14 December 2007

Jekyll Island Hotspots Part II

Now we will continue our trip highlights of Jekyll Island's south end. The south end of Jekyll is the best spot for beach combing and shorebirds. Before heading out to the beach there are some wonderful trails that cross the island and take you through beautiful Live Oak forests. My favorite tree of course is found across from the Jekyll 4-H Center and is named the Grandfather Tree for its enormous size. Thousands of school children climb in this tree each year as they visit the University of Georgia's Cooperative Extension facility.

The best public access for the south end is at St. Andrews picnic area. Before you head out to the beach you can picnic at the tables, use the restrooms and even take a stroll through a nice path that leads you back to some pristine salt marsh. At the beginning of this path you will also find a hidden gem, the rope swing. This swing is a great chance to swing through the Spanish Moss forest and see the rolling dune features.

Once you're done swinging through the trees you can make your way down to the beach. The beach here is on the back side of Jekyll and gives you a great view of St. Andrews Sound and the 6 miles of salt marsh before you reach the mainland. Often this is a hotspot for seining and fisherman alike. This is a great area to catch mullet and shrimp.

If you travel eastward you will come out to the Atlantic side of the island. Here you will find rolling sand dunes and plenty of Spartina Grass. If you look closely, I am sure you will find a Ghost Crab hole or two. Sometimes they can be seen during the day scavenging on dead debris but they are mostly nocturnal.

This is a great beach for shells. After a storm you will find a plethora of whelks, cockles, and clam shells. Below is a Pen Shell that washed up in one of the runnels. The runnels are a perfect place to find Sea Cucumbers and Sea Pork. Both of these unusual animals are rarely seen alive but often wash up on shore after a storm.

Depending on the time of year you will find seasonal animals moving through. Sometimes the beach can be littered with Comb Jellies and other times you will find hundreds of Horseshoe Crabs. Below is a pincher of the prehistoric looking Horseshoe Crab. These small pinchers are useless on humans but they use them to scuttle around on the bottom of the ocean.

Jekyll's beaches are the perfect habitat for nesting ocean residents. Loggerhead Sea Turtles come up by the hundreds during the summer to lay their ping-pong like eggs in the sand dunes. The Jekyll Turtle Patrol marks their nests with these markers, pictured below.

Jekyll Island also has nesting Wilson's Plovers. During nesting season they place signs on the south end beach to warn residents to not tread on the dune areas. Jekyll is fortunate to have beautiful intact sand dunes on the south end. Over the years, the sand sharing system has dumped hundreds of feet of sand to this side of the island.

The sand flow system has also created a very shallow channel on the south end side of the island. Many years ago a shrimp boat, trying to escape a storm, ran aground and the boat has been anchored here every since. Years of accretion has caused the boat to almost be entirely covered except for the mast. Shorebirds flock to this area. My favorite Jekyll shorebird is the Black Skimmer. No other bird I know has a beak so impressive!

The old shipwreck hosts many types of animals. Barnacles and polychaete worms abound. This is the perfect place to take a few pictures and watch the sunset. And there is almost always a dolphin show. The dolphins off of Jekyll have their own year-around pod that frequently can be seen harassing the fishermen and indulging the tourists with their antics.

Before leaving the island you should definitely stop by the Tidelands Nature Center. They have a touch tank, shark tank, and a resident sea turtle. Plus, you can take a wonderful kayak trip out to the intercoastal with a guide. The 3 hour journey will start at Ski Rixen pond where you can master your sea kayak skills before launching into the tidal creeks behind Jekyll.

Well I hope you have enjoyed our little trip across one of Georgia's smallest barrier islands. In the coming weeks I will highlight Cumberland Island, which is south of Jekyll, and Sapelo Island, which is found north of Jekyll. All the islands found off the Georgia coastline have their own cultural and historic value that is interlocked with the beautiful natural surroundings.

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