Searching For Gators and Listening to Dogfights

Earlier today, my nephew Kaleb and I decided to go to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge’s Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive to see how many alligators we could see.  Given that it was a bright sunny morning, we expected to see plenty.  It was also a fairly busy morning on milair frequencies so we did some listening as we searched for gators.

A quick tip on the coastal Georgia area National Wildlife Refuges:  Both the Savannah NWR and the Harris Neck NWR are part of the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex.  The Savannah NWR, straddling the GA/SC border off of SC Highway 170 is the refuge to visit if you are interested in seeing alligators.  If you’re more interested in bird watching, Harris Neck NWR (Harris Neck Rd off of US 17) between Savannah and Brunswick off of I-95 is the one to visit. 

One of the larger alligators we saw today.

We only counted nine alligators this morning, which was a surprise.  We expected to see more, especially along the banks of the canal along the eastern leg of the drive. During the summer, it’s not impossible to count over 20 when you drive through the refuge.  The alligator to the left is one of the two large ones that we saw.  The other large one wasn’t quite as long but was quite a bit wider.  We also saw three small alligators sunning themselves so it would seem that the alligator population at the refuge is in good shape.  In addition to the alligators, we also saw three turtles sunning themselves on logs.


Black Bellied Whistling Ducks

In addition to the alligators and turtles, there were plenty of waterfowl to be seen. Coots, Gallinules, Herons, Cormorants, and Redwinged Blackbirds were aplenty.  We also saw two different types of birds for the first time.  First, we came across some Least Terns – but didn’t know what they were until we got back home and checked the bird identification book.  The other first time sighting was six Black Bellied Whistling Ducks, which according to the bird book are rare in our area; they’re usually found in South America, Mexico, and Arizona.  Surprisingly, they stayed right at the edge of the road as visitors took photos of them!

As I mentioned we were able to combine alligator and birdwatching with some radio listening; it was quite an active Friday in the skies.  We first heard some F-16s from the South Carolina ANG conduct aerial refueling with KC-135s from the Tennessee ANG in the Coastal MOA on 228.400.  After the F-16s refueled, they did some air combat practice before returning home to McEntire JNGB.  At the same time, F/A-18s from MCAS Beaufort and visiting F-5s from VMFT-401 were doing air combat training off of the coast.  We’re lucky that we live in an area where we can combine the two…

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