I’d like to extend a BIG THANK YOU to Dr. Melissa Robitaille of Atlantic Foot and Ankle Specialists for Sponsoring our Coastal Georgia Wilderness Adventures and for taking care of my injured ankle on a moment’s notice. Conveniently located in Pooler, GA right by the Tanger Outlets.
Some signs MAY be misleading, especially when Gators and Dolphins are easily seen in the Coastal River behind the house. That’s why I chuckled at the sight of this sign in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Of course, in winter gators aren’t as visible as in the warmer days from spring to autumn but it doesn’t mean they’re not there.
The American Alligator is very well protected at the Federal Level and most States that make up its habitat. Various signs warn visitors not to harass them and more importantly, DON’T FEED THEM. An alligator who gets used to hand feedings will become a huge threat to unsuspecting visitors as it starts approaching humans for a handout. Once a gator has been labeled a threat, it will most surely be euthanized. Gators are an important part of these ecosystems, the loss of one mature alligator has consequences on the fragile balance of these wetlands.
Small to medium-sized alligators seem to make up the sum of most sightings during the Winter Months. They can easily be seen in the wetland vegetation basking in the Sun during the warmer days. They become a more common sight as the higher temperatures hold up for a few days.
Naturally as the unseasonably warm weather kicks in and the days tend to get longer, the bigger alligators start coming out. Just like fishing stories people start telling you about the twelve footers and bigger that rival the width of their pickup trucks. Although that may sound a little far fetch, a Big Gator is very impressive and will make you feel really small. We did get a sighting of a nice hefty 9 to 10 footer. That’s when you start seeing a noticeable difference in appearance. Their bodies show considerably more girth compared to the sleek-looking younger alligators.
If you find yourself in the area of the Coastal border between South Carolina and Georgia, the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge makes viewing a wide range of wildlife including the American Alligator, accessible to everyone with a 4.5-mile Wilderness Drive, the Laurel Hill Wildlife Dr. During the winter months, the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge becomes home to an incredible amount of water fowls. In Spring and Autumn the refuge is a haven for migrating birds. There’s simply much more to see than just alligators.
The American White Ibis and its darker cousin, the Glossy Ibis are very present throughout the reserve. Large flocks can be seen perched on a tree or feeding in a field. There’s also a great variety of birds of prey and the Ibis are ready for flight at the faintest sight of one.
The Glossy Ibis is seen in lesser numbers than the White Ibis. At times they can accompany a Flock of White Ibis. They’re generally seen alone, with a partner or in very small groups feeding in the marsh areas.
A large variety of Herons and Egrets makes this refuge their home as well. My favorite remains the Tricolored Heron. You can easily spot them actively fishing throughout the day. From my observations, they seem to have a healthy appetite for shrimp. However I’ve seen them eat everything from amphibians to fish.
Egrets and herons are also accompanied by their cousin the American Bittern. I’ve had the chance to observe bitterns feet away from me along the Wildlife Drive. They were completely focused on feeding, they didn’t even realize I was there. Their camouflage is so efficient that cars passing by would not usually spot them as I had my camera pointed at them. One woman did see one, her reaction was “It’s just a bird!” A sad reality when surrounded by such abounded biodiversity, and your only interest is spotting an alligator, which by the way they can barely spot on their own.
Black vultures and Red Headed Turkey Vultures are also very present throughout the region and also make this refuge their home.
Not every bird that occupies this territory is large. The plush vegetation and the abundance of insects make it a favorable habitat for a wide variety of small insectivorous such as warblers and one little special resident, the blue-gray gnatcatcher.
One of the most visible of these smaller residents has to be the Northern Mockingbird. They will great you at the entrance gate and are fully visible throughout the wildlife reserve.
Getting to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge is easy and takes about 15 minutes from Savannah. The entrance to the Wildlife Drive is actually located in South Carolina. The map below illustrates the Wildlife drive. Depending on your level of interest and your ability to spot wildlife in a natural habitat, it can take 2 to 4 hours to complete. Many individuals make multiple passes at various times of the day. There are also a variety of trails that can be accessed from the drive itself.
If you’re up for a 2-hour drive from the Savannah Area, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a great destination as well. A 7.5 mile Wildlife Drive with a 3/4-mile deck through the swamp to an observation tower. There are less water fowl but cranes can be seen and tons of raccoons. There are also kayak and canoe rentals for a ride through the Okefenokee Swamp. 90 minute guided boat tours are available as well throughout the day. If you’re into conservation and want the ins and out on regional issues, make sure you get Chip as your captain.
WORD OF CAUTION : If you’re not outdoor and wildlife savvy, do your homework. National Wildlife Refuges are not ZOOs. You’re in a wilderness setting with wildlife that freely roams the territory. There are small to large venomous snakes, alligators and even bears and panthers in certain areas. Some plants can represent a risk if touched. You should also protect yourself from mosquitos and tics with an appropriate bug spray. Naturally keep your children within arms reach.
CHECK OUT OUR PHOTO GALLERIES : We’ll keep adding images as we continue to explore this magnificent territory.