Bird Nerd Guide: Top Birdwatching Sites in South Carolina
Do you live in the Carolinas and love birdwatching? If so, you’re in luck because there are plenty of prime spots to see everything from wading to nesting birds.
Birdwatching can be an exciting activity. Traveling to places to see and observe these amazing creatures not only enriches your knowledge but is certainly a treat to the eyes. If you love birdwatching, then keep reading to find out where to go in South Carolina.
For birdwatching, you need a good place where there will be an abundance of different birds to observe. If you are new to this, you would want to start in a place with lots of birds. If you are more experienced, you may have the patience to wait in a place where there might not be as many birds. Either way, all you need is a good set of binoculars and an anchor to place your scope on for birdwatching.
Enclosing Appalachian highlands and Atlantic coastal habitat, South Carolina is quite a hotspot for around 430 different species of birds. If you enjoy birdwatching in a developed tourist spot or want to relax in a wild, birdy habitat, South Carolina has all sorts of places for you.
Huntington Beach State Park
Containing over 300 species of birds, this is one of the most popular bird-watching spots in South Carolina. From seabirds to shorebirds to migrants, you can find a wide range of different birds here. Try this destination in summer for a beach trip.
Huntington is also a park education center where you can get a bird checklist. All year-round, you can see gulls, shorebirds and terns. They could be called the “beach hosts.” From fall to spring, you will find the Common Loon, Red-Throated Loon and ducks. In winter, you will see the Purple Sandpiper if you walk 1.2 miles north toward the Murrells Inlet jetty. If you are lucky, you may come across a Razorbill or a Harlequin duck. In nesting season, you may see Reddish Egret, King Rail, Least Tern, Black-Necked Stilt, Anhinga or Wood Stork.
Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
With 29,175 acres of freshwater marsh, bottomland hardwood and tidal river, Savannah National Wildlife Refuge is abundant in birdlife. Here you will find a visitor center, ponds and freshwater pools with plenty of birds up close. Beware of alligators though. You will face them too except in winter. Here, you will find nesting birds, such as Bald Eagle, Mississippi Kite, Black-Necked Stilt, Osprey, Anhinga and Painted Bunting. In spring, you will see many ducks. Wading birds like White Ibis, Snowy Egret, Wood Stork and sometimes Roseate Spoonbill will delight your eyes.
Caesar Head State Park
If you want to indulge in the birdlife of the Appalachian highlands, this is the perfect spot. Situated 20 miles northwest of Greenville, this park is abundant in mountains and dense forests. It hosts uncommon nesting birds like Blue-Headed Vireo, Ovenbird, American Redstart, Ruffed Grouse, Dark-Eyed Junco and Black-Throated Blue Warbler.
In fall, especially in late September, Caesar Head Park can be great for hawk watching. You may come across Peregrine Falcons, which have been reintroduced here lately.
Ravenel Caw Caw Interpretive Center
Compared to other sites, the Ravenel Center might be small in area. However, the 654-acre country park is packed with more than 250 species of birds. Offering a diversity of habitats, including swamps, pines and hardwoods, no wonder why so many species can call this place their safe haven.
Prothonotary Warblers and Swallow-Tailed Kites will easily catch your eye if you visit in summer and spring. You can expect to find Painted and Indigo Buntings, Acadian Flycatcher, Baltimore Oriole, Belted Kingfisher, Egrets, Herons, American Pipits and Bank swallows soaring high in the sky here.
Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge
This place has 47,850 acres of habitat, including a large area of pine forest. If you are a regular birder, you will know exactly what to find here—Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. This is an endangered species and nests only in mature pine trees. You will also find Brown-Headed Nuthatch and Bachman’s Sparrow here. Other nesting birds you will come across are Prairie Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler, Mississippi Kite, Baltimore Oriole, Red-Headed Woodpecker and Blue Grosbeak.
An interesting thing about Carolina Sandhills is that trees are marked with white paint so that visitors can birdwatch from at least a distance of 200 feet. This surely allows the safety and comfort of wildlife.
Congaree National Park
This park guards the largest tract of old-growth floodplain forest in Carolina. With some of the tallest trees in the U.S., Congaree may be a bit difficult to walk through. You can get a guide, a map or any sort of advice and information from the visitor center.
You can take different trails through this park; however, the 2.4-mile boardwalk loop into the center of the forest is what most visitors opt for. All trails start from the visitor center. So, after you have collected your map and seen where you would most likely find which species, you can choose your path.
What species of birds can you find here? Waterthrush, Red-Headed Woodpecker, Brown-Headed Nuthatch, Swainson’s Warbler, Yellow-Throated Warbler and many more will amaze your eyes.
Looking for a place to camp at night after a long day of birdwatching? Here are some campsite suggestions:
Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center and Sanctuary
Containing the world’s largest virgin bald cypress and swamp forest, this 17,000-acre sanctuary comes to life with a variety of birds. Take a boat or walk through the swamp forest to see Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron, Northern Parula, Mississippi Kite, White Ibis and much more. Passing through the swamp, you are bound to hear the “sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet” call of the Prothonotary Warbler and the “who cooks for you?” sound of the Barred Owl.
Bear Island Wildlife Management Area
Get dazzled by the colorful wading birds in this area. Not only long-legged species, but this place also has so much more to offer. Throughout the year, you will find Wood Storks, Bald Eagle, Mottled Duck, American White Pelican, Anhinga and more than 20 species of shorebirds.
The nesting birds you will come across here include Mississippi Kite, Mottled Duck, Black Rail, King Rail, Seaside Sparrow, Swallow-Tailed Kite and Painted Bunting.
If you like to hunt, this is probably the best place for you. However, note that Bear Island remains closed from November to early February in order for wildlife to thrive.
Santee National Wildlife Refuge
Here lies South Carolina’s largest lake, Lake Marion. You don’t want to miss a fishing experience here. With four separate units within 10 miles of each other, this place is easy to travel to. Stop at the visitor center to get the information you need about the abundance and variety of wildlife available.
Different seasons will give you different experiences when it comes to birdwatching here. In late winter, you will see Bald Eagles nesting around the lake, while in the Bluff Unit, you will find Sandhill Cranes. Waterfowl species thrive from fall through spring. In late summer, wading birds are plentiful; and you can see Ospreys year-round.
Different migrant birds are offered a safe home in Santee. So, if you want to experience the guests, you have to keep this place on your wishlist.
Francis Marion National Forest
Apart from birdwatching, if you are looking for an amazing hiking experience, the Francis Marion National Forest is the place to go. You can even take drives or canoe routes through this forest.
The Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center will help you with any assistance you need for your trip. You can also check out Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, which is nearby and has limited public access.
The most popular birds that grab the most audience here are Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Black-Throated Green Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Bachman’s Sparrow, Swallow-Tailed Kite, Wood Duck, Prairie Warbler and Anhinga.
Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve
Folly Beach is a popular recreational and visiting spot for many just south of Charleston. Tourists not only flock here for the fun of the beach but also because of the long list of bird species to watch.
The Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve is basically a country park. Expect the unexpected here. From shorebirds to migrants, you can find it all in this place. In winter, expect to find Red-Throated Loon, Horned Grebe, Black Scoter, Purple Sandpiper and Jaegers.
Birdwatching is not only a fun thing to do but also educational. If you are new to this hobby and planning to start, now you know exactly where to go. Happy birdwatching!