Along its 18 miles of Atlantic beach we were alone. In its maritime forests, the trunks and branches of majestic Live Oaks, draped in Spanish Moss, arched and twisted on their own woodland journeys. Its expansive saltmarshes vibrated with Fiddler Crabs and Virginia Rails. And every night we enjoyed its dreamy sunsets.
Ruth and I are back on shore after eight days of backpacking in Cumberland Island National Seashore off the Georgia coast. Yet among all the wild beauty of those beaches, forests and marshes, I must admit that a highlight of this outing was a giant spider that landed on my head. It was a Golden Orb Weaver (Nephila clavipes), about the width of your palm and able to spin a web that can stop a songbird.
Our encounter with this impressive spider (that’s her to the right, on the island’s “Rollercoaster Trail;” the male, much smaller, lives safely in her web as a “kept spider”) had us eager for more. We found spiders shaped like diamonds, spiders marked like candies, and spiders like flying saucers with crimson spikes. You’ll see a few of them among Cumberland Island’s other pageantry in the images below (from my Panasonic DMC-LX5 point-and-shoot and my iPhone).
What you won’t see here (for a change) are birds. That’s mostly because no image can capture the island’s riot of wintering songbirds – numbers I’d not seen in four decades of birding. A sizeable portion of eastern North America’s Yellow-rumped Warbler population winters on Cumberland Island. The place is lousy with them. Spish anywhere, and the mob begins: Swarms of warblers, with the occasional Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, or the odd (lone) Magnolia Warbler among them for good measure. Jittery, chattering Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Vocal and energetic Carolina Wrens at every turn. Hermit Thrushes issuing “chuck” notes and pumping their tails. Eastern Towhees popping up to issue an energetic “Reep!”
This was joyful birding among common songbirds. Point your binos in any direction for a new dose of discovery. Gulls, terns, and shorebirds in numbers exceeding 10,000 dominated beaches and tidal flats. Northern Gannets and Brown Pelicans plunged for meals offshore.
Our rarest encounters included five Roseate Spoonbills and a single immature Razorbill. But more birds are yet to come. Ruth and I are off to southern Florida, including Everglades National Park. For now, however, here below are Cumberland Island’s other moments of exhilaration. (Anyone know spiders? I’m clueless on the rest of these.) Oh, by the way, that sunset photo above, from one of our campsites at a marsh’s edge, is no PhotoShop fraud. This was our drama. Untouched.
Southward on Saturday.