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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Georgia and South Carolina

Birding the American Civil War: Savannah to Charleston

April 2016
with Jon Dunn and Giff Beaton as leaders

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Bachman’s Sparrow is much sought-after in southeastern pine forests. Photo: Giff Beaton

These next years will be marked almost continuously by commemorations of a significant and painful period in US history, the American Civil War, 1861-1865. The old colonial towns of Savannah and Charleston, two of the most beautiful and historic cities in the Old South, figured prominently in the war, and both preserve important sites associated with the outbreak of conflict.

And both towns have excellent birding close by. Our April visit is timed to coincide with the peak period of song for resident species and with the arrival of spring migrants and breeders. The wide variety of species we should see includes the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker and the scarce and declining Bachman’s Sparrow. The trees and wildflowers should be in full bloom, and April temperatures are ideal for birding and exploring the birds and history of the Old South on the eve of the Civil War sesquicentennial.

This tour is one in a series with Jon Dunn exploring the history and natural history of the sites associated with the American Civil War.

Day 1: The tour begins at 6:00 pm in Savannah, Georgia. Night in Savannah.

Day 2: Today we’ll visit Tybee Island on the Georgia coast, where we should see a wide variety of waterbirds. Among the numerous shorebirds we’ll be looking for specialties like American Oystercatcher and maybe some wintering Purple Sandpiper. Gulls and terms should also be numerous, and we stand a fair chance of finding a lingering Lesser Black-backed Gull. We’ll search nearby marshes for Clapper Rails and sparrows, including Seaside and wintering Salt-marsh and Nelson’s Sparrows.

Later we’ll visit Fort Pulaski, the site in January 1861 of the first offensive move by the Confederate army—a move carried out without firing a shot. Night in Savannah’s historic district.

We both agree that Georgia and South Carolina: Birding the Civil War was simply perfect!  It had an excellent balance of activities, excellent accommodations, excellent food, excellent leadership….;we’ve exhausted our superlatives.  The timing was perfect for early migrants and superb viewing of resident birds in full breeding attire. Giff and Jon are among the world’s best in what they do, but they posses as well articulate, remarkable intellects rounded with humor and cultural perspective unique in our bird-tour experience.  Rumor is they’re conjuring another Civil War-Birding venue to Vicksburg and Mississippi River sites.  Just sign us up!

Peter and Ellen Derven, May 2012

Day 3: This morning we’ll cross into South Carolina to bird the famous Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. Here we should see Anhinga, a wide variety of herons (possibly including American and perhaps Least Bitterns), Glossy and White Ibis, possibly King Rail, and Sora; if conditions are right, we might also encounter a good variety of shorebirds. Passerines here could include such early-arriving breeders as Eastern Kingbird and Orchard Oriole; migrants may include both subspecies of Palm Warbler.

Savannah was the location for John Barendt’s famous book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which was made into a film staring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack. Historically, the city played an especially prominent role towards the end of the Civil War. Unlike many of the other towns in the swath of Sherman’s infamous “March to the Sea,” Savannah was surrendered peacefully after the surrender of Fort McAllister in mid-December 1864, a historic event often known as Sherman’s Christmas present to Lincoln. Because Savannah avoided being burned and plundered, parts of the old town still preserve their pre-war charm. We’ll take a walking tour of the downtown district, where we’ll pass a number of famous houses, some of which belonged to some of the South’s best-known generals; we’ll spend the afternoon seeing some of these old homes, then dine in one of the many celebrated restaurants here in the city’s old section. Night in Savannah’s historic district.

Day 4: This morning we’ll start at the Webb Center in South Carolina, where we’ll search carefully for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, the declining nominate race of Bachman’s Sparrow, and Brown-headed Nuthatch, along with many other woodland species. Later in the morning we’ll visit Bear and possibly Donnelly WMAs, both often excellent for shorebirds. In the afternoon we’ll continue to Charleston, where we’ll spend the next three nights in the historic district.

Day 5: This morning we’ll visit the famous I’On Swamp, another location where we might find Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The spectacular Swallow-tailed Kite should be on territory by this date, and we have a chance of seeing one here or elsewhere in the area. I’On Swamp is also an evocative locale in which to contemplate the disappearance of Bachman’s Warbler, which was best known from this region; the last credible records of this species came from the Charleston area nearly half a century ago.

Later in the afternoon, we’ll take the short boat trip to Fort Sumter. The American Civil War began here, on April 12, 1861, when Confederate batteries around the bay battered the fort into rubble. Ironically, the only casualty came when Robert Anderson’s men fired a final salute before surrendering the fort. Night in Charleston.

Day 6: There are many fine birding areas in close proximity to Charleston; we’ll select one depending on our ornithological needs, then visit Fort Moultrie, a fort that figured prominently in the Revolutionary War. When the British sent a fleet to seize Charleston, the fort’s defenders stymied the attack, and the British would not gain possession of the city until nearly the end of the war. Nearby is Poe’s Tavern, where we’ll have lunch. Edgar Allan Poe lived here for a period, and the café—which serves excellent food—celebrates his writings, even reproducing them on the bathroom walls!

Charleston, steeped in American history from colonial days to the Civil War, offers plenty to see. We’ll take a  walking tour past beautifully restored antebellum houses, then visit the city’s southern end at the Battery to peer south towards Fort Sumter; several pairs of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons nest in the trees in the park. We’ll top the day off with dinner in one of the fine restaurants in the older, restored part of the city. Night in Charleston.

Day 7: The tour concludes at 9:00 am at the Charleston airport .

Updated: 31 March 2014

Prices

  • 2016 Tour Price Not Yet Available

Notes

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.

Maximum group size 14 with two leaders. Both leaders will accompany the tour regardles of group size.