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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Georgia and South Carolina

Birding the American Civil War: Savannah to Charleston

April 2019
with Jon Dunn as leader

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

The old colonial towns of Savannah and Charleston are two of the most beautiful and historic cities in the Old South. Both figured prominently in the American Civil War, the latter at the start of the war and the former near the end. Both cities preserve important sites associated with the conflict.

Both towns also 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 breeders. The wide variety of species we should see include the scarce and declining Bachman’s Sparrow, and there is a reasonable chance for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The trees and wildflowers should be in full bloom, and April temperatures are ideal for birding and exploring the history of the Old South.

This tour is one in a series organized by Jon to explore 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 near Savannah’s airport.

The Georgia and South Carolina tour was excellent. I had fun, saw birds, ate very well, learned some history and saw a new part of the country. Any trip with Jon Dunn is a treat.

Ellen Vahan, July 2016

Day 2: This morning 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 are specialties like American Oystercatcher and perhaps the nominate subspecies of Piping Plover. Gulls and terns should also be numerous, and we stand a fair chance of finding a lingering Lesser Black-backed Gull. At nearby Fort Pulaski the open woods contain resident Brown-headed Nuthatches and Carolina Chickadees, and Painted Buntings breed here.

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. The following year the Union Army took it back, and their use of rifled cannon forever rendered these types of fort useless. Night in Savannah’s historic district.

Day 3: This morning we’ll cross into South Carolina to bird the famous Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. We should see Anhinga, a wide variety of herons possibly including American and Least Bitterns, Glossy and White Ibis, perhaps 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 Berendt’s famous book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which was made into a film starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack. Historically, the city played an especially prominent role toward 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 several days 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 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 Donnelley Wildlife Management Areas, both often excellent for shorebirds. Along the way we’ll watch the skies carefully for Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites. In the afternoon we’ll continue to Charleston, where we’ll spend the next two 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. This 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 over a half century ago in 1962.

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 reduced the fort to 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. Pitt Street Extension is one location we’ll check for migrant shorebirds. Clapper Rails are numerous here, and the very gray subspecies of Marsh Wren nests here. After lunch we’ll return to Charleston.

Steeped in American history from colonial days to the Civil War, Charleston 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 toward 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 North Charleston near the airport.

Day 7: The tour concludes this morning at the Charleston airport .

Updated: 26 July 2016


  • 2019 Tour Price Not Yet Available
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* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.

Maximum group size seven with one leader.