Saturday, June 15, 2013
On the Road--Down South: Savannah's Forsyth Park, Colonial Cemetery, and Another Visit to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
Afterward, I decided to make one last visit to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, this time driving the "Wildlife Tour." Most of the people on the route seemed to be looking for alligators, but there were birds around. Although I saw nothing new, I got to see more Anhingas, Moorhens, Purple Gallinules, Cardinals, Blue Jays, a lustily singing Indigo Bunting, a pair of Cattle Egrets, and, overhead, Great Egrets, Mississippi Kites, and even a couple of Glossy Ibises.
Later in the day, I went to see the Colonial Cemetery again, as it was considerably cooler today than it has been in the last few days. Clouds threatening rain that never developed were welcome. The cemetery was the second built in Savannah. It appears to have been used actively between around 1750 and 1850. Many of the graves are from 1820, a year marked by an epidemic of yellow fewer that killed more than 700 citizens of Savannah. The cemetery is now a city park. This was the original resting place of Major General Nanthanial Greene, one of Washington's most important generals (later moved to Johnson Square). Other notables of the Revolutionary War period and others include Joseph, James, and John Habersham; Joseph Clay; Samuel Elbert, Colonel John S. Macintosh, General Lachlan Macintosh, Edward Greene Malbone, a miniaturist; and Captain Denis L. Cottineau de Kerloguen.
Friday, June 14, 2013
The museum houses a truly impressive collection of ship models illustrating the maritime history of Savannah. They are meticulously detailed and many have cutaway sections that allow you to see inside the vessels. Besides the ship models, the collection includes shipbuilding and sailmaking tools, navigation tools, art depicting maritime vessels, scrimshaw, objects illustrating the lives of sailors, and even a few actual figureheads.
A small figurehead in the shape of a horse's head was striking, I thought (left). I also liked a French Porcelain "brothel cat." According to the museum notes, these were placed in the windows of brothels that catered to ship's crews. The eyes were removable. Green eyes were inserted to indicate the establishment was open for business. Red eyes meant the place was full or that the police were in the area. A cat with its back turned indicated a brothel was closed. Is this the origin of the expression "cathouse"?* Well worth the time to visit--the museum, that is. Highly recommended.
[*A subsequent search suggests that the use of the cats was perhaps peculiar to Savannah. According to the OED, "cat" was a common term for a prostitute possibly as early as 1401 but certainly so by the 17th century. Therefore "cathouse" would have sounded the way "whorehouse" does to us today.]
Thursday, June 13, 2013
I spent the rest of the day just walking around Charleston, which has a lot of interesting architecture. The oldest houses seem to be mostly brick and from around the Revolutionary War period. You could spend days looking up at the cornices of the bigger buildings or peering into courtyards lush with ferns, or looking into shop windows. Much of the old downtown in Charleston (and Savannah as well) still has gas lamps burning. I had a quick dinner and then made the drive back to Savannah, about two hours. This morning I feel tired and somehow don't want to go out into the heat at all, but I'll think of something interesting to do.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Before long I started seeing unfamiliar raptor-like birds that turned out to be Mississippi Kites (life bird No. 15). Other birds included Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Eastern Kingbirds. On the way back, walking slowly to keep from getting overheated, I noticed a group of about 30 birds circling in the distance. When I looked at them with binoculars I was surprised to find that they were mostly kites, with Swallow-tail Kites among them (life bird No. 16). The Swallow-tail Kites have a strange combination of fierceness of aspect and elegance that makes them fascinating to watch. In California, our kites, White-tailed Kites, are occasionally seen in small family groups during breeding season, but they are otherwise mostly solitary. I wonder if these Southern kites normally fly in groups like this? In the end, the walk turned out to be quite productive, if uncomfortable.
After recuperating with a cold beer and a lunch of wild Georgia shrimp and avocado quesadillas at the Kayak Kafé back in Savannah, I decided to drive out to Tybee Island, another spot supposed to be good for birds. Along the way, I stopped at Fort Pulaski, a low, brick Civil War fort that was worth a quick wander through. The island has powdery sand beaches and a lot of restaurants with a look that suggests their focus is scooping up tourist dollars rather than serving good food. I was going to stay and have dinner on the island, but couldn't find a respectable-looking restaurant or even an inviting outdoor table. Before leaving I walked down to the beach and watched a group of people playing bocce ball and kept an eye out for birds. It was mostly Laughing Gulls and Brown Pelicans, but there were also terns flying further out, occasionally hovering and then diving headfirst into the water for fish. They turned out to be Royal Terns (life bird No. 17 for the trip). I ended up going back to Garibaldi's again for a late dinner and a glass of wine after a much-needed nap.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Monday, June 10, 2013
I ended up in Albany, Georgia, the only town that seemed likely to have hotel rooms between where I found myself with sunset coming on and the coast (this time, the East Coast). I passed through Dothan and Blakely. In Blakely the road signs, if followed strictly, will put you in perpetual orbit around the town square. I had to flag down a car to ask which road to take to get to Albany. Along the way, near Arlington, I spotted a group of vultures in the pines along the road. I had seen a Turkey Vulture not long before, but these birds lacked the familiar red head of the Turkey Vulture. I turned back for a better look and confirmed that they were Black Vultures (life bird No. 11 for the trip). My lens, cool from the air conditioning in the car, fogged over as soon as I stepped out into the hot, sodden air, but I got a few shots, before heading back quickly to the car to avoid mosquitoes. So far the bugs haven't been as bad as I feared they might be, but the trip has just begun. The people have been friendly. Tomorrow (June 10) I head for Savannah.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
At Lacassine Pool I saw many Grackles. I believe both Great-tailed Grackles and Boat-tailed Grackles, but I'm a little confused about the grackles. Purple Gallinules and Common Gallinules were all over the watered areas, many with chicks, walking on the big lotus leaves. Barn Swallows, Red-winged Blackbirds (with the yellow bar that our California birds lack), Mourning Doves (a darker, richer brown than ours), Great Egrets, a few Coots, and many Eastern Kingbirds. Along the road I found a pair of Kingbirds with three newly fledged young. Later I got to hear a very vocal Common Yellowthroat singing out in the open. Saw a Brown-headed Cowbird and a Great Blue Heron. With the exception of the Eastern Kingbird, these are all birds I've seen before. If I've seen an Eastern Kingbird, it was long ago. Likewise the Glossy Ibises flying over, so I'm not sure whether to count these as new life birds until I can check my records at home. I therefore count White Ibis as life bird No. 3 on the trip. Pretty birds with pinkish heads and bills. The very tips of the primaries are black.
Heading further east, I had planned to visit Avery Island, the home of Tabasco Sauce, but arrived in Lafayette too late to make the detour and then make any headway toward the coast. I had wanted to see the salt dome there and to do some birding as well. I stopped in at the Lafayette Tourist Information Center, where the very helpful people suggested I visit Lake Martin instead, which turned out to be a wonderful idea. The main bird walk was closed for alligator nesting season, but I walked the boardwalks that were open. Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, and Prothonotary Warbler in the cypresses gave me life birds No. 4, 5, and 6 for the trip. A female cardinal was a bonus. Watched Tufted Titmice tussling in the trees. I was about to leave when I talked briefly to a docent who told me there was a rookery further up the road with Little Blue Herons nesting (checking the map later, this appears to be called Rookery Rd.).