We went birding at the 27,078-acre Altamaha Wildlife Management Area/Altamaha River Waterfowl Area (ARWA). This is considered to be the second largest waterfowl area east of the Mississippi (the largest being the Chesapeake), and is visited by more than 30,000 ducks from mid-October through mid-April. The primary objective of the AWMA is to provide high quality habitat for wintering waterfowl, but it also provides habitat for a great diversity of wetland associated wildlife including common snipe, common moorhens, purple gallinules, white ibises, hernos, egrets, migratory shorebirds, and many others. Threatened and engangered species found on the AWMA include wood storks, alligators, and bald eagles.
"The ARWA consists of several "islands" that are created by the Altamaha River's meandering channels: Lewis, Cambers, Wrights, Butler, Champney, Broughton, Rhetts, Rockdedundy, and Dolbow islands. Lewis Island is a naturalist's wonderland, containing virgin cypress stands over 1,000 years old. Most of the other islands are dominated by a variety of marsh grasses that have flourished since antebellum times, when hundreds of slaves cleared the land of timber, dug canals, and built water-control dikes that were used to establish successful rice plantations. Some of these canal-crossed islands, such as Butler and Champney, are former sites of plantations that today are important nesting and refuge sites managed for migratory waterfowl.."
We drove north on 17 from Brunswick and stopped first on the west side of the road at the Champney Island Impoundment.
Here's a map that was posted, showing the extent of the area.
As we entered a long dirt road through mixed woodlands stretched out before us. There was a very peaceful, quiet feeling to the area. One of the best ways to bird this, is to listen from the car for any sounds of birds, look for any movement of birds, then get out and walk around that area.
A sound of chattering caught our attention and we spied a little Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a tiny hyperactive bird, smaller than a warbler. Usually you can't see the ruby crown that much.
I grabbed my camera and tracked the bird through the shubbery and caught
this photo, showing the crown raised, as bright red as a burning ember.
There seemd to be an interaction between two kinglets, most likely aggressive in nature, hence the crown raise, a red flag of warning. The red stood out againt the gray and brown background. All the photos in this blog post were taken by me "on the fly" so to speak, so they're action shots, showing how you might really see the birds through your binoculars, as we did through ours.
Make sure you look up as well as down. We looked up into an American Sweetgum tree and saw the forked tail feathers of an American Goldfinch.
The spiky balls that held the seeds look like miniature wrecking balls.
Several goldfinches were eating the seeds of the Sweetgum. These were migrant goldfinches, as we were in an area where goldfinches winter, and not usually breed. So if any of you up north are looking for your goldfinches, they might be these.
The beautiful blue sky was the perfect backdrop for the dancing red
"keys" of the Red Maple trees. You can see the round seeds at the base of the wings of the keys, that act like propellers when the seeds fall off the tree, helping the seeds disperse. It was like being fast forwarded in time for us, seeing maple keys. That doesn't happen until mid-spring in NH where we're from.
We walked down the road, going at a leisurely pace, our favorite pace for birding. We're don't do frenetic paced, looking-for-rarities birding, (unless we're on a birdathon). We prefer slow, letting it all sink in, taking your time to really study birds and enjoy their behavior type birding.
Farther down this road was a different type of habitat, one of fields and hedge and marsh beyond. I included this shot to make the point that diversity of habitat is what attracts the greatest variety of birds, and this road has it — mixed woods, field, shrubby hedgerow and marsh.
In one of the trees in the hedgerow we came across a larger bird, this immature Red-tailed Hawk. Redtails hunt mainly voles and mice in fields, so this bird was in the right habitat.
It flew to the next tree and landed perfectly fanning that barred tail, the sign of an immature Red-tailed Hawk. The adult does not have multiple bars on the tail.
Also in this habitat were five kinds of sparrows, including this Song Sparrow, also Savannah Chipping, immature White-Crowned and White-throated Sparrows. More on Altamaha coming tomorrow.