Originally Published on September 30, 2023 in the Aiken Standard
Written by: Pete Kleinhenz
“Here, kitty kitty kitty.” Hearing anything resembling those words when out in nature would leave most people feeling confused, or terrified. Fortunately, in this instance, those words were like music to my ears. “Here, kitty kitty kitty,” you see, sounds phonetically like the song of the Bachman’s sparrow. And, when you hear a Bachman’s sparrow, you know you’re in a special place.
Bachman’s sparrows seemed to be singing from every direction as I stood in the restored longleaf pine savanna within the 3,400-acre Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary. This conservation property, operated by Audubon South Carolina, borders the Savannah River approximately 20 miles south of Aiken. Not surprisingly, birds abound on the property and 215 species have been documented to date. On this day in late July, however, it was the Bachman’s sparrow that was the most obvious resident and one that highlights what makes this property so significant.
I was riding around the property with Brandon Heitkamp, the sanctuary manager; Tim Evans, Audubon South Carolina’s director of land conservation; and Rebecca Haynes, executive director of Audubon South Carolina. Brandon and Tim explained that the population of Bachman’s sparrows exists there due to the restoration efforts being employed, such as prescribed burning on a two- to three-year interval. Bachman’s sparrows prefer to nest near or on the ground, and construct their nests out of grass. As a result, they need fires to sweep through and knock back the hardwoods that would otherwise reduce their nesting opportunities by replacing the grassy groundcover they require.
On the drive back to the education center, Rebecca emphasized how valuable it can be for visitors to see examples of management benefitting birds. After all, cutting trees and burning the woods probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when thinking about bird conservation. But active management positively impacts many kinds of birds, and Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary offers a great spot to see such management in action. And, when you go, don’t worry: hearing “here, kitty kitty kitty” is a good thing.