Catch fall migration along Georgia's Colonial Coastal Birding Trail
Oct. 4—Don't miss the chance to see migratory birds passing through some of coastal Georgia's best viewing areas this fall.
Wildlife biologist Tim Keyes of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources describes the coast as "full of bird activity."
"And the Colonial Coast Birding Trail is an excellent entry way to this world, encompassing all the diversity of habitats and bird species the Georgia coast has to offer," Keyes said.
With fall migration in full swing — millions of birds from warblers to shorebirds and even insects such as butterflies and dragonflies are flying south — three sites that exemplify the beauty of this birding trail and the region's rich wildlife and history are Altamaha Wildlife Management Area, Crooked River State Park and Tybee Island's North Beach.
At Altamaha WMA near Darien, visitors can explore 3,154 acres of managed waterfowl impoundments and some 27,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods and cypress-tupelo swamps. Impoundments built as part of Ducks Unlimited's MARSH program — Matching Aid to Restore State Habitat — provide excellent wildlife viewing and feature several observation towers. During the fall, see migratory ducks congregate on the water, watch the ruckus of sandpipers on muddy flats and search for elusive rails in the reeds. To access the WMA, visitors will need a hunting or fishing license or a state Lands Pass.
"Altamaha WMA has habitat that's hard to find on the coast," Keyes said. "Most of the shallow freshwater seen at Altamaha has disappeared from the region. Even though this habitat at the WMA is manmade, it is valuable. Fall is the perfect time to see wading birds and shorebirds ... and in comfortable weather, too."
Farther south near St. Marys, Crooked River State Park provides room to enjoy habitats varying from pine flatwoods to salt marsh and maritime forest. Four miles of trails wind through the 500-acre park. The diverse habitats comprise an important pitstop for migrating birds. Keep an eye out for colorful warblers high in the trees, herons standing patiently in the marsh and ospreys snatching fish from the water. Crooked River also features amenities such as cottages and campsites for overnight expeditions.
"Crooked River is a reliable location to see beautiful species like painted bunting, warblers, tanagers and thrushes," Keyes said. "It also offers wonderful opportunities for kayaking."
And on the opposite end of Georgia's coastline, North Beach on Tybee Island is one of the best sites for spotting migratory birds. Parking is recommended in the lots around Fort Screven, a 19th century fortress turned museum. Walk the beach toward the island's northern tip for excellent opportunities to see shorebirds, pelicans and gulls. After birding, the beach is close enough to many of the shops and restaurants that Tybee is known for.
"Most of Georgia's islands can be hard to get to, but Tybee's North beach remains a great birding site that is easily accessible," Keyes said. "This beach is home to critical habitat for piping plovers and American oystercatchers as well as a significant roosting point for other seabirds. The beach even offers visitors a chance to engage in citizen science by recording color bands on seabirds that have been tagged."
Whether you want to see a bald eagle soaring over a coastal river, hunt for migratory songbirds singing in a live oak or stand among butterflies drinking from blooming flowers, the Colonial Coast Birding Trail has something for you.
The trail offers 17 sites across 122 miles of the Georgia coast. Some 300 species of birds — 75% of the species reported in Georgia — have been spotted at the venues. The trail also features opportunities to see other wildlife including big alligators, croaking frogs, hanging Spanish moss and much more.
For more information, visit www.georgiabirdingtrails.com or the DNR's Go Outdoors GA app. The free app, which allows one to check off species seen on the trail, can be downloaded at the Apple or Google Play store.
DNR's Wildlife Conservation Section works to conserve Georgia's best wildlife viewing areas and other wildlife not legally fished for or hunted, as well as rare plants and natural habitats. The agency does this largely through public support from fundraisers, grants and contributions.
Key fundraisers include sales and renewals of the eagle and hummingbird license plates. These tags cost only $25 more than a standard plate to buy or renew. Up to $20 of that fee goes to help wildlife.
Supporters can donate online at www.gooutdoorsgeorgia.com. Click "Licenses and Permits" and log in to the secure system. New customers will need to create an account.
For more information, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/licenseplates, www.georgiawildlife.com/donations or www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/annualreport.