It is almost impossible to count the ducks that blanket the old rice fields at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge during the winter, and no small task just to count the different species of waterfowl that are found there.
During the winter months, thousands of ring-necked, teal, pintails, and as many as 10 other species of ducks migrate there, joining resident wood ducks on the refuge, according to the refuge website. In the spring and fall, transient songbirds stop briefly on their journey to and from northern nesting grounds.
The complex is highlighted on The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette's interactive graphic, the Lowcountry's 10 Best Spots for Birding. Launched June 16, the graphic is a resource highlighting some of the region's best spots to view nature and wildlife. Untamed Lowcountry is showcasing each of the spots individually, starting at the northernmost location and working south.
Established April 6, 1927, the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge consists of more than 29,000 acres of freshwater marshes, tidal rivers and creeks and bottomland hardwoods, according to its website. Known for its flora during humid summers, the region also supports an abundance of wildlife. Its birdlife is particularly diverse because the NWR is along the Atlantic Flyway.
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A popular and convenient spot to watch birds is the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive, off of S.C. 170, which covers four miles of earthen dikes through the managed freshwater pools and hardwood hammocks. The hammocks are a good place to spot smaller birds, particularly during the spring and fall migrations, according to the Carolina Bird Club website. During that season, an assortment of wading birds is visible along the drive, as well, both in the freshwater impoundments once part of a rice plantation, and on the marsh side nearest the Savannah River.
Across S.C. 170 from the wildlife drive is a 2-mile connector to the Tupelo Trail, which follows the Vernazobre Creek along a dike shaded by tupelos, bald cypress and live oaks. In season, there are opportunities to see horned owls and bobolinks here.
Some of the rare birds that have been found on the refuge include red-necked grebe, tundra swan, Eurasian wigeon, cinnamon teal, long-tailed duck, ruff, groove-billed ani and short-eared owl, according to the Carolina Bird Club website.
Savannah NWR is one of seven refuges administered by the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex, which also includes the Pinckney Island, also highlighted on the Lowcountry's 10 Best Spots for Birding; Wolf Island; Wassaw; Tybee; Harris Neck; and Blackbeard Island refuges. Together they span a 100-mile coastline and total more than 56,000 acres.