Bear Island Wildlife Management Area includes 12,000 acres to explore, but visitors often need go no farther than the large pond at the property’s entrance to be enthralled.
In fact, the causeway separating the freshwater impoundment from salt marsh on the opposite side is a popular spot for birdwatchers, particularly during the winter. That’s when tundra swans and American white pelicans — much different from the brown pelicans so abundant elsewhere in the Lowcountry — virtually spill from the pond.
The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette launched the Lowcountry's 10 Best Spots for Birding interactive graphic June 16, a resource highlighting some of the region's best spots to view nature and wildlife. Untamed Lowcountry is highlighting each of the spots individually, starting at the northernmost location and working south.
This week's countdown spot is Bear Island Wildlife Management Area in Colleton County, near Green Pond.
The refuge, owned by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, is managed to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other wetland wildlife, including threatened and endangered species such as wood storks and bald eagles, according to the DNR website. With its large pines and abundant water sources, Bear Island is located in the center of the most important eagle-nesting region in South Carolina, according to the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. Raptors and passerines are also commonly associated with marsh impoundments near Bear Island. Painted buntings and eastern kingbirds are among the species feeding on insects and seeds from the grasses that grow along the dikes there. Shrubs provide nesting and perching sites, as well as cover.
Wading birds include herons, egrets, ibises and storks, which are particularly abundant when water is drawn down in the impoundments, concentrating the fish, crustaceans and insects upon which they feed. Roseate spoonbills, black-bellied whistling ducks, common golden eye ducks, eared grebes, American avocets, Hudsonian godwits and LeConte’s sparrows are among the other species that can be seen at Bear Island. Note, however, the area is not open year round — it is accessible Feb. 9 through Oct. 31. It also is occasionally closed for special hunts.
If you would like to see information on the other top birding spots in the Lowcountry, there's no need to wait for the countdown to unfold. Visit the graphic and see photo galleries, videos, seasonal bird lists, maps and all sorts of other information about all 10 sites.