Lowcountry Birding at Kiawah River

Kiawah River is nestled amidst the lushness of the Charleston sea islands and comprises 20 miles of shoreline, maritime forest, salt marshes and dune fields. Teeming with seabirds, shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl and raptors, the flourishing waterfront village enjoys the aesthetic pleasure of one of the most geographically stunning and biologically diverse habitats in the world. In fact, South Carolina’s abundant avian life includes more than 430 bird species, many of which are unique to the Southeastern region.

Whether your binoculars seek a migratory visitor passing through or a year-round winged resident, the checklist of Lowcountry birds will keep you on the look out for a lifetime. Here are a few of our MVBs (most valuable birds) that can be found at Kiawah River and nearby birding spots:

Wood Stork

This statuesque wading bird stands over 3-feet tall and can be spotted stalking the swamps of coastal South Carolina. The Wood Stork — identified as “threatened” on the Federal Endangered Species list — can only be encountered in a few areas of the U.S., coastal South Carolina being one such place. Historically, South Carolina Lowcountry has served as a post-nesting foraging site for Wood Storks during summer and fall months. Though with the degradation of breeding habitats in southern Florida, South Carolina is becoming an increasingly important nesting habitat for the stork, with the largest concentrations occurring in the ACE basin region, thus making year-round sightings more likely, though still fairly rare during winter months.

American Oyster Catcher

Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in Charleston County is a designated Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site because of its importance for the American Oyster Catcher. Recently the site was extended to encompass 119,440 total acres and now supports more than 100,000 migratory shorebirds annually. Though common year-round residents in the area, the American Oyster Catcher puts on an annual winter spectacle gathering in unusually large flocks to feed or fly. Moreover, the majority of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts’ American Oyster Catchers winter in Cape Romain, making it the best spot for catching this ornithological marvel. It would seem that the American Oyster Catcher knows as much as anybody that Charleston County is the place to be come oyster season.

Painted Bunting and Prothonotary Warbler

Both of these brilliantly colored songbirds alight upon the Lowcountry in the spring after wintering in the tropics. The Painted Bunting can be found in gardens and woodland edges, while the Prothonotary Warbler is most likely to be spotted in forested swamps, earning it the nickname the “swamp warbler.” For some assistance in spotting these beauties, head to Ravenel Caw Caw Interpretive Center or the Audubon Swamp Garden where both species, and hundreds of others, might be seen on one of the guided bird walks.

Here at Kiawah River, we feel privileged to enjoy the spoils of an environment rich in natural resources, and the prevailing spirit of stewardship keeps that environment thriving. Furthermore, the many wildlife refuges, national and state parks, and heritage preserves protect the natural ecosystem, making South Carolina’s Lowcountry a must-see destination for bird-watching enthusiasts.

Image credits: Wood stork by Tristan Loper, American Oyster Catcher by Tony Tarry, Prothonotary Warbler