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  • Writer's pictureKaren Hogan

South Carolina NWR Trip December 2016

Updated: Dec 15, 2018

South Carolina has 8 National Wildlife Refuge and 7 of these Refuges are open to the public. We were able to visit 2 of the South Carolina National Wildlife Refuges the last week of December and planned to spend more time at the South Carolina National Wildlife Refuges during the next year.

Karen and Teresa at Carolina Sandhills NWR, December 27, 2016

December 24, 2016

Teresa rented a car and drove to Chapel Hill, NC to be ready for our trip to a 3 National Wildlife Refuges in South Carolina.

December 25, 2016

Teresa and I celebrated the holiday with my Husband and his co-worker.


December 26, 2016

To begin our South Carolina National Wildlife Trip we drove 3 hours to our hotel in Hartsville, South Carolina, where we have a 30 minute drive the next morning to Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge.


December 27, 2016 Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge

Before 1939 the land that is now the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge was badly eroded and unable to support the populations of wildlife species that once lived here. When the Refuge was established in 1939 efforts were made to restore the longleaf pine habitat. Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, comprised of 47,850 acres, is now one of the premiere sites for viewing the longleaf pine and wiregrass ecosystem. The longleaf pine habitat provides nesting trees for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, an endangered species since 1970.

We arrived just as the Visitor Center opened and got our Blue Goose Stamp. It was great to talk to the Refuge Manager about the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge.

There was plenty of fog for our early morning drive along the 9 mile wildlife drive, we spent a great deal of time taking photos of the amazing scenery as the fog surrounded the trees, another magical moment at a National Wildlife Refuge.

Birding 10 hours at the refuge we listed 35 species of birds on ebird including Bluebirds, Pine Warblers, White-breasted Nuthatches, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Dark-eyed Juncos, Chipping Sparrows and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. The areas we hiked and visited at the refuge included: Tate's Trail, Tripod Trail, Oxpen area and the photoblind. Checking out the nesting trees, marked with a white band, by the refuge staff, we were able to get some good looks of the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. We stayed a good distance, at least 200 feet, from the Woodpeckers and used our zoom lens to get photos of the Woodpeckers.  

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Red-cockaded Woodpecker at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Red-cockaded Woodpecker at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Red-cockaded Woodpecker at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Red-cockaded Woodpecker at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Eastern Phoebe at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Eastern Phoebe at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Pine Warbler at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Chipping Sparrow at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Pileated Woodpecker at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Karen at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Teresa at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Teresa at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Teresa at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Teresa at Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, December 27, 2016

Leaving Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, a true habitat restoration success, we drove the 85 miles to our hotel in Santee, South Carolina.


December 28, 2016 Santee National Wildlife Refuge

Eatablished in 1941, Santee National Wildlife Refuge has 4 units with a total of 13,000 acres. The 4 units at the Refuge include Cuddo, Pine Island, Bluff and Dingle Pond. Santee National Wildlife Refuge is located on the north banks of Lake Marion the largest lake in South Carolina.

The Santee National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center entrance gate was still closed and would open in about 30 minutes, we decided to head to the Cuddo Unit, a 30 minute drive. A great decision, we stayed on the Wildlife Drive at the Cuddo Unit for 6 hours and reported 53 species of birds on ebird. Many of the trails at the Cuddo Unit were closed due to the Hurricane damage. Hurricane Matthew made it's fourth and final landfall over Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge as a Category 1 hurricane on the morning of October 8, 2016. The refuge staff had done a major clean up effort with huge piles of downed trees along the roads at the Cuddo Unit.

Hermit Thrush at Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Barred Owl at Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Rusty Blackbirds at Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Rusty Blackbirds at Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Chickadee at Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Bald Eagle at Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Great Egret at Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Alligator at Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Swamp Sparrow at Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Chipping Sparrows at Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Pine Warblers at Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Teresa and Karen at Cuddo Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Later in the after at the Visitor Center we discussed with the volunteer the restricted area at the Bluff Unit, we always follow all National Wildlife Refuge postings and restrictions. We hiked to the Bluff Unit where there were no restrictions including the Wright's Nature Trail and observation boardwalk. We reported on ebird several rare birds for this area including Snow Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese and Sandhill Cranes.

Karen at Bluff Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Bluff Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Snow Geese at Bluff Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Sandhill Cranes at Bluff Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Sandhill Cranes at Bluff Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Sandhill Cranes at Bluff Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Teresa at Bluff Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Karen at Bluff Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

Snow Geese, Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes at Bluff Unit of Santee NWR, December 28, 2016

One more stop before leaving this refuge we headed to the Dingle Pond Unit, hoping to hear or see the owl that is sometimes observed at this Unit. With only 30 minutes before sunset we hiked back to the platform, listed 4 species of birds on our ebird checklist, no owl.

We drove 95 miles to our hotel in Pawleys Island, South Carolina to be ready to visit Huntington Beach State Park and Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge the next day.


December 29, 2016 Huntington Beach State Park

Today we would visit Huntington Beach State Park and then head to Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. With a call to the visitor center we leaned that the Cox Ferry Recreation Area, one of the main birding areas with hiking trails at Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge was inaccessible due to seasonal flooding. Teresa found a rare bird alert for a Black Guillemot and sightings of over 40 Red Knots, with the threat of a thunderstorm, she had to push me to walk the 1 mile beach trail to the Jetty. Sometimes we have trouble agreeing when it comes to where to bird. Teresa is definitely a bird twitcher, constantly getting rare bird alerts and willing to travel distances to get a chance to see a rare bird. After getting rare bird alerts for sometime, I have disabled all these features and only pursue these alerts when I am with Teresa. It seems like we sometimes spend hours in search of a rare bird, staring across a gravel lot, joining large groups of birders in a ball field, staring high in trees for hours or spending long hours in the car, only to find nothing. I don't mind seeing a rare bird, as a chance sighting but to travel great distances by car or foot just isn't my thing. I vow to continue to pursue these rare bird alerts as a love gift to my Twin Sister.

After the painful 1 mile walk, through the soft sand, loaded with heavy birding gear, we birded at the Huntington Beach State Park Jetty for 5 hours including 20 minutes during a heavy rain. Thank goodness the thunderstorm forecast never occurred as there was no shelter along the jetty and Teresa and I are both terrified of lightning. At the Jetty we saw Long-tailed Ducks fly by and watched over 60 Red Knots along the beach. After hours of searching we finally saw the Black Guillemot that was only visible for about 15 minutes swimming next to the jetty, timing is everything when it comes to a rare bird!


Visited 2 National Wildlife Refuges in South Carolina

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina, 12/27/16

Santee National Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina, 12/28/16

Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina 12/29/16


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