In addition to being one of South Carolina's most popular state parks, Hunting Island is part of an Important Bird Area along the Sea Islands at the end of U.S. 21 that also includes Capers, Pritchards, Old, Harbor and Fripp islands.
Featuring a pier, walking/biking trails through maritime forest, miles of beach and a lagoon, its no wonder birds and birdwatchers are drawn to Hunting Island State Park. It's also no wonder The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette have included it on its interactive graphic, the Lowcountry's 10 Best Spots for Birding. Launched June 16, the graphic is a resource highlighting some of the region's best spots to view nature and wildlife. Untamed Lowcountry is showcasing each of the spots individually, starting at the northernmost location and working south.
This week's countdown spot is Hunting Island and the Beaufort Important Birding Area in northern Beaufort County.
Because the list of the Lowcountry's 10 Best Spots for Birding must be accessible by road and open to the public, the graphic focuses on Hunting Island. However, other areas if the IBA bear mention. Harbor Island is home to common ground doves, and is a migratory stop-over for endangered red knots and threatened reddish egrets. Fripp features more than 80 species of birds, including many plovers, sandpipers and wading birds. Both of these islands are private, and Capers, Pritchards and Old islands are accessible only by boat.
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Hunting Island is home to colorful painted buntings during the summertime and to several species of gulls, terns, egrets, herons, raptors and passerines throughout the year. Notable species include black skimmers, tanagers, brown pelicans, oystercatchers, wood storks, bald eagles and ospreys.
Places to check out include the Lighthouse Trail, which takes its name from one of the park's main attractions to the north end, near the campground. It's a good spot for spring and fall migrants, and northern waterthrushes congregate in swampy areas there, too, according to the Carolina Bird Club website.
The mud flats along Johnson Creek Inlet is another good spot for shorebirds -- and a peek across to the southern tip of Harbor Island to the north, where there's always something interesting to see on the sandbars just off the beach. The lagoon and south-end flats are accessible through the park's main entrance or from a trail near the fishing pier, just before the bridge to Fripp. Birds are attracted to the feeders near the pier entrance, where a nature center also is situated. Red-breasted mergansers, brown pelicans, belted kingfishers and wading birds can be found in the lagoon, and shorebirds, gulls, terns and skimmers are plentiful on the beach's southernmost reaches.
If you would more information about 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.