Birding On The Georgia Coast

Wildlife / Monday, March 5th, 2018

A Great Egret fishes along a shallow waterway. A Brown Pelican dives missle-like into the ocean for a morning meal. Yellow-rumped Warblers hop from branch to branch on a Spanish moss-covered Live Oak tree. We’re birding on the Georgia coast.

Taking a break from the Connecticut winter, we recently spent some time on St. Simons Island. As you’d expect, the lowland marshes of Georgia offer a very different variety of birds than do the woodlands of western Connecticut. Wading birds of all kinds dominate the area. Herons, egrets (which are in the heron family), ibises, and storks are seen quite often with the occasional Osprey or Bald Eagle fishing or perched on a large tree.

My daily walks always make for great bird watching. Great and Snowy Egrets are in abundance hunting in the immense marshes. A Great Blue Heron takes flight with a big squawk as Belted Kingfishers dive for fish in the waterways along the road. Along the shoreline, Sanderlings run up and back with the ebb and flow of the tides feeding on small crustaceans in the wet sand. No matter the weather or time of day, there’s always something to see here.

FACT: Despite their impressive size, Great Blue Herons weigh only 5 to 6 pounds and can hunt day and night thanks to a high percentage of rod-type photoreceptors in their eyes that improve their night vision.

Wading birds on the Georgia coast
A Great Egret and a Tricolored Heron hunting in the marshes with a Great Blue Heron in the background.
Coastal Georgia Birds
Some of the birds seen on my daily walks — Top (left to right): Tricolored Heron, Ring-Billed Gull, Brown Pelican, immature White Ibises. Middle (left to right): Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Sanderling. Bottom (left to right): Great Egret, Laughing Gull, Wood Stork, White Ibis.

The Wood Stork —Ugly Duckling of St. Simons Island

I’m guessing you’ve heard of the Ugly Duckling fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen where the duck eventually turns into a beautiful swan. The same can be said about the Wood Storks that roam the mud flats down here. Their transformation takes place not from chick to adult, but from standing to flying.

When you see one up close it’s one of the homeliest birds around. It has a large, vulture-like, hairless gray head with a long narrow beak tucked against its breast. It actually looks as though it has some ailment or disease, but when it takes fight and spreads its white, black-edged wings, it changes into a graceful, beautiful “swan” soaring above the marsh grasses.

A Wood Stork in a Southern White Pine
A Wood Stork rests in a Southern White Pine above the marshes on St. Simons Island, Georgia.

We’ve also visited nearby Cumberland and Jekyll Islands, part of the Golden Islands. They are less inhabited and have great beaches to walk along for miles on end. Armadillos and Alligators live on these less inhabited islands and Loggerhead Turtles nest here yearly, laying thousands of eggs in the sandy beaches. A short trip to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, also made for some great birding. But, be especially careful where you step there — alligators are in abundance.

Be careful where you step when birding on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

I definitely enjoyed our break from the Connecticut winter. Birding on the Georgia coast gives me a chance to observe a wide variety of birds I wouldn’t normally encounter. The magnificent marshes of this area always offer up something to observe flying, wading or swimming. And, it keeps me going back to my bird book, looking up those birds I can’t yet identify.

OBSERVATION: I’ve noticed some wading birds seem to have claimed their very own place to fish and hunt. A Great Blue Heron had staked out a bend in a waterway with an overhanging dead tree where he perched when not fishing. I also noticed a Yellow-crowned Night Heron claim a corner mud flat hunting for small crustaceans. I’d see both birds, fairly close to the sidewalk, in those same places almost every day on my walks.