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Cullens Memorial Trail – Darien, GA

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On Sunday morning, I walked the Cullens Memorial Trail within the Altamaha Waterfowl Management Area near Darien, GA.  It was a beautiful morning for a walk and it yielded some good bird sightings and a couple of alligator sightings.  The Cullens Memorial trail runs east of US 17 just south of the Butler Plantation.  There are two observation towers (two story decks) that offer good spots for photography.  The trail itself is composed of roads that are atop dikes that separate flooded areas with salt marsh on the other side of the easternmost dikes.

Map of the Cullen Memorial Trail

Map of the Cullens Memorial Trail

Memorial Marker by the first Observation Tower.

Memorial Marker by the first Observation Tower.

I didn’t see much from the first Observation Tower, so I began walking the trails. There were a lot of Red Winged Blackbirds out and (unusual in my experience) they actually let me get somewhat close – close enough for some good pictures.  Shortly afterwards I discovered that despite being on top of the dikes, there are still some low spots in the trail.  If you plan on walking it, I’d suggest wearing some shoes you wouldn’t mind getting muddy; the ground in the low spots was not as solid as it appeared at times.

Red Winged Black Bird

Red Winged Blackbird

Red Winged Black Bird

Red Winged Blackbird

Red Winged Black Bird

Red Winged Blackbird

Red Winged Black Bird

Red Winged Blackbird

The first of the two alligator sightings was of a pretty good sized one.  It was swimming into a hiding spot which I was later able to find.  Not very far from the alligator was a male Blue Winged Teal; there were a lot of Blue Winged Teal around Sunday morning and they were a lot more wary than the ones at the Savannah Wildlife Refuge that don’t fly off even if you drive quite close to them. Just after seeing the alligator I also saw a female Ruddy Duck (but no males were seen).

Large alligator swimming by a male Blue Winged Teal

Large alligator swimming by a male Blue Winged Teal

The same alligator as above, trying to hide.

The same alligator as above, trying to hide.

Female Ruddy Duck

Female Ruddy Duck

The same female Ruddy Duck taking off.

The same female Ruddy Duck taking off.

Blue Winged Teal

Blue Winged Teal

I also saw at least 5 or 6 Black Bellied Whistling Ducks, very distinctive for their bright beaks, legs, and feet.  While approaching the second Observation Tower, I saw the first two and once I got to the top of the tower I saw a few more, including a couple taking flight.  This is only the second time I’ve seen any Black Bellied Whistling Ducks, the previous time was when my nephew and I saw some at the Savannah Wildlife Refuge.

Black Bellied Whistling Ducks

Black Bellied Whistling Ducks

Black Bellied Whistling Ducks

Black Bellied Whistling Ducks

As always there were plenty of Coots and Gallinules to be seen and I caught some photos of some “running” across the water while taking off while walking along the eastern leg of the trail.  While I was on the eastern leg of the trail, I saw the second alligator on the salt marsh side of the dike.  Just before ending the trail walk, I saw a raptor that was remaining low – near the water’s surface and in low branches along the dikes (earlier I saw what I think was the same bird perched on top of one of the trail’s wildlife information signs.  Due to the brush/vegetation I couldn’t get a good photo including its head to help with identification but I’m wondering if it was a Northern Harrier.

American Coots taking off

American Coots taking off

Alligator head

Alligator head

I never could get a photo that included this raptor's head - I'm wondering if it is a Northern Harrier.

I never could get a photo that included this raptor’s head – I’m wondering if it is a Northern Harrier.


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