower tides, there may be an assortment of shorebirds working the mud flats including peeps, Willet, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, etc. There are always gulls and pelicans around, and you may see diving waterfowl at higher tides. A pair of Loggerhead Shrikes sometimes nests in the smaller oaks in the picnic area.
Text and photo by KB.
7) Blythe Island Regional Park [N/A]
mid F-late Sp
Text by Gene Keferl
[DeLorme pg. 63, F-6]
Located off GA Hwy 303 close to I-95 Exit 29. Get off of I-95 at Exit 29 and head west (which is actually south) on US 17 a very short distance to GA Hwy 303. Turn north (right turn) on GA Hwy 303 you will go under I-95. It should be the first right turn after the I-95 overpass. The number 3016 saltwater fishing site in the DeLorme Atlas is the site. The nature trail and areas along the canals offer some very easy walking and some nice ecotonal areas for observing birds. 44 species of birds were observed in early April 2007, including a large number of Prairie Warblers (100+!), Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Great-crested Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Red and White-eyed Vireos, shorebirds, nesting Osprey.
'width' is a duplicate attribute name. Line 1, position 37.Liberty
1) St. Catherine's Island [Oct 2006]
[DeLorme pg. 55, 10-F, G, H]
A truly unique, magnificent, and protected biological sanctuary, St. Catherine's Island is off-limits to the public. You can visit a very informative webpage by Sherpa Guides HERE. The St. Catherine's Island Foundation was generous enough to offer a field trip to Georgia birders as part of the 2006 Colonial Coast Birding Festival. The following photos were taken during this wonderful adventure. View the checklist for the field trip HERE. Hopefully this partnership will continue for future festivals.
Text and photos by KB & RC.
2) Le Conte-Woodsmanston Plantation and Botanical Gardens [N/A]
This lovely property, recently accessible to the public, has something for everyone whether you're a wildlife enthusiatist, birdwatcher, nature-lover, or history-seeker! It is open Tue-Sun from 10am-3pm year-round or by appointment. Group tours are available (small fee - $2.00 per person or $5.00 per family). From the north, take I-95 south to Exit 76. Turn right onto GA Hwy 84, head west towards Midway. At the traffic light in Midway, turn left onto Hwy 17. Travel south about 2.5 miles. Turn right on Barrington Ferry Road. Travel south on it about 6 miles. Turn left at the sign for Le Conte-Woodmanston and follow the road to the entrance. From the south, take I-95 to Exit 67 and turn left at the bottom of the exit. Travel 3 miles to Sandy Run Road. Turn left and follow it to the stop sign at Barrington Ferry Road. Make a left and follow the signs to the site. The address is 4918 Barrington Ferry Road. The property features an old trunk canal, former rice fields, and cypress swamp. There is a nice nature trail through the property to explore, where one might find a nice selection of bird species especially during migration. The garden of Louis Le Conte was known to 18th century botanists and naturalists from all over the world. His collection of camellias and flowering bulbs was said to be extraordinary. The current formal garden contains historic, native and exotic plants. The gardens are currently being expanded throughout the meadows and upland woods of the property. Visit their WEBSITE.
3) Ft. Stewart (primarily in Bryan and Liberty Counties) [N/A]
DETAILS COMING SOON - information needed!
4) Cay Creek Wetlands Interpretive Center [N/A]
DETAILS COMING SOON - information needed!
'width' is a duplicate attribute name. Line 1, position 37.McIntosh
1) Harris Neck NWR [March 2008]
IBA, PM, late Sp-Su for breeding birds, W for waterfowl
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme pg. 55, 9-G]
One of my favorite coastal stops in spring, this former military airport property has been converted into a sanctuary for breeding waders, especially Wood Stork, and also has a wonderful diversity of habitat for many species including ponds, maritime pine-oak forest, open brushy fields, and marsh. From I-95 where you will see signage for the NWR, get off at Exit 67 (US Hwy 17) and go south on US 17 for just 1.1 miles, and when you see a sign for the "Smallest Church in America," turn left onto Harris Neck Rd. After 6.5 miles, you'll come through a tidal marsh and just on the other side of the bridge, take a left into the entrance to the property. You can take a few moments to explore a boat ramp and fishing dock on the marsh (PHOTO 1), looking for Belted Kingfisher, Barn Swallows (summer) or Tree Swallows (winter), waders, and you may hear Clapper Rails sounding off. Then head down the entrance road through some very tall oaks that arch over the road (PHOTO 2). This short stretch can really produce a lot of great birds all year, especially in migration. Listen and look for Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireo, Summer Tanager, and plenty of other birds. Through the oaks on the marsh side of this road is a group of large dead pine trees which has hosted a family of Red-headed Woodpeckers in recent years (2007). You will then make a sharp curve to the right as you pass the administrative buildings and visitor's center; look carefully for a couple feeders, which will may have Painted Buntings in spring and summer. Next, a pine-oak forest will close in around you as you continue down the road, keep listening for interesting birds, and take your time to stop on the shoulder to bird when you hear something. At the end of this section, the road will take a sharp left at a dike with an informational sign; park off the road at the base of this dike. Put on some bug spray, grab your camera and you scope, and walk quietly to the top of the dike... in spring and summer try not to let your jaw hit the ground at the sight you will behold! In front of you is Woody Pond (PHOTOS 3-6), perhaps the most amazing wader rookery in the state. Literally thousands of birds display, build their nests, and raise their young here. One success story is that of the Wood Stork, which is making a big comeback in Georgia right here at Harris Neck, where pairs often raise two healthy chicks, and the breeding population has increased every year for several years now. Before you go far on the dike, scan carefully in the corner of the pond closest to you for water birds like Pied-billed Grebe, Common Moorhen or (rarely) Purple Gallinule or King Rail, and in the trees for Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons or Cattle Egret. Then, move quietly along the dike for a better view of the rookery. Birds you may see on nests or coming-and-going overhead include the Wood Storks (which often soar in kettles), Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, and White Ibis. Other birds you might see on the pond or overhead include Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant, Osprey, and Bald Eagle; Roseate Spoonbill has been observed flying over the property in summer but not on the ground so please report if you see any. In winter or early spring you may see Sora or (rarely) American Bittern foraging along the edges of the pond, or waterfowl like Hooded Merganser, Blue-winged or Green-winged Teal, or Bufflehead. Along with all the action on Woody Pond, the woods and scrubby edges around here can be bustling with migrating or breeding passerines such as Acadian Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Great-crested Flycatcher, Hooded Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Red-eyed, White-eyed, and Yellow-throated Vireos, Gray Catbird, Summer Tanager, and more. Enjoy the alligators that are present in Woody Pond, but also be aware of them sunning on or near the dike and do not approach too closely - they are beautiful but must be shown the respect that all nature deserves. When you're finished here, continue down the road through a pine-dominated section and then on to the area that used to serve as the landing strips of the airport. They have completely grown over now with scattered small oaks, bushes, and other dry, scrubby vegetation (PHOTO 7); this is just right for Painted Buntings. In fact, this may be the best place for these colorful birds on the mainland. You will curve around to the right through more similar habitat, look and listen as well for Eastern Bluebird, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Northern Mockingbird. You can pull over on the right when you notice a group of larger oaks on your right; walking between them will bring you down to a low, wet marshy area that may have waders or waterfowl if there is enough water. Continue driving, and you will soon go up a gravel embankment and you are actually on a short dike; to your left and right (PHOTOS 8 & 9) are more low, wet areas that should be checked for interesting waterfowl or waders; in winter these fields are great for cruising Northern Harriers, or American Kestrel. You will keep following the driving tour signs first to the left, and then to the right and into an area dominated by young pines (PHOTO 10), with one large field (that will be off to your left) and many other smaller open spots where Painted Buntings may continue to serenade you along your way. Listen for Pine and Yellow-throated Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, Yellow-throated Vireo, and other birds mentioned earlier. You will eventually wind through more pine-oak forest and exit the property. By turning right, you will come back to the entrance in 0.9 miles and your tour is complete. Visit the refuge website.
PHOTO 1 PHOTO 2 PHOTO 3 PHOTO 4 PHOTO 5
PHOTO 6 PHOTO 7 PHOTO 8 PHOTO 9 PHOTO 10
Text by KB, Photos by KB & RC.
2) Sapelo Island [March 2008]
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme pg. 63, A-9 and B-9]
This is a barrier island with limited access, diverse habitats, and some great birds. It only takes a little extra effort and planning to get out here, and it can be done as a day trip or an overnight by using one of a couple affordable lodging options (see notes later). One interesting specialty of Sapelo Island is a small breeding population of Plain Chachalaca, which was introduced as a game bird in the early 20th century when the island was privately owned by tobacco tycoon R.J. Reynolds (the species is officially "countable" here by ABA standards). From I-95, get off at Exit 49 (GA Hwy 251) and SE for 1.1 miles to a dead-end with US Hwy 17 in the town of Darien. Turn right, and drive through a commercial area in Darien (obey the speed limit because local police are vigilant) and in 1.0 miles, turn left onto GA Hwy 99 (there is a brown sign here for the Ft. King George State Historic Site). Head north on Hwy 99 for a total of 8.0 miles, and turn right onto Landing Rd, where there should be a sign for the Sapelo Island Visitor's Center (along Hwy 99 at 5.3 miles, you may want to make a quick stop at Tolomato Causeway Pond, see description below). Just 0.5 miles on Landing Rd, and you will curve to the right and enter the gate for the Sapelo Island Visitor's Center; park near the building. As long as you have already called a contact on the island to arrange transportation, they will have given your name to the DNR officers who run the ferry so you do not need to check in at the visitor's center. However, there are clean restrooms, some cool exhibits and a gift shop here. Take all the optics, water, and snacks you will need for the day (or more if you're staying the night) and walk down to the boat dock and give your name and $2.00 fee to a DNR official who should be standing there with a clipboard; the ferry leaves at 8:30am so don't be late! While you wait for the boat to leave you may enjoy the sounds of Marsh Wrens singing, or a Clapper Rail sounding off. A new, larger vessel was put into service in fall 2006 (PHOTO 1), and cuts the ride out to the island down to only 15 minutes. Along the way, stand on the top deck to enjoy the sea breeze and (depending on season) birds like Forster's Tern, Royal Tern, Laughing Gull, Northern Harrier (winter), Merlin or Peregrine Falcon (especially fall), divers, waders, etc. If you are on a guided trip, you will have a pick-up truck waiting for you at the boat dock with benches in the back to take you around the island. Otherwise, you will need to meet your contact here. A good place to start is around the island's trash dump, where the Chachalacas are often found, and it's not difficult to arrange to be dropped off here with a bike for the day for about $15. The secretive Chachalacas are most vocal very early in the morning, so if you stay a night on the island get there just before dawn. If you are standing at the dumpsters looking east down the dirt (not asphalt) section of the road, you'll see a little intersection of two dirt roads (PHOTO 2). Around an approximate quarter-mile radius of this intersection is where the birds are usually detected; if you play audio here please use it sparingly - if the birds do not respond they are probably not in the area, and they are certainly not a given on every visit. From the intersection (again, looking at it from the dump), you can continue straight ahead and you're on Old Beach Rd, heading through some scrubby vegetation, and then into a woods with pines, large oaks, and palms. Listen for birds like Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Red-eyed, White-eyed, and Yellow-throated Vireo, Eastern Wood Pewee, Summer Tanager, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and more. In migration the pine-oak woods can have all kinds of migrants including American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and both waterthrush species are possible in low, wet muddy areas. This sand and dirt road will eventually come through an area of dead pine snags on your right that is great for woodpeckers including Red-headed, and then into tidal flats and scrubby trees, where Painted Buntings are found in spring and summer. Finally, you'll reach the sand dunes and the beach; the folks who loan the bikes do not allow them onto the beach itself, unfortunately, so leave them at the end of the road, take your scope and some water and hit the beach (PHOTO 3). You should see at least a couple groups of shorebirds along the surf and depending on season you may find Red Knot, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, peeps, and possibly Marbled Godwit. You may find Reddish Egret in summer; Wilson's Plovers and Least Tern breed here so be sure to walk only below the high tide line. You will have a good assortment of gulls, terns, and divers to sort through as well - in winter pay attention to rafts of divers offshore which may contain both Scaup spp. or scoters, and Northern Gannets may be found doing tremendous dives in the distance. Also in winter, Sapelo is the second best place in Georgia to find Long-billed Curlew (after Little St. Simons Island). One of the more productive areas to scan from this access point is to head north on the beach to an area of sand bars where a tidal creek empties into the ocean; note that it is too deep even at low tide to ford and thus you cannot get from here to the northern end of the island or vice-versa along the shore. When you're done exploring the beach, backtrack to the dump intersection; if you want to explore the island's historic community of Hog Hammock, turn right (PHOTOS 4 & 5); importantly, this is where both lodging options on the island are located. In addition, the northern portion of the island that can be accessed from the community has another lesser-used beach access (Cabretta Beach), a DNR group-only campground, and plenty more birding opportunities so if you're here for a longer stay keep this in mind; the nice local folks have come up with a hand-drawn map that is geared towards points of interest for birders and hunters that you can ask for when you meet them at the boat dock. Back at the dump, for day-trip birding coming back from the beach, continue straight, pass the dump on your right, and you'll be back on a paved road that will dead-end into the North-South Autobahn where you will turn left to head south down the island. (IMPORTANT: though you could technically turn left back at the dump intersection, or even use another "road" closer to the beach to get to points south on the island - both roads are shown on maps - these roads are both very overgrown, with soft sand that is nearly impossible to bike on, and plenty of mosquitoes and ticks, so use your best judgement. In March 2008, Root Patch Road - which is the one heading south from the dump intersection - was cleared with brushmowers for easier motorized or walking access to the Reynold's Mansion, but the soft sand would still make biking very difficult). Heading south on the paved North-South Autobahn, you'll pass through some nice pine and oak habitat with a scrubby understory that is great for Pine Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Indigo Bunting, White-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, various sparrows, wrens, and lots of woodpeckers. Keep an eye overhead for soaring birds such as Turkey and Black-headed Vulture, Bald Eagle, and Osprey. You will pass the road on your right that heads out to the boat dock, and then you will curve to the left. You will next come into the area of the UGA Estuarine Research Center, with a nice tidal marsh on your right. You'll next enter the UGA buildings area (on the right) and on your left is an area of canals/ditches (PHOTO 8) that are filled with fresh water and cattails. Lots of interesting breeding birds may be found around here, including Northern Parula, Orchard Oriole, Northern Mockingbird, Yellow-throated Warbler, Red-winged Blackbird, Loggerhead Shrike, Indigo Bunting, Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireo, Brown-headed Nuhatch, along with plenty of great migrants in season. Explore this area further by briefly wandering down an oak-lined paved road to your left (PHOTO 9) across from some long-overgrown tennis courts. Some guided field trips will also make a restroom break at the UGA facility, with an opportunity to hit a cold drink machine as well. Continue past the tennis courts, and you'll notice that you are also passing the Reynold's Mansion on your left, a historic building that has been restored and turned into a group conference center. The open areas with huge oaks on the mansion grounds can produce some awesome passerines, especially in migration, so go slowly and be attentive for birds calling or singing. Along with breeding birds already mentioned, you may encounter Black-throated Blue Warbler, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Summer Tanager, and lots more. When you loop around the mansion a little more, you will see another paved road split off to your right that heads to Nannygoat Beach; turn here. You'll soon come into more tidal flats and scrubby dune areas that are great for migrants, as well as Painted Bunting in spring and summer. Just a bit further down this road, you'll notice a shell road on the right, which leads out to the Sapelo Island Lighthouse (PHOTO 6). This road, and other open areas of the island, can be covered up with Tree Swallows along with Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers and Savannah Sparrows in fall and winter. At the end of this road, explore the area around the lighthouse, including a trail that goes out to a raised metal observation platform. In fall, this can be an amazing Hawk Watch location, especially noted for good numbers of Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, American Kestrel, and Broad-winged Hawk, along with other raptors. In addition, the tidal spartina grass areas near the lighthouse (PHOTO 7) can produce all three "salty" sparrows in fall and winter - Seaside Sparrow, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. However, be very careful because a) you should try not to crush the base of the the spartina grass bunches as you walk and b) the fiddler crab-covered mud in these areas can range from firm and nearly dry to muddy and up to knee-deep. Back on the road to Nannygoat Beach, you may run into Common Ground Dove, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Northern Mockingbird, or House Wren here year-round, at other times of year you may see Palm Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, or more Painted Buntings, and always keep an eye on the sky for falcons or other raptors in migration. At the end of this road you'll come to the only beach structures on Sapelo (PHOTO 10), a public restroom, picnic tables, and a nice covered picnic pavilion and a boardwalk that will take you over the dunes to the beach. Take your time here to enjoy the waves, the view, and beach birds mentioned earlier in this section. The south end of the island is very rarely birded and if you're here for a while you may wish to explore it; it looks on satellite to offer very similar habitat as the south end of Jekyll Island (scrubby dunes and perhaps a nice roosting flock of beach birds), but be very careful because rattlesnakes may be found in this habitat as well as birds. If you've explored all of the areas above and/or you need to catch the ferry back to the mainland, backtrack to the road for the boat dock and turn left. A little more than half the distance to the boat dock, you'll come to a little bridge over a nice tidal creek and some cypress and pine habitat (PHOTO 11). Stop here if you have the opportunity, and look and listen for Clapper Rail, Marsh Wren, Red-headed Woodpecker, waders, passerines, and soaring birds; a group of Roseate Spoonbills was seen over the area in June 2007. Whenever your Sapelo adventure is over, catch your afternoon ferry back to the mainland. A few options for getting to and staying on the island... one is a newer lodging called The Wallow. It is a large house with six interestingly-decorated guest rooms, and a communal kitchen and family room. The families who built and own this establishment also offer various island tours (which can be customized) and some unique local foods and crafts, and they have a website called GeeChee Tours. Just down the North-South Autobahn from here is The Weekender, another lodging option on the island. By contacting the proprietors of The Wallow or The Weekender, you can usually gain access to the island in different ways... a) you can stay at one of their establishments, b) you can take one of their tours, or c) you can arrange for someone to meet you at the dock with bikes and/or a ride to the dump (they will clear you through the DNR officers on the ferry). In the latter case, you would need to negotiate over the phone the services you would like provided, and agree on a price ahead of time. A ride to the dump in the morning with two bikes for the whole day cost Rachel and me $30 total in June 2007. George Walker of The Wallow was my contact the first time, and Cesar from the Weekender the second time, both really nice guys. NOTE: The whole island can be full of ticks and mosquitoes, especially in warmer weather, so bring plenty of DEET-containing repellant!
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PHOTO 6 PHOTO 7 PHOTO 8 PHOTO 9 PHOTO 10 PHOTO 11
Text by KB; Photos by KB & RC.
3) Altamaha Waterfowl Management Area [Oct 2008]
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme: pg. 63, C-7]
Wow! What a birding site... you shouldn't visit the Georgia coast in any season without spending some time here. It is particulary productive very early in the morning and at dusk, when along with calling owls and flocks of wading birds and waterfowl flying overhead to and from their roosts, you may be treated to a gorgeous coastal sunrise or sunset (PHOTO 11). From I-95, get off at Exit 49 (GA Hwy 251) and head SE for 1.1 miles to a dead-end intersection with US Hwy 17. Turn right on Hwy 17 and head south through the small town of Darien, obey the speed limit in this area! Just outside the town, you will cross a bridge that is popular with local fishermen. At exactly 2.6 miles from GA Hwy 251, turn left at a small maintenance shack and park (PHOTO 1). The willows around this shack can be productive in migration, and are good for Yellow Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and waterthrush spp. as well as Swamp Sparrow. Overhead in spring and summer you may hear the calls of a colony of Purple Martin that live across the highway on another part of the property you will bird later. Any time you are on the property, pay attention to birds flying overhead because they may be interesting waterfowl in winter (along with Mottled Duck all year); raptors like Northern Harrier, Osprey, Bald Eagle, and others; or cool waterbirds like Anhinga, White or Glossy Ibis, etc. Walk along the shoulder of Hwy 17 for a short ways, and you'll see a gate in front of a long dike. Just before you get to this gate, take advantage of an opening between a few willows to scan a great marshy area; you can see it just fine from the dike later, but you have a better chance to catch a few more skittish birds from the road shoulder because you will blend in to the movement and noise of traffic on US 17 a lot better than when you are exposed out on the dike. In winter, look for Sora, Virginia Rail, American Bittern, and waterfowl like Blue-winged or Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, and waders. Next, walk around the gate and slowly and quietly make your way down the dike (PHOTO 2), scanning for birds as you go. The area can have any number of interesting species, including species which may stay only in winter, remain to breed in summer, and others that are just passing through. In spring look for Bobolink, Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Purple Gallinule, Black-necked Stilt, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, King Rail, Red-winged Blackbird, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, White and Glossy Ibis, and swallows like Barn, Northern Rough-winged, and Tree. In fall this dike is one of the only reliable places in Georgia for Clay-colored Sparrow. In summer Least Bittern breeds and is seen regularly. At the intersection of the east-west dike you're on and the main north-south dike is an observation tower that provides great views of the surrounding wetlands (PHOTOS 3-7), this is often referred to as the "new" or "east" tower. The level of the water is controlled by gates, and the area is flooded completely in winter for waterfowl and may range from wet, to muddy, to almost completely dry and choked up with vegetation depending on season and rainfall; this obviously affects what birds you may see. In winter, this is an awesome destination for waterfowl observation. Common species you may encounter include Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Shoveler, American Coot, Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon, etc. More interesting birds may be found at any time - American Black Duck, Mottled Duck, Canvasback, Redhead, Northern Pintail, and more have been seen and a rare Cinnamon Teal was found in a group of Blue-winged Teal in February 2004. A new addition to AWMA are Black-bellied Whistling Ducks; a fairly large group was observed consistently from June-July 2006, and has been observed reliably in the area ever since. This species was first documented breeding in Georgia also in summer 2006 (Brooks County); after much speculation, adults with ducklings in tow were finally observed in the fall of 2007, and some were banded by the DNR (confirming their breeding status at the Altamaha). From late fall through winter, take the time to scan the large groups of acrobatic Tree Swallows; since 2002 vagrant Mexican sub-species Cave Swallows have started to show up sporadically, but they are certainly not to be expected. Try to spot a bird with a buffy rump (not unlike a Cliff Swallow) and then stay on it to verify other field marks. You will also see gulls and terns cruising by overhead from time to time, including Least and Gull-billed Tern in spring and summer, along with Royal Tern, Caspian Tern, Laughing Gull, Black Skimmer, and others. Be sure to explore the entire area east of US Hwy 17 by walking along the dikes; be wary of snakes and large fire-ant mounds along the way. When you're done, turn left (south) out of the maintenance shack on US 17 and then make an immediate right (almost directly across the street) onto a packed dirt road to explore another part of the property). You'll notice a nesting platform through some trees to your right; this is used by Osprey in some years and recently a family of Great Horned Owls raised a family here in winter. You'll pass a couple long, narrow canals that are worth exploring for species mentioned above. The surrounding trees and scrubby habitat in this area and throughout the property are just awesome for passerines, too. In various seasons, you may encounter Painted Bunting, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Common Yellowthroat, Marsh Wren, Summer Tanager, Red-eyed , White-eyed, and Yellow-throated Vireos, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Loggerhead Shrike, Orchard Oriole, Eastern Bluebird, Yellow Warbler, Pine Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Northern Parula, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Louisiana and Northern Waterthrush, and a lot more. After the narrow canals, you'll come to a large pond with an island in the middle (PHOTO 8). This pond is always good for Double-crested Cormorant and Anhinga, and you may also see lots of waders and some waterfowl. Plenty of birds roost and some nest in the trees on the long, narrow island and this is another good spot to look for the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks among the branches. You can continue exploring the property in this area using some relatively good-quality sand roads all the way to a parking area just after passing under I-95 which offers more walk-in birding opportunities in an area that generally does not receive much attention because it is harder to access and involves some hiking; a rare Alder Flycatcher was found here in September 2007, just one example of why a brief foray here is probably worth it. In any open, grassy areas with edge habitat on the property, pay attention for Common Ground Dove or sparrows; common species like Song, Savannah, Swamp, and Field may be joined by Clay-colored or (very rarely) Lark Sparrow in fall and early winter. There is one more piece of the property worth checking out. Head back to US 17 and turn right (south). Exactly 0.9 miles down the road, and just after crossing a small bridge, turn right onto another dirt road. You'll come through some young pines, and then to the parking area for another observation tower, often referred to as the "old" or "west" tower (PHOTO 9). This is another nice spot to look for waders, waterfowl, and shorebirds. The road beyond the tower (PHOTO 10) provides more opportunities to explore a nice combination of habitats ranging from open fields, to wet cattail-filled areas, to scrubby edge habitat, to cypres trees and pines. When you're done exploring, you're probably tired and hungry so turn right back on US 17. Cross another larger bridge, and 0.8 miles from the dirt road turn left onto Charlie Gibbs Rd at a large sign for the Two Way Fish Camp. At the end is Mudcat Charlie's restaurant with some great coastal specialties, cold drinks, and air-conditioning. Incidentally, this marina is where the Altamaha River Delta Cruise departs during the Colonial Coast Birding Festival.
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Text and photos by KB
4) Tolomato Causeway Pond [March 2008]
[DeLorme pg. 63, grid B-8]
This quick stop in the vicinity of the town of Darien is good for waders and other marsh/tidal species. Birds of interest since 2001 include Roseate Spoonbill, Black-necked Stilt, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Wood Stork, Tri-colored Heron, Semi-palmated Plover, Semi-palmated and Least Sandpiper. In Jan 2007, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-crowned Night Heron, Wood Stork, Dunlin, Tri-colored Heron. From downtown Darien, turn onto GA Hwy 99 (heading north) off of US Hwy 17; this is the same road that goes to the Sapelo Island Visitor Center and ferry. Pass Milepost 8, then pass Carneghan Emanuel Baptist Church on the right. After a total of 5.3 miles from US 17, turn at the next road on the right after the church, Tolomato Causeway - there's a historic marker here (PHOTO 1). Continue about 0.5 miles, and the pond will be on your right, with a nature trail around part of it. The best option for birding while not blocking the road is to drive past the pond to a small seashell/gravel parking area for a boardwalk to a marsh viewing platform (PHOTO 4) where the road curves sharply to the left. Park here and walk back to scope the pond. When we explored this area in Jan 2007, we had truly mixed feelings. On the one hand, we were sad to see that all the habitat along the causeway and Tolomato Island itself has been partitioned up and sold as lots in a massive upscale housing development that was just getting underway. On the other hand, we found ourselves interested in finding out just how much the marsh-facing lots were selling for... just a bit out of our price range ;) The area is covered with twisted old live oaks, cedars, and pines and is surrounded on all sides by gorgeous marshes and tidal creeks. You can see views of the pond in PHOTOS 2 & 3, and a view of the marsh from a little viewing platform that serves the community in PHOTO 3 (where you parked to scope the pond). Another cool aspect is an area of tabby ruins that was once part of a major sugar mill and rum distillery complex; these ruins can be viewed now but will be behind a set of gates once all the lots are developed. It also remains to be seen, over the next 3-5 years or so as houses are built, how birder-friendly the community will be (it's a pretty quick stop at any rate). As of early 2007, I'm sure a short walk around the island would be great for passerines during migration... but in a few years you'd be basically walking around looking into people's yards with binoculars which usually doesn't go over so well.
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Text and photos by KB.
Copyright 2013 Ken Blankenship. All rights reserved.