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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Georgia and South Carolina

Birding the American Civil War: Savannah to Charleston

Saturday 18 April to Friday 24 April 2026
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.  In addition both cities figured prominently during our American Revolution.

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 tour was everything that I had expected. I can’t imagine a better leader than Jon with his great skill both locating birds by call and assisting everyone with their observations. His knowledge of the region’s history was outstanding and his discussions of historical activities were both interesting and entertaining. I was fully satisfied.

Evord Knights, Apr. 2019

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 a lingering individual of the nominate subspecies of Piping Plover. Gulls, terns and Black Skimmers 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. 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 obsolete.  Night in Savannah’s historic district.

Day 3: This morning we’ll start at the Webb Wildlife Management Area 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.  Prothonotary, Pine, Prairie and Yellow-throated warblers, Painted Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks breed here and Barred Owl and both Red-headed and Pileated woodpeckers are resident. We will keep on the skies for Swallow-tailed and Swallow-tailed kites, both of which breed here and in the region. After lunch we will return to Savannah.  

Savannah was the location for John Berendt’s famous book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which was made into a film. 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 appearance. 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 as well as the one which General Sherman stayed in for an extended visit before continuing the campaign on into South Carolina; 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. Savanna’s history dates back to well before the American Civil War. It was founded by James Oglethorpe early in the 18th century and was a site of one of the Americans’ worst defeats in the Revolutionary War on 9 October 1779, this despite the American forces greatly outnumbering the British.  During the baggle, Casmir Pulaski, the famous and beloved Polish cavalry officer, was mortally wounded. We’ll discuss that and the slave history, too, on the walking tour. Night in Savannah’s historic district.

Day 4: After breakfast 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 especially 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 such as Eastern Kingbird, Orchard Oriole and Painted Bunting; migrants may include Palm Warble and perhaps early arriving Bobolinks. From here we will head up to large rookery preserve at the Port Royal Cypress Wetlands. Here Great and Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned night herons, Little Blue and Green herons and Wood Storks along with a few Anhingas. A circling boardwalk enables us to get close views of the nesting birds. After lunch we will likely visit Bear Wildlife Management Area, a location that is often excellent for shorebirds and other water birds. Along the way we’ll again watch the skies carefully for Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites. From here 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 as well as a variety of other species including Prothonotary and Hooded Warblers, Summer Tanager, and possibly Kentucky and Swainson’s Warblers. This is also an evocative locale in which to contemplate the disappearance of Bachman’s Warbler, which was best known from this region many decades ago (into the 1940’s); 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 ultimately induced the Union commander, Robert Anderson, to surrender the fort .  Ironically, the only casualties came when the Union soldiers fired a final last salute  before surrendering the fort. Later in the war (1863) Union ironclads reduced the fort to rubble, although the Confederates held the fort. The fort was rebuilt in a different style late in the 19th century when the Spanish American War was about to begin. From Fort Sumter we will be able to see Morris Island to the southeast where Fort Wagner was, a site where some 272 Black Union soldiers were killed in the failed Union assault on July 18, 1863 and memorialized in the film “Glory.” While birding here on our tour in 2024, there was a young male Common Eider at the pier, a rarity this far south. Gazing north from Fort Sumter we’ll be able to see Fort Moultrie. On 28 June 1776 the American forces held off a British fleet of nine men-of-war ships. The city eventually fell to Lord Cornwallis in 1780. A little more than a year later, Cornwallis would find himself trapped on the York Peninsula, Virginia and on 19 October 1781 was forced to surrender, a defeat which led the British to abandon to maintain America as part of the British Empire. Terms were eventually negotiated and the British left America at the end of 1783. Night in Charleston.

Day 6: This morning we’ll visit the north end of Folly Island, a good for migrant shorebirds. It also has nesting American Oystercatchers and Wilson’s Plovers and we will look carefully for them. On the walk we should see a few passerines, quite possibly including Painted Bunting. In 2022 we saw a Common Nighthawk.

Steeped in American history from colonial and Revolutionary War days through 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: . There are many fine birding areas in close proximity to Charleston. This morning we will visit the Pitt Street Extension to check for migrant shorebirds. Clapper Rails are numerous here, and the very gray griseus subspecies of Marsh Wren nests here. We will also search for Seaside Sparrow. Here we will be looking down on the water birds and the light will be excellent, so we should enjoy great views.  In our visits here Gull-billed Terns are quite accommodating hawking the flats looking for crabs. Purple Martins nest nearby. The tour concludes about noon at the Charleston airport, in time to catch mid-afternoon flights.

Updated: 04 June 2024


  • (2026 - Price Not Yet Determimed)
  • 2024 Tour Price was : $3,350


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Questions? Tour Manager: Sara Pike. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size seven with one leader.

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