Jekyll Island: Birds

Jekyll Island, GA, even in December, is a perfect place to watch birds. I’ve been there in April, June, and September and in those months have seen a variety of warblers, painted buntings, oven birds, hummingbirds, and so on. Late December perhaps has less diversity of birds, but there are still plenty of warblers around then, including black-and-white, orange-crowned, common yellowthroat, yellow-rumped, yellow-throated palm, pine, and prairie (eBird has a great database of what’s been seen in any area, any time of the year, in the last century; for instance, these are the 190 species we were on the lookout for on Jekyll this December. Thanks to Eric Larson for that tip!).

Though not many are pictured here, I saw quite a lot of yellow-rumped warblers, as well as mockingbirds, cardinals, Carolina chickadees, house finches, Carolina wrens, boat-tailed grackles, starlings, various hawks, eagles, and white and glossy ibis.

One of many yellow-rumped warblers, this one off the causeway; others were in the historic area and in the dunes near Glory boardwalk.
One of many yellow-rumped warblers, this one off the causeway; others were in the historic area and in the dunes near Glory boardwalk.
mockingbird, at Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah, but common on Jekyll as well.
mockingbird, at Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah, but common on Jekyll as well.

 

male cardinal in campground feeding area -- but there were many cardinal couples all over the island.
male cardinal in campground feeding area — but there were many cardinal couples all over the island.
house finches along bike path near Great Dunes Park
house finches along bike path near Great Dunes Park

These two boat-tail grackles were on the pier at St. Simon’s Island, but they are ubiquitous on Jekyll, too:

male grackle on SSI pier
male grackle on SSI pier
female grackle on SSI pier
female grackle on SSI pier
eagle on pole along causeay
eagle on pole along causeay
juvenile eagle on pole along causeway
juvenile eagle on pole along causeway
ibis in marsh grasses along Riverview Drive
ibis in marsh grasses along Riverview Drive
two ibis along causeway
two ibis along causeway

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On a walk at the Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources’ Earth Day trail, for the first time, I was surprised by a young great-horned owl who leapt from its perch above me (where I hadn’t noticed it) to a spot on the wooded ground about 15 feet away before hurriedly flying off. Didn’t quite get the camera out for that one! That was one of those walks where every time I turned around, I was surprising a bird I hadn’t been aware of until it was too late.

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Vultures — both turkey and black — are always common on Jekyll, in the air, on the beach, in the rookery, at picnic areas, spreading their wings to dry in the amphitheatre. On this trip, I often came upon them feasting on a fish,

turkeyvultureeatingfishclosecmidbeachbJekyll30Dec2015 turkeyvultureseatingfishmidbeachJekyll30Dec2015

or, in one case, a seagull:

turkeyvulturewithseagullwingbSouthBeachJekyll20Dec2015

turkeyvultureeatingseagullinmotionSouthBeachJekyll20Dec2015

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Two birds that were common on this trip, though not usually when I’ve been here, were the Eastern bluebird and the willet, a shorebird. I saw them every day, multiple times. The bluebirds seem to particularly favour the plantings between the new Holiday Inn Resort and the beach.

bluebird at Holiday Inn
bluebird at Holiday Inn
blurry bluebirds, Clam Creek
blurry bluebirds, Clam Creek
willet, south beach
willet, south beach
two willets on one leg, with reflections, mid-beach
two willets on one leg, with reflections, mid-beach
willet, mid-beach
willet, mid-beach
willet, north beach
willet, north beach

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Kingfishers, too, seemed much more common that usual, posted at almost regular intervals along the telephone wires lining the causeway; I heard and saw them daily in the Clam Creek marsh, near the alligator pond, really all over the place. As usual, I struggled to get any kind of photo of them and had to content myself with wryly appreciating their constant taunting.

the best I could do ...
the best I could do …

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One of my favourite shorebirds is the oyster catcher. I saw two of them near the end of the trip, in the marsh near the St. Andrews picnic area, from a distance slightly too far for my camera.

oystercatcherbirdhStAndrewsJekyll30Dec2015

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The rookery on Jekyll is a favourite spot to observe birds — snowy and great egrets, roseate spoonbills, wood storks, yellow- and black-crowned night herons, green herons, great blue herons, occasionally little blue herons and tri-coloured herons, turkey and black vultures, ibises, and ducks and grebes — especially as they fly in after a long day of hunting.

Unfortunately, that time — about an hour before sunset to a half-hour after — is a low-light time that makes it impossible to get good photos of them hundreds of feet away, across a pond. And the smell, the noise — it’s a complete experience. I took some video to try to convey a general sense of it, but as with many things in life, you really have to be there. To see the sheer number of birds in one place, their individual interactions with each other, their acrobatics as they fly and land (the wood storks and great egrets in particular) is a wonder and a delight.

many birds in rookery, with pond reflection
many birds in rookery, with pond reflection
so many white birds, in rookery
so many white birds, in rookery
woodstorks in trees
woodstorks in trees
great egret flying in to rookery
great egret flying in to rookery

 

roseate spoonbills in rookery
roseate spoonbills in rookery
roseate spoonbill and night heron friend in rookery
roseate spoonbill and night heron friend in rookery
yellow-crowned night heron in rookery
yellow-crowned night heron in rookery
juvenile yellow-crowned night heron in rookery
juvenile yellow-crowned night heron in rookery

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Often, on the south end of the island, large flocks of gulls, terns, skimmers, and assorted other shorebirds congregate at certain times of the year and of the day. This visit, I didn’t see nearly as many birds there as usual the five or six times I walked from St. Andrews or the soccer field down to the tip … a half-hour walk (each way) that can’t be done at low tide (unless you want to swim it) but is possible a few hours before and after.

There were some skimmers, least and royal terns (with issues, as usual), ring-billed and laughing gulls, and willets there, just not in as great numbers as usual:

threewilletsevenlyspacedoceansouthbeachJekyll30Dec2015 royalternwithissuesgullsSouthbeachJekyll25Dec2015 twoskimmersbSouthbeachJekyll25Dec2015 gullroyalternskimmertrioSouthbeachJekyll25Dec2015 eightgullsoneleastternsouthbeachJekyll22Dec2015 restingringbilledgullsouthbeachJekyll22Dec2015 twogullsoceanwavesouthbeachJekyll22Dec2015

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Atypically, it was one of the few places a great blue heron was spotted on this trip, hunting all by itself:

greatblueheronsurfsplashsouthbeachJekyll22Dec2015

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Instead, the mid-beach — the beach near the hotels, Great Dunes Park, and the shops — was the place for great gobs of birds in this last week of December. Mixed flocks of least and royal terns; herring, ring-billed, and laughing gulls; skimmers; and the very common least sandpipers, sanderlings, and willets settled here. Some beachgoers who didn’t understand or care about the birds’ need to rest, and their dogs (on and off leash), walked right into the birds, causing them to fly and then re-land a hundred yards or so away. What a sight that was. And I saw a bird I’d never seen before: the red knot, a kind of sandpiper.

flockbirdsmostlyskimmersmidbeach945amJekyll29Dec2015 flockskimmersinflightandonmidbeachJekyll29Dec2015 flockskimmersinflightwilletsonmidbeachJekyll29Dec2015

skimmers with a ruddy turnstone photobombing
skimmers with a ruddy turnstone photobombing

shorebirdsinflightpeoplemidbeachJekyll29Dec2015

willets, royal terns, laughing gull, ring-billed gull
willets, royal terns, laughing gull, ring-billed gull
herring gull
herring gull
sanderlings
sanderlings
three red knots
three red knots
ruddy turnstone
ruddy turnstone
least sandpiper
least sandpiper

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Another bird I’ve seen before, but rarely, is the greater yellow-legs, here in the Clam Creek marsh; you can see how they hide in the taller grasses:

greateryellowlegsbirdmarshClamCreekJekyll21Dec2015

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Not a shore bird, yet seen in the trees on St. Andrews beach, were these cedar waxwings, all ablur because of the distance and their movement:

tencedarwaxwingssomeinflightintreeStAndrewsJekyll26Dec2015

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I’ll end the post with some of my favourite bird shots from the trip.

washed out mockingbird at Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, Savannah
washed out mockingbird at Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, Savannah
snowy egret hunting in an inland marsh off a bike path near South Riverview Rd
snowy egret hunting in an inland marsh off a bike path near South Riverview Rd
female grackle in puddle, SSI pier
female grackle in puddle, SSI pier
flock of skimmers in flight in light
flock of skimmers in flight in light
great egret hunting at St. Andrews
great egret hunting at St. Andrews
three willets, south beach
three willets, south beach

 

 

 

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