BRUNSWICK — Cooler weather brings back more than fuzzy sweaters and hot cocoa. When temperatures begin to dip it also signals the return of many migratory birds to scenic birding trails such as the Colonial Coast Birding Trail.
From the end of summer all the way into fall, many species of shorebirds are passing through from routes as far north as the tundra in Canada to destinations as far south as Argentina. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division encourages birdwatchers to visit the Colonial Coast Birding Trail to catch a glimpse of these unique species during this special time of the year.
The Colonial Coast Birding Trail offers superior bird watching sites along Georgia's coast with destinations along the I-95 corridor located in seven counties that include public lands, state and federal holdings, state parks and historic areas as well as private recreation areas. More than 370 bird species may be seen along the trail. It meanders through beautiful natural areas bordering fresh water marshes to sites at the ocean, offering opportunities to see a variety of wading birds, shorebirds and songbirds.
"Birds are a reflection of the health of the habitat they live in," Brad Winn said, program manager for the Department of Natural Resources coastal office. "During this time of year we can really enjoy them and begin to understand more about the cycle of life all around us. Birding trails and birding festivals foster that learning and help visitors develop an appreciation for the birds along our coast."
Shorebirds spend the majority of their lives en route from breeding areas to wintering grounds and back again each year. Of the more than 36 species of shorebirds which pass through our state, most winter along the Atlantic Coast and down into South America, with many of these long-distance travelers stopping over in Georgia. The piping plover is one of Georgia's threatened species that winters on the coast, while other birds like the oystercatcher may be seen year-round.
Found in other areas of Georgia from mid-July to October, migrating shorebirds like the spotted sandpiper and the solitary sandpiper often rest and feed along inland rivers before resuming their journey southward. Other migrating shorebirds like the pectoral and western sandpipers may also be seen around large water reservoirs and mud flats in central Georgia.
Not just shorebirds use the Georgia coast during migration. For many species, including many songbirds, the east coast of the U.S. serves as a major migratory corridor in the fall. The abundance of available food provides nourishment as they head south. Many warblers, one of the most anticipated groups of migratory birds, use the Georgia coast in fall. These include mostly species that winter in the southeastern U.S., or the Caribbean. Many other species that winter in Mexico, Central America and northern South America head west, bypassing the coast of Georgia to either cross or skirt the Gulf of Mexico.
Of the species that migrate along the Georgia coast, black-throated blue, cape may, yellow warbler and American redstarts can be quite common. The best way to find them is look for mixed flocks of birds moving through the live oaks and wax myrtle thickets. The migrants often form flocks with common residents such as the carolina chickadee and tufted titmouse.
As fall progresses, the sparrows and waterfowl will also become more evident and seabirds such as gannets can be seen offshore. When exploring Georgia's Colonial Coast Birding Trail, visitors can take advantage of excellent shorebird viewing at sites including behind the Jekyll Island Visitor Center on the causeway leading to Jekyll Island, the south end of Jekyll Island, Gould's Inlet and the north end of Tybee Island.
The Colonial Coast Birding and Nature Festival is an excellent way to experience the Colonial Coast Birding Trail with expert guides. The sixth annual festival is Oct. 9-13 on Jekyll Island. For additional information visit http://www.coastalgeorgiabirding.org/.