One of my favorite spots in coastal South Carolina is Francis Marion National Forest. On a recent visit, I started the day early in the morning on I’on Swamp Rd. in hopes of seeing endangered Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Their nesting sites are conveniently marked with two white bands around each tree.
After finding Barred Owl, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher, Summer Tanager, Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warblers, Pileated Woodpecker, and Red-shouldered Hawk, I came upon the marked woodpecker trees. Within a few minutes, I heard the birds and then saw a few of them foraging. What a thrill!
Later, I spotted a flock of Brown-headed Nuthatches, followed quickly by views of a singing Bachman’s Sparrow. Then I backtracked to a bridge on I’on Swamp Rd., where I found Swainson’s, Kentucky, and Prothonotary Warblers.
Woodland and forest birds aren’t the only highlight. If you visit, be sure to watch the sky for raptors. You may find a passing Swallow-tailed Kite or the more common Mississippi Kite. — David Speiser
Red-cockaded, Pileated, and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Chuck-will’s-widow, American Woodcock, Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites, Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson’s, Kentucky, Prothonotary, Worm-eating, Hooded, and Yellow-throated Warblers, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, White-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Brown-headed and White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Grosbeak, Painted Bunting. Black-throated Green Warblers are from the subspecies known as Wayne’s Warbler, which breeds only in the outer coastal plain of the Carolinas and Virginia.
National forest. Free admission and parking. At many birding spots, roadside parking available. Visitor center open 9-5 daily, except Mondays and holidays.
Bring a DeLorme atlas of South Carolina or a Forest Service map showing the backroads. Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing, and bring mosquito repellent. Be prepared for changing weather and possibly heavy thunderstorms, and keep an eye out for cottonmouths.