by Guerry Norwood

Painted Buntings are currently arriving here on St Simons Island. We spotted one in our Sea Palms West neighborhood using the iBird Yard Plus HD app for the iPad to attract them. We were able to get a photo of this beautiful bird. Painted Buntings have also been spotted on Little St Simons Island at feeders across the Island.

The Painted Bunting is found in thickets, woodland edges and brushy areas, along roadsides, in suburban areas, and gardens. The male was once a very popular caged bird, but capturing and holding a Painted Bunting is now illegal. Populations are declining on the East Coast where habitat is being lost to development and the species is at risk of being listed as threatened or endangered. Their breeding range includes Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Carolina, Louisiana and northern Mexico. The male Painted Bunting is often described as the most beautiful bird in North America. Its colors–dark blue head, green back, red rump and under parts–make it easy to identify, but it can still be difficult to spot since it hides in foliage even when singing. The plumage of female and juvenile Painted Buntings is green and yellow-green, serving as camouflage. Once seen, the adult female is still distinctive, since it is one of the only truly green birds native to the United States.

Be on the lookout for this brilliantly colored songbird currently making its migration north.

by Guerry Norwood

Recently there have been a number of deer sighting all over St Simons Island. The deer are more prevalent on the less populated north end of St Simons Island, but recently they have been spotted all over the Island.

European fallow deer are found here on the Georgia Coast and come in three colors—dark brown, white and spotted. Just because a female fallow deer is one color does not mean her offspring will be the same color. In fact, she could give birth to any of the three color phases. Male fallow deer have a palmed antler much like that of a moose. If the antler is nine inches across, it is considered to be a good-sized antler. These antlers will fall off each year and regrow in the spring. Their first antlers typically are unbranched spikes. Deer two to four years of age usually produce slightly larger antlers with more points. Their antlers become palmated and have many points once a buck reaches five or six years of age. Antler size usually increases as bucks grow older. Deer five to nine years old produce the largest antlers.

At birth, fawns have a coat slightly darker than the common color phase spotted with white. Newborn fawns weigh about eight to eleven pounds. Adult females (does) weigh between 65 and 100 pounds; adult bucks usually weigh between 175 and 225 pounds. Does tend to reach their maximum size between four to six years of age and bucks reach maximum body size at five to nine years of age. Fallow deer live in herds of around 70 members and prefer to live in wooded and marsh areas. They eat grass, leaves, nuts, berries, corn and bark.

We are happy to share an island with these beautiful animals. Visit Arkive for more fallow deer information and photos.

by Guerry Norwood

In the last week or so there have been a numerous starfish on the St Simons Island beaches from Massengale Park south to the St Simons Island Pier. The starfish get caught up in the Johnson Rocks at high tide.

Starfish are beautiful animals that can be a variety of colors, shapes and sizes, although all resemble a star. Even though they are commonly called starfish, these animals are known more scientifically as sea stars, as they’re not fish. They do not have gills, fins or a skeleton. Sea stars have a tough, spiny covering and a soft underside. If you turn a live sea star over, you’ll likely see its’ hundreds of tube feet wiggling.

These iconic marine animals are fascinating creatures. Sea stars move using their tube feet, and have an advanced water vascular system that they use to fill up their feet with seawater. They do not have blood, but instead take in seawater through the sieve plate located on top of the sea star, and use that to fill up their feet. They can retract their feet using muscles or use them as suctions to hold on to a substrate or the sea star’s prey.

by Guerry Norwood

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is turning to modern technology to keep visitors to the Jekyll Island center abreast of how sick and injured turtles are faring. It’s turning to a webcam they’re calling the “carettacam.” The Center is experimenting with the concept with an injured loggerhead turtle appropriately named Test. “Caretta” is Latin for loggerhead, hence the name carettacam. Coming to the Center tangled in fishing line, Test had to have a left flipper removed because of the injury. The unique swimming style that resulted from the three-flipper equation made her the perfect test turtle for the project. You can view Test on the carettacam by linking to:

By Guerry Norwood

Cannon’s Point, a 600-acre tract on St. Simons Island, will become a nature preserve under an agreement between Wells Fargo and conservation groups. The parcel, known as Cannon’s Point, is part of the vast holdings of the Sea Island Co., now owned by Wells Fargo. The property is the last and largest tract of natural undeveloped land on the island. Wells Fargo and the Bobolink Foundation of Chicago, whose trustees include former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and his wife, Wendy, will become partners with former Georgia-Pacific chief executive Pete Correll, the St. Simons Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy and community members and groups in the preservation project.

The tract is not only an undisturbed maritime forest, it also contains significant historic sites. In 1796, John Couper moved his family to St. Simons Island to live in a modest one and one-half story cottage that provided a magnificent view of the Hampton River and the distant marshes. The cottage was built by Daniel Cannon, a carpenter of old Frederica. John Couper’s interest in horticulture was reflected in the beautiful grounds of Cannon’s Point. Shrubs, trees and flowers of every description grew in profusion alongside groves of lemons, oranges and Persian date palms. At the request of President Jefferson, Couper imported two hundred olive trees from France, which soon yielded superior quality oil. The Coupers were gracious hosts, and Cannon’s Point was rarely without visitors. It was not unusual for guests to stay weeks or even months: one young couple came to spend their honeymoon on the plantation and stayed until the birth of their second child! Also contributing to the pleasures of a Cannon’s Point visit were the legendary skills of the slave cook Sans Foix, who had no equal on the Georgia coast.

To learn more about the preservation project and planned education center, view the St. Simons Island Land Trust video on YouTube.

The St. Simons Island Land Trust has been diligently working to raise the funding necessary to purchase the old stables corner, located at the intersection of Frederica Road and Sea Island road. Until recently, the old stables corner was slated for commercial development. The Land Trust plans to preserve the gorgeous natural live oaks on the corner…. 49 to be exact. Early last spring, an angel donor came forward with nearly half the required funding. The Land Trust then launched a campaign to raise the remaining $2.6 million needed. The campaign is expected to reach its goal by the end of the year. To contribute, please visit the Saint Simons Land Trust Website.

Yesterday, 72 Louisiana Brown Pelicans were safely released from a dock in Brunswick, Georgia. The birds were rescued from the Gulf following the oil spill and flown to Brunswick via the Coast Guard. Over the past few weeks, the birds were cleaned of oil and cared for by local U.S. Fish and Wildlife personnel. Local resident, Roger Peterson, was on-hand to photograph this extraordinary event.

by Danella Crews, Jekyll Island Authority

Providing non-invasive access to natural areas is a key component of the Jekyll Island Authority mission. The Wildlife Viewing Platform is a two-story structure built to provide the public with an extended view of the expansive salt marsh adjacent to Jekyll Island. By providing a better view of the wildlife that lives in the marshland, the Platform will bolster an appreciation for this rich habitat. Among the many wading and shore birds that guests can view from this spot are the beautiful American Oystercatchers, herons, egrets, white pelicans, and winter ducks including Black Scoters and Greater and Lesser Scaup.

The Wildlife Viewing Platform, located at St. Andrews Picnic Area is the second of its kind built on Jekyll Island. The first opened in November 2008 and is located near the Jekyll Island Visitor Information Center. The Jekyll Island Authority Board is hosting the ribbon cutting to officially open the Wildlife Viewing Platform and thank the individuals, agencies, and businesses that provided monetary support and in-kind donations toward its construction.

by Guerry Norwood

iStock_000007270887XSmallIn the last couple of days a great deal of seaweed has piled up on the beach here on St Simons Island. It’s Sargasso Seaweed and it comes from the Sargasso Sea, the western side is the Gulf Stream. When we have an extended period of east winds and swell, the seaweed is sent our way. This is a typical time of the year for the arrival of beds of Sargasso.

The Sargasso Seaweed is wonderful and is a floating city when out on the water. It is a city for a variety of marine life and sea turtles. Most of the fish have enough sense to swim out to more of it as the seaweed hits the breakers. Some of the little creatures cling on for dear life and end up on the beach where, to the delight of the shore birds, they pick thru it and eat the little shrimp and crabs that didn’t bail out in time. The Seaweed then becomes a great natural way to keep the beach in place as it sinks down into the sand and helps to hold the beach in place. Sweeping it up to please the beach goers in the long run may have the beach goers crying “where is the beach” as the beach slowly erodes away. This seaweed has piled up on these beaches for hundreds, even thousands of years and helps to renourish the fragile beach ecosystem. The creatures that live in the Sargasso are very unique and have adapted well to their floating city. Most of them are the same orange color of the seaweed itself.

by Katie Brown

me with signI’d like you to go with me to the Swamp. Yes, you heard right…the swamp!!! Just a short drive from the Golden Isles of Georgia lies the “Land of the Trembling Earth,” or what most of the locals refer to as Okefenokee… you can’t say that 3 times!!!

Okefenokee Swamp Park is the headwaters of the Suwanee and St. Mary’s Rivers. This National Wildlife Refuge covers a half million acres, and is also part of the National Wilderness System! This is the largest swamp in North America.

The Seminole Indians named Okefenokee the “Land of the Trembling Earth.” The Seminoles had miles and miles of canoe trails leading all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. Today visitors to the park can board the Lady Suwanee, rent canoes, enjoy nature shows, and take a guided bout tour into the swamp. I highly recommend all of these!!!

bridge1While visiting the Okefenokee I saw several American Alligators. In this park the Alligators are free range, so be careful where you park! We saw 2 alligators sun bathing in the parking lot! These are photos of some of the American Alligators in one of the nature exhibits. The park is also home to deer, bears, otters, snakes, butterflies, turtles, frogs, fish, and birds. You couldn’t pay me to cross that bridge!

My next adventure in the swamp was to boarded the Lady Suwanee for a 1.5 mile train ride through the swamp and tour of Pioneer Island. The Lady Suwanee is a 36 gauge replica steam engine. The train ride was fun, and enjoyable for all ages!! train3

After the tour on the Lady Suwanee I took in one of the interactive nature shows, and was able to pet a baby alligator. They also had several snakes on hand, but I declined on petting those….

My next adventure was my favorite while at the swamp. We went on a 1 hour guided boat ride through the swamp, and it was BEAUTIFUL!!!!

Okefenokee Swamp Park is located 8 miles south of Waycross, Georgia off U.S. 1 South on Highway 177. Look for our billboards in Waycross, GA.

From I-95: (Exit 29) In Brunswick, GA take Highway 82 West Exit 6 (Mile Marker 29) Go approx. 45 miles and take Hwy 177