Birding Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina

One of my favorite birding sites is Huntington Beach State Park, just south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. There is so much to see, over 300 bird species have been spotted here, that I can spend days walking and taking pictures. As a matter of fact, I do that just about every time I am there…sunrise to sunset if I can!

sunrise over the marsh
sunrise over the ocean

I love starting my morning watching the sunrise over the marsh or walking along the beach watching for early birds. You never know what you’ll find and every season brings different birds. My favorite section of beach to bird is North Beach. I always head north since it is a bird sanctuary. A few of the birds I have found while walking along North Beach are: Sanderlings, Willets, a few different sandpipers, and possibly my favorite beach birds…American Oystercatchers and Piping Plovers. Many of these birds are endangered and thanks to preserves and state parks along the coast like HBSP they have a safe place to breed and raise their young. Remember if you come across any nesting birds to give them space and never cross the roped off area. Nesting birds are under enough stress, we don’t need to cause them more. If you watch in between the waves as you walk you might see Brown Pelicans, many different terns and gulls, and in winter you’ll more than likely see some Common and Red-throated Loons along with some Horned and Pie-billed Grebes. The walk out to the jetty and back is about 3 miles. The jetty is paved on top so you can walk out on it when you reach the end of the beach.

Piping Plover
American Oystercatcher
Non-breeding Red-throated Loon

After I bird the North Beach area, I usually head to the causeway and walk across it and back a few times. Besides birds, in spring through part of fall, you are almost guaranteed to see an American Alligator or two…

If you walk along the left hand side of the causeway (towards the gate) this is Mullet Pond, the freshwater side of the causeway. Here you will find many wintering waterfowl: Blue-winged Teal, Ring-necked Ducks, Widgeon, mergansers, among others. Different egrets and herons can usually be found here hunting for their meals. Watch the sky closely and you may be rewarded with a glimpse of the resident pair of Bald Eagles. Bald Eagles breed in winter, so winter through spring they will be busy tending to their nest and young. Osprey are usually seen flying overhead and hunting for prey.

Great Egret
American Alligator
Hooded Merganser
Black Skimmer skimming the surface of the tidal marsh

After I reach the entrance side of the causeway, I usually turn around and walk back along the other side. This side is a tidal marsh and the birds will vary depending upon the tide. If the tide is high, you may see pelicans floating and waiting for fish and Double-crested Cormorants are common as well. Herons and egrets, as well as Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks can sometimes be observed in the trees while the tide is high and then foraging in the low tide.

Roseate Spoonbill
Wood Stork
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant with an eel

As I said earlier, I usually walk the causeway a few times before moving on and coming back to it later. After the causeway, I like to either go to the marsh boardwalk or walk along the Atalaya Straight Road. Along Atalay Straight Road, you can take a leisurely walk along the sidewalk that stretches between Mullet Pond and Mallard Pond and watch for birds and alligators. There are usually various herons, egrets, gallinules, and depending upon the season, other small birds. I have seen many kinglets and a few different warblers in this area.

Common Gallinule with its large, colorful feet
Tri-colored Heron

Another area that is great for birding is the marsh boardwalk. This is a nice wooden boardwalk that stretches out over the tidal marsh. Birding is especially great during low tide. I have come across many Green Herons and got my first Clapper Rail here. You can usually spot many egrets and other herons amongst the reeds or soaring overhead.

Great Egret
Green Heron

At the start of the boardwalk there is a new visitor’s center being built and there are a few feeders set up. Here you can usually spot Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, different sparrows depending upon the season, and my favorite…the Painted Bunting. I’ve come across Blue-headed Vireos here as well.

Blue-headed Vireo
Painted Bunting

If time allows, I usually return to one or more of the spots I birded earlier in the day to see if anything new has shown up…I’m usually surprised to find something wonderful! And then I return to my hotel and prepare to do it all over again the next day. Any day spent at HBSP is a day well spent!

Cedar Waxwings I observed in a tree in the parking lot of the gift shop!
map of the park

I hope if you take a trip to HBSP, you enjoy it as much as I do! And as always, happy birding!

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