"Who cooks for you?" she asked me. What an odd question, I thought. She asked me again: "Who cooks for you?" I was about to reply, "Well, my wife is a lovely cook, and there are several nice restaurants in my hometown of Bluffton that I can recommend ..." when she suddenly turned her head entirely around on her body to stare at a lizard. That's when things got really weird...
Actually, my inquisitor was a beautiful barred owl, and the only weird thing was that she was sitting on a limb just a few feet away from me issuing her signature call that sounds like "Who cooks for you." It was such a rare feeling to be so close to wildlife that I knew I must be in a remarkable place. I was indeed, for I was deep in Four Holes Swamp near Harleyville on a boardwalk in the majestic Francis Beidler Forest wildlife sanctuary.
Francis Beidler Forest encompasses more than 16,000 acres of pristine swampland and forest a mere two hours from Bluffton. Located near Harleyville just outside of Charleston, it is a treasure house of the National Audubon Society. It was established in 1977 to protect 1,800 acres of one of the few remaining stands of old growth forest in South Carolina, and it quickly became a magnet for birders, nature enthusiasts and a curious pubic. It has been designated a National Natural Landmark and helped put South Carolina on the map for preservation of our national wonders.
A raised boardwalk carries visitors along a 1.75 mile loop and the wildlife that can be encountered is astounding in its number and seemingly casual closeness to the observer. Owls, snakes, deer, otter and migratory birds such as the fiery-colored Prothonotary warbler are regular occurrences in season. Francis Beidler Forest is a world-renowned destination for naturalists and fascinating to anyone who wishes to enter another world.
The path begins at the visitors center, where interpretive guides and hands-on educational displays prepare you. The boardwalk begins and ends here and will take you thorough several stages of forest and swamp. There are covered rest stations along the way, but you will be so amazed at the range and number of wildlife you encounter that the opportunity for photography and learning may be all you need. My family and I have been to Francis Beidler Forest several times throughout the year and in all seasons. Each time of year offers new discoveries; no two visits are the same. Be it an otter playing in the glassy water at dusk, the neon yellow flash of a Prothonotary warbler among cypress knees or the calling of owls across the swamp, Francis Beidler Forest will amaze you at every turn and offer new -- or renewed -- appreciation of the South Carolina Lowcountry.
Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to www.Flickr.com and search on the username "greenkayak73." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.