A Sunday Afternoon Visit to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

Savannah – It had been a few weeks since I had the chance to visit the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge; since yesterday afternoon’s weather was so beautiful, I took advantage of it and visited the refuge. Alligators were out sunning, the wading birds were out doing their thing, and there were even a few deer out and about (unfortunately, none that I could get a photo of). There was even an American Bittern sighting. The last time I visited in late September, there were a few Blue Wing Teal and what looked to be a couple of Ringneck Ducks already arrived for migratory waterfowl season, but on this visit, there were only a few American Coots to be seen. As far as other migratory birds go, Northern Harriers have made their arrival to the refuge as well. Most folks may love Spring and Summer, but I love Autumn and Winter when things cool down, the leaves begin to fall and the grass thins out making the wildlife easier to see, and the migratory birds arrive. It’s just about my favorite time of the year!

 

 

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge Visit; 27 September 2018

Savannah – I made my first visit to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge in quite some time this morning. My parents hadn’t had the opportunity to visit recently either, so they came along as well. The tide was coming up, rapidly so in the diversion canal, so there weren’t a lot of Alligators to be seen, but it turned out to be a great bird day. Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, Roseate Spoonbills, White and Glossy Ibis, and Cattle Egrets were numerous. We also saw a solitary Wood Stork. In a surprise given the still Summer-like temperatures, we saw some Blue Winged Teal. It may not feel like Autumn yet, but it’s good to some of the migratory waterfowl beginning to show up!

 

 

 

Springtime at the Savannah and Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuges

Savannah – Over the last few days, I made two visits to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge and a visit to the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. With Spring’s arrival, almost all of the migratory waterfowl have left, leaving just a few Coots who haven’t made the decision to go north yet. There are still plenty of birds to watch, as the permanent residents such as egrets and herons haven’t gone anywhere and this season’s visitors such as Wood Storks have begun to arrive in numbers.

On Friday afternoon, I visited the Savannah NWR at low tide. Most of the birds I saw were out of good photo range, but I got a few Alligator photos; with the warmer weather, more and bigger Alligators are out sunning, especially along the banks of the Refuge’s diversion canal (which right now, after damage to the canal system from Hurrican Irma, is more like a tidal creek). I saw twelve Black Bellied Whistling Ducks in two groups of six. I also saw a lot of Tri Colored Herons; it seems there are more of them around the Savannah NWR this year than the last couple of years.

On Saturday morning, I visited the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge for the first time in quite awhile. There were plenty of alligators, mostly young ones out enjoying the morning sunshine and Wood Storks, Great Egrets, Tri Colored Herons, and Anhingas were beginning to take their nesting places in the rookery; you could even see a few recently hatched young in nests closer to the viewing area. It was fun to stand on the dike at Woody Pond and watch the storks, egrets, and herons flying back and forth between the rookery and feeding areas. Note:  I was not close enough to disturb the nesting birds; I used a 500mm zoom lens to photograph the nesting birds.

On Saturday afternoon, I visited the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge again, this time as the tide was going out. Alligators were taking their places along the banks of the diversion canal as the outgoing tied exposed good places to lie and wading birds like Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets were out stalking for a meal. A male Red Winged Blackbird also stayed put on a nearby twig long enough to get a good photo of him; usually, they fly off before I can get a chance to get the lens on them. The Black Bellied Whistling Ducks were out again, but once again just out of range for good photographs. I kept an eye out for Purple Gallinules because it’s almost time for them to start showing up, but all I saw were Common Gallinules.

Things are Turning Green Again – Spring Visits to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

Savannah – I’ve made a couple of visits to the Savannah NWR recently and it’s obvious that Spring is here; things are turning green again. With the exception of Coots and a handful of Blue Winged Teal and Northern Shovelers, the migratory ducks have left. The egrets and herons are in their breeding plumage. The alligators and turtles are out sunning in larger numbers.

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Glossy Ibis at the Savannah NWR
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Great Blue Heron at the Savannah NWR
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Snowy Egret at the Savannah NWR
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Alligator sunning at the Savannah NWR
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Young Alligators sunning at the Savannah NWR
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The Savannah NWR is also a good spot for watching iron birds

A Visit to the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area

This morning, I traveled up to Green Pond, SC to visit the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area’s wildlife drive. Located within the ACE Basin, it’s an approximately 75-mile drive from Savannah and is between US 21 and Charleston on US 17 in Colleton County. The Donnelley WMA is a wonderful combination of wetland and upland habitat, for those familiar with the Savannah NWR and the Harris Neck NWR, it’s like a blend of those two. It’s a terrific mix of habitats. As far as birds go, I saw some Blue Winged Teal, Grebes, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, Bluebirds, Red Winged Blackbirds, and more. There are plenty of alligators and turtles in the wetland areas. I saw two groups of turkeys that had to total between 25 and 30 birds; the first group was easily 15 or more birds and the second group was at least 10 birds. Additionally, there were a lot of signs of squirrels (even though I didn’t see any) and it appears to be great deer habitat as well (I didn’t see any deer either). The driving tour through the WMA is 11 miles long and winds through both fresh and brackish water wetlands including managed rice fields like those at the Savannah NWR, pine forests, and mixed pine/hardwood forests as well as some agricultural land. Depending upon your speed and how much you get out to walk around and/or observe, the driving tour could last an hour or so, or all day; it took me 3 hours and I could have easily taken longer. Photo conditions weren’t too great because of the overcast, but here’s some of what I saw:

 

Alligator in a stream through the woods at the Donnelley WMA

 

Turkeys on the move through the woods at the Donnelley WMA

 

Snowy Egrets and immature White Ibis feeding along the water’s edge at the Donnelley WMA

 

One of the Snowy Egrets displaying after a squabble with the other Snowy Egret in the previous photo

 

Young alligator at the Donnelley WMA

 

Snowy Egret at the Donnelley WMA

 

A tree full of Cormorants at the Donnelley WMA

 

Alligator in the road at the Donnelley WMA

 

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Donnelley WMA and plan on making a longer visit there in the future. Not only is there a long wildlife drive, there are plenty of places to get out and walk and observe on foot. A word of warning – if you don’t like getting your car dirty, this may not be the place for you. There were plenty of wet and muddy spots, but nothing you’d have to worry about getting stuck in. The roads are all dirt but well maintained. There’s so much variety at the Donnelley WMA that it’s well worth the drive from Savannah.