Tybee Island 12/25/12-1/1/13

My family and I visited Savannah and Tybee Island for a week starting on Christmas day. I went out on the beach many times looking for birds, shells and other assorted life-forms. My birding mentor Diana Churchill who lives on the island took me on two splendid excursions as well. On the second trip, I got 77 species and 2 lifers! We jumped from one area to the next, racking up more and more species as we went. I did not keep numbers for the species this time as we saw some species many times daily. I saw so many spectacular birds and went to so many beautiful places that I cannot summarize each place individually but I can summarize the whole vacation.

            So much of nature depends on water for life and the birding I did on this trip focused on water. On the north end of the beach, a Northern Gannet flies over the surface of the ocean, scouting out the area for fish. It spots one, thrusts its wings back, stretches its neck and plunges into the sea in pursuit of its prey. An Osprey hovers over the water, using its keen eyes to pick out fish far below. Sanderlings play “tag” with the waves, looking for crustaceans in the moist sand. A solitary Willet preens its feathers and feeds in the small pools of water left behind in the depressions of sand when the tide receded. On the south end of the island, Black Skimmers and Forster’s and Royal Terns rest on a sandbar. A Piping Plover runs back and forth close to the water, looking for food on the surface of the sand. Ruddy Turnstones congregate around the jetties at low tide. At night, the water is still on the “back river” and the faint hoots of a Great Horned Owl coming from Little Tybee Island glide across the surface until it reaches our ears. At Lake Mayer, American Coots swim out of the thick plants and marsh along the edge of the lake as we walk up. Ruddy Ducks, a Lesser Scaup, Pied-billed Grebes and Double-crested Cormorants float on the water and dive under, using their strong legs and feet to propel them around. The Anhinga does the same thing, but uses its long neck and sharp bill to strike like a snake and spear fish. Ring-billed Gulls hang out in large flocks on the beach and next to lakes. Some Laughing, Herring and Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls are mixed in. A cormorant comes up with a fish, only to be attacked by part of the flock. The helpless cormorant gives up and dives to get away. A Great Blue Heron flies over and makes loud screeching noises to scare away the gulls and get some of the prize. A Brown Pelican comes in for a landing and manages to scare off the heron, but he is too late to get any of the catch. On the other side of the lake, a lone female Northern Shoveler climbs out of the water to forage and preen on a clump of water plants.
            Inland, we find Semipalmated Plovers, Dunlin and a few Western Sandpipers on some mud flats. Buffleheads, Hooded and Red-breasted Mergansers, Black-crowned Night-Herons and Common and Red-throated Loons swim in the waters near the yacht club. JF Gregory Park hosts many species as well. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers mew with the catbirds and a White-breasted Nuthatch honks with the Canada Geese. A flock of about 50 Rusty Blackbirds sit atop an Eastern Sycamore. They trick us into thinking they are Brown-headed Cowbirds because of their similar look and calls. Yellow-rumped Warblers, or “Butterbutts,” are the most prevalent birds and fill the air with their short call notes. They sound like waiters, bringing you butter and asking for a “tip.” Pileated Woodpeckers, though they sound like Northern Flickers, have such beautiful and distinct plumage that they cannot be missed when they fly by. When we crossed a bridge, three swimming otters confronted us and hissed at us. A Blue-headed Vireo pops up to let us photograph him, but the White-eyed Vireo we saw later on was not so cooperative. Ruby-crowned Kinglets hide their radiant red crowns for now. I like to think that they have put them in the wash as they make a noise reminiscent of the turning of a washer machine knob. Two Orange-crowned Warblers flit across our path, giving us a momentary view before flying away.  Common Yellowthroats and Swamp Sparrows frequent the marsh alongside the path while Black-and-white Warblers glean the bark of trees like nuthatches. In the swamp stand Bald Cypress trees, with buttresses more beautiful than those of massive gothic cathedrals. We were treated to a Red-breasted Nuthatch as well as two Baltimore Orioles on feeders.
            Anyways, I had a blast on the vacation and I can’t wait to come back in late January for the GOS winter meeting. Here is everything we saw during the week:
Birds (87 species, 3 lifers):
Canada Goose
Mallard
Northern Shoveler
Lesser Scaup
Bufflehead
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
*Ruddy Duck
*Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Northern Gannet
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Anhinga
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
White Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Semipalmated Plover
Piping Plover
Killdeer
Willet
Ruddy Turnstone
Sanderling
Western Sandpiper
Dunlin
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Forster’s Tern
Royal Tern
Black Skimmer
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Loggerhead Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Fish Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Brown Thrasher
European Starling
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Pine Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Common Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle
*Baltimore Oriole
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Shells (11 species, 3 lifers):
Shark Eye
White Baby Ear
Southern Surf Clam
*Minor Jackknife Clam
*Campeche Angelwing
Channeled Duck Clam
Incongruous Ark
Lettered Olive
Eastern Oyster
Common Jingle
*Atlantic Slipper Snail
Trees (9 species 3 lifers):
Blackjack Oak
Live Oak
*Eastern Red Cedar
Cabbage Palmetto
*American Holly
Eastern Sycamore
Southern Magnolia
Water Oak
*Swamp Bay
Ferns (1 species, 1 lifer):
*Resurrection Fern
Epiphytes (1 species, 0 lifers):
Spanish Moss
Other Plants (4 species, 1 lifer):
*Sea Oxeye
Sandspur
Sea Oats
Dune Panic Grass
Mammals (2 species, 0 lifers):
Gray Squirrel
North American River Otter

Gray Squirrel
Bald Cypress
American River Otter
Sunset at the Beach
Gray Catbird
Blue-headed Vireo
Willet (Eastern)
Piping Plover
Snowy Egret
Ring-billed Gull
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Little-blue Heron
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