Whenever I’m on Jekyll Island during the summer, as I was the other day, I make a special stop at the busy bird feeder at the Tidelands Nature Center on the backside of the island. Chances are good that I will see a male painted bunting, by far North America’s most colorful songbird.
The strikingly beautiful bird is a resident of Georgia’s coast during spring and summer. Unfortunately, its range doesn’t extend far inland, and it’s rarely seen north of Georgia’s fall line. Many folks make trips to the coast just to see a gorgeous painted bunting.
I tell folks that if they have limited time, they should stop by the nature center’s feeder, where chances are excellent that one or two male painted buntings will be feeding, especially in the morning or afternoon.
Many people who see an adult male painted bunting (juveniles resemble the much-less colorful females) for the first time think they are seeing a multicolored tropical parrot that escaped from a cage.
Perhaps no other word than “dazzling” best describes the sparrow-size painted bunting. With its bright red, green, blue and purple plumage, the adult male inspires awe among birders — both beginners and veterans. The late field-guide pioneer Roger Tory Peterson called it “the most gaudily colored North American songbird.”
Unfortunately, the painted bunting is facing steep declines because of the development and loss of swampy thickets and woodland edges, its preferred nesting habitat.
You’ll have to be lucky, though, to get a glimpse of another summertime resident on the Georgia coast, a manatee. The huge, gentle, slow-moving beasts, an endangered species, began their slow migration up the Georgia coast from Florida in the spring, when water temperatures rose to the upper 60s.
Throughout the summer, they can be found in tidal rivers, estuaries and near-shore ocean waters of Georgia and the Carolinas. Adult manatees are about 10 feet long and weigh up to a ton. Their bodies are rounded with two pectoral flippers and a wide, flat tail. They subsist on marsh grass and other aquatic plants.
It is illegal to hunt, play with or harass manatees.
Because the animals swim just below Georgia’s coastal murky waters, they are very difficult to spot. That also puts them at extreme risk of boat collisions.
Georgia’s manatees will swim back to Florida in the fall.
In the sky
The moon will be last quarter Wednesday. Look for it to rise about midnight and set about midday, says David Dundee, astronomer at Tellus Northwest Georgia Science Museum. Venus, shining brightly, and Mars are low in the east just before sunrise. Jupiter rises out of the east about an hour after sunset. Saturn is high in the west at sunset and sets before midnight.
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