In Savannah for a day, its historic walks behind me, I was in the mood to escape Southern hospitality–and humanity in general. An oasis of calm awaited only 20 minutes away from the city center: the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, 29 thousand acres of bottomland hardwood groves, swathed in Spanish moss, and freshwater marshes, wide open, flat, and serene. How could I resist?
The refuge hosts a stunning array of native birds and seasonal travelers along the Atlantic Flyway. The best time to watch birds here is October to April, and waterfowl are particularly abundant November to February: Wood storks, egrets, herons, and ducks–20 species of ducks!–are a regular sight. We stuck to the 4-mile scenic drive that meanders along the remnants of rice plantations, built by slaves and Irish laborers in the 1700s, now an invisible maze of dikes controlling the freshwater levels in the refuge.
A couple of turkey vultures welcomed us–were they courting? We interrupted a ritual, it seemed.
The marsh, so still at first sight, was teeming with activity. Anhingas, the Snakebirds of southern swamps, dried their wings after a hunt. American coots busied themselves in the shallow water. And battalions of ducks relaxed in the sun.
Egrets sailed over our heads, landing on naked limbs of far-off trees, startlingly human-like upon descent.
This muted palette of whites and browns reminded me of my beloved Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah. For a moment, I forgot where I was, as I followed a boisterous mocking bird from tree to tree along the road.
Thankfully, I looked down in time. This, was not Utah.
The alligator did not move–they are torpid in winter months and are generally unaggressive–but its eye seemed to take notice of my presence.
Slowly, I backed away. The eye closed. I was not deemed a threat.
On the way out, we drove up to the refuge’s visitors’ center. A boardful of sightings shamed me: I didn’t come at a good time of day. With so much to see, there will have to be another, more thorough visit.
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