During the week, I was able to spend about 12 hours exploring the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive which is a four mile gravel road that meanders through a portion of the 6000 acres of
managed freshwater impoundments which cover the historical 13 old rice plantations that were once here. Around the Drive, there are many walking trails on the old dikes. I have to say that I was very impressed with this site. There are abundant birds here year round, water fowl in winter, and many other species in other seasons. A total of 327 species have been documented here, including 36 accidentals (birds seen less than 6 times over the past 20 years). There are 20 species of ducks and over 30 species of warblers, as well as the thousands of migrating birds traveling along the Atlantic flyway.. all the known wading birds of the Southeast are here. Some of the special species that nest here (and which I had hoped to see) include the Wood Duck, Purple Gallinule, Bald Eagle, Anhinga, and Swallow-tailed Kite. This is about the most northern site where the Purple Gallinule nests regularly. This beautiful bird is a sight to see in the wild and I am happy to say I saw several and was fortunate to get photos of these reclusive birds. There are a couple of pics of them below, but I will be doing a special journal article on them in the near future, so stay tuned. I did not see the Swallow-tailed Kite. Seven species of warblers nest here including the N. Parula, Yellow-throated, Black& White, Swainson, Prothonotary, Pine, and Prarie.
I was able to see a few new “lifer” species including the Purple Gallinule, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Black-necked Stilt, and Clapper Rail. The Black-bellied Duck is an accidental from the tropics that has been seen here only recently, and I was lucky to see and photograph them. Seeing the Purple Gallinule was a special treat. My first sighting of this bird was startling because of its bright and intense coloration. It reminded me of my first view of the Painted Bunting. I will be doing a special Journal entry on the Purple Gallinule in the next few days.
Other interesting critters seen were a Bobcat (plentiful in the Refuge) and a Raccoon carrying a huge rat in his mouth, presumably to his den. Photos included below. I enjoyed photographing the Least Bittern (see pics below), as they flitted from stalk to stalk fishing for small food in the water, Also fun were the Bobolinks--they only pass through this time of year to feast on the Wild Rice grown here as part of the impoundment management.There were hundreds of them there.
I just cannot speak too highly of this site, not only because of the birds seen, but especially the easy access and the quality of the trails. There are literally miles of trails. This has to be now one of my favorite places to visit along with Huntington Beach State Park near Myrtle Beach, and The Chincoteague Refuge in Virginia.
This was a very nice trip and I recommend the Refuge and the city of Savannah as a great family vacation spot. Be sure to see the old downtown area along the Savannah River, hear the Waving Girl story, Oglethorpe Square, the Cotton Exchange, the 24 carat gold dome of the City Hall, and especially the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The Paula Dean Restaurant is here, but we did not get there. There are a few pictures of these below. The restaurants I recommend that we liked that are favorites of the locals include Sweet Potatoes (for lunch), Fiddlers Seafood (dinner), and Pearls Saltwater Grille (dinner-my favorite).
This is a site worth traveling to---GO!! See photos below in the Gallery.