Wild in Savannah: At the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

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?

Spanish moth over trees at Savannah National Wildlife RefugeSavannah National Wildlife Refuge - a marsh

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 A little blue heron wading in the Savannah NWRwaterfowl 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.

20130128-DSS_6901Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, turkey vulturesTurkey vultures flying at Savanna National Wildlife Refuge

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.

Anhinga, Savannah NWRAnhinga and an American coot, Savannah National Wildlife RefugeAmerican coots, Savannah National Wildlife RefugeDucks and coots, Savannah NWR

Egrets sailed over our heads, landing on naked limbs of far-off trees, startlingly human-like upon descent.

Egret in flight, Savannah National Wildlife RefugeEgret landing on a tree, Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

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.

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge in winter

Thankfully, I looked down in time. This, was not Utah.

Alligator at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

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.

An alligator, looking at me, Savannah national wildlife refuge

Slowly, I backed away. The eye closed. I was not deemed a threat.

A sleeping alligator, Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

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.

Savannah Wildlife Refuge sightings - January 2013

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12 thoughts on “Wild in Savannah: At the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

    • Stumbling on an alligator was quite–stirring. There were many handouts at the visitors’ center and signs throughout the refuge about not engaging or hurting them. Apparently, they are frightened of people, and for a good reason. Thank you for stopping by!

  1. I probably would not have been that calm, being so close to an alligator. Gorgeous animal, though. I’ve been to Sanannah once and only did the historic sites. Will be back in April, I hope, so will make sure that I make it to the refuge. As always, gorgeous pics (especially the flying egret).

  2. Differences fascinate —
    Savannah for me a few years ago was a month out of the cold and much nomad wandering around the city, not so much “historical” sites, but just sights in corners and nooks and crannies — all in the city! So I especially am enjoying your joy in nature, and the fabulous souvenirs you bring back with your camera. Two Savannahs, two worlds, two wonders.

    • Truth be told, I did not enjoy the urban side of Savannah much. I will have to go back and re-see it again, in a different mood and a different season. Nature, though, I enjoy regardless of season. I appreciate your kind comment.

  3. You arrived at a great time to birdwatch on the SE Atlantic Coast. At this time of year, you never know what you’ll stumble into. I’ve been playing with a new camera, and have gotten some decent shots of Hooded Mergansers in a small pool near my house. But as usual in birdwatching, most of it is just luck.

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