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Savannah National Wildlife Refuge - South Carolina

Alligator and Turtle
Savannah National Wildlife Refuge - Robert Kemmerlin

Robert Kemmerlin | E-Mail | Updated 06-7-09

Northern Shoveler, Female

Northern Shoveler, Female - Savannah NWR
- Robert Kemmerlin

Introduction

Found just north of the city of Savannah GA on both sides of the Savannah River, the refuge occupies land in both Georgia and South Carolina. This 29,000 acre refuge was established in 1927. Bottomland hardwoods and tidal freshwater marsh make up much of the refuge. The 3000 acre impoundment located in South Carolina is managed for migratory wading birds and waterfowl. This section of the refuge is the most accessible and will be featured here.

These impoundments were part of an old rice plantation dating from the mid-1700's, the dikes of which form the foundation of a 4.8 mile loop called the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive. The impoundments now serve to protect nature and wildlife.


White Ibis

White Ibis, Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
- Robert Kemmerlin


Nature Perspective

Visitors will motor along the 4.8 mile Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive by freshwater pools teeming with various wildlife from wading birds to prehistoric looking alligators and then drive through hardwood hammocks draped in spanish moss.

Located along the Atlantic Flyway, the refuge is known to support a rich diversity of birds including thousands of waterfowl in the winter months and wading birds in the humid summer months. In the spring and fall, transient songbirds stop here to rest on their migration to and from their northern breeding grounds.

Waterfowl species found in the winter include Mallards, Pintails, Teal, Northern Shoveler, the resident Wood Duck, and potentially 10 other species of ducks and geese. Large areas of the refuge are flooded prior to winter allowing for huge numbers of waterfowl to gather.


Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule, Savannah NWR
- Robert Kemmerlin

Wading and other water birds are easily viewed in the spring and summer months. Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Tricolored herons, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, both Least and American Bitterns, Anhingas, Cormorants, Moorhens, Purple Gallinules and an occasional Wood Stork may be observed.

Raptors are often seen in the refuge with the Osprey being the most common. I've seen several different species of hawks and a Bald Eagle within the refuge.

Mammals I have spotted include white-tailed deer, feral hogs, raccoons, possums, and one unforgettable sighting of a bobcat mom and 3 nearly grown kittens. Keep your eyes scanning for movement as the mammals normally don't hang around for a long time.


Mallard

Mallard, Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
- Robert Kemmerlin


Wilderness Experience Perspective

Traffic through the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive was few and far between on my recent visit during a weekday, this will not be the case for weekend trips. Many tourists come through the refuge during the summer months and holidays. You will definitely have a fair amount of solitude when you stop your vehicle and walk the dikes any time of the year.

Photography Perspective

The SNWR has never disappointed me. You can't have just one photography opportunity, but usually several great opportunities to shoot a variety of the long-legged waders. I'm addicted to flight shots and any of the open water areas will be productive if you set up and wait for them to fly by.


My favorite bird to shoot at SNWR is the Purple Gallinule. Any place in the refuge where there is a large concentration of water lily pads will have them, the trick is to locate them in the summer months to early fall.


My suggestion for locating the birds is to drive slowly, stop at all of the stops that look promising, and get out of your car and listen.

Hot spots, where I always stop at are listed below with the mileage from the gate:

Bobcats

Bobcats, Savannah NWR
- Robert Kemmerlin

  • 0.3 miles - at low tide look for wading birds in pool on the right

  • 0.4 miles - pull off for sunrise marsh landscape on left

  • 0.5 miles - dead tree on the left is normally full of Anhingas and Cormorants at dawn

  • 0.9 miles - pool on left and canal on right usually full of wading birds at low tide

  • 1.1 - 2.2 miles - look closely while going through hammocks for owls

  • 2.3 - 3.3 miles - look for gators, turtles, and the Osprey fishing in canal on right and bitterns, Sora, herons, and Purple Gallinules in small openings on left

  • 3.4 miles - small pond on left is best place to shoot turtles and small gators

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret, Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
- Robert Kemmerlin


Common Snipe

Common Snipe, Savannah NWR
- Robert Kemmerlin



Gear/equipment Suggestions

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe, Savannah NWR
- Robert Kemmerlin

  • Insect Repellent - Especially during the summer months.

  • Mountain Bike - Great for the dikes that are not accessible via automobile.

  • Photography - Bring your longest lens, a bean bag, and lots of flash cards.

Location and Points of Interest

  • From I-95 in SC near the SC/GA border, take exit at Hardeeville (Exit 5), and go south on US 17, toward Savannah, Georgia.
  • At approximately 6 miles south of the interstate you will reach a split in US 17. Bear right (west) on SC 170.
  • The entrance to the refuge [Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive] is about 2.7 miles ahead on the left.
  • Restroom facilities are at the front entrance and 0.6 mile from entrance gate.

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge Map (Google interactive map)

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Additional Information



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