2019 Wildlife Sightings: Incredible Findings and Photos

Welcome to the Kiawah Island Nature Program’s 2019 wildlife sightings page. Here, you’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 site will get you excited about the amazing and diverse wildlife found on Kiawah. Get outside and share your photos and stories with us at Kiawah_Recreation@KiawahResort.com.


March 20, 2019 ~ Great Horned Owlet (Meleagris gallopavo)

Great Horned OwletOur naturalists responded to a call yesterday of a Great Horned owlet that had fallen out of its nest. The two adults have taken over an old Bald Eagle’s nest that is about 60 feet up a pine tree. We arrived to find a fledgling hopping around the ground that appeared healthy. To prevent predators such as bobcats from harming the fledgling, we attempted to place the owl on a lower branch. That is when we noticed the owl was holding his leg abnormally and that he had a small abrasion. We decided to take him the The Center for Birds of Prey, a local raptor rehabilitation center where he will hopefully recover and then be released back on Kiawah. We will update you with the status as we hear more! A special thank you to John and Sally Walters who called about the owl and took these amazing photos.


March 12, 2019 ~ Feather Report

Here’s the list for the birds from this morning’s Back Island Birding! It was beautiful out on the East end of the island. Avian life is gearing up for Spring. Anhinga’s are putting on their beautiful breeding plumages, Mergansers are congregating in huge numbers on the ocean, hundreds of Red Knots were bathing in tidal pools, and song birds were busily catching bugs in the morning light. All of the birds are active and most are looking for love!

Willet Pond Look-out; Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Double-crested Cormorant, Fish Crow, Red-winged Blackbird, Boat-tailed Grackle, Blue Jay, Blue-winged Teal, American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe, Laughing Gull, Bald Eagle, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hooded Merganser, Belted Kingfisher, Clapper Rail (heard only). Ocean Park Pond: Wood Stork, Anhinga, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Carolina Wren (heard only), Northern Cardinal, Downy Woodpecker, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Mockingbird, Osprey. Ocean Park: Palm Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, Red-shouldered Hawk, Brown-headed Cowbird (heard only). Ocean Course: Common Gallinule, Lesser Scaup/Greater Scaup (likely we saw both), Song Sparrow, American Crow, Black Skimmer, Forster’s Tern, Caspian Tern, Black-bellied Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Dunlin, American Oystercatcher, Ring-billed Gull, Brown Pelican, Red-breasted Merganser, Red Knot, Willet, European Starling. https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S53738327


March 11, 2019 ~ American Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

Wild TurkeyTurkeys are truly impressive birds with their strong large stature and seemingly fearless nature. Today this hen (which is the name for an adult female turkey) was spotted at Night Heron Park. Turkeys have many names used to describe the relative age and sex of the bird. An adult breeding male is called a Tom; a newly hatched turkey is called a poult or a chick. A juvenile male is called a jake, and a juvenile female is called a jenny. Many people think turkeys are flightless birds; however, wild turkeys are capable of short flights of up to a couple hundred yards at a max speed of 60 mph. And they are very quick on the ground efficiently reaching running speeds of 25 mph. -Naturalist, Jake Goodrum


March 9, 2019 ~ Banded Water SnakeNerodia fasciata

Banded Water SnakeIt’s impossible to deny that Spring is nigh. Not only are the birds putting on fantastic, love-fueled displays, but bugs are springing from their wintery refuges, flowers are popping into being, and reptiles are re-entering the scenes. This was evident on our Gator Walk when we stumbled upon my first Kiawah snake of the season – a juvenile banded watersnake (Nerodia fasciata). This little cutie hardly reacted to us as we walked less than a foot away from it and, to be honest, I totally missed it until a guest pointed it out. This species of snake is often mistaken for the venomous cottonmouth for two reasons. First, they spend a lot of time in the water, like cottonmouths (but also like many other aquatic loving snakes). Second, they have a tendency to puff up their heads when threatened. In so doing, they appear to have the triangular head of a venomous snake. We can only assume they’re hoping to ward off any potential predators. In our case, despite our close proximity to the young snake, it never puffed its head. Guess it felt safe and sound with nature lovers around! ~ Naturalist, Juliana Smith


February 22, 2019 ~ Knobbed Whelk (Busycon carica)

Knobbed whelkCaptain Brad spotted this large Knobbed Whelk snacking on some oysters in the Kiawah River while on a Dolphin Encounters tour. These gastropods use their sharp aperture lip to pry open prey such as oysters, clams, and other bivalves. The snail will slowly chip away at the closed valves until it is able to wedge its foot in between the prey’s shells to begin feeding. You never know what you will see in the Kiawah River!


February 13, 2019 ~ Bottle-nose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

dolphinNaturalists received a call about two dolphin that were perceived to be stranded at a low tide in a shallow-water creek stemming from the Kiawah River. Hoping for the best, a few Naturalists went to check out the scene. What we found was that the caller and the other passersby were very lucky, as were we! These dolphin weren’t stranded at all but were feeding right underneath the walkway of the bridge over looking Cinder Creek. Dolphin are highly intelligent animals that practice many different feeding behaviors, and it seemed as if these dolphin followed some large fish back into the creek and were having some fun munching on an easy lunch! We were lucky enough to have a front row seat while for quite a while, until the dolphin were all filled up, easily swam underneath the bridge and started making their way back toward the Kiawah River!


February 12, 2019 ~ River Otter (Lontra canadensis)

Usually all one ever expects to see on a birding tour is birds..and maybe a squirrel every now and then. Today, we saw something I never expected to see while leading a land based birding tour, despite the heavy fog that clouded our morning. It all happened while I was trying to point out some Gray Catbirds, a not uncommon bird for Kiawah Island. One of my birders exclaimed that something was in the water. I’ll admit, I assumed it would be an alligator at first and continued to try to describe where the catbirds were, but when I glanced over, what I saw was no reptile, even though it slithered across a mud bank. It was an otter! In a pond! I was totally surprised! We gave up birding for the time being and decided to do some otter ogling. We watched as it slipped silently below the murky pond water. Our eyes followed the trail of bubbles the otter created as it moved below the surface. It, surprisingly, came towards us and sought refuge under the pond’s bank edge right at our feet. We stayed, patiently waiting and watching. Every now and then, we’d see the water begin undulating from where the otter had disappeared below the bank. We even heard what we can only assume were otter vocalizations. At last, our patience was rewarded! A new bubble trail began, indicating the otter was on the move, this time heading away from us and out towards the center of the pond. Near a partially submerged log, the otter surfaced for a breath of air. It was the last we’d see of it, at least for now, but I was completely thrilled. Of all the animals I’ve encountered in my six years at the Nature Program, otters have been the most elusive. I’m excited to have a recent sighting and hope this means more are in the near future! – Naturalist Juliana Smith


“Everything was easily accessible. Staff always courteous. Bike rental delivery and pick up was great.”
–Marie L.

“Loved being able to ride bikes around the island.”
–Kerley  |  Boone, NC