Untamed Lowcountry

Cypress Wetlands rookery again attracting throngs of nesting birds

The birds are back in droves at the Cypress Wetlands, a year after construction noise and dry conditions seemed to reduce the number of egrets, herons and other species that nest there in spring.

Hundreds of birds have been spotted recently in wetlands in recent days. Great egrets are among the species that nest there, and some could be seen tending to eggs.

"Cypress Wetlands is both a rookery and a roosting spot," notes Chris Marsh, a ornithologist and executive director of the Lowcountry Institute, an environmental learning and research center. "It's off to a good start as far as roosting birds. We'll have to see if it turns out to be a good year for the rookery."

Birds also concentrated in high numbers in late winter 2015, only to abandon nests in spring, Marsh said.

A year ago, town officials said two nearby construction projects -- the renovation of the Port Royal Police Department and construction of a Parker's convenience store -- likely drove some of the nesting population to The Preserve apartment complex, across Ribaut Road. Those projects have been completed.

Marsh said dry conditions made the usual nesting areas -- trees and high ground surrounded by water -- accessible to predators like racooons that would otherwise have to swim past alligators that also live in the Cypress Wetlands.

"There's a higher level of water in there this year, and that should be beneficial," Marsh said.

The chance to see nesting birds in the middle of an urban habitat is one reason the Wetlands are included in The Beaufort Gazette and Island Packet's list of the Lowcountry's 10 Best Spots for Birding. The area was one of several wetlands within town limits once isolated by road construction and other developments, according to the town’s website. However, many of those wetlands are now linked by pipes and integrated into the town’s stormwater drainage system, filtering runoff before it reaches Port Royal Sound.

In April 2012, the town finished a project of more than $500,000 to complete a trail and boardwalk around and through the wetlands and to build an amphitheater on the Cypress Wetlands’ western edge.

Related stories from Hilton Head Island Packet