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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Georgia and South Carolina

Birding the American Civil War: Savannah to Charleston

Sunday 14 April to Saturday 20 April 2024
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 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 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 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 as Eastern Kingbird, Orchard Oriole and Painted Bunting is possible; migrants may include both Bobolink and 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. 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. We’ll discuss that and the slave history, too, on the walking tour. 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 Wildlife Management Area, often excellent for shorebirds and other water birds. 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 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; 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. 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 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.” Night in Charleston.

Day 6: 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.  

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

The tour concludes about noon at the Charleston airport, in time to catch mid-afternoon flights.

Updated: 01 September 2022


  • 2024 Tour Price : $3,350
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $750


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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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