Tag Archives: Birding Hotspots of Georgia

Butler Island Plantation, McIntosh County

Heading south out of Darien on US 17, you’ll begin to notice what appear to be large ditches to your left, especially in the winter months. These are the historic canals and dikes engineered for the cultivation of rice on the plantation of Major Pierce Butler and though the industry died with the end of the Civil War, its physical evidence remains.

The Butler family of South Carolina and Philadelphia owned extensive cotton and rice plantations on the Georgia coast. Pierce Butler (1744-1822) was the son of a minor Irish aristocrat and after service as a major in His Majesty’s Twenty-ninth Regiment came to the colonies in 1767 and married Mary Middleton, the daughter of a prominent South Carolina planter. He sided with the colonies during the Revolution and sold his army commission to purchase Hampton Point Plantation on St. Simons Island. In 1787 he was app0inted a South Carolina delegate to the constitutional convention and was integral to securing the protection of slavery as an institution in our nation’s founding document. By 1793 he owned over 500 slaves, who made him a fortune in cotton and rice. He spent most of his time in Philadelphia. He owned this land from at least 1790 until his death in 1822, and after interim management by Roswell King (namesake of Roswell, Georgia), it passed to his grandson, Pierce Mease Butler, in 1838.

Pierce Mease Butler (1806-1867), born Butler Mease, changed his surname to honor his grandfather as the will required and around this time married the famed English actress Fanny Kemble. Kemble was opposed to slavery but upon being told that conditions were “good” at the plantation, coerced her husband into taking her to see it for herself, in 1838-1839. She immediately noted that the conditions were far from good and kept a journal of her time there. Two daughters and a contentious divorce would follow, with Pierce Mease Butler gaining custody of the children.

Years of poor money management and lavish spending left Pierce Mease Butler financially insolvent and his only option was selling off his slaves. At an old racetrack in Savannah between 2-3 March 1859, the largest sale of human beings in the history of the United States saw the liquidation of 429 slaves. Among slaves it came to be known as “The Weeping Time” for its displacement of families, many of whom never saw each other again. A few years later, at the height of the Civil War, Fanny Kemble published her controversial Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839, first in her native England where it was a huge bestseller and then in America, where it was widely popular in the North and nearly as popular, if reviled, in the South. Its firsthand accounts of the horrors of slavery are said to have influenced England to side against the confederacy.

After the war, the plantation failed without the benefit of free labor, and Pierce Mease Butler died of malaria in 1867. His daughter, Frances Kemble Butler Leigh, inherited the lands and tried to keep them profitable but gave up after ten years. She wrote of her experiences in Ten Years on a Georgia Plantation Since the War (1883). The property eventually passed to her nephew Owen Wister (famed author of The Virginian) who sold off the last of the property in 1923.

The area is now publicly accessible and is a popular spot for birding and hiking. Always bring insect repellent, though, even in winter.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Butler Island GA

Cay Creek Wetlands Interpretive Center, Midway

Cay Creek Freshwater Wetlands Liberty County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

Cay Creek Wetlands Interpretive Center is one of the best day trips in Coastal Georgia. Located at 189 Charlie Butler Road in Midway, the center has ample parking, picnic tables, and a boardwalk which covers several different ecosystems. It’s a place for reflection, as well as a haven for amateur naturalists, birdwatchers and anyone who enjoys the outdoors. Best of all, it’s free and open to everyone, through the daylight hours seven days a week. There isn’t an actual “center” as yet, but excellent interpretive signs located along the boardwalk provide ample information about the environment and its inhabitants.

Cay Creek Liberty County GA Freshwater Swamp in Transitional Coastal Wetland Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

Your walk begins in a freshwater tidal swamp, full of oak, cypress, and bay trees. Irises were already sprouting in January (below).

Cay Creek Wetlands Liberty County GA Cypress Knees Iris Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

As the boardwalk reaches the observation tower, the freshwater swamp is intermingled with salt water. Almost a third of the tidal salt marshes on the Atlantic Coast are located in Georgia, along with many freshwater tidal swamps and marshes. Only specific plants are able to thrive in salt water environments, so the plant life begins to change, if subtly, in this zone.

Cay Creek Wetlands Intepretive Center Midway GA Boardwalk from Observation Tower Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

A short walk up the observation deck affords a birds eye view.

Cay Creek Liberty County GA Wetlands Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

Just past the observation tower, the transition becomes more obvious, as marsh grasses begin to dominate the hammocks.

Cay Creek Brackish Marsh Intertidal Swamp Wetland Liberty County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

In winter, you’ll see the red berries of native hollies (Ilex).

Cay Creek Liberty County GA Native Holly Ilex Berries Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

The last stretch of the boardwalk opens into brackish marsh, with the transitional swamp and marsh visible in the background.

Cay Creek Wetlands Liberty County GA Boardwalk Natural Area Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

Here, you’re surrounded by marsh grasses and can smell the salt in the air.

Cay Creek Liberty County GA Intertidal Transitional Wetland Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

Native cedars, often covered in lichen, are scattered around the marsh.

Cay Creek Liberty County GA Native Cedar Coastal Wetland Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

This is the view at the end of the boardwalk. You’ll want to return!

Cay Creek Liberty County GA Protected Wetland Intertidal Zone Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

Raymond Cay (1803-1885), namesake of Cay’s Creek.

Raymond Cay Namesake of Cays Creek Midway Liberty County GA Historic Image Photograph Via Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2015

This was originally known as Salter’s Creek but was changed in honor of Raymond Cay’s nearby plantation.

Leave a comment

Filed under -LIBERTY COUNTY, Midway GA

Winter Ramble at Harris Neck

Woody Pond prime waterfowl habitat rookery Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge McIntosh County GA Photograph COpyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

Woody Pond is perhaps the most popular spot for birding at Harris Neck, though there are many other places to ramble in this place that I consider one of the best-kept secrets of the Georgia Coast. Whether a birder, hiker, bicyclist or just plain nature aficionado, there is much to be seen.

Woody Pond Habitat with Palm Tree Harris Neck NWR McIntosh County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

Walk along the dam for a sure encounter with some natives!

Woody Pond Dam Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge McIntosh County GA Photograph COpyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

Very soon, the rookeries of the pond will be abuzz with new life. Wood Storks (Mcyteria americana) are a big presence here though not as commonly seen in winter. On that last day I visited, American Coots and Common Gallinules were the most populous residents.

Common Gallinule gallinula galeata Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata), Woody Pond.

The gallinules can be easily distinguished from the coots by their bright orange and yellow bills.

American Coot Woody Pond Harris Neck NWR McIntosh County GA Birding Hotspot Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

American Coot (Fulica americana)

Of course, the other big attraction at Woody Pond is the alligator population. But remember, don’t harass them!

Federal State Alligator Protection Sign no feeding or harassing Photograph harris neck national wildlife refuge mcintosh county ga photograph copyright brian brown vanishing coastal georgia usa 2014

You’ll generally see smaller ones in winter, but they live here year round!

American Alligator Young mississippiensis Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge McIntosh County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

American Alligator Swimming Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge McIntosh County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2014

Take nothing but pictures, and lots of good memories. You’ll want to return in the spring.

Oak Limb Spanish Moss in Woody Pond Harris Neck NWR McIntosh County GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harris_Neck_National_Wildlife_Refuge

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Harris Neck GA

Willet, Gould’s Inlet

Willet Tringa semipalmata Shorebird Winter Atlantic Coast Migrant Gould's Inlet St. Simons Island GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2013

The Willet (Tringa semipalmata) is one of numerous shorebirds you’re likely to encounter at Gould’s Inlet. It’s a great place to look for fall migrants.

 

1 Comment

Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA

Gould’s Inlet, St. Simons Island

Gould's Inlet St. Simons Island GA Beach Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2013

Located north of the Coast Guard Station at the end of Bruce Drive, Gould’s Inlet is to me the most beautiful remaining beach on St. Simons Island. It is the opening of Postell Creek, which divides St. Simons and Sea Island. It is primarily known as a wildlife viewing area and is easiest to visit in the fall and winter, due to limited parking at the public access point. Currents and undertow here are known to be quite dangerous, so it’s not generally favorable for swimming. When I visited on a cool December day, it was as if the beach were reinventing itself through ribbons of sand, racing over the shore and changing shape in real time.

Gould's Inlet St. Simons Island GA Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2013

 

Leave a comment

Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, St. Simons Island GA

Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Tolomato Island

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Accidental Dendrocygna autmunalis Tolomato Island GA Picture Image Photograph © Brian Brown Vanishing Coastal Georgia USA 2013

Sragglers from their native Central and South America, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis)  have been expanding their range in recent years. There is a small but healthy flock in the pond beside the Tolomato Island causeway. They’re fascinating to watch and are generally not very wary of human presence.

 

3 Comments

Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Tolomato Island GA