2020 Wildlife Sightings: Incredible Findings and Photos

Welcome to the Kiawah Island Nature Program’s 2020 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. Share your photos and stories with us at Kiawah_Recreation@KiawahResort.com.

August 10th, 2020 ~ Moon Snail

What the heck is that? This strange specimen is a shark eye, or moon snail. Shark eye snails (Neverita duplicata) live just below the surface of the sand and prey on other critters living in the sand. Ever wonder how the shells you find on the beach with the perfect holes in them happened to get those holes? Well those shells used to belong to clams (and sometimes other shark eye snails-gasp!). The shark eye snails use their spiny tongue to drill a hole into the shell of one side of the clams, spit acid inside, liquefying the clam, and then drink it up. What’s left is two shells, one with a hole and one without. Next time you use these shells to string together a pretty necklace, remember to thank your friend the shark eye snail!

March 18, 2020 Red Knot’s Take Flight

Captain Brad spotted thousands of Red Knots (Calidris canutus rufa) taking flight at Captain Sam’s Inlet. These birds take an incredible journey from South America to the Arctic, traveling over 9,000 miles, sometimes flying for 6-8 days continuously over the open ocean without stopping. They have chosen Kiawah as their critical staging area during migration to rest and feed before continuing to their Arctic breeding grounds.

February 18, 2020 ~ Sea Cucumbers Galore! 

Not all fascinating animal sightings on Kiawah Island are of large, charismatic critters. Last weekend, on a Marsh Kayak trip, the full moon brought us some extreme low tides which exposed huge tracts of mud on the Kiawah River. If you happened to be out navigating these muddy mazes, you may have seen what looked like large patches of gooey…something covering the river floor (and attracting a decent number of Herring Gulls). These were millions of small, pinkish, wormy critters, some up to 2 inches long, and few even had a net of tentacles sticking out of one end which were quickly retracted when touched. These fellows are Pentamera pulcherrima, a common local sea cucumber. What is a sea cucumber, you ask? Sea cukes are actually echinoderms—relatives of sea stars, sand dollars, and sea urchins. While their cousins are disc- or star-shaped and radially symmetrical and have hundreds of tiny tube feet on their bottom half, sea cucumbers are tube-like (bilaterally symmetrical) and have rows of tube feet running the length of their bodies. They are normally found burrowing in the mud where they extend their branched tentacles hoping to catch food particles. They dislodge easily and are commonly found washed up on Lowcountry beaches. Keep your eyes on the sand and mud and who knows what you’ll find!
-Naturalist, Peter Bergeson

February 8, 2020 ~ Mink in the mud 

We had a mink sighting at Mingo Point this past Wednesday! American minks like to hang out around our marshes in the Kiawah River. Minks are built for the water; they are good swimmers and can dive up to 16 feet. Their hair is very oily to help make them waterproof, and they even have slightly webbed feet. They dig their den into riverbanks, find a hollow log, or use an abandoned den, but they never use the same den for very long. In case of an intruder, the mink can spray a foul-smelling liquid similar to a skunk, except that the mink cannot aim its spray. These cute critters are best observed from a distance!
-Naturalist, Samantha Hart

February 7, 2020 ~ Bobbing Ducks

If you find yourself wandering the beaches on the east end of Kiawah Island near the Ocean Course, scan your eyes (or binoculars, if you have them) across the surface of the water just past the breakers and you just might see hundreds of little black dots bobbing up and down in the waves.

These dots are Scaups, diving ducks that take a break from their breeding grounds in the Canadian arctic to spend the winters off the coast! More specifically, they’re likely Lesser Scaups, although there may be a few Greater Scaups mixed in with the raft. Winter is duck season here on the South Carolina coast with diving and dabbling ducks of all kinds spending winters where food is a bit more plentiful before heading north again come spring. Try to count them all! I gave up when I got to about 500.

January 29, 2020 ~ Leucism in the flock 

This past Thursday, Naturalists Jake Goodrum and Bradley Schmoll observed a pair of unusual white birds in a flock of red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds, and house finches. As if it had been blanketed by snow, the first bird noted was completely white. The second bird was mostly white with a few streaks of dark brown. Both birds were identified as leucisitc brown-headed cowbirds. One may think that these birds are albino – animals that do not produce melanin – however, the eyes of a true albino animal will be red or pink and both birds had dark-colored eyes. Animals with leucism can produce melanin, but they have a difficult time depositing the pigment in specific areas, hence the white feathers instead of the usual dark colorization of cowbirds. It was a neat discovery seeing these uniquely colored common birds visiting our feeders at Mingo Point. To learn more about which birds call Kiawah home, join us on any of our daily birding tours!

January 12, 2020 ~ Large Gulls in the Water 

As the largest gull species in the world, the Great Black-backed Gull can be found along the eastern coast of North America. Their population can stretch from as far north as Newfoundland and south to Florida during the non-breeding season. They are easily distinguished from other gull and shorebird species, as they typically tower over them, possessing a wing span of up to 5.7 feet, and have a distinct appearance: white head, yellow bill, and dark black wings and back. These birds hunt a wide variety of food from invertebrates (mussels, crabs, sea urchins, etc.) to vertebrates (fish and other bird species), and will even feed on dead fish, or resort to stealing food from other animals. Our Naturalists were lucky to spot a Great Black-backed Gull while participating in the Christmas Bird Count on the Kiawah River. The gull was following a crabber around alongside a squadron of Brown Pelicans, as the crabber checked and baited his pots. Spotting this bird was a first for many of us, and we were all very excited as it was the largest gull any of us had ever seen!

January 10, 2020 ~ Winter = Sparrow Season 

Many birds opt to move south as temperatures drop and food becomes scarce in the north. Some fly as far south as the southern tip of South America. Others are content spending the mild winters right here on Kiawah Island.

The bird in the picture is extra special winter resident to Kiawah Island. It is a Salt Marsh Sparrow and as their name suggests, they are found in the vast marshes on the backside of Kiawah Island. For the last several years Biologist from the town of Kiawah have waded out in to these marshes to capture and band these birds (along with a couple other unique sparrows) to better understand them. After provided a unique banding code they are released with the hopes they will be captured again in the future. This ongoing study has shown that many of these individual birds return to Kiawah year after year… And not only that, but they have a tendency to return to pretty much the same area they were captured at in previous years! Really neat stuff demonstrating how important healthy marshes to some fascinating animals.

January 05, 2020 ~ Why did the turkey cross the road? 

If you’ve spent any time on Kiawah between November and now, you probably spotted the two Wild Turkeys that have been roaming the western half of the island. We often spot them foraging along the Kiawah Island Parkway, scratching through the leaf litter looking for nuts, seeds, or berries to snack on and sometimes invertebrates like snails or beetles. It is not uncommon to come across Wild Turkeys in this area, in fact this species can be found in 49 of our 50 states, Mexico and even into Canada! If you are coming to visit Kiawah in the coming months, make sure to drive slowly and keep an eye out for these two beautiful birds and you may be able to catch a glimpse of their iridescent feathers.
– Naturalist AK


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