Gone to the Birds

The holiday season reminds us of many things to be thankful for: friends, family and the many blessing that we have in our lives. Working in state parks, the holiday season reminds me of a year filled with great memories and moments. A year that went by way too fast! One of my favorite memories this year was a trip to Huntington Beach State Park. The weather was perfect and it gave me an opportunity to experience a park that has gone to the birds. Wait, don’t jump to conclusions! Generally when you hear something has gone to the birds it means problems, but that’s not the case for Huntington Beach.  

Over 315 different species of birds have been seen at the park, which is more than any other area in South Carolina. So why do the birds flock to Huntington Beach?  Simply put, the park offers a multitude of habitats in a relatively compact area: maritime forests, sand dunes, sand beaches, salt marshes, freshwater marshes, brackish water marshes, a maritime shrub thicket and even a rocky coastline with our jetty. The birds are everywhere and they routinely put on shows that allow photographers, both professional and amateur alike, to capture stunning shots. 

After a meetings on one of my visits this year, Coastal Regional Chief Ray Stevens and I took a walk on the causeway to discuss the events of the day. While we were deep in conversation, these two ole park rangers were quickly distracted by an amazing display by Mother Nature.  It was “dinner time” on the causeway, and a fascinating assembly of birds put on a show even the Discovery Channel would envy.  The tide was out on the marsh side of the causeway, so the buffet was open for the birds to dine on a variety of food that the causeway offered up. 

If you love the outdoors, and you have ever thought about taking up birding, Huntington Beach is the place to be. During my visit, I saw egrets as well as not so common Wood Storks gathering in unprecedented numbers to attend the afternoon buffet. Wood storks are just one of several bird species that visit Huntington Beach each year. The bird population tells a story of conservation and awakens the senses to the beauty of the coastal environment.  

There are many birds of interest that you don’t want to miss at Huntington Beach including the annual arrival of the Spoonbills. The Spoonbills are among the most striking of North American birds. Nearly three feet tall, adults have long reddish legs, a pink body, pink wings with deep red highlights, and that famous “spoon bill”.  The arrival of the spoonbills to the Huntington Beach in the summer is worth the trip! In the winter, be sure to look for the Long-Tailed Ducks, Common and King Eiders, or even rare birds such as Harlequins, Razorbills, Dovekies, and Black Guillemots. You will also find wintering Common and Red-Throated Loons as well as delicate Horned Grebes. Did I mention that Huntington Beach is for the birds? Winter birding is a great activity and your state parks are the perfect place to start.  State Parks are for the birds… and people too! 

Happy Thanksgiving and I’ll see you in the parks!
Phil