Su = summer
F = fall
W = winter
Sp = spring
YR = year-round
[July 2005] = Most recently checked by KB
[N/A] = Not yet checked by KB
= Location is within +/- 10 miles of the indicated interstate highway. This is especially helpful for out-of-town birders who may be passing through Georgia while travelling and would like to get a quick birding fix. This is also helpful for birders planning a "Big Day," where staying close to a major interstate corridor is essential for covering the greatest diversity of habitats in 24 hours.
= Location is a "Georgia Birding Hotspot." Though this designation is subjective, it generally means that the area should be given high priority when planning a birding trip to a region. Some Hotspots offer incredible, productive birding virtually year-round (Jekyll Island), while the best birding of the year may be more seasonal at others (Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park).
SBM = Shorebird Migration; this very generally refers to mid-March thru May in spring and mid-July thru mid-October in fall. Fall is the prime shorebird season. Baird's and Buff-breasted Sandpipers likely only in fall. Peak passage of specific species is quite variable.
PM = Passerine Migration; this very generally refers to April and May in spring and August thru mid-October in fall. This includes all songbirds - wood warblers, vireos, tanagers, thrushes, flycatchers, etc. Peak passage of specific species is quite variable. Spring migration is much more concentrated and birds are often in colorful breeding plumage. Fall migration is more spread out; fall wood warblers can be notoriously difficult to identify (or even impossible to determine sex), with numerous juveniles which do not exhibit the same obvious field marks as adults.
IBA = Important Bird Area; the aim of the IBA Program is to identify and conserve key breeding and feeding sites for birds. An Important Bird Area is a place that provides essential habitat for one or more species of bird, whether in breeding season, winter, or during migration. These sites are considered to be exceptionally important for bird conservation; see Georgia's IBA Webpage.
1) Paulk's Pasture WMA [Oct 2008]
PM, W for sparrows, late Sp-Su for breeding birds
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme pg. 63 6-C,D & pg. 62 5-C,D]
From the town of Brunswick, take GA Hwy 341 north for a total of about 12 miles. Along the way, you will pass under I-95 (Exit 36A & B), and through a major light with Hwy 99 in the town of Sterling. 3-4 miles north of Hwy 99, keep an eye out for the brown wooden sign on the left marking the WMA - this is Main Rd, the gravel and sand entrance road for the southern part of area. I think that this is bar-none the best location for wintering Henslow's Sparrows and Sedge Wrens in state. Perhaps it isn't, but it may be the easiest accessed public spot for these beautiful, reluctant species. As you enter the property from GA Hwy 341 on Main Rd, the very first powerline cut area to the left (with a power transformer station on the right) is just awesome for these species and other sparrows (such as Grasshopper) from Nov-Mar (PHOTO). It may be very difficult to get good looks at birds if you are alone. The best strategy is to get a small line of birders and walk forward, flushing birds. You must quickly form a semi-circle where a bird lands, slowly walking forward, which may encourage the bird to climb a tall weed for a look around (and for you to get a look at him) or fly to the woods' edge, where it may perch briefly as well. In spring, you can enjoy Chuck-will's Widows calling after dusk; if you bring a spotlight-style flashlight you may even catch their glowing eyes as they cruise around the area. Be wary of large fire-ant piles as you tromp around... and ankle-twisting ditches and branches in the ground, too. In other words, while you're mainly keeping your eyes up for the birds, watch your step, too! You can explore a few roads deeper into the property to access swampy and thick pine and cypress habitat. The whole area can be great for migrants like wood warblers, vireos, flycatchers, etc. and also has interesting residents like woodpeckers, nuthatches, and owls.
Text and photo by KB
2) Jekyll Island [Oct 2008]
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme pg. 63, G-F, 7-8]
This is one of Georgia's truly premier birding destinations and should be made a part of any excursion to the coast. From points south, on I-95 get off at Exit 29 and take Hwy 17 east for 5.4 miles and you'll see signage for the causeway on your right. Be careful not to miss it; if you do you'll have to cross the suspension bridge before you'll have a chance to turn around. From points north, on I-95 get off at Exit 38 and take Hwy 25 Spur (Golden Isles Parkway) SE for 4.4 until you hit US Hwy 17; turn right. You'll go through Brunswick - note F.J. Torras causeway on the left after 1.6 miles, which leads out to St. Simons Island. Continue south on US 17 for 4.2 miles beyond F.J. Torras Causeway (total of 5.8 miles from where you got on US 17), crossing the suspension bridge, and you will arrive at the Jekyll Island causeway on your left immediately after the bridge. There is plenty of signage guiding you in from the interstate in either direction. When you turn onto the causeway, make an immediate left on a side road with a white sign that reads "Gisco Marina" and park on the right shoulder near the sign. Get out and scan the mudflats in this area for shorebirds in season, such as Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Black-bellied Plover, Willet, Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, and more. A warning that here and at the Visitor's Center later the biting insects can range from non-existent to truly unbearable so don't get caught without a strong repellant (10% DEET minimum). At 4.3 miles down the causeway from US 17, turn left into the Visitor's Center for some air conditioning, brochures, cold sodas, clean restrooms, and more tidal birding. The mud flats that can be viewed from the NW side of the Visitor's Center (PHOTOS 1 & 2) will also produce a mixed bag depending on season, with rarities showing up from time to time. You may see Roseate Spoonbill, Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Marsh Wren, waders, and lots of other shorebirds; Reddish Egret and even Long-billed Curlew have been observed. When you're finished here, continue another 2.2 miles beyond the VC (total of 6.5 miles from US 17) onto Jekyll Island. When you pay the $3 entry fee your ticket is good for the 24-hour period beginning and ending at midnight. This is a nice upgrade; previously you had to pay the fee every time you left and returned to the island. Turn right at the first available road onto Riverview Dr, and in 0.6 miles turn right and park at "Tidelands Nature Center," where bird feeders are filled regularly and are a nice place to get good looks at gorgeous Painted Buntings in spring and summer (PHOTO 3). If you continue down the shell road towards a boat launch, you'll come around a pond which may have waders or divers, and a nest platform where Osprey raise a family almost every year (PHOTO 4). Turn right out of Tidelands, and continue until you come to a large antenna tower on your right, and turn here into a picnic area. Interesting breeding birds like Great-crested Flycatcher, Northern Parula, and Yellow-throated Warblers will mix with migrants in season, and you can get a view on the intra-coastal waterway which may have divers or (rarely) Northern Gannets in winter. A pair of Great-horned Owls may be heard calling near the antenna at dusk but do not play audio here; the entire island is great for nocturnal Chuck-will's-widows in spring, and on very rare occasions Whip-poor-wills winter in the woods. Head back to the perimeter road from the picnic area and turn right; a total of 1.9 miles from the Tidelands Nature Center look for Macy Lane on your right, turn and park near the stop sign (PHOTO 5). The trail from here out to the South Beach - and the beach itself - is another of my personal favorite places to bird in the state (PHOTOS 6-9). The combination of an often secluded walk through some of the most beautiful, unique habitat on the coast and the year-round possibility of encountering something out of the ordinary is just exhilirating. Since 2005, birds such as Greater Scaup, Black Scoter, Surf Scoter, Parasitic Jaeger, White-winged Dove, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Wilson's Plover, Piping Plover, Marbled Godwit, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sedge Wren, Henslow's Sparrow, Wilson's Warbler, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, well... you name it, it just might pop up on the trail, beach, or out on the water. This unique location requires the utmost respect and care from birdwatchers. Do not approach resting birds along the surf line too close, keep your distance and enjoy them with a scope. If you see an interesting bird flush deep into the scrub and dunes anywhere along the boardwalk on your way to the beach, pish all you want but do not leave the trail to pursue a bird under any circumstances. This habitat is highly sensitive and declining. A major victory for its protection took place when a grassroots effort in spring 2007 - including the Birding Community and championed by Senator Jeff Chapman - helped push state legislators to amend HB 214, protecting the South Beach while allowing for more development elsewhere on the island. When you've enjoyed the birding here, turn right from Macy Lane onto the main road; in 0.3 miles note a 4H Center on your right and a field with a rope fence around it; check this area for Western Kingbird in winter. In another 2.2 miles, you'll come to the island's only shopping center (but not for long) on your left and the convention center on your right. Park in this area and walk the parking lots, checking all the wires for Gray Kingbirds in spring and summer. Continue north on the perimeter road along the beach, stopping at any spots where you'd like to scan for birds or enjoy getting your feet in the sand and surf; 3.9 miles after the convention center you'll come to a little parking area on the right, just past Villas by the Sea (PHOTO 10). A short trail will provide you with a lookout from the north end of the island, good for scoters in winter. It is possible to observe all three scoters - Black, Surf, and White-winged... the vast majority will be the first species, but you may be lucky to pick out the other two along with lots of scaup (Greater and Lesser). Anywhere on the eastern side of the island you may see scoters (or even a rare Long-tailed Duck) in late fall-winter, but they are quite "hit or miss" - the most productive scoter watch spots tend to be the north or south tips of the island. Also in fall and winter, though the picture cannot convey the experience in person, there are immense swarms of Tree Swallows that converge on various areas of the island, especially along the causeway and the west side (PHOTO 11). From the Villas lookout, continue for another 0.7 miles and you can turn right to head out to the pier for another view of open water or some fishing, and then head back and cross the street into the campground. In the very back of the campground is a feeding station and a drip-bath that is usually quite birdy when there aren't scads of people around, and you may see wood warblers, vireos, tanagers, thrushes, and other neotropical migrants anywhere in the huge oaks and pines as you enjoy a walk back to the feeders. Turn left out of the campground, and continue for 3.4 miles to an unmarked shell driveway on your left; here under some large oaks is the parking for the Jekyll Island Amphitheater, which can produce lots of great migrants in the surrounding woods (and Eastern Screech Owls may be heard at night). You can go in either direction on the trail just beyond a little archway to go around the amphitheater and arrive at a small freshwater pond. This area has a small but very impressive rookery in spring and summer (and roost in other seasons) with species such as Wood Stork, Yellow and Black-crowned Night-Herons, Green Herons, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy and Great Egrets, Anhinga, and sometimes Roseate Spoonbills will roost here. Please do not disturb the birds and tread quietly in this special area. Turn left out of the amphitheater and you will come back to the toll booth in 1.3 miles after a left turn at a stop sign; alternatively, you can take a right at this stop sign to park at the marina for a quick scan of the intracoastal waterway and mud flats at lower tides or to patronize the restaurants that serve the historic hotel and marina. Take your time to enjoy the historic district near the amphitheater, especially the brand new Georgia Sea Turtle Center (PHOTO 12).
PHOTO 1 PHOTO 2 PHOTO 3 PHOTO 4 PHOTO 5 PHOTO 6 PHOTO 7
PHOTO 8 PHOTO 9 PHOTO 10 PHOTO 11 PHOTO 12
Text and photos by KB.
3) St. Simons Island [Aug 2008]
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme pg. 63, 8-D,E,F]
From I-95, get off at Exit 38 and take Hwy 25 Spur (Golden Isles Parkway) SE until you hit Hwy 17; turn right. In 1.6 miles you'll come to a major intersection with F.J. Torras Causeway; get in one of the left turn lanes and turn left to head out to the island. You can also come from the south - get off I-95 at Exit 29 and take Hwy 17 SE. You'll pass the Jekyll Island Causeway on your right, then cross a huge suspension bridge. A total of 9.6 miles from I-95 you'll come to a major intersection with the F.J. Torras Causeway; turn right here to get to the island. From both directions, there is plenty of signage to guide you in from the highway. St. Simons still has a lot to offer for birding. This being said, Rachel and I generally don't spend a lot of time birding out here simply because it is very developed and there are many more condos, shopping centers, and tourists than birds. However, we often base out of here for coastal trips. While the larger number of people may not make for the greatest birding, there are lots of friendly-operated creature comforts and convenient services (banks, groceries, restaurants, shopping, etc.) and the location is away from the urban feel of Brunswick but still fairly central for hitting lots of the usual coastal hotspots. The Holiday Inn Express works fine, with interior room entry, and it's easy to start your day with a quick check of productive spots like Bloody Marsh and Gould's Inlet before leaving the island for other locations. It is also the first major hotel as you get onto the island so it doesn't take long to make a mid-day rest stop here as opposed to driving farther onto the island for other lodging options that are out on the beach. Gould's Inlet - and Bloody Marsh on the way out there - are the best birding spots on the island in my opinion, and are usually quick stops; Gould's Inlet is actually not worth it at high tide, however, because the sand bars that host shorebirds, terns, and gulls are underwater. To reach these hotspots, drive 4.5 miles on F.J. Torras Causeway until you reach the first traffic light on the island, at Sea Island Rd. Go straight through this light, and you'll pass several shopping areas and restaurants, the fourth intersection is Frederica Rd, which is a key intersection leading to shopping and hotels and is now (2008) a round-about instead of a light. Go right into the round-about and continue out the other side, staying on Frederica Rd. Pass a new fire station on your right (look for Gray Kingbirds on wires in this area in summer), and approx. 1.7 miles from the first light (with Sea Island Rd) you'll see Bloody Marsh Park on your left; this is a quick stop to scan the marsh from the west side, but the gate is not always open here. Turn left out of this small park and 0.5 miles further down, turn left at a flashing yellow light onto East Beach Causeway [I must admit that the directions here are sketchy b/c a re-routing of the roadbed may not pass the entrance to Bloody Marsh Park but you will certainly still see East Beach Causeway on your left so watch for it!]. You can get great views of Bloody Marsh along this road briefly, then turn left onto Ocean Rd just 0.4 miles from the flashing light to continue scanning the marsh for waders and shorebirds including Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit, Semipalmated Plover, Black Plover, waders such as White Ibis, Great Egret, and more. It is important not to stop for very long, as the road is fairly busy with local traffic and lined with private residences. Turn right when you reach 15th street, and park at the end in a little public parking area that provides access to a little fishing pier and the beach at Gould's Inlet (PHOTOS 1-3). This is a good spot to look for Reddish Egret and Least Tern in summer; in migration you may see Red Knot along with many other shorebirds, and Peregrine Falcon or Merlin (especially in fall). In late summer (mid-Aug) this can be a wonderful opportunity to study various migrating or breeding terns including Black Tern, Forster's Tern, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, and Royal Tern. Winter birds include Great or Lesser Black-backed Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, and other diving ducks. At all times of year there should be an assortment of shorebirds, gulls, and terns on the sand bars along with Osprey and Eurasian Collared Doves. If you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a mink hunting along the rocks (PHOTO 5). Bloody Marsh (PHOTO 4) is a great place to see Whimbrel, White Ibis, and many waders; you may hear Clapper Rails sound off, and along the edges you may find Marsh Wren, Palm Warblers, or Common Yellowthroats. Be considerate of local traffic; do not stop in the road or block driveways as you cruise along the edge scanning for birds. Gray Kingbird have nested somewhere in The Village (main touristy drag near the lighthouse); in July 2006 Rachel and I saw two adults and two juveniles, and some feeding behavior, which was pretty cool even though this species isn't exactly rare and may be increasing in Georgia.
PHOTO 1 PHOTO 2 PHOTO 3 PHOTO 4 PHOTO 5
Text by KB; Photos by KB & RC.
4) Andrew's Island Causeway [Oct 2008]
See Beaton's Birding Georgia.
[DeLorme pg. 63, F-7]
Along with good birding in all seasons, this is one of the best locations on the coast for seeing all three of the saltmarsh sparrows from Nov-Mar; Seaside Sparrow, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and Salt-marsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow. From the major intersection of the F.J. Torras Causeway and US Hwy 17 in Brunswick, head south on US 17 for 0.6 miles to a light with Gloucester St and turn right. After 1.0 mile, turn right at a light onto Newcastle Street in the middle of historic Brunswick (incidentally, you can also stay on Gloucester all the way to its end and you will end up at the city docks lined with shrimp boats [PHOTO 5] where local shrimpers sometimes sell their fresh catch right off the boat, and a small pavilion in an adjacent park is a produce market on weekends). After turning right onto Newcastle back in town, continue for 1.1 miles and turn left just after passing a dry dock (ship repair) on your left onto Homer L. Wilson Way, and you are now on the causeway. It is essential to pay attention to the tide (view Georgia Tide Charts), and look for the hour of highest tide when you search for the "salty" sparrows. Bird your way down the causeway (PHOTO 1), parking and walking around when you see something interesting. You will find shorebirds and waders at lower tides, and diving waterfowl in winter such as Horned Grebe, Red-breasted Mergansers, and sometimes Red-throated Loon. Watch for Clapper Rails along the edges of the marsh, or Roseate Spoonbills (summer) in shallow water along the edge. Park at the end of the causeway on the right side of a turn-around loop, and bird a side road that starts right where you parked (PHOTO 2); at particularly high tides this side road can be submerged. The ox-eye daisy and spartina grass along the edges will hold all three species of saltmarsh sparrow in winter. A good strategy is to wear waders or hip-boots and walk parallel to the shoreline a few yards out from dry land, herding a few birds while other birders follow on shore to get looks at the birds as they move along (PHOTO 3). They may perch briefly in scrubby bushes but generally they zip like trapeze artists through the vegetation out of sight. If you see that you are approaching a higher bush and you know there are birds moving in front of you, slow down and give them a moment to get to the bush. If you do not push them too quickly, they may climb up for a better look around, and of course giving you a nice look at them! Looking east from the opposite side of the causeway, you are looking across the East River at the city of Brunswick, including the marina, shrimp boats, and Georgia Ports Authority (PHOTO 4). A recent effort to remove a huge rusted barge and a lot of other industrial trash from the causeway has improved the area, but careless people still drop lots of trash along the road. In winter, you may have Red-breasted Mergansers, Red-throated Loons, Common Loons, or Horned Grebes in the river on either side of the causeway. This area may hold other diving birds, and usually has lots of gulls as well. A mega-rarity Common Eider showed up here in October 2006 (PHOTO 6). In the area, American White Pelicans are fairly reliable (PHOTO 7); look for them loafing and feeding on the river, or soaring overhead. Clapper Rails are vocal year-round, and Northern Harriers patrol the marshes in winter. Also from winter through early spring, you may have the unique opportunity to see literally hundreds of American Avocets out on the large mudflats created at lower tides in the river to the west. The best place to scan for them is from the side road on the west side towards the end of the causeway; simply walk the road to the same places you were stalking the sparrows (though now at low tide) and scope all the flats in front of you as you face west. Other birds to look out for at various times of year include Marsh Wren, Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Roseate Spoonbill, Bonaparte's Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Least Tern, American Avocet, Osprey, Loggerhead Shrike, Eurasian Collared Dove, and various shorebirds on the exposed mud flats at low tide such as Black-bellied Plover, Willet, Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, and more. UPDATE: Be wary of any reports about access to the island itself as opposed to the causeway. The Georgia DOT administers this property and strictly forbirds access to the public. Regardless of any supposed "permission" granted to birders in the last year, all such reports are false and the area cannot be accessed. Do not attempt to walk or drive past the obviously signed gates at the end of the causeway. Trespassers may be severely fined or much worse if they are seen by any spoil site employees or, worse, by patrolling DOT officials. Enjoy the great birding along the causeway and stay outside the gate. As of early 2008, there is much less reason to want to visit the island itself as the dredging project is now complete and the "empty bowl" which used to be filled with fresh water, mud, and sand flats no longer exists; instead, there is a barren desert landscape raised a full 20-30 feet above the surrounding marshes.
PHOTO 1 PHOTO 2 PHOTO 3 PHOTO 4 PHOTO 5 PHOTO 6 PHOTO 7
Text and photos by KB.
5) Little St. Simons Island [Oct 2008]
[DeLorme pg. 63, D-9]
UPDATED BIRDING DETAILS AND PHOTOS COMING FALL 2007!
This is a private island, but is accessible to birders in several ways: 1) Take part in an organized, guided field trip as part of the Colonial Coast Birding and Nature Festival (it is one of the most popular trips), 2) take advantage of special private birding tours that are usually announced on GABO-L by the island's naturalists (+/- $65), or 3) stay at the rustic all-inclusive lodge on the island. We have talked about Option 3 many times, and surely will enjoy this experience someday but it is not cheap (starting at +/- $400 per night). As a guest, you could have one of the naturalists take you birding and/or use your preferred method to get out into the field, which are provided by the lodge for guests to use any time - horseback riding, bikes, kayaks, powerboats, etc. On field trips, the lodge naturalist will drive your group around in a pickup truck with benches in the back. Technically, you can also come to the island to take a "day trip" tour which is offered to the general public for +/- $65 per person and includes a nice picnic lunch; you should call ahead to let them know birders are coming so they will bring a scope with them. However, you must keep in mind that these tours are offered to the public to give them a taste of what the island and the lodge have to offer over-all and, thus, you will not be birding the whole time. A limited-access barrier island with a unique history, LSSI is managed in various ways for wildlife. Little St. Simons has incredible birding to offer all year, but is perhaps best from September through mid-May. Just a few birds that may be seen at various times during the year include Piping Plover, Mottled Duck, Black-necked Stilt, Whimbrel, Peregrine Falcon, Least Bittern, Painted Bunting, Roseate Spoonbill, American Bittern, Merlin, Marbled Godwit, Red Knot, American Oystercatcher, Northern Gannet, Snow Goose, nesting Bald Eagles, Reddish Egret, and the island's winter gem - Long-billed Curlew. This is hands-down the best location to observe this species in Georgia; I have heard a naturalist comment that "if there are 10 Long-billed Curlews on the entire Georgia coast in a given winter, 8 of them are probably on Little St. Simons." It is simply an awesome place to be, and the birding will be just one highlight of your experience on Little St. Simons!
6) Marshes of Glynn Park [Oct 2008]
[DeLorme pg. 63, F-7; approximately where the "F" in "F.J.Torras Causeway" is printed]
This quick stop is fairly reliable for roosting Roseate Spoonbill and other waders at high tide from late spring through fall. They are usually found in a roost in some low trees that can be seen directly across the water and just to the north, looking out from the picnic tables (you can see them on the right side of the PHOTO below). You may also see night herons, Wood Stork, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, or other waders at this roost; a scope is necessary. At lower tides, there may be an assortment of shorebirds working the mud flats including peeps, Willet, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, etc. There are always gulls and pelicans around, and you may see diving waterfowl at higher tides. A pair of Loggerhead Shrikes sometimes nests in the smaller oaks in the picnic area.
Text and photo by KB.
7) Blythe Island Regional Park [N/A]
mid F-late Sp
Text by Gene Keferl
[DeLorme pg. 63, F-6]
Located off GA Hwy 303 close to I-95 Exit 29. Get off of I-95 at Exit 29 and head west (which is actually south) on US 17 a very short distance to GA Hwy 303. Turn north (right turn) on GA Hwy 303 you will go under I-95. It should be the first right turn after the I-95 overpass. The number 3016 saltwater fishing site in the DeLorme Atlas is the site. The nature trail and areas along the canals offer some very easy walking and some nice ecotonal areas for observing birds. 44 species of birds were observed in early April 2007, including a large number of Prairie Warblers (100+!), Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Great-crested Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Red and White-eyed Vireos, shorebirds, nesting Osprey.
Copyright 2013 Ken Blankenship. All rights reserved.