*linked words lead to eBird checklists
Part 1 - the mainland
I woke up bright and early, ready for a day full of great birds. I packed all my necessities (camera, binocs, memo pad, food, etc.) and was out the door around 7.
The day started out cloudy, and extremely foggy. It was difficult to see the road even a few feet ahead and I was grateful for hi-beam lights since I regrettably don't have foglamps. It takes about two and a half hours to drive from Augusta to Darien so I finally arrived at my first stop, Altamaha WMA at 9:27. I parked my car on the grass by the big, white, seemingly abandoned building and walked towards the observation tower just behind it. I was able to spot Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and Green Herons as a King Rail called from the marsh. Also present were a couple of Yellow Warblers, one of which I was lucky enough to photograph.
I was hoping to bird Butler Island and Champney Island, which are usually good hotspots for birding, but there appeared to be a hunting event happening so I decided to hit the road and try my next target location.
Just short of an hour later, I entered a dirt path off the main road in the western half of Brunswick. Apparently, this dirt road, Andrew's Island Causeway, is a good spot for fishing as well as birding as a number of folks were here for Saturday morning fishing. There was not a whole lot of bird action on the Causeway, but one of the first birds I spotted was a gorgeous adult Black-crowned Night-Heron perched on a dead tree right by the Causeway.
Further down the Causeway I such birds as White Ibis, Little and Great Blue Herons, Willet, and Laughing Gull and Clapper Rails and a Marsh Wren added to the chorus of insects. I spotted a single American White Pelican flying overhead, a yearbird for me. I only birded the Causeway for 20 minutes, but as I was leaving I happened upon a number of Prairie Warblers low in the bushes along the road. They were difficult to photograph, but I managed one good photo.
After driving around the quaint, coastal town of Brunswick for 10 minutes, I arrived at Marshes of Glynn Park, which, at low tide, overlooks a mudflat. The first birds I saw were the ubiquitous Fish Crows and Boat-tailed Grackles, but waders such as Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, and Great Egret were present as well. A quick scan of the mudflats revealed Georgia Black-bellied Plovers, a nice addition to my Georgia list, as well as my FOY Semipalmated Plovers and flyby Marbled Godwits. Greater Yellowlegs and Killdeer were present as well and both species of vulture flew overhead. As I scanned further, I noticed a group of large white birds sitting in the water near the FJ Torras Causeway. Upon further inspection, they revealed themselves to be 6 American White Pelicans, always a nice species to see in the state. I walked a few yards to the north and scanned the far section of the mudflats, yielding more Plovers as well as my first lifer of the trip - a very basic/juvenile-plumaged Gull-billed Tern.
I was able to get an ID'able photo.
Feeling excited, a took a quick snack break and headed out to St. Simons Island at around 11:12.
Part 2 - St. Simons Island
Nearly twenty minutes later, I arrived at my next target location, the Pier on St. Simons Island where a pair of Gray Kingbirds have been hanging out all Summer. The pier is adjacent to the island's Lighthouse so it's a popular tourist attraction.
Here is the lighthouse for you lighthouse lovers:
I walked about the parking lot and the park hoping to see the Kingbirds perched in the tops of the trees, but I saw none so I walked out onto the Pier. Boat-tailed Grackles and Eurasian Collared-Doves were everywhere as always and I spotted a tame Brown Pelican perched on the pier rail.
I decided to take a selfie with him, since you know, YOLO.
Boat-tailed Grackles in molt:
At this point I noticed a number of shorebirds on the beach and decided to grab my binoculars, which I had left in my car, and try to find anything worthwhile in the flock. As I was walking from my car to the beach, I noticed two birds fly overhead, and though I wasn't able to photograph them, there was no mistaking the shape and color - they were the two Gray Kingbirds I had been hoping to see, my second lifer of the trip! After that brief bout of excitement, I headed down to the beach and almost immediately was greeted by a huge, black-and-white gull which flew over and landed on a wooden post near me. It was another bird I needed for my Georgia list: Great Black-backed Gull.
On the beach I didn't find anything too interesting, just the usual Willets and Sanderlings, plus a Tricolored Heron which I had hoped to be a Reddish Egret, a species needed on my Georgia list.
Bummed I didn't find my lifer/nemesis Wilson's Plover, I headed back to my car and drove off to my next target location.
I guess I birded a long time at the Pier because it was an hour later I arrived at Gould's Inlet at the north end of St. Simons Island. As I stepped out onto the rocks I noticed several Brown Anoles:
I quickly realized Gould's Inlet wouldn't be too productive for me as the birds were very far out and I don't own a scope (donations anyone?). I wasn't able to make out many birds, but as I tried to identify the specks in the distance, the whole flock took flight suddenly and I watched as a Bald Eagle swooped around the flock trying to catch one of the shorebirds. Though it was too far to tell what the eagle caught, I observed that it had indeed successfully caught something, likely a Black Skimmer or Royal Tern. I stayed for a few minutes, but I realized I had other places I wanted to visit and the day was already halfway over, so I walked back to my car and headed for my next target location.
Part 3 - Jekyll Island
After acquiring lunch in Brunswick, I drove out to Jekyll Island, one of my favorite places. Just before I entered the island, it started raining so I stopped at the Welcome Center to eat the lunch I had acquired and to wait out the rain. The Welcome Center at Jekyll Island has an observation tower overlooking a marsh, which is generally good for shorebirds, but unfortunately I didn't see much. In the gift shop I bought a Jekyll Island sticker and a key chain with a Wilson's Plover illustration, a good luck charm which I hoped would help me finally find my nemesis. I stuck around for a few more minutes and then headed onto the island ($6 fee).
Here is the view from the observation tower:
I had hoped the rain would let up, but unfortunately it rained for an hour or more. I drove around the island to pass the time, but finally decided I would hit my main target spot of the trip, despite the light rain.
I arrived at 1 Macy Ln just before 3:00 and walked across the rickety boardwalk framed by dripping, drooping plants to the South Beach. This beach is hard to access, but fortunately that means there are few people and lots of birds. As I walked along the nearly non-existent path through the dunes I came across a single Common Ground-Dove foraging on the sand dunes - a beautiful sight which I think would make a great painting. I was unable to photograph it, but it was a precious moment. As I stepped onto the beach I was greeted immediately by a plethora of Barn Swallows skimming the surface of the sand and a Belted Kingfisher calling over the dunes. Laughing Gulls slept on the shoreline and Sanderlings hopped about nearby. I walked about a quarter of a mile down the beach where I observed numerous flocks of dozens of birds. These flocks consisted mainly of Black Skimmers, Royal Terns, and Brown Pelicans, but also present were Sandwich Tern, Forster's Tern, Caspian Tern, and my FOY Lesser Black-backed Gull. There were over 200 Black Skimmers on the beach.
As I headed back, the rain ceased. Before I entered the path through the dunes, I saw a nice Herring Gull, a common species, but a good one for the checklist:
I wasn't looking forward to trekking through the wet, mosquito-filled, nearly non-existent path through the dunes to the car, but I realized quickly the dunes were filled with wildlife and I enjoyed walking this path almost more than the beach, despite the 3" mosquitoes. Immediately after exiting the beach, I noticed a Ceraunus Blue, a butterfly I had only ever seen in Florida before:
And another butterfly which I probably haven't seen before but forgot to identify until this moment:
I also saw a couple of does, one of which was tame and allowed me to photograph from a good 10ft away. I didn't want to disturb her so we watched each other with mutual respect from this distance for a number of minutes.
Then we both headed in different directions:
I was also lucky enough to see my first buck just before I reached my car. I was unable to photograph him, though, as he was more skiddish and was in the shadows of the underbrush.
At this point I decided it was time to head to my next target location as it was already past 4 and my next target location was a good hour or more away. Before I left the Island, though, I stopped by at the Welcome Center once more and by chance found one of my target species, a bird I needed for my Georgia list and yearlist: Roseate Spoonbill. I later saw two flying over Ocean Hwy, but this one really had me excited.
Part 3 - Okefenokee Swamp
After arriving in Folkston, a small town in Georgia, I was nearly at my next and final birding destination, but I thought I would take a little detour to the town of Hilliard, Florida since it was less than 10 minutes out of the way. After crossing the Florida-Georgia Line (yep, that's how we do it 'round here) I turned around and headed back towards Folkston and arrived at Suwanee Canal Road right around 5:50. This is part of the Okefenokee Swamp, a huge national wildlife refuge encompassing much of Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida. The habitat is predominantly Cypress swamps and Sandhill Pine woodlands, a paradise for any herp enthusiast.
Shortly before my arrival, the sun broke through the clouds and since it had recently rained, the woods were filled with the songs of frogs and toads, so many species it was hard to identify the different songs (there were Oak and Southern Toads, Eastern Narrowmouth Toads, Gray Treefrogs, Pine Woods Treefrogs, Chorus Frogs, Little Grass Frogs, maybe others). It had rained steadily all day and the paths through the forest were flooded so I didn't attempt to go far into the woods. I was seriously hoping to find Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, a potential lifer, in the woodlands and Sandhill Cranes (ssp. pratensis) on the boardwalk trail, since this spot is apparently one of the most reliable spots in the state and I needed Sandhill Crane for my state list. I was unsuccessful at finding the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at the entrance, though the Red-headed and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were plenty willing to put on a show. I decided to drive down to the visitor center to see if I could find any recent sightings of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers or Sandhill Cranes and prayed I would see the Woodpeckers at least. The woman at the center told me the Sandhill Cranes preferred to stay deeper in the swamp, in a prairie only accessible by boat and that the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers were generally hit and miss, easy to hear but difficult to locate. Bummed by this information, I headed towards the short trail, which yielded only common birds, the best of which was Wood Duck. However, in the parking lot I was alerted by a flock of birds flying overhead and to my surprise they were all migrating Eastern Kingbirds, 81 in total! Also present were Eastern Wood-pewees:
I decided it was time to call it a day and head back home around 7:00.
I thought my day was over, but I was halted about a mile past the refuge gates by a Gopher Tortoise crossing the road. I had seen these in Florida, from a pool, but had never had the opportunity to photograph one, so I eagerly exited the car and started snapping photos.
Now as I was watching this cute fellow, I happened to hear a squeaking noise, similar to but pointedly different from the squeak of a Brown-headed Nuthatch and certainly a woodpecker noise. I immediately thought of Red-cockaded Woodpecker, but figured they were likely young Red-headed Woodpeckers, which make similar noises. I didn't feel like risking a lifer, though, so I pulled my car over to the grass and brought out my binocs and camera and raised them to the pines. Almost immediately I saw the bird making the noise and I couldn't believe my luck - hanging from a pine cone was none other than the elusive Red-cockaded Woodpecker! I tried to take photos, but it was getting dark and I had to use ISO3200. Shortly after, the woodpecker flew across the road to another grove of pines, followed by not one, not two, but four others! I managed to take voucher photos, but the quality of the bird outweighs the quality of the photo, in my opinion!
There are two in this photo.
After they flew deep into the woodlands I drove back to the visitor center to report my success. The woman there was extremely excited to hear about my luck.
It was getting darker and I decided if I wanted to get home before midnight, I would have to leave immediately. The drive back to Augusta was long, but the birds kept coming. On Hwy 82 towards Nahunta I witnessed dozens and dozens of Nighthawks swooping and hunting low across the highway. Truly a sight to behold!
I arrived home at 11:57PM. I was tired, and worn out, but I had a fantastic day. Here's to hoping throughout the year I will have more days like this.