Last weekend, tons of teams of birders, all in High school or below, competed to try to see the most species in one 24 hour period (5pm-5pm). The competition began on Friday at 5:00 PM. My team, the Pied-Billed Grebes, started at Gould’s Inlet on Saint Simons Island along with the Wood thrushes, another very strong high school team, and the Amazing Anhingas, the best Middle School team. Right before the competition started, we found a Gull-Billed Tern standing next to a large group of peeps and plovers:
The next few minutes moved at a slow crawl. At 4:58 things were looking up. The tern had stuck around and all of the shorebirds were present. At 4:59 our chances with the tern seemed to go downhill. It lifted off and started to fly away from us. We just had to keep it in our binoculars for one more minute for it to count, but it was departing fast. After what seemed like an hour of waiting, watching the tern taunt me by pretending to go back towards us and then turning back to the sea, we reached 5:00. The tern was still barely in our binoculars as we checked it off as our first bird of the competition. We proceeded to find tons of shorebirds, and most of the easier beach specialties to find.
We rushed off the island, and into Brunswick where we met up with my friend’s grandmother’s friend. She had a Great Horned Owl nesting near her house. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been seen all day. Our chances of finding it were pretty low, but we tried anyways. We were guided to the last place it was seen. We were having no luck when someone on our team spotted it. It was sitting right in front of us in a tree:
It swiveled it’s head for a minute while we all got a good look at it before it flew away to take care of its children. On the way back to the van, we got a good look at some magnificent Wood Storks soaring under the sun.
We took a few small stops afterwards before going straight to the Altamaha Waterfowl/Wildlife Management Area. The Altamaha WMA is a series of islands created by the Altamaha River. Two of the islands are bird-able. We drove immediately to the second island, Butler Island. We turned into an empty lot next to an abandoned building and walked over to some ponds. While there we saw crazy amounts of Heron-like Birds, Stilts, Waterfowl, and Darters. As the sun began to set, we rushed over to McIntosh Island to find Sandpipers, Spoonbills, Warblers, and a few Killdeers. Near the Altamaha was a nesting Barn Owl, so we decided to try to find that before the sun finally set. We got to the nest and waited for five minutes before realizing we were too late. It had gone. We drove back again to the Altamaha to listen for Rails, but we were unlucky and only heard Soras.
Photo 1: Tricolored Heron at McIntosh Island.
Photo 2: Black-Bellied Whistling-Duck at Butler Island
Next, we drove slightly inland to listen for Owls and Nightjars. We went to an area called Paulk’s Pasture, where we heard Screech-Owls and Barred Owls, but no nightjars.
We got back to our hotel at about 10:40, got some pizza, and called it a night.