Some of the best birding spots on the East Coast can be found in this Southern State where topographical diversity contributes tidal flats and bald cypress swamp, mountains and farmland. There’s a surprising amount of variety even along the coast, but it’s also well worth a trip inland to see some of the species resident at higher elevations or in flocks on open fields.
One of the state’s most notable bird watching destinations, Huntington Beach State Park, also happens to be conveniently close to another popular vacation destination, Myrtle Beach. Watch for any number of the 276 recorded species here before venturing on down the coast to spot pelagic birds at play in the Gulf Stream or boat out to Bull Island in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Shared between Georgia and South Carolina find Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, a fine place to watch for American Avocets, or venture inland to the swamp habitat in Francis Biedler Forest for Barred Owls and Yellow-crowned Night Herons. Caesars Head State Park has a reputation for hawks, but in this South Carolina stretch of mountains look also for warblers, eagles and Dark-eyed Juncos. State specialities worth keeping an eye out for include the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, the Summer Tanager and the Carolina Wren.
Huntington Beach State Park:
This state park close to Myrtle Beach. offers very good birding from the end of August through to May, at which point summer crowds descend and temperatures soar. Watch for rarities like the Roseate Spoonbill and Western Kingbird as you scope out the park, as well as a long list of shore birds. Try the oyster recycling area or Murrell’s Inlet Marshwalk for a glimpse of the American Oystercatcher.
Charleston Harbor (Fort Sumpter):
Birding in Charleston Harbor isn’t as impressive as it is elsewhere on the South Carolina Coast but it is easily accessible from Charleston. Couple a ferry ride to Fort Sumpter with birding around the harbor, watching seasonally for the Purple Sandpiper, assorted terns gulls, loons, and Brown Pelicans as well as Osprey and Merlin. For further variety, venture farther off shore into the Gulf Stream where pelagic species rarely seen on the mainland abound.
Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge:
This expansive wildlife refuge takes in a variety of sandhill habitats, including woodland, swamp and forest. It’s the longleaf pine forest that offers some of the best birding, host to Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, the Brown-headed Nuthatch, Summer Tanagers and more. Habitats are accessible via paved road.
Four-hole Swamp (Francis Beidler Forest):
A mile-long boardwalk through a stand of bald cypress-tupelo gum swamp offers easy access to the Northern Parula, which makes its nest in Spanish moss. Watch also for Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Barred Owls, Prothonotary Warblers, egrets and more than 130 additional bird species as you explore this top birding spot. Visibility is best during spring.
Mountain Bridge / Caesars Head State Park:
Broad-winged Hawks are what draw birders during the fall, when there’s an active hawk watch here, but keep an eye out also for warblers, Ruffed Grouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch and the occasional Golden Eagle or Red Crossbill. This is also a good place to spot breeding Dark-eyed Juncos. Birding is at its best during breeding season as well as spring and fall migration.
Orangeburg Sod Farms:
Between August and October the turf grass at these farms near Orangeburg. Orangeburg sounds a siren song to Shoreirds, which flock here in droves. Watch for Lesser Golden Plovers, sandpipers, the occasional Sandhill Crane as well as breeding Horned Larks and noisy Killdeer. The farms are privately owned so do your watching from the road with a spotting scope.
Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge:
Bull Island, a stretch of forested barrier sand, is one of the reasons this national wildlife refuge north of Charleston is considered such a hot spot for bird watching. A 45-minute boat ride is required for access, but the reward is a glimpse of Brown Pelicans, nesting Osprey, American Swallow-tailed Kites, even Wild Turkeys and Tundra Swans.
Savannah National Wildlife Refuge:
All of South Carolina’s shorebirds can be spotted with a little patience and time at this 29,000 acre Lowcountry refuge. In addition to its location on the Atlantic Flyway, the refuge also attracts quite the bird following for the worm-rich sandflat created by regular dredging efforts on the Savannah River. Cold-weather brings American Avocets and Green-winged Teal, but watch also for sandpipers, Wilson’s Phalaropes, Willets and Dowitchers.