Wildlife: As We See It…

Welcome to the Kiawah Island Nature Program’s 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.

April 21, 2018 ~ Piping Plover (Hyla cinerea)

wawsi august 8Keep your eyes open for banded birds! If you can capture a photo of a banded bird, you can report it to www.reportband.gov/. These reports help researches understand the movement patterns of these birds. This Piping Plover was banded on Kiawah in 2013 and this photograph was taken on Captain Sam’s inlet 2 days ago. Welcome back buddy!

The shore birds on Kiawah’s beach are migrating north for the summer. They are visiting the beach to rest and eat. They need to reenergize before they continue their trip. Please give these shore birds respect and observer them from a distance. Chasing shorebirds will cause them to waste energy that they would otherwise use for their migration.

– Photo by Naturalist Jake Zadik

April 19, 2018 ~ Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea)

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Spring is here and the Green Treefrogs are calling. Their choruses can be most frequently heard during as low pressure systems pass through and can be a good indication of an incoming storm. Keep your ears open as you explore Kiawah! Listen to a recording of their call here.

– Photo by Naturalist Jake Zadik

April 3, 2018 ~ Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)

First sighting of the season…. Painted Bunting at Mingo Point!

March 24, 2018 ~ American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

On today’s Gator Walk, Naturalist James Wilson, spotted gator B019 in the pond between Maritime Villas and the Roy Barth Tennis Center (pond 039). B019 is a tag that was placed on this alligator as part of a research project. B019 is a 7.9 foot male who was tagged on July 10, 2017 in this same pond.

March 17, 2018 ~ American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

wawsi august 8 jpgAlligators don’t sweat like us humans do. One way they cool down is to open their mouth in a process called gaping. Gaping is when alligators lay ashore with their mouths open for prolonged periods of time. This is a thermoregulatory response that reduces the alligator’s head temperature.

March 4, 2018 ~ Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

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It was an exciting week for our Nature Program. Wonderful spring wildlife sightings all across the island. We witness a fantastic community effort to return a fledgling eagle to its nest (February 27 Facebook post), documented a Common Goldeneye (March 2 Facebook post), welcomed new Naturalists to our team, and 2 Naturalist interns from St. Johns High. Finally, as though Mother Nature was summarizing our week’s adventures, the very last hour of work provided a wonderful wrap up.

At Turtle Point, we tried to capture our own photo of our rare Common Goldeneye. Quietly waiting, hoping he would swim within distance of the lens, we sat on the bank of the pond. After some period of time and not much luck with our photo, we took our eyes off the goldeneye to see if there were any other photo ops. To our amazement, directly in front of us was a magnificent Bald Eagle feasting on a bird. Given our proximately to our Night Heron Park nest, we were confident this was one our parents. And as though posing for our camera he sat in that tree providing graphic shots of the circle of life.

As we left the island for the night, both Bald Eagle parents were at the nest, a sign we took that all was safe on the island tonight.

February 28, 2018 ~ American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

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Have you ever seen an alligator yawn? Yes, alligators yawn just like we do. This yawn provides us with a unique look into the gator’s mouth. Look closely at the top of the throat you will see a small opening; this is the beginning of the esophagus, which leads to the stomach.

When a gator submerges, water can easily enter into the mouth. But alligators have a special flap (palatal valve) near the back of the tongue that seals the throat, preventing water from getting into the esophagus and trachea. This feature allows an alligator to open its mouth underwater without flooding its throat, which is especially important when feeding on aquatic prey.

At Turtle Point, we tried to capture our own photo of our rare Common Goldeneye. Quietly waiting, hoping he would swim within distance of the lens, we sat on the bank of the pond. After some period of time and not much luck with our photo, we took our eyes off the goldeneye to see if there were any other photo ops. To our amazement, directly in front of us was a magnificent Bald Eagle feasting on a bird. Given our proximately to our Night Heron Park nest, we were confident this was one our parents. And as though posing for our camera he sat in that tree providing graphic shots of the circle of life.

As we left the island for the night, both Bald Eagle parents were at the nest, a sign we took that all was safe on the island tonight.

February 26, 2018 ~ Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

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On the morning of February 19th a gentleman walked into our Nature Center at Night Heron Park to inform us that there was an injured Golden Eagle on our bike path. Our Naturalists knew immediately that our resident Bald Eagle must have fledged the nest. Resort Naturalists arrived on site to find a healthy, stoic juvenile Bald Eagle sitting on the ground (Feb 19th facebook post).

Bald Eagles begin to leave the nest (fledge) at about 10-14 weeks. Prior to that first flight, nestlings will flap their wings in the nest. They will also jump to nearby branches, a behavior known as branching. Ending up on the ground during this time is not necessarily a cause for alarm.

However, after 48 hours on the ground in a high traffic area, we became concerned. When our Town Biologist, Aaron Given, consulted with both US Fish and Wildlife and the South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey, it was determined that taking the bird in for an examination was the best course of action. Birds of Prey determined that besides a high parasite load, the bird was healthy and just perhaps too young to be out of the nest. They provided treatment for the round worms and rehydrated the bird, with the plans of re-nesting it.

Today with a large scale community effort between St. John’s Fire District, Center for Birds of Prey, Town of Kiawah Island, SC Biologists and Kiawah Island Community Association, the idea was to put the juvenile eagle back into the nest. Decked with hard hats for protection from the parents, Debbie from the Center for Birds of Prey (with the eagle in her arms!) and 2 members of St Johns Fire and Rescue were hoisted 80 feet into the air. At first, onlookers were concerned as no parents were visible. But as the bucket of the ladder truck got within feet of the nest, one of the parents came into view. Alas, our goose bump moment, as it began flying wide circles in the area just as the fledgling was successfully placed into the nest.

As we left the island for the night, both Bald Eagle parents were at the nest, a sign we took that all was safe on the island tonight.

February 19, 2018 ~ Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

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This morning a gentleman walked into our Nature Center at Night Heron Park to inform us that there was an injured Golden Eagle on our bike path. Our Naturalists knew immediately that our resident Bald Eagle must have fledged the nest. Resort Naturalists arrived on site to find a healthy, stoic juvenile Bald Eagle sitting on the ground.

Kiawah has several Bald Eagle nests and it is time for the juveniles to fledge. Fledging is when a bird is ready to leave the nest and learn to fly. Consequently, this time of the year finding juvenile Bald Eagles on or near the ground is normal. You may think the bird has been abandoned, but the adults are probably watching and waiting for you to leave. If you find a fledgling maintain your distance and only watch for a few minutes. If you are concerned call the Heron Park Nature Center, 843.768.6001 or our Town Biologists, 843.768.9166.