Visit this vast forest north of Charleston to see the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, as well as Brown-headed Nuthatch, warblers, owls, flycathcers, and kites.
By David Speiser | Published: 2/24/2012
One of my favorite spots in coastal South Carolina is Francis Marion National Forest. On a recent visit, I started the day early in the morning on I’on Swamp Rd. in hopes of seeing endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Their nesting sites are conveniently marked with two white bands around each tree.
After finding Barred Owl, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher, Summer Tanager, Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warblers, Pileated Woodpecker, and Red-shouldered Hawk, I came upon the marked woodpecker trees. Within a few minutes, I heard the birds and then saw a few of them foraging. What a thrill!
Later, I spotted a flock of Brown-headed Nuthatches, followed quickly by views of a singing Bachman’s Sparrow. Then I backtracked to a bridge on I’on Swamp Rd., where I found Swainson’s, Kentucky, and Prothonotary Warblers.
Woodland and forest birds aren’t the only highlight. If you visit, be sure to watch the sky for raptors. You may find a passing Swallow-tailed Kite or the more common Mississippi Kite. — David Speiser
David Speiser is a wildlife photographer and a board member of the New York City Audubon Society. He also wrote about Sterling Forest State Park, Tuxedo, New York, Hotspot Near You No. 109; and Alley Pond Park, Queens, New York, Hotspot Near You No. 182.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Forest and primary and secondary swamp.
Mostly flat. Easy to bird by car.
Red-cockaded, Pileated, and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Chuck-will’s-widow, American Woodcock, Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites, Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson’s, Kentucky, Prothonotary, Worm-eating, Hooded, and Yellow-throated Warblers, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, White-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Grosbeak, Painted Bunting. Black-throated Green Warblers are from the subspecies known as Wayne’s Warbler, which breeds only in the outer coastal plain of the Carolinas and Virginia.
When to go
April to June. Mornings or late afternoons best.
Gas stations and restaurants on Hwy. 17. Brochures, maps, restrooms, trails, and boardwalks at Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center. Camp sites available within the forest; see recreation.gov for information.
National forest. Free admission and parking. At many birding spots, roadside parking available. Visitor center open 9-5 daily, except Mondays and holidays.
Bring a DeLorme atlas of South Carolina or a Forest Service map showing the backroads. Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing, and bring mosquito repellent. Be prepared for changing weather and possibly heavy thunderstorms, and keep an eye out for cottonmouths.
For more info
Four units along north shore of Lake Marion, northwest of Francis Marion. Least Bittern, Painted Bunting, and Purple Gallinule in summer.
Folly Beach County Park
At the south end of W. Ashley Ave. in Folly Beach, south of Charleston. Good for Least and Gull-billed Terns in summer and loons, scoters, and Peregrine Falcon in winter.