2021 Wildlife Sightings: Incredible Findings and Photos

Welcome to the Kiawah Island Nature Program’s 2021 wildlife sightings. 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 archive will get you excited about the amazing and diverse wildlife found on Kiawah. Share your photos and stories with us at Kiawah_Recreation@KiawahResort.com.

March 20, 2021 ~ Bonaparte’s Gull

On a chilly Ocean Course bird walk this Saturday, I was happy to see a small group of Bonaparte’s Gulls resting on the beach. They are small, dainty gulls who develop pretty black hoods and beaks during the summer months, but were still showing their winter plumage, including a darkish smudge on the side of their head. Look for their pink legs as a good ID mark!

~Naturalist, Peter

March 19, 2021 ~ First Black-necked Stilt Sighting of the Season!

One of the highlights of our Friday Back Island Birding was spotting our first Black-necked Stilt of the year. These are very strangely elegant birds with gorgeous black and white plumage, a dainty, slightly curved beak, and legs that are so long it is absolute bananas. When they fly, their legs trail behind them like long thin tails. Look forward to seeing them flying around Willet Pond near the Ocean Course during the summer!

~Naturalist, Peter

March 18, 2021 ~ More than Birds on our Bird walk

Even though we saw a total of 33 species of birds today on our Back Island Birding tour, our reptilian friends stole the spotlight. This big alligator was seen sunning near a pond at Osprey Golf Course as a Little Blue Heron and Tri-colored Heron waded nearby.

~Naturalist, Peter

March 11, 2021 ~ Northern Parula

Today naturalists spotted a Northern Parula hopping around some Spanish Moss, signifying the start of Spring migrants! These little warblers will feed on a multitude of insects and love hanging around moss and lichen in the tree top canopies. We can’t wait for the rest of our early spring arrivals – Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Black-necked Stilts, and Purple Martins to name a few.

March 9, 2021 ~ Sunset from Tonight’s Adult Twilight Paddle

A beautiful spring sunset viewed on our Adult Twilight Paddle.

-Naturalist, AK

March 4, 2021 ~ Sunny and 65 Degrees = Alligator Basking

While on our Ocean Course Birding trip, we stopped to view two large alligators enjoying the nice sunny and warm weather. As we looked through our binoculars, we spotted a third gator coming out of the water to bask next to the others.

-Naturalist, AK

March 2, 2021 ~ A Snapping Surprise

If you’ve ever listen to the sound of the marsh and heard tons of tiny clicks and snaps all around, you can thank this critter and her kin. Naturalist Peter found this handsome big-clawed snapping shrimp (Alpheus heterochaelis) hiding in the mud of the Mingo Point dock while on a Jr. Naturalist Marsh Discovery. Snapping shrimp have one small, normal claw, and one enormous specialized claw they used to SNAP. Their special snapping claws have a small peg on one part of the claw and a small socket on the other. When they slam the two parts together, the socket and peg form a tiny bubble. It’s the collapsing of this little cavitation bubble that makes the snapping sound. They use these popping bubbles to communicate, defend their territory, and cleanly sever the legs of their opponents. Be grateful you’re not their size!

-Naturalist, Peter

March 1, 2021 ~ Bobcat Sighting

March started off in a big way! A bobcat was seen between some Parkside Villas and a section of nearby maritime forest. The bobcat was sitting out in the open and then began to assume the pounce position with its tail twitching back and forth. Within a couple of seconds, a squirrel was nabbed and the bobcat ran into the forest with its meal with nothing left but squirrel alarm calls as the sun began to set.

-Naturalist, Samantha

March 1, 2021 ~ Baby Diamondback Terrapin Hatchling Found

Naturalists received a call of a baby sea turtle in the surf in front of the Sanctuary Hotel. When we got there, we discovered a hatchling Diamondback Terrapin! Diamondback Terrapins usually lay nests spring though mid-summer and hatch in summer through early fall. Sometimes, hatchlings will overwinter in the nest and emerge the following spring. We believe this little guy emerged with the recent warm temperatures and was drifted out to the ocean with the higher tides. The hatchling was released at Mingo Point.

-Naturalist, Meredith

February 23, 2021 ~ White Pelican Flyover at Mingo

Naturalists counted 20 White Pelicans flying overhead at Mingo Point!

February 13, 2021 ~ Larval Lacewing

While we were sitting at a picnic table at Mingo Point, we noticed this tiny mote of moss moving slowly across the table like no moss has the right to do. These little flecks of scuttling debris are actually a fairly common sight around here and are evidence that a voracious predator of aphids in camouflaged and on the prowl. This little fellow is the larva of a lacewing (Chrysopa spp.) which decorates itself in moss, fluff, and even the bits and pieces of its vanquished prey in order sneakily hunt aphids and other tasty soft-bodied insects like a wolf in aphid’s clothing. If you look closely, you can spot a set of wicked jaws protruding out from under its mossy disguise.

-Naturalist, Peter

February 10, 2021 ~ Sea Cucumber

Certain times of year, thousands of chubby pink sea cucumbers get washed ashore onto the mudflats and beaches of Kiawah. These are Pentamera pulcherrima, which are squishy and slightly transparent and can be up to 2 inches long. When they’re alive, they have rows of little hair-like structures sticking out from all sides of their body. They look just like any old worm you find oozing through the mud at any given time, but sea cucumbers (don’t eat them) are echinoderms and therefore related to sea stars, urchins, and sand dollars than any old worm. In fact, the little “hairs” along its body are tube feet, just like you would find on the underside of a sea star or sand dollar.

-Naturalist, Peter

February 6, 2021 ~ Feather Report

According to my count, we saw 56 species today! Or at least those were the ones I was able to spot, identify, and remember. There were a few birds we missed that surprised me, like American Robin (which I saw a bunch a little later in the day) and nearly all the vultures and hawks. On a really good day on the island this time of year, we could probably add another dozen or so to that list. One of the highlights from this trip was the 30 or so of Red-breasted Mergansers floating about 100 yards from offshore. The Purple Finches at Mingo Point was another highlight. This year has been particularly good for spotting them on feeders at Mingo Point and Night Heron Park. Happy Birding!

-Naturalist, Peter

January 30, 2021 ~ Twilight Paddle Sunset
Tonight’s sunset was gorgeous!

-Naturalist, Brad

January 27, 2021 ~ Baltimore Oriole Sighting

Spotted! A male Baltimore Oriole on our jelly feeder outside of the Nature Center. Baltimore Orioles usually winter in South and Central America, and historically it was unusual to see one in South Carolina during the winter. However, during the last few decades, they have been wintering along the East Coast and Southeast in greater abundance.

January 8, 2021 ~ 1st Back Island Birding of the Year

On our first Back Island Birding excursion of the year, we saw 41 different species! Some highlights from the trip: the massive flock of robins, piping plovers at the Ocean Course, and the Beach Evening Primrose, a yellow trailing flower on the beach.

-Naturalist, Peter

January 4, 2021 ~ Annual Sea Island Christmas Bird Count

Naturalists helped with the Sea Islands Christmas Bird Count, part of a tradition that dates back to 1900 where conservationists and birdwatchers all across North America meet every winter to create a census of all birds in their area. The Sea Islands Christmas Bird Count is in its 10th year and includes areas on Kiawah and Seabrook Islands, as well as large portions of Johns and Wadmalaw Islands. This year, naturalists counted 39 different species in the Kiawah River, such as the American Oystercatcher and Marbled Godwit.

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