2023 Wildlife Sightings: Incredible Findings and Photos

Welcome to the Kiawah Island Nature Programโ€™s 2023 wildlife sightings. Here youโ€™ll find postings from our Naturalists and island biologists, showing you what is currently in the field, as well as an archive of observations from throughout the year. We hope this archive will get you excited about the amazing and diverse wildlife found on Kiawah Island. Share your photos and stories with us at Kiawah_Recreation@KiawahResort.com

Dec 28, 2023 ~ Barred owl

Definitely a rare sighting, but beautiful nonetheless! These owls are typically highly territorial during nesting season, but our particular fella’ was not very interested in this location. After briefly looking around, a red-tailed hawk showed its presence in flying to a nearby branch and letting out its “cry.” Needless to say, it didn’t seem like the barred owl friend wanted to fight, so it quickly took off and found a better spot to rest for the day. I wasn’t able to get the pictures I wanted, but anything will do so I’m happy I got something on camera!

As always, happy spotting!

~ Naturalist Stephen

Dec 15, 2023 ~ Pileated woodpeckers don’t mess around!

This is one of my favorite pictures of this year! I got lucky enough to get a pileated woodpecker mid-peck! Not only are these woodpeckers the largest in North America, but the often travel in pairs, making them incredible birds to capture on Kiawah during the winter season. Definitely don’t miss out on our birding season over the winter – bird-spotting and nature photography is exhilarating on the island this time of year!

~ Naturalist Stephen

November 28, 2023 ~ Red-shouldered hawks are out and about!

While out working some of our Recreation events, one of our supervisors, Jaz, caught an awesome picture! This red-shouldered hawk was seemingly unbothered by all the people around it as it scanned the area for potential snacks – lizards, bugs, or even small birds – that were lurking around on the ground. Because of their size, many birds of prey prefer to perch open spaces; since they are not worried about hiding, they focus more of their attention on getting the best vantage point possible for hunting.

As you can see, this hawk has taken this to another level! If you do see this hawk – or any bird of prey – this close, it is important that you not try and move or harass it. Simply appreciate it from a distance, and wait until it decides to move onto another area to look for food.

This hawk can be found all around Night Heron Park, so keep your eyes peeled!

November 24, 2023 ~ Little blue herons are pretty blue, but did you know they aren’t blue?

Have you ever seen a blue bird like this little blue heron? Believe it or not – even though they look the part – any bird with blue feathering is not actually blue!

Unlike other colors, birds are not able to create a blue pigment in their feathers. To get around this, they use specialized proteins placed along their feathers to refract light a certain way. By doing this they make what looks like a beautiful blue plumage, but without the help of the light around them, many of these birds would be different shades of grey.

November 17, 2023 ~ Bold jumping spiders are, well, pretty bold

One of our Naturalists shared this awesome photo with us – here we have a bold jumping spider carrying its much larger prey up a fence post. Bold jumping spiders are named after just that; they are keen on going after larger prey without hesitating. Once they grab a bite, they bring them back to their silk-spun “lair” where they can enjoy their large meal. Instead of web building, these spiders also use their silk to act as a safety net in the case of a missed jump, attaching to a nearby surface before leaping to their next location. These spiders have been noted to jump upwards of 50 times their body length!

Note the iridescent green / yellow near the spider’s head; those are its fangs. The more prominent green coloration indicates it to be a male. Similarly, the white spots on its abdomen is a good way to tell that it is an adult – a juvenile bold jumping spider would have a much more orange coloration.

Awesome catch, little guy!

November 1, 2023 ~ White pelicans are here!

Thanks so much to Capt. John Ward for sharing this amazing photo with us! Here, we have a group of majestic white pelicans hanging out nearby Kiawah. White pelicans are a treat for the birders on this island; their relatively uncommon status makes spotting them a blast! Watch out for our wonderful white pelicans – and a number of other migratory, winter birds – as you stroll along the beach or explore the island!

October 31, 2023 ~ Red-jointed fiddler crab

While Kiawah has three different types of fiddler crabs, the mud and sand fiddlers are going to be the dominant species on the island. The third is less common, but that makes its special traits even cooler! The red-jointed fiddler crab is also known as the brackish crab because of its tendency to stay away from the salt-filled marsh systems.

Instead, they prefer some of our brackish streams and less salty habitats. This particular fella’ was found by killdeer pond.

It’s elusive animals like these that help make Kiawah even cooler!

October 30, 2023 ~ Juvenile night heron

Special thanks to Mr. Doug Clark for this beautiful photo of a juvenile night heron! While both black-crowned and yellow-crowned night herons look similar, there are certain features that lead us to believe this is in fact a black-crowned night heron. These night herons are a wonderful part of Kiawah’s wildlife; to avoid the competition of other herons and egrets, these birds choose to hunt almost entirely at dawn and dusk (hence their name). While the juveniles look nearly identical, key features in the beak, body shape, and general plumage can usually help narrow down what it is.

As always, awesome find! Thanks again to Doug for sharing this incredible photo with us ๐Ÿ™‚

If you want to ID a bird or animal – even if you only have a simple description – please contact us at 843.768.6001 or email the above address and we will be happy to respond!

October 28, 2023 ~ Cute little stingray hunt

Naturalist Luke was out and about along the Kiawah River when he found an awesome sight! Here, an Atlantic stingray springs into action to catch it prey.

Being shallow-water ambush predators, this is exactly how they hunt! Such an incredible moment to catch on video – thanks again to Luke for sharing!

October 12, 2023 ~ Baby squirrels

We received an animal call today regarding some baby squirrels roaming around near the beach, so when we found them walking up to us we had to try and help!

First, per protocol, we made sure they were happy and healthy. We put them in a safe “relocation” box so the mother could find them and re-nest her babies. After a few hours, we determined the mother was not going to return; it was turning towards the evening, and a mother will not re-nest lost babies if too much time has past.

So, we sprung into action! We began rehydrating the squirrels by hand before (safely) administering puppy replacement milk to keep them fed. These squirrels were thought to be close to 8 weeks or 9 weeks old when we found them, so they were a rambunctious bunch! Luckily, we were able to get two of them – along with another baby squirrel we were rehabbing – to Keeper of the Wild so they could fully rehab and release these precious babies! We are always so thankful to be able to work with dedicated individuals on this island that make call in these “animals in distress” calls, and for nonprofit organizations like Keepers that help us keep from getting overloaded!

If you ever see an animal on Kiawah that causes you concern – for ANY reason – do not hesitate to call 843.768.6001. We will be happy to investigate and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the animal is safe.

October 5, 2023 ~ A blue-gray gnatcatcher

It’s fall migration! With all the activity and excitement, this is probably my favorite time of the year for birding. While blue-gray gnatcatchers are a relatively common year-round bird, we are beginning to see tons of birds that are returning to Kiawah for the winter. Others, however, are simply passing by on their voyage to overwintering sights – many rest of Kiawah to restore energy, so you really never know what you’re going to find! Needless to say, the birding is magnificent! Not only do you have wonderful weather and great scenery, but the thrill of seeing and identifying a mystery migrator makes it all the more special!

As always, happy spotting!

~ Naturalist Stephen

September 26, 2023 ~ A scorpion, you say?

When most people think of Kiawah, they think of the beach, tranquil views and scenery, and a huge variety of wildlife! However, scorpions usually do not cross through most of our minds when we think of the local fauna. Finding this scorpion definitely says otherwise!

While there are scorpions (such as the Southern devil scorpion) that look similar to this fellaโ€™, we feel more confident in identifying it as a striped bark scorpion. While the southern devil is found in the plains of South Carolina, the striped bark scorpion is more commonly found along the coast.

Fear not! These scorpions – and scorpions in general – tend to get quite the negative publicity. However, these cute crawlers will only fight back if agitated; they are not aggressive animals and only attack when provoked. While their sting is almost never lethal, it can still cause quite a bit a pain.

Thanks again to the guest that brought this beauty to our Nature Center for our Naturalists to enjoy! ๐Ÿ™‚

September 20, 2023 ~ Great blue heron eating a corn snake

Great blue herons are found all over Kiawah – mostly in our ponds and saltmarsh. But did you know that they will gladly hunt on land if given the opportunity? Many of our larger heron friends have no issues with catching land animals; from lizards and snakes and even small alligators, great blue herons seem to love an occasional break from their fishy diet!

Here, a great blue found quite the treat – a red corn snake! These snakes are diurnal, meaning they actively travel and hunt during the day. For this unlucky corn snake, it seems like its hunting brought about some unwanted attention.

Ah, the cycle of life!

September 7, 2023 ~ Atlantic stingray

While out on his ocean seining tour, Naturalist Luke stumbled upon a stunning find. Here, we have a gorgeous – and rather large – Atlantic stingray! These are incredible predators often found in the shallow waters of Kiawah’s beach and river. They often bury themselves right below the sand to ambush smaller prey swimming nearby.

Because of their preferred hunting strategy, there is definitely a chance for human encounters, so it is important to stay safe! The easiest thing to keep any stingrays away from you is to perform the “stingray shuffle” – essentially, you want to shuffle your feet through the sand instead of stepping around. The shuffling allows for more intense vibrations, giving our stingray friend the hint that it might be time to move. If it doesn’t seem to get the message, a light kick to a buried stingray will likely leave it fleeing, whereas stepping on one will leave it no choice but to use its barb. These are not violent animals, so if they are able to swim away, they almost certainly will.

While this method is not bullet proof, it is definitely effective. So, remember, next time you’re in the water, be safe and shuffle!

August 4, 2023 ~ Prickly pear

Cacti are an absolutely fascinating plant – especially since more than 99% of all cacti are native to only North and South America. The prickly pear is typically found along South Carolina’s coasts and, more specifically, around the outer edges of Kiawah. In fact, you’ll probably find them by one of our marsh towers (especially at Marsh Island Park) or around the dunes between Kiawah’s boardwalks and beach. While these gorgeous succulents use modified leaves to present huge, over-the-top “spines,” these are not the protective feature you need to look out for. Known as glochids, prickly pears have huge clusters of tiny, hardly visible prickles that could cause you irritation for hours if you were to mess with one.

While all cacti are awesome in their own right – it’s definitely best to appreciate these plants at a distance!

August 3, 2023 ~ Mississippi kite

Luckily for us at Kiawah, we are graced by Mississippi kites migrating in for the summer! These are oddly social raptors that often hunt, perch, and nest in the same area. If you can imagine a dragonfly darting around to catch insects, zipping back and forth and snagging a meal before you can even register what is happening – kites are extremely similar! Often gliding around in a circle, they quickly dive, spin and swoop to catch nearby insects in the air.

What is even luckier is the fact that we have our own little Mississippi kite “colony” that likes to hang out at Night Heron Park in the mornings. They like a tree that is not at the best angle, but even a bad photo can’t trump the absolute beauty of these amazing raptors.

As always, happy spotting!

~ Naturalist Stephen

August 1, 2023 ~ Sand fiddler

Fiddler crabs, while found absolutely everywhere on Kiawah’s muddy saltmarsh systems, are known as a keystone species. In short, their role is of vital importance to the ecosystem. While providing an excellent food source for our marsh birds, crabs, and fish, these smaller fiddlers also burrow complex holes which allow for marsh growth and nutrient dispersion. Not to mention – they aren’t particularly picky with their food, so fiddler crabs will take care of any organic compounds that might otherwise pollute our saltwater systems! While we have three species of fiddler crabs in the greater South Carolina area, sand fiddlers are by far the most common.

You go, sand fiddler!

July 28, 2023 ~ Tri-colored heron

The best part of birding on Kiawah, for me at least, is the sheer number of colorful, stunning shorebirds. The tri-colored heron here is no exception. With its bright blue wings, its white chest, and gorgeous rustic red neck, getting to see this bird in person is nothing short of incredible. I got rather lucky with an ok shot of one flying by me, so I decided to get a little “artsy” and see if I could change the light settings around to bring out the colors of my favorite heron. It definitely got a bit painteresque, but I sure am happy with the result. It’s always just so fun to see just how beautiful these birds are.

As always, happy spotting!

~Naturalist Stephen

July 27, 2023 ~ Water moccassin

While out and about exploring Kiawah, Naturalist Luke happened upon a rather stunning, albeit dangerous, snake. Water moccasins, colloquially called cotton mouths in the South, are incredible and unique vipers. Being strong swimmers, these snakes can even be found swimming in the ocean, although it is not an actual sea snake. These are the World’s only semiaquatic viper, meaning they utilize their strong swimming abilities and smart hunting style to catch their prey.

As juveniles, they tend to be more brightly colored – many even have a bright green coloration on the tip of their tail. They actually wiggle this back and form in an attempt to attract prey; maybe they can trick a nearby rodent into coming into striking range. Like most vipers, all it takes is one strike for the water moccasin to release its venom and wait.

Luckily, while territorial, these snakes will often avoid areas with heavy foot traffic or development. As you can see, Luke definitely had to go pretty far back into the woods to find this little fella’. Incredible find, nonetheless!

July 20, 2023 ~ A flying fish?!

While out seining in the pluff mud, Naturalist Jose found a truly remarkable organism. Known as a flying fish, these highly adapted animals use their modified pectoral fins to literally glide over the water!

These fish are found all over the world, but it isn’t too often we run across one in the Kiawah River! Being an offshore fish, they mainly use their incredible defense mechanism to escape against predators; they literally fly out of the water to avoid capture.

Thanks again to Jose for the incredible find!

July 17, 2023 ~ Royal tern

Known for their aerial skills, these are common birds you’ll find all along Kiawah’s beaches. Don’t confuse these with Caspian terns; those have a more reddish beak, although the two can easily be mixed!

July 15, 2023 ~ Short-billed dowitcher

Look at this cute short-billed dowitcher open up its bill to make a little noise! Upon first glance, you might be worried that this fellaโ€™ broke the tip of his top beak, but thatโ€™s actually how many of these gorgeous sandpipers catch their prey.

As they probe around the mud their prey โ€“ worms, crabs and other invertebrates โ€“ are not going to just give in to getting caught, so many birds like the dowitcher are able to open up the tip of their bill to get a better hold before pulling their meal up to the surface. So, fear not, this dowitcher is just showing us something that makes it that much cooler!

As always, happy spotting!

~Naturalist Stephen

July 7, 2023 ~ Black-necked stilt

While out birding at the Ocean Course, Naturalist Stevie found a somewhat common treat! The black-necked stilt is a shorebird that typically nests higher up along the shoreline that other shorebirds in the area. Because of this, you will frequently see them feeding on the upper ends of the beach or near the marshlands where they can easily hide. Similar to avocets, these birds have typically swing their bills side to side in shallow water and mud, taking their time before arriving at a delicious meal. Their commonality doesn’t make them any less beautiful, though! Thanks again to Stevie for this incredible photo ๐Ÿ™‚

June 30, 2023 ~ Great-crested Flycatcher

With the beautiful weather we’ve been having the last few days, I couldn’t help but go out and try my luck at some bird photos! While it was a little overcast, the birding was amazing. Painted buntings everywhere, and I even managed to spot an Indigo bunting as well!

One of my favorite birds, however, will always be the great-crested flycatcher. I love the colors and shapes of these birds – plus who doesn’t love a good reminder that beautiful weather is out and about?

While I didn’t get the best shot, I definitely had a great time.

As always, happy spotting!

~ Naturalist Stephen

June 19, 2023

This morning was an incredible one for kayaking! We were lucky to miss any storms with how the weather has been, but that is nothing compared to the show we got to see. The dolphins playing, the bonnet heads hunting, and the dozens of birds made this an awesome experience. Not to mention – for the first time in almost two years of working here, I got to see river otters! They were hunting in the shallow water (right by the dolphins too).

Truly an unforgettable experience. I would have taken pictures, but I was too lost in the moment. I sure do love the summer wildlife!

~ Naturalist Stephen

June 6, 2023 ~ Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in North America – often traveling in pairs of two, this is the perfect time of year for these beautiful giants! They come visit Kiawah to nest during the summer; they often use dead trees to create the cavities themselves.

May 23, 2023 ~ Black-bellied whistling ducks

I know there’s too many bird pictures on here now, but I just couldn’t help myself with this one! These are absolutely beautiful whistling ducks with a very calm and collected attitude. I had fun taking a few photos, but I really enjoyed my time with these birds

As always, happy spotting!

~ Naturalist Stephen

May 15, 2023 ~ Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned night herons are a special treat for any shorebird-loving individual on the island. They are typically only active during the early morning and late evening hours to avoid competition with other herons; getting to spot one midday is always a blast!

This night heron wasted no time worrying about me – or anything else – for that matter. Similar to their long-necked cousins, they stalk prey slowly before lunging forward with their long neck, grasping at a potential meal. Like other shorebirds, these birds are not particularly picky, so we got to watch this fella’ eat anything from weeds, to insects, to fish and more.

As always, happy spotting!

~ Naturalist Stephen

May 12, 2023 ~ Roseate Spoonbill

you are spotting a weird cousin of the flamingo, but the two have almost nothing in common. The pink features of the roseate spoonbill come from the same material flamingos eat. They both eat certain algae and shrimp that produce carotenoids, which are the compounds that give these birds their beautiful pink plumage.

With mesmerizing pink wings and a gorgeous bill to boot, these birds are quite the sight! When feeding, they swish their bill back and forth underneath the mud. Specialized nerves on its end will detect any potential prey, and the โ€œspoonโ€ will quickly snap shut! Despite the odd look of this bird, it is always one of our favorites to spot โ€“ no only is it absolutely stunning, but it gives us all the feeling that summer is in the air ๐Ÿ™‚

May 2, 2023 ~ Tricolored heron

Tricolored herons are some awesome birds to spot – from their gorgeous plumage to their fascinating hunting behaviors, this bird is always a treat! This was at low tide, so it stalked along the water’s edge looking for small fish and crabs to snatch up. Luckily it was in quite a good spot, so I had some fun with the photos I captured.

~ Naturalist Stephen

May 1, 2023 ~ Green anole

I love it when the lizards come out to play again! And – believe me – these green anoles sure are “playing” quite a bit. When it comes to those territorial push up contests, the color-changing anoles are pretty much every corner you turn. The interesting thing about green anoles – while they change colors, this is not a camouflage technique like many people think. They actually change their color to indicate levels of stress; typically for green anoles, they change to a dark brown when they are particularly angry.

Feel free to look around the corners of walk ways – or pretty much anywhere – for these beautiful lizards. With how active they are during the day, it won’t be hard to find one!

~ Naturalist Stephen

April 25 2023 ~ Beautiful common loon!

Special thanks to Donna Dorner for capturing this seemingly odd sighting of a common loon “stranded” on the beach! Loons are extremely interesting – their call is one of the most commonly used bird calls in cinema because of the eerie, whistle-like noise they make. Even if you haven’t seen one, you might still be able to recognize their call from that alone.

Their back legs are so far behind their body to help amplify their swimming abilities, but it also means they are unable to walk on land. this doesn’t stop them from “crawling” up to the beach, though! Often dragging its chest and staying close to the shoreline, most loons can rest up to 24 hours on land before heading back into the water.

While these fellas’ can look like they’re in constant need of help, the best thing you can do is leave them be! As long as they look healthy and alert with their head sticking up – like this beautiful bird here, they’re probably just taking a break.

If you ever are worried – it’s always better to be safe than sorry! Feel free to call 843.768.6001 and we will happily check on any wildlife concerns you have ๐Ÿ˜Š ๐Ÿ˜Š

Thanks again to Donna for sharing this awesome video with us!

April 24, 2023 ~ Black skimmers

While out out on beach, Naturalist Stevie ran across a beautiful sighting of black skimmers! These gorgeous birds have a slightly downturned, bright orange beak with a large black tip. You can frequently see them flying just above the water’s surface, opening their beaks to “skim” along and capture small fish, shrimp and invertebrates they find along the shallower areas of the water.

Keep your eyes peeled – they’re a fun bird to spot!

April 23, 2023 ~ Red knots

Our red knot friends have been with us for a while now, but because they don’t leave until mid to late May, seeing such a unique bird is still an incredible treat.

Kiawah Island and Seabrook are both known as “critical sites” providing essential areas where they can recuperate and rest undisturbed. In a 2020 study, data showed that 42% of the red knot population landed on these two islands! They rest in this area for a few reasons: first, it’s a relatively safe place for them to idle undisturbed, and second, it give them access to a huge supply of horseshoe crab eggs. Timing the water temperature right, they can eat thousands of these eggs, building fat reserves to continue the rest of their journey while hardly slimming the horseshoe egg supply in the process.

Red knots are migratory sandpipers that travel almost 20,000 miles each year; starting from their wintering grounds on the southern tip of South America to their breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, a single red knot travels about 9,300 miles during their biyearly migration. Thought they might not look the part, these birds are absolute feats of nature.

Talk about an incredible bird!

~ Photo by Naturalist Stevie

April 19, 2023 ~ Juvenile ‘gator

Who doesn’t love stumbling upon a baby alligator? When I was out out on my gator walk, we happened upon a group of smaller, juvenile alligators. While I’m not exactly sure how old they were, my guess would be around 2 years old at the most. The markings this one has are pretty intricate, and its mom was stationed close by, so these fellas were still being well cared for. It’s always a good day for alligator spotting on Kiawah!

~ Naturalist Stephen

April 19, 2023 ~ Cannonball jellyfish

Special thanks to Amanda Minter Auston for sharing this fun find with us! When out beachcombing in the early morning, Amanda stumbled across an awesome array shells, crabs, and more! We will be sharing some of the other pictures she was kind enough to share with us, but we thought it would be fun to start off with one of the more common animals you will spot around this time of year โ€“ the cannonball jellyfish.

While common, this does not mean it is anything less than extraordinary. They โ€“ like other jellyfish โ€“ are natural carnivores, preying on fish eggs, planktonic larvae, and other small objects they can capture. They can emit a toxin which, while relatively harmless to humans, can kill smaller fish and keep predators at bay.

Believe it or not, because these jellyfish feed on smaller organisms they can be picked up without fear of getting stung! We donโ€™t recommend doing this; you never know if youโ€™ve misidentified a jellyfish, and most of the jellyfish washed up are likely not in a good state to get picked up in the first place.

Thanks again to Amanda for this awesome photo!

April 10, 2023 ~ Raccoon skull

While out exploring the marsh, Naturalists Cheyenne and Stevie managed to come across an assortment of bones from two separate raccoons. While we were unsure if their bones were near each other by mere happenstance, we can say that the find was definitely a fun one!

April 9, 2023 ~ Blue-headed vireo

Blue-headed vireos are a relatively uncommon sighting on Kiawah, so I was happy to hear the beautiful whistling of this magnificent songbird while I was walking to my car one day. Following the sound, I was able to locate it and snap a few pictures; the small and fast moving vireo was hard to catch, but it did give me quite a show! These beautiful birds are pretty unique in look – almost like a half warbler, half kinglet hybrid. Regardless, it was still a rush to see this pretty fella’ jumping around, eating worms and other insects while gleefully singing in the sun!

~ Naturalist Stephen

March 29, 2023 ~ Yellow-throated warbler

With the migratory season right around the corner for many of our warbling friends, expect a lot of beautiful calls and displaying action! Just today, I heard three of the gorgeous calls from our yellow-throated warbler friends and decided to test my luck. In almost no time, I found a beautiful bird calling out! With how small these birds are, and how quickly they move around, I was lucky to get any shot at all. Still, it gave me quite a show – and I still can’t help but think of their docile, song-like call.

~ Naturalist Stephen

March 28, 2023 ~ Yellow-rumped warbler

While it is almost time for these gorgeous songbirds to migrate north for the spring, the yellow-rumped warbler is still one of our favorites! These bright, beautiful birds are found everywhere on Kiawah in the winter, but our “butter-butts” tend to leave between April and May, returning in September. They overwinter on Kiawah, and travel towards Canada to reach breeding grounds.

While yellow-rumps are classified into different subspecies, it’s no doubt that they exist almost everywhere in the US. If you’re on Kiawah in the coming days, be sure to look out for their gorgeous yellow sides and tail!

Happy spotting!

March 13, 2023 ~ Belted kingfisher

No matter where I go, whenever I hear the beautiful, tiny “trrrr” sound of these magnificent birds my mood is instantly lifted. While it’s clear I didn’t get a very good photo, this belted kingfisher gave me quite the show as it hovered around Willet pond, diving around and catching small fish before flying to this palmetto to enjoy its catch. I watched this kingfisher for about 10 minutes before it decided it had bigger things to tend to elsewhere. Still, what a beautiful show! I’m so happy that one of my favorite birds can be found at just about any pond on Kiawah.

As always, happy birding!

~ Naturalist Stephen

March 9, 2023 ~ The red knots have arrived

The red knots are back! If you are unfamiliar with these incredible birds, you are in for quite a treat!

Red knots migrate 9,300 miles one way – traveling from the southern tip of South America all the way up to the Canadian Arctic. This trip is exhaustive, requiring a multitude of incredible ecological phenomena in order for these birds to survive the journey.

Along their trip, they rest on Kiawah! This is considered a critical resting space, so it is CRUCIAL that these birds are not disturbed. Because of their exhaustive travel, even the slightest change in resting location could be devastating for the population.

So, what can you do to make sure you are not disturbing our red Knots? The easiest thing to do is appreciate them from a distance – these are thousands of beautiful birds moving in and out of the area, so they are tricky to miss! More importantly, be sure to keep your dogs leashed and outside of any resting locations. Our red knots typically rest on the northern and southern-most ends of the Island, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled!

March 8, 2023 ~ Baby yellow-bellied sliders; already?

While it is certainly a bit early to see some of our turtle hatchlings out and about, the mild winter and warmer water temperatures Kiawah has been experiencing makes early hatches like this more common. While this usually is not an issue, major climate changes could potentially lead to early hatching cycles, meaning some turtles will hatch before ample food is available. For now – thankfully – this is not a huge concern, and early hatches still tend to be rare.

While it likely won’t be until later in the spring and summer until the majority of our babies hatch, it is still important to look out for hatchlings that might get confused along their journey.

This yellow-bellied slider baby was found and rescued by an island guest, as it had gotten lost and wandered a little too far away from a nearby pond. Luckily, it was taken to the Nature Center at Night Heron Park, where Naturalists Stevie and Luke helped release our precious turtle friend.

February 23, 2023 ~ A painted bunting?!

I know I mentioned in my last post that minks are pretty difficult to spot, but finding a painted bunting this time of year is quite a sight! This is my second time seeing one in the winter – our nonmigratory population is relatively small, but we still have quite a few that hang around regardless of the weather ๐Ÿ™‚

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled on bird feeders; they’re very timid, but you never know if you’ll be able to spot one!

~ Naturalist Stephen

February 22, 2023 ~ American mink!

During a morning Kayak tour, our group came across an elusive little critter! The American mink is almost always near a body of water, but I’ve only seen them three times on Kiawah. The best part: every time I’ve seen them, it’s the morning, it’s during spring tide season, and it’s a high tide. This fella’ was in the same exact spot as the mink I encountered last time, so it might have even been the same friend! As the fearless, territorial little animals they are, it stood its ground and watched as we drifted by. What a fun time to kayak!

~ Naturalist Stephen

February 17, 2023 ~ How many alligators can fit in a pond?

Near the Ocean Course, I came across a beautiful communal alligator pond. These are where smaller alligators will live together until they reach a large enough size to live on their own. I would not call alligators “social” creatures, but they are definitely more social than the average reptile! They’ll often tolerate each other until a certain age – which is why you see so many in this specific pond.
So, how many alligators can you find?

~Naturalist Stephen

February 16, 2023 ~ A good ol’ deer run

It’s so fun to spot deer on Kiawah! They can be found everywhere in the early morning hours – usually traveling together in groups. While it is always awesome to spot these beautiful creatures, remember they are still wild! It’s best to appreciate them from a distance so you don’t accidentally disturb them.

Happy spotting! ๐Ÿ™‚

February 11, 2023 ~ White pelicans!

Unfortunately, we weren’t quite able to catch these gorgeous birds with one of our cameras, but we thought we would put the message out anyway! For the last few days, White pelicans have been spotted near Captain Sam’s inlet. These have been confirmed by pictures from some of our guests, and a sighting from one of our Naturalists. Definitely be on the lookout – these are rare, big, and beautiful birds!

February 10, 2023 ~ The bluebirds are getting angry

It’s that time of year! You know, the time where you can go out on a walk, enjoy the wildlife and nature, and come back to small birds attacking themselves next to your car mirror. This case was no exception – I parked in my usual spot for some birding, and immediately found this beautiful fella’! Eastern bluebirds, northern cardinals, tufted titmice, and many other songbirds are getting ready to attract a mate as nesting season approaches, so they’re getting a little more aggressive! Here our friend confused its reflection for a competing male, so he went on the attack.

While it’s generally harmless, keep your eyes peeled for more forested areas to avoid any possible scratches on your car (or any other mess that can happen with birds – if you know what I mean). Some birds will do this until they deplete their energy entirely, so if you see a confused songbird near your car you can help it save some energy if you move a little farther away.

Expect some awesome nests soon as these birds are getting ramped up for the season. As always, happy birding!

~ Naturalist Stephen

February 6, 2023 ~ Cedar waxwings

Waxwings are still a common upper-canopy bird found on Kiawah over the wintering months. Listen for the high pitched, whistle-like “tnnn” noise and you’ll be sure to spot them! They love eating berries in the canopy, or simply basking in the sun. Even though they’re relatively small, they travel in huge flocks that make them an easy – but still beautiful – animal to spot!

Thanks to Naturalist Cheyenne for capturing this photo.

February 3, 2023 ~ Stunning dolphin encounter!

Thanks to Naturalist Luke for sharing this incredible video!

February 2, 2023 ~ Flying bald eagle

Eagles are here in full force! Our bald eagle friends are taking the island by storm, nesting in multiple areas. Because they tend to nest in the same or similar area for life, we are happy to see so many make a return to Kiawah!

February 1, 2023 ~ Tufted titmouse

While these seem like one of the most common birds on Kiawah, I think they are still a beautiful treat! The tufted titmouse is one bird you’ll almost always find on your birdfeeder, and watching them is a blast. They grab a single sunflower from our feeders, fly to a nearby branch, and enjoy before going back for more.

These are definitely a wonderful bird to spot on your birdfeeders, and I’d consider adding shrubbery around your “bird area” to ensure to best birds stop by! Many of our harder-to-spot birds are rather timid, so extra layers of protection do wonders can definitely add to your experience tenfold!

~ Naturalist Stephen

February 1, 2023 ~ Oh, look – a ‘gator!

As surprising as it is, one of our Naturalists found an alligator!

With close to 700 alligators on Kiawah, we average around 6 to 7 for every pond. In fact, alligators are such a common sighting that we aren’t even sure who took this photo! Their relative commonality does not make them any short of amazing, and their adaptive strategies to save energy during the winter are absolutely incredible. While we can’t go into everything here, we recommend checking out your local pond – if you’re in the area, chances are you’ll be able to find a ‘gator in no time!

January 30, 2023 ~ Red-shouldered hawk

Because of her recent luck with birding, Naturalist Cheyenne decided to check out the Preserve one more time to see if she could find anything exciting. As you can see, she had no problem with that! Red-shouldered hawks are a gorgeous, medium-sized bird of prey. Similar to other raptors, you can often find them perched along a tree branch or open area, scanning its surroundings for rodents or small birds.

Suggested by the name, the red-shouldered hawk spots a beautiful rustic color on the chest and shoulders; this is especially prominent during mating season, although it takes around three years for a juvenile to fully mature.
As nesting season approaches, expect more of these red beauties to appear.

They begin nesting in late February, and continue throughout March, so their presence on Kiawah can definitely be felt if you are out spotting yourself!

January 29, 2023 ~ Bar-tailed godwits – here?!

After checking the ebird “rare bird alert list” for South Carolina, I saw that there was another bar-tailed godwit sighting. Seeing one last year, I went down to the Ocean Course – where it was recently spotted – and sat down. Outside of terns and black skimmers there wasn’t much birding activity, but low and behold a godwit appeared from one of the dunes!

I can’t say for certain that this is the bar-tailed godwit because my camera wasn’t able to pick up any quality images, but I think there’s a good chance I found it! If it was not a bar-tailed, it would have to be a marbled godwit, but the normal plumage for a marbled godwit looks a little different in my opinion. I’m no birding expert, but I definitely hope I got to witness this rare bird!

~ Naturalist Stephen

January 28, 2023 ~ American coot

What a beautiful week for birding! As the temperature cools, more and more waterfowl are seemingly appearing out of thin air! This american coot is no exception. I was walking around Night Heron Park, and I found this beauty bathing itself in the shade.

I’ve always found American coots to be fascinating – especially due to that large red patch above their beak. They’re easily mistaken for a type of duck, but they are only distantly related. Nonetheless, you will definitely want to look for these guys in the same places, as they are definitely happiest in the water ๐Ÿ™‚

As always, happy birding!

~ Naturalist Stephen

January 27, 2023 ~ Bald eagle

‘Tis the season! Naturalist Cheyenne managed to capture a beautiful image of a Bald Eagle during one of her Back Island Birding tours. Recently, our Naturalists have been noticing a huge rise in bald eagle sightings, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled! We are currently in nesting season, and bald eagles tend to return to the same areas each year, so it’s great to see our population is thriving! While they have become a little more common on the island, they are still absolutely breathtaking – you definitely do not want to miss an opportunity to spot one!

January 20, 2023 ~ A pond of baby alligators

When our Naturalists participated in the 2023 Winter Bird Count, we were tasked with spotting and identifying birds across Kiawah – specifically, we surveyed the Kiawah River and the Ocean Park area. However, among one of the coolest sightings wasn’t any bird, but a local alligator nest one of our Naturalists stumbled upon! This nest is incredible; we totaled 12 alligators in an extremely small area. There was one large alligator (presumably the mother) and a group of her babies! Mother ‘gators lay clutches of up to 50 eggs and stay with their young for around two years. This particular mom found a wonderful spot to hide them, as she was well hidden within a forested area, but not too far away from a larger pond for her to gather food.

Naturalist Cheyenne recently decided to come back to this spot and see if she could get any good pictures. Of course – she found some incredible angles. Still, these ‘gator babies can be tricky to spot. Can you see all of them in the picture? There’s more than one!

January 18, 2023 ~ Red-tailed Hawk

While on a Back Island Birding tour, Naturalist Cheyenne was lucky enough to come across a gorgeous red-tailed hawk! This beautiful bird of prey was perched nicely on a tree, ignoring her tour completely as it scanned the surroundings for some food. At the requests of her tour, Cheyenne managed snap some great photos of the show! During this Back Island Birding adventure, Cheyenne and her group managed to find four different birds of prey – not to mention tons of shorebirds, herons, and others.

Such an amazing shot!

January 17, 2023 ~ Pretty pretty bluebird

Regardless of the season, eastern bluebirds are a common sighting along the island. Looking at this picture it is easy to see why – they’re absolutely stunning! Males sport a bright blue back, an orange chest, and a white belly. I always find them on early morning walks; they are particularly common in grassy areas near the canopy. Similar to yellow-rumped warblers, you can find them all across the ground picking up early morning snacks. If you ever fine a sunny spot, keep an eye out! They love to fly around, and you might get yourself a beautiful view like this one ๐Ÿ™‚

Happy Birding!

~ Naturalist Stephen

January 13, 2023 ~ Blue crab

A common sight around Kiawah, the blue crab is a beautiful (and delicious) crustacean with colorful blue claws and legs. I found this one in one of my usual birding spots, but definitely look out for crabs in any of Kiawah’s muddy, or shallow water areas. You’re bound to find some of these beautiful fellas!

~ Naturalist Stephen

January 10, 2023 ~ A killdeer, you say?

If you’ve seen my posts before, you would know that I’m a huge fan of our shorebird population! While at the Ocean Course admiring the diving pelicans and gorgeous beach, I found quite a treat!

Killdeer are a gorgeous, small group of plovers that nest in the upper banks of beach and marshland – farther up than most shorebirds prefer to go. While they’re small, they’re beautiful black rings and bright red eyes make them an easy spot (if you are lucky enough to find them out in the open)!

Killdeer have an incredible characteristic they employ to protect their young. If a predator approaches their nest, the mother will fly a safe distance away from the nest, before chirping loudly to attract the predators attention. More so, the mother killdeer will even taunt its wing to the predator as if it were broken. Said predator might ditch the nest in favor of an easy treat – but that is just what the killdeer wants! It will continue to lure potential danger away using this “broken wing” method until its nest is safe and sound. Talk about smart ๐Ÿ™‚

~ Naturalist Stephen

For Additional Information

Gain a deeper understanding of the Kiawah Island Golf Resort guest experience when you download our Travel Planner.
Visit Our Brochure Library