August 20, 2020
24 Hours on Little St. Simons Island
Posted by: Jeanne Christie
Written by Phillip Murdaco, Photographer and Office Assistant
Through his love for the Island and his passion for photography, Office Assistant and Photographer Phillip Murdaco finds ways to make the most of his time at LSSI. Phillip chronicled a single day on the Island to show how many amazing experiences an intrepid visitor can enjoy in 24 hours on Little St. Simons Island.
24 Hours on Little St. Simons Island
What can be possible with a minimal amount of planning and a moderate amount of determination.
Most mornings when my alarm goes off at 5:30a.m., a moderate amount of determination is the maximum I can muster. However, at dawn I find fortitude in my first cup of coffee and peaceful dawn bike ride to the beach.
I am alone on an undeveloped beach. Even after two years of living on this island, the solitude remains a strange feeling. As a Jersey boy, I am more accustomed to the beautiful-in-their-own-right yet exceptionally crowded barrier islands of Sea Isle City and Long Beach Island. Nothing rivals the peaceful solitude and balanced tranquility of the undeveloped beaches of Little St Simons Island.
Don't get me wrong, the beach here is still crowded-- though not with people. Everywhere I look, life abounds. Bugs buzz, ghost crabs scuttle, and birds begin their day. Wilson's Plovers with newly hatched chicks sound the alarm as I pass by. I keep moving towards the wet sand to put them at ease. Black Skimmers glide skillfully in the surf and American Oystercatchers pass by in pairs. Overhead, gulls and terns fly, and bands of pelicans stream across the sky. Absolutely worth a 5:30a.m. wake-up call.
On my way back to the Lodge, I stop at Norm's Pond. From the blind, I see hundreds of nesting birds of many different species. In the upper branches of a single tree, I count Wood Stork, White Ibis, Snowy Egret, and Tri-colored Heron fledglings. After witnessing a Roseate Spoonbill parent return to feed its chick, I make my way back to the Lodge. I am still blown away by all I have already seen. For those of you keeping count (the Sunrise, Norm's Pond rookery, Spoonbill feeding experience), that makes three potentially once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and all before 9am[O3] !
After breakfast, some guests head for the beach. Seeing as I just returned from there, I decide to take a naturalist-led North End Adventure. Our guide is naturalist Emily. Her knowledge of the Island is extensive, and her passion for nature, conservation, and education is evident. I learned about many new things including island history, recent conservation efforts, and fascinating flora.
Wildlife abounds on the north end as well. Emily leads us a short distance from the road for a sight only seen this time of year (approximate time: 10:45am, potential once-in-a-lifetime experience #4…). Hibiscus grandiflorus, or Swamp Rose-mallow, is a giant species of Hibiscus flower. There are several lesser known ponds on the Island where these plants grow by the thousands. Although near the road, the ponds would have remained completely hidden from us, had Emily not suggested we stop to take a look. Many of these plants tower above us reaching heights of eight feet or more, with flowers reaching six inches in diameter.
Standing among these giant flowers, I felt for a moment transported. I would not be surprised if Emily told us we would next be climbing a rather large beanstalk… She instead leads us back to the truck, and we continue along North End Road.
Next, we come to the south dike of Myrtle Pond and Emily describes some of the area’s history and management.
As the day heats up, we stop at Myrtle Pond Blind to sit in the shade, drink cold water, appreciate the breeze, and admire the view. The blind provides a ground-level perspective of a pristine coastal ecosystem where we witness grasshoppers, dragonflies, frogs, lizards, skinks, alligators, Roseate Spoonbills, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Black-necked Stilts, and Anhingas. Our binoculars (or in some cases, camera lenses...) put us right in the middle of all of the action.
The group shows interest in visiting the Treasure Oak. Located just a short walk from the road, Treasure Oak is estimated to be over 400 years old. In 1898, a particularly powerful hurricane battered the Georgia Coast, and this tree was knocked over sideways. Such is the strength of Live Oak roots and the resilience of these trees, as it has continued to grow sideways with its trunk parallel with the ground. The trunk alone reaches a height of more than 6 feet! After admiring this legendary tree for a few minutes, it is time to truck back to the compound for lunch.
After recharging with a nice midday meal, many guests want to return to the Beach for the afternoon. Additionally, naturalist Katie will be doing a presentation in the Barn about the snake species on LSSI.
After an enriching and educational presentation, I am beginning to feel tired from my early morning and action-packed day. Experience has taught me it is sometimes best to avoid the Georgia Sun in July during the hottest part of the day. So, I opt to relax until dinner, and am sure to take a stroll through the Garden on the way to my Island home.
That evening after dinner, Ecological Coordinator Kate Tweedy presents on the numerous ongoing research projects at LSSI. She describes how LSSI partners with organizations like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to investigate at-risk species and habitats. Scientific findings inform on-the-ground land management and conservation practices.
As Kate finishes up her talk, I can’t help but notice the sunset is beginning to look gorgeous. I head to one of my favorite spots on the Island to watch the sun disappear below the horizon. “Sunset Bench,” as it’s called, is only a few minutes’ walk from the lodge compound. My words cannot describe the natural beauty that occurs with the setting sun, and all I can do is sit and appreciate the opportunity and privilege I have to see it.
Once twilight takes over, I begin my short walk home, taking time to admire the night sky. I reflect on all I have seen, learned, and experienced today. I crawl into bed recalling all the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that were possible in just 24 hours on LSSI.