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.


May 20, 2021 ~ Over the Moon!

We’re over the moon (snail) about this cool find! While on a Kiawah Creatures tour, Naturalist Katy Beth stumbled upon a LIVE moon snail AND a moon snail egg case (called a sand collar) on the beach! Sand collars are often mistaken for man-made materials/pollution because of their funky crescent shape and odd rubbery texture. If you see one on the beach this summer, please don’t throw it away! Instead, you can hold it up to the light to see the thousands of tiny dots that are actually eggs (it’s mind-blowing), and then either set it back down where you found it or take it closer to the water so it won’t dry out!


May 14, 2021 ~ Highlights from Back Island Birding Tour

Photo by Katrena Floyd


May 10, 2021 ~ FOS: First Loggerhead Sea Turtle Nest Laid on Kiawah!

The Kiawah Island Sea Turtle Patrol found the island’s first Loggerhead Sea Turtle nest for the 2021 season!


May 1, 2021 ~ Black-bellied Whistling Duck

These striking Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were spotted by Naturalist Peter in the Preserve during a recent Back Island Birding tour. From Town Biologist Aaron Given: “Black-bellied Whistling Ducks have expanded their range in the southeast. They are present year-round now in SC. They only recently have been showing up infrequently but regularly on Kiawah. We have had a few scattered reports going back 8-10 years but this year there have been several sightings around Kiawah.” We hope to continue to see this beautiful species!


April 24, 2021 ~ Hundreds of Red Knots

Hundreds of Red Knots were spotted on the beach front near the Sanctuary Hotel. Naturalist Peter was able to find 2 Red Knots with tags! We have already received information from one of the birds; it most likely was hatched in 2017 and was banded in South Carolina in 2019. We are still waiting to hear back about this Red Knot with the red band on its leg. Red tags usually mean the bird was banded in South America! We will update once we know the location.


April 16, 2021 ~ First Manatee Sighting of the Year!

Naturalists spotted a manatee right off of the dock at Mingo Point in the Kiawah River!


April 15, 2021 ~ FOS Swallow-Tailed Kites Sighting!

Naturalist Peter spotted two Swallow-Tailed Kites near Rosebank Farms on John’s Island.


April 14, 2021 ~ Eastern Mud Turtle

It always pays to be alert when driving around Kiawah Island because you never know who might be out and about! Naturalist Peter found this adorable Eastern Mud Turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) crossing the road near Turtle Beach. This little fellow was only a few inches long but was likely full grown as adults rarely get past 5 inches long. It’s not uncommon this time of year to see turtles crossing the road as females may venture far and wide to find suitable nesting sites. If you come across a turtle crossing the road and (most importantly) it is safe to do so, feel free to give our friends some help to the other side of the road so they don’t end up getting injured or killed. Make sure you help them cross the road in the direction they’re already going or else they’re likely to just try and cross again! Hopefully this little turtle found a nice place to rest after its ordeal.

~Naturalist, Peter


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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