2022 Wildlife Sightings: Incredible Findings and Photos
Welcome to the Kiawah Island Nature Program’s 2022 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 Island. Share your photos and stories with us at Kiawah_Recreation@KiawahResort.com.
November 29, 2022 ~ A sleeping Anhinga
One of our lovely followers sent in this gorgeous picture of a juvenile anhinga – otherwise known as the snake bird. As you can see, this bird was a little startled as it was awoken from a nap. Wanting to make sure it was okay, he asked our Naturalists if the stance was normal, and – for anhingas at least – it is a very common sight! Anhingas intentionally soak their feathers in water, and use the added weight for speed and maneuverability while fishing under the water’s surface. When they resurface to re-orient themselves, only their head and neck is usually visible – hence the nickname “snake bird.” Luckily, while the person who sent in this picture was initially concerned with the way the bird was standing, this is extremely normal behavior for anhingas! They stretch their wings outs and rest, allowing themselves to dry off in the sun after a nice meal. That’s why this baby was so startled from the camera – it was probably woken up from a great nap! Thanks again for sending in this photo – we appreciate your concern and glad the anhinga is unharmed 🙂
If you have any great photos, please send them to the above email, or to Stephen Dey! Thanks
November 26, 2022 ~ Lady crab carapace
Our naturalists love shelling whenever they get the chance on Kiawah – and these recent spring tides bring excellent opportunity for doing just that! Out and about exploring the beach, they stumbled upon an old, but beautifully preserved carapace of a lady crab. One of the crabs found along the Southeast, lady crabs have a particularly gorgeous shell casing, consisting of pretty colors and specs. With the high tides being around for the next few days, now’s a good time to be combing beaches for interesting shells, and maybe even some awesome wildlife!
November 25, 2022 ~ Snowy egret
While on a Back Island Birding tour, guests were able to find an incredible amount of great blue herons, tricolored herons, little blue herons, and a huge variety of different wading birds and birds of prey! It was a great day for birding, and we managed to capture a pretty shot of a snowy egret during our morning out. The snowy egret is the smaller of our two egret species, and is easy to identify because of its black beak and legs with bright yellow feet. Here, our friend is perched comfortably on a log – presumably warming up in the morning sun before flying down into the mud for its morning meal. There were dozens of snowy egrets and little blue herons in this area of Killdeer pond, so I’m sure they enjoyed quite a few tasty treats while we were there!
~ Naturalist Stephen
November 24, 2022 ~ The cormorants have lift off!
Kayaking at Mingo Point will always bring with it tons of unique and rare wildlife to explore, and the double-crested cormorant is no exception! With the winter migration in full throttle, these cormorants are “taking over” the island, becoming one of the more common birds to spot regardless of location. While this might sound scary, it’s all part of the natural process for Kiawah. The migration of these cormorants is normal for the wintering months, and the majority move out in the Spring and Summer. However, we do have a resident population on Kiawah that choose not to migrate, instead staying here year-round! Cormorants are gorgeous water birds and, similar to anhingas, they allow their feathers to soak completely before diving into the water. This adds a large amount to their bodyweight, meaning they can dive faster and deeper without as much energy. The further dive ever recorded from a cormorant was around 150 feet below the water! Considering they start from a stationary position, that’s an impressive amount of ground to cover.
There are takeaways, though. Because of their small wingspan, cormorants also take the most energy to fly out of any other bird in the World. This is what we see in the picture here – our cormorant friend is “lifting off,” meaning it’s getting a running start that in needs on the water before it can take to the air. If you ever see a bird on Kiawah do a similar “running start” in the water, I’d check to see if you spotted a cormorant!
~ Naturalist Stephen
November 23, 2022 ~ Broad-headed skink
While out by our kayaks at Mingo Point, I happened upon a somewhat rare find – an adult broad-headed skink! While skinks are a relatively common find on the island – with our two species being broad-headed and eastern five-lined skinks – differentiating the two can be quite the challenge! As juveniles, these two species are practically identical, and require an intense examination of their scale patterns along their face in order to compare the two. However, as they get older, broad-headed skinks become much more distinguishable, morphing into a reptile with a large, reddish head, and a dark, brownish-green coloration. This is clearly a broad-head!
Broad-headed skinks are the largest skinks in the southeast, and the second largest lizard (the eastern glass lizard is larger!). While tricky to look for, they are always worth the find.
~ Naturalist Stephen
November 23, 2022 ~ Mabel orchard orb-weaver
If you saw our earlier post about our friendly banana spider (Nov. 6), then the name orb-weaver should ring a bell! These spiders are known for their incredible web-making abilities. The Mabel orchard orb-weaver, however, is a long-legged orb-weaver who’s size is a little less intimidating than their golden silk counterpart. They are relatively small, but their bright coloration and beautiful web-work still make them a relatively easy spot! In fact, their name is derived from Greek, meaning “dipped in silver paint,” as their multi-colored look makes them quite the spectacle! Be sure to keep a close look at our spider population before they “hide” for our winter season! Thanks so much to Naturalist Luke for sharing this photo.
November 22, 2022 ~ One gator, two gators…
While on a Back Island Birding tour, Naturalists Stephen and Luke happened upon quite the site! Not just one, but two relatively large (~5 foot) alligators were making their way from the pond they typically hunt in, back into a smaller pond where they spend their time “resting.” Most people don’t realize how social alligators can be, and this is a great example of that! When alligators are forced to “leave the nest,” they tend to find ponds consisting of alligators of the same size. That way, they can protect themselves against one another, as they are less likely to fight for dominance with injury being unavoidable. So, our gator friends “live” together until one or both get to big, and then they are off to find another pond – either another communal pool with similarly sized alligators, or a pond with smaller alligators that they can comfortably take over for themselves.
Even if you’re birding, you always need to keep an eye out for our gator friends!
November 22, 2022 ~ A legless lizard? Yes, indeed
Naturalist Destiney caught this amazing photo of one of the Southeast’s largest, and strangest, lizards! This is known as the glass lizard, which gives off a beautiful glisten from its shiny scales. However, this lizard is often mistaken for a snake, given that it does not have any “legs,” instead slithering across the surfaces it traverses. The largest lizard Kiawah has to offer, and most people misidentify it as a snake! Fear not, this legless lizard is nothing to be afraid of.
November 21, 2022 ~ The spoonbills haven’t left just yet
Ah, the roseate spoonbill! Although winter season is pushing fast around the corner – with many birds quickly migrating to warmer grounds – you can still find a few roseate spoonbills around Kiawah! Even during the bird count in January of last year, we spotted spoonbills, as we did on Seabrook a few weeks later. While they are much more present in the summer, a resident population seems like a possibility! Maybe it is wishful thinking, but we have even seen painted buntings stay on Kiawah over the winter, so you never know what you might find when you go out birding. Oh, the joys of nature!
~ Photo by Naturalist Stevie
November 20, 2022 ~ Osprey strongly soaring
No matter how many times I manage to spot and capture an osprey, it’s always a magical experience! I absolutely love the way they soar through the sky as they hunt for prey. It is almost always short-lived, but the spectacle of an osprey hunt is something you don’t want to miss! I always find these beauties around Kiawah’s ponds, but there is not a better place to find them than the Kiawah River. Nearly once a week, I’ll run into one while kayaking – I usually find them resting on dead tree branches, or hovering about looking for a meal. Regardless, they are a bird that truly never gets old!
~ Naturalist Stephen
November 17, 2022 ~ A little white, blue heron
Little blue herons are a beautiful bird with a rich, vibrant blue coating. However, their juvenile molt can be quite deceptive – looking more like a snowy egret than anything else. But, there are two easy identifiers that can be used to differentiate the two – while similar in size, snowy egrets have black legs with bright, yellow feet. In this picture, you can see our bird instead has yellow/green legs all the way down, not changing color at all. Similarly, if you look at our juvenile little blue heron’s beak, you can see a blueish coloration with a blackened tip. This beak color stays with them throughout their lives, so it’s a great way to find a little blue. By contrast, a snowy egret is going to have a solid, black beak. Both are beautiful birds that you often find hanging around Kiawah’s marshes and river systems, but identifying them can always be a little more complicated than you’d think!
November 15, 2022 ~ The rodent to rule them all
While they don’t seem all that impressive, that’s probably because humans and squirrels are no strangers to one another. This particular squirrel, known as an eastern grey squirrel, is a lot cooler than you might think! The excellent athletes they are, they can easily jump from branch to branch, scaling trees with ease. They are practically fearless when it comes to heights, and it helps that eastern grey squirrels, like many other squirrel species, are capable of falling from incredible distances without hurting themselves. In essence, they have large “flaps” of loose skin that attach from their body to their legs. So – if they end up falling – they can simply spread open their legs and make an impromptu parachute with their skin to slow their descent. Their puffy tail not only increases air drag, but it helps them balance and stay upright during a jump or fall. Finally, because of their small size and mass, their terminal velocity is already low to begin with. When you combine that with the amount of drag they are able to produce, you find that squirrels can fall from extremely tall heights with little to no injury. Talk about impressive!
November 15, 2022 ~ Oh, deer!
Kiawah’s deer are out and about! While out biking one morning, I had a mob of deer run right by me! If you’ve been on Kiawah at all, you’re no stranger to our resident deer. While they’re current population creates a bit of an ecological problem on Kiawah, they’re still gorgeous to see! It’s always important to keep your distance, especially during mating season, when deer are more likely to act aggressively or irrationally. This picture was taken using a zoom lens. I managed to capture a few more pretty pictures of this deer and its family as they cautiously walked by me, before safely crossing the street and disappearing into the woods. Just another day on Kiawah!
~ Naturalist Stephen
November 6, 2022 ~ It’s spider season!
One of our old Naturalists, Peter, snagged this awesome photo of a golden silk orb-weaver, otherwise known as a banana spider. As you probably noticed, these beauties are gigantic! Males can reach a maximum of one inch in length, with females reaching up to 1.5 inches. While terrifying to some, golden silk orb-weavers are not actually dangerous to humans – they only bite if roughly handled or provoked. More so, their venom is not particularly potent, meaning a bite won’t lead to anything outside of localized swelling and mild discomfort. They are still not fun to run into, though! Their webs can get up to three feet in diameter, with anchoring lines spanning across 10 feet. Orb weavers make some of the strongest silk in the World for their webs, so they are always beautiful to find, but not something you want to run into.
With spider mating season, we will likely see an increase in activity before they “retreat” from the winter cold. What a lovely sight!
November 2, 2022 ~ Oystercatchers are quite the catch
While on the Kiawah River, I managed to get a good photo of some Eastern oystercatchers flying by. I love watching these guy poke and prod their way through the mud, and hearing a flock chirp by is almost as awesome! Oystercatchers have beautiful, cylindrical beaks that help them break into shells when they’re not probing for creatures in the mud. I’m also personally in love with their eyes, although many birds on Kiawah have stunning eyes. Oystercatchers still have a lovely white chest – like many other wading birds – and dark black surrounding their wings. Just one of the dozens of gorgeous shorebirds the Kiawah River has to offer.
~ Naturalist Stephen
November 1, 2022 ~ Dolphin family planning
Many naturalists have been reporting seeing extremely active dolphins in the Kiawah River area, swimming around and engaging in amazing spectacles like strand-feeding or “family planning.” Definitely stop by the Kiawah River, or captain Sam’s inlet, to see if you can spot some of Kiawah’s wonderfully active dolphins!
November 1, 2022 ~ The nuthatches are back!
Here, a beautiful white breasted nuthatch decided to pose for me before getting into a snack from a nearby bird feeder. While we have three nuthatch species on Kiawah, the white-breasted nuthatch is the most common. Nuthatches are very interesting birds with a plethora of unique behaviors. For instance, you will typically find them upside down on trees, climbing downwards. They nest in abandoned woodpecker cavities, and often store acorns and nuts in the bark of trees and other hiding spots. Nuthatches actually use tree bark for different reasons as well – jamming acorns and nuts in the tree, they hammer away until they successfully “hatch” the nut, hence the name. A beautiful bird to find, you can spot these all around Kiawah, but I’ve always found Mingo Point to be a hotspot for all three nuthatch species.
~ Naturalist Stephen
October 31, 2022 ~ Red-tailed Hawk Down
Terrible puns in the title aside, this incredible photo was captured after members of our recreation team responded to an owl in distress call. As you can see, this was no owl! Luckily, multiple members of recreation’s staff were able to rescue this red-tailed hawk and, after seeing it was uninjured, they managed to release it back into the wild. It flew off after 15 minutes of rest, but not before someone snapped this awesome picture! We are glad everyone, hawk and humans alike, were able to leave uninjured. More so, our staff is glad to have been able to be a part of this once in a lifetime encounter!
October 31, 2022 ~ Downy woodpecker hard at work
A common sighting, but fun nonetheless! Downy woodpeckers are one of Kiawah’s smaller birds, but their gorgeous call and coating still makes them easy to both hear and spot. This downy, like many woodpeckers, started near the bottom of the tree before working its way up to a higher branch, where it began to concentrate on one area. After some drilling, it caught a nice prize, but that only seemed to get it more interested. It’s always fun to see these birds hard at work, especially when they constantly have to be careful of potential predators themselves. Found at Mingo Point.
~ Naturalist Stephen
October 27, 2022 ~ Great egret strutting along
This beautiful egret was spotted by Naturalist Stephen while kayaking the Kiawah River. While egrets and herons will expand their neck and wings for a myriad of reasons, the simplest answer is that it makes them look bigger. So, if they are trying to stir up some fish to strike at, or if they’re just warning another bird that is too close, you can be sure Great egrets are eager to show just how big they really are! And, being the second largest heron in North America, that size can definitely come in handy when they need to look “scary.”
October 26, 2022 ~ a mink in our midst!
A rare sighting! This beautiful marsh-mammal was found by our team of naturalists during a kayak on the wonderful Kiawah River. Given that we were nearing an extraordinarily hide tide, known as a spring tide, this poor fella did not have much space to hide! Luckily, our mink friend was still very comfortable as it rested on a pile of dead spartina grass. Definitely be on the lookout for these little cuties; you can typically find them hunting along the edges of the marsh land! Minks, and other small marsh animals, are just one more reason why estuary ecology is so complex and remarkable. There’s an entirely hidden covered in grass and mud right next to us, so keep your eyes peeled!
October 26, 2022 ~ Fed dolphins are happy dolphins!
Thanks to Michael Newton for capturing and sharing this awesome photo with us! Here, we see two of our Kiawah dolphins strand feeding near Captain Sam’s Inlet. Strand feeding is an incredibly complex, cooperative hunting effort by some of Kiawah’s dolphins, in which they effectively “strand” their prey along the shore for easy pickings. After corralling fish together, the group of dolphins will slowly ease them into the shoreline. While part of the group maintains the perimeter of fish, others swim around and line up nose-by-nose. Then, by swimming in near perfect synchrony, these dolphins form what is known as a bow wave. In essence, they are able to generate enough force to form a wave underneath the water, pushing fish onto the shore. All the dolphins rush onto the shoreline and grab a quick meal before scooting themselves safely back into the water. While this looks relatively easy for our dolphin friends, it can take up to five years to learn in the wild! Kiawah’s dolphins are truly special, and this spectacle proves that tenfold.
October 21, 2022 ~ Belted kingfisher fly-by
Another fun sighting from Night Heron Park – I managed to snag a lucky shot of a belted kingfisher as it darted past me looking for food. Not only are these birds beautiful, but their flying abilities are nothing to trifle with! They can hover above the water, usually letting out a distinct, rapid “chrrp” before either diving in for prey or finding another spot. Not many birds can hover, so it’s always beautiful to see! They also have gorgeous black crests, but they tuck those feather in as they fly. Be sure to look out for these all throughout Kiawah with the coming winter!
~ Naturalist Stephen
October 20, 2022 ~ Specialist fungi on the hunt
Naturalist Stevie was exploring Night Heron Park when he stumbled upon a wonderful surprise! While we aren’t sure exactly what this specific fungus is, our best guess is Strobilurus conigenoides, known commonly as the magnolia-cone mushroom. Regardless, we can tell this is a type of specialized fungi, as it needs unique properties to feed off of the seeds of a magnolia tree. Many fungi eat dead organic matter, and while a seed pod is organic, it isn’t exactly dead either. So, S. conigenoides has to utilize specific chemicals in order to help decay and digest the magnolia seeds. This evolutionary adaptation is extremely helpful, as “specialists” can avoid competition by finding niche areas in the ecosystem. Generalists, on the other hand, are subject to much more competition with other organisms, which means they have to spend constant resources to ensure they get properly fed.
Thanks again to Stevie for the beautiful photo!
October 17, 2022 ~ An eastern phoebe appears
‘Tis the season for change! Here I managed to spot this eastern phoebe as it rested at Mingo Point. While the temperature continues to lower, and the air grows dryer, those at Kiawah have the wonderful opportunity to watch all the incoming and outgoing wildlife. For birding specifically, I absolutely love this time of year – spotting a bird you have not seen in six months (or more) is always a rush! From gray catbirds to warblers to sparrows and more, it is so refreshing to see the island’s ecosystem transform and change over the winter. Then, right when you get nice and comfortable, it’s time to get ready for the spring again!
~ Naturalist Stephen
October 14, 2022 ~ Baby yellow-bellied slider
This cutie was found and rescued by someone staying at the resort, as it had gotten lost and wandered a little too far away from safety. Luckily, it was taken to the Nature Center at Night Heron Park, where Naturalists Stevie, Cheyenne, and Stephen all helped in releasing this precious little turtle. Yellow-bellied sliders are one of the most common turtles you’ll find on Kiawah, however, seeing one this young in October is more of a rarity. At this point in the year, they are usually much larger; it seems this turtle had a rather late start. Luckily, it was put back into a nearby pond where it was left to munch on some delicious greens in the shallow water. Good luck, little turtle!
October 12, 2022 ~ Wood stork
This gorgeous bird was found resting in the early morning hours by Mingo Point. These birds are commonly found with other wading birds, like ibis, herons, and roseate spoonbills. Their size, however, is absolutely astounding! On average, they stand close to four feet tall with wingspans reaching nearly six feet across. The wood stork in this picture is an adult, as seen by its blackened, bald head. They are a relatively common find in South Carolina during the summer, as the entire state has become an established breeding ground. I’m not sure what it is about them, but I’ve always found wood storks to be one of my favorites among Kiawah’s birds!
~ Naturalist Stephen
January 7, 2022 ~ Pump the (Alligator) Bellows
While out near the Ocean Course on a Back Island Birding tour, Naturalists Peter and Katy Beth as well as some guests were treated to a very cool, very Kiawah sight (and sound). We were lucky enough to witness an alligator bellow and heard another alligator respond! If you don’t know what we’re talking about, I recommend looking at some of the amazing videos online, but in short alligators bellow to communicate with other alligators. A bellow is a rumble from deep in the body produced by both male and female alligators. They bellow any time of year but do it most frequently in spring during mating season. Studies have found that the frequency of the bellow corresponds to the size of the alligator so they may be using their bellows to say “I’m big, don’t mess with me” to the alligator one pond over. A very cool sight!
January 4, 2022 ~ Ocean Park Butcherbird
While out doing our community science duty and volunteering for the annual Christmas Bird Count in Ocean Park, the Kiawah Island Naturalists came upon this absolutely gorgeous (but fierce!) fellow: the Loggerhead Shrike! Shrikes are sometimes called “butcherbirds” and for good reason. These little songbirds are doing their best impression of birds of prey, including having a hooked beak, but they don’t have the talons of a raptor. Instead, they’ve cleverly developed a behavior where they will spear their prey–including insects, lizards, and sometimes small mammals–on thorns or barbed wire so they can more easily tear them to tasty pieces!
Read more about the tiny but mighty Loggerhead Shrike here.
~ Naturalist Peter