Posts Tagged ‘Savannah NWR’

Osprey at Honeymoon Island

Osprey at Honeymoon Island

Thanksgiving week started early with Nate Dias’ Curlew / Marsh Sparrow boat trip in the Cape Romain NWR on November 18.  My goal was to get a good look at a Saltmarsh Sparrow, which would be a life bird for me.  I stopped at Huntington Beach State Park on my way down where I missed all three marsh sparrows which were seen before I arrived.  I was disappointed, but I had good looks at four individual Clapper Rails – swimming, walking, and bathing.

As we left the dock in McClellanville the next morning, duck hunters were returning saying that the weather was too bad for them!  It was very cold and windy and it rained most of the day.  Nate reported the most marsh sparrows in a couple of miles that he had ever seen, including “12-13 firmly identified Saltmarsh Sparrows.”  However, I did not get a good enough view of any to count as a lifer.  It was fun to put faces with familiar names from the Carolinabirds listserv, though, and it was a good trip in spite of the weather.

On Monday, I birded Altamaha WMA with Sandy Beasley, whom I had met in January at the Georgia Ornithological Society meeting.  I had birded Altamaha before, but did not know the area at all well.  Sandy showed me new areas on the west side of the road and we had a very nice day.  Now I know where to find birds as well as where to go for a great lunch!


Quinn enjoying a beautiful Thanksgiving day in Jim & Debbie’s yard

Acacia and Casey

Granddaughter Acacia (Debbie’s oldest) holding Casey (Liz’ youngest)

Thanksgiving with my stepdaughters Debbie and Liz was wonderful.  Debbie’s significant other, Jim, and I birded together again this year.  He took me to Watermelon Pond, a place where he has fished for 20 years.  Jim had not been there lately, though, and was surprised to discover that the lake was dry and the area is now an official Wildlife and Environmental Area.  I was thrilled to discover this wonderful place that focuses on preserving several Florida Threatened species including Southeastern American Kestrel and Gopher Tortoise.  We saw Kestrels and I also had my best look ever at a gorgeous adult male Northern Harrier at Watermelon Pond.

The highlight of Thanksgiving was not birds, though, but seeing the wonderful progress that Liz’ autistic two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Quinn, is making.  I visited in August, just before she started ABA therapy (Applied Behavioral Analysis).  The difference in her behavior and interactions with people in just three months is remarkable.  Her progress includes a little eye contact now, a huge step for an autistic child.


Limpkin at Kapok Park

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher on Courtney Campbell Causeway

I headed to Dunedin the day after Thanksgiving to spend the weekend with good friends David and Val.  David and I birded our favorite spots on Friday afternoon and talked about Quinn in between birds.  Her therapists were using an iPad with her so I wanted to get a tablet that Liz could use with her, too.  We considered options and compared Android devices to the Apple iPad for a couple of hours before deciding upon an iPad.  David, ever smart and creative, devised a plan that would allow us to bird all the way to the Apple store.  We saw some of our favorite birds along the way – Limpkins at Kapok Park and American Oystercatchers on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

John Hood, President of Clearwater Audubon, and I had met in August at the Hog Island Audubon camp in Maine.  On Saturday, David and I birded with John.  We learned where to park for the Tierra Verde “duck ponds” and finally got to see the hundreds of Redheads that winter there.

At Fort De Soto, John easily found the Long-billed Curlew that has been there for two years.  David and I had been unable to find it on my last visit.  We enjoyed John’s company and learned a lot about birding in Pinellas County due to his local expertise.

Least Sandpiper, Sanderling,a nd Dunlin at Fort De Soto

Least Sandpiper, Sanderling, and Dunlins at Fort De Soto

"My frog is still wiggling"

“My frog is still wiggling.”

"Maybe if I squeeze real hard"

“Maybe if I squeeze real hard.”

"Shaking is good, but I'm getting weeds on my frog"

“Shaking is good, but I’m getting weeds on my frog.”

"He's subdued now, but I still can't get it down"

“He’s subdued now, but I still can’t get it down.”

"I'll try scrunching it up into one big bite."

“I’ll try scrunching it up into one big bite.”

On Sunday, David and I headed to Honeymoon Island where we enjoyed the “usual suspects” including many Ospreys. We are fascinated with herons attempting to eat large prey and watched a juvenile Little Blue Heron struggle with a large frog.  Before we could see how this story would end, a biker came along and the heron flew off with his frog.  We hoped that the frog made a good lunch.

It was time to head home on Monday morning, but my adventures were not quite yet over.  My plan was to stay in Hardeeville and bird at Savannah NWR on Tuesday morning.  As I passed the turn-off for Tybee Island, I impulsively decided try for the Saltmarsh Sparrow at Ft. Pulaski.  I called Sandy Beasley that evening and she gave me very detailed directions to where she had seen the sparrows earlier in the month.  There would be a high tide at 6:41 AM, so I decided to go for it.

I arrived at 7:30 AM and was disappointed to find much vegetation visible in the marsh.  The birds could be anywhere and I was afraid that I had missed them.  With a little patience, though, I did find the birds and got a great look at one Saltmarsh Sparrow only a foot from the log that Sandy had described.  I was thrilled to get a life bird, but greedy for more birds, continued on to Savannah NWR.

Savannah NWR is one of my favorite places and I stayed from 9:30 AM until after 3:00 PM.  I “should” have left for home much earlier, but by staying so late my last bird of the trip was a really good one – a White-winged Scoter near the end of the Laurel Hill drive.  A check of eBird records when I got home revealed only one other sighting in Savannah NWR and it was over six years ago.


I arrived safely home, very tired but grateful for the wonderful birds that I had seen and especially thankful for my loving family and friends.

White-winged Scoter

White-winged Scoter – Savannah NWR Laurel Hill drive

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My first pelagic trip was off Hatteras, North Carolina, in 2008.  I used a Scopolamine patch and expected that it would completely prevent seasickness.  I threw up off and on for most of the 12-hour trip.  It took a couple of years for that memory to fade enough that I was willing to try again.  My next opportunity was in 2010 as part of the Oregon Shorebird Festival.  I had decided that maybe I was allergic to Scopolamine I had also read that getting seasick is partly psychological.   The Oregon trip would only be 5 hours, so I signed up, confidently optimistic that I would not be sick.  That trip was worse than the first.  I threw up constantly for 4 of the 5 hours; I wanted to die.  After another 2 years to recover, I decided to try again in Florida.  This time the trip would be on a 100-foot boat in July, the calmest month of the year.  I consulted with my doctor and she prescribed the Scop patch, Meclizine, and Zofran.  I bought ginger capsules, ginger cookies and candied ginger.  So, once again I optimistically got on a boat to search for birds.  And this time I was fine for the entire 18-hour trip.  I got 5 life birds, but not getting sick was the real thrill of the trip.

My first stop on the drive to Florida was Savannah NWR.  This cooperative Purple Gallinule walked right up to my car.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

My late husband, Burt, called Purple Gallinules “Lipstick birds.”  Seeing these birds, one of his favorites, brought back wonderful memories of birding with Burt in the Florida Everglades in the early 1980’s.  I enjoyed watching the birds, especially the family with several small chicks.

Purple Gallinule chicks

Purple Gallinule chicks

The highlight at Savannah, however, was two Common Nighthawks flying together shortly before dark.  I watched for over 10 minutes as the birds swooped and soared over a large field intermittently peenting.  They did not appear to be foraging; they appeared to be having fun.  They flew side by side, then one bird would get ahead and the other would hurry to catch up.  Occasionally they would fly a little circle around each other.  A choreographed dance could not have been more beautiful.  I have no idea if I was watching two males or a male and female.  I don’t know if this was common behavior or if I witnessed something very special.  I only know that I was mesmerized by the beauty of the nighthawks on a peaceful summer evening.

I saw Painted Buntings, Least Bitterns, and other great birds at Savannah, Harris Neck, and Merritt Island NWRs and Viera Wetlands.  The trip ended on a high note with more swooping and soaring over a pasture in Brantley County, Georgia, where I was privileged to witness foraging kites.  I had previously seen many Swallow-tailed Kites, but seeing a large group feeding at close range was a totally different and amazing experience.  The birders who were there when I arrived estimated that there had been 60 Swallow-tailed Kites earlier, but there still at least 20 kites when I got there.  I watched the kites for nearly an hour and then I drove the rest of the way home, tired but happy and satisfied with all the wonderful birds that I had seen during my 5-day trip.

Swallow-tailed Kites

Swallow-tailed Kites

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