As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on the porch of Yellow Bluff Community Center, looking at one of the prettiest views ever – across the tidal marshes of the Georgia coast, out to St. Catherine’s Island. Every time we get here, we remember what it’s really like to see the sky and water and land. And yesterday, we drove down to Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge – one of my favorite spots on earth.
Harris Neck is 2,762 acres of saltwater marsh, grassland, mixed deciduous forest, and cropland that is a paradise for egrets, herons and in particular, the wood stork. A broad-winged soaring bird that flies with its neck outstretched and pin-thin legs extended behind, the wood stork loves cypress swamps and builds its large stick nest in forest trees. The set designers of Harris Neck built 100 artificial nesting structures to encourage reproduction and it’s obviously been successful: Harris Neck has the largest wood stork nursery in Georgia.
Wood Storks love togetherness, with up to 25 nests in a single tree. The storks breed once a year, with 3-5 eggs in a typical clutch. Chicks are helpless at birth, but demand feeding about 15 times a day (poor Mom), and the competition for food is ferocious. A successful brood averages just 1.5 fledged young per nest – given the tremendous requirement for food and natural predators– but Harris Neck boasts some of the best nest productions on record, despite the alligators which lurk around the bottom of the nests.
Given all that’s happening in the Gulf, it’s nothing short of delightful to see nature in abundance, with baby storks everywhere you look. And I’m especially grateful for storks today, because one just brought my dear friends Pat & Bill Shropshire their very first baby grandson on July 2, which was better than any fireworks display!
To properly mark the occasion, I’m buying a few duck stamps in honor of William Coulter Shropshire — so he’ll still have some wildlife to look at when he grows up.
These beautifully illustrated $15 stamps began as a migratory waterfowl licensing system in 1934, and have been called the most successful conservation program ever initiated. 98 cents of each dollar invested in duck stamps goes for the protection and lease of wetlands habitat, and even though the last thing I want to do is shoot a wild bird, I’m all about helping to contribute to the $750 million that has accrued to the wildlife refuges since 1934.