The Skagit River Valley sits along one of the major West Coast routes for migratory birds. Every fall and spring thousands of birds pass through the area, some taking up residence for the winter from Canada and Alaska. Over the past several weeks we’ve been enjoying quite the avian floor show and have made several bird watching trips.
Laura was away for a conference, so for the second week in a row it was off for a paddling trip. After last Saturday’s marathon on the Broad River, I was up for something more relaxed. We decided to head back to Sparkleberry Swamp and do a shorter out and back paddle.
This time our paddling group would consist of myself, Dwight, and his two friends Mike and Lisa Webster. Mike is an expert birder, and Sparkleberry is a birder’s paradise. I was looking forward to paddling with someone this knowledgeable about birds.
Unfortunately, none of my paddling companions on this trip have their own boats. Fortunately, I do have enough gear to accommodate several spare paddlers. So, Friday evening I loaded up my truck with four kayaks so I could head out early Saturday morning for the swamp.
We spent the night in St. George. It was far enough away from the Charleston and coastal areas for us to find a room, but fairly close to our morning destination. The plan was to hit Beidler Forest as soon as it opened at 9:00 and spend as much time as possible there.
We had planned to visit yesterday, but when we checked the calendar on their website we saw that three fifth grade classes were going to be visiting. I’m sure it was going to be a great visit for the kids, but that meant it would probably be too noisy for our tastes.
Laura and I have been coming to watch birds at Beidler for many years now. The 2 mile boardwalk winds through an area of Four Holes Swamp, and one of the main attractions is the bright yellow Prothonotary Warbler. We hoped to spot a few, as well as some other birds on our visit today.
As we pulled into the parking lot a family with teens and pre-teens unloaded. The kids were loud, and we feared the worst. However, as soon as they got on the boardwalk they got quiet. Their parents had told them that if they hoped to spot any wildlife they would have to walk quietly. Even so, we took the boardwalk in the opposite direction so as to maximize our chances of seeing something.
I’ve been able to take off on a few excursions over the last couple of months, but Laura really hasn’t had a chance to get away. With her mom in Florida, and since we had at least one day in common for this spring break, we decided to escape down to the Charleston area. However, we weren’t interested in the city itself, but the outlying areas to do a bit of bird watching. Our goal for the first day was the ACE Basin, and Beidler Forest for the second day.
Driving no the interstate was pure madness. It seems that everyone was out for a weekend away. We decided to get off of the interstate and explore some of the side roads. Laura’s comment was that “South Carolina is much prettier once you get off the interstate.”
We drove into Orangeburg, then headed south. On Highway 61 we saw a sign for the community of Sixty-Six. I’d never heard of it before, so we decided to check it out. It was an old railroad community that didn’t turn out to be much. I may have to do some further research. We did drive through Branchville, which has “the oldest railroad junction in the world.” Laura wasn’t sure about that claim, though, so I filled her in on the history of “The Best Friend” of Charleston, one of the first railroads in the US.
Our visit to Beidler Forest only took up half of the day, and we were ready to see more wildlife. Therefore, we cut across the country down toward the ACE Basin and the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area. Donnelley is only one small section of the ACE Basin. To the east is the Ernest Hollings National Wildlife Refuge. However, we prefer Donnelly because it’s a bit easier access, and it tends to be a bit quieter.
We entered from Bennett’s Point Road and immediately got turned around. We were taking a different direction, but eventually wound up where we wanted – at the old farm house that serves as a landmark for the rice field hiking trails.
I had been sneaking off on paddling trips for the past several weekends, so Laura decided it was time for both of us to get away. We headed down toward the coast, and one of our favorite locations, Francis Beidler Forest.
Beidler Forest is located in the Four Holes Swamp area, and is maintained by the Audobon Society. It features a mile-long loop trail on a raised boardwalk that winds through the cypress swamp. In addition to huge ancient trees, the swamp is home to many species of birds and other wildlife. This time of year is when the prothonotary warblers are in town, and we were hoping to spot a few.