Huntington Beach State Park is considered by many to be the best birding spot in South Carolina -- anytime of year. Although you may not expect it, wintertime can yield some of the best sightings of all. View and print our detailed birding checklist of over 300 species that have been seen within park boundaries.
Following is some general information about birding at Huntington Beach. If you are fortunate enough to see one of these birds, please report your sighting (and the band information) to the park’s Education Center. Here, you can also pick up a bird checklist and check the log book to see what other birders have been seeing lately - or to post your own sightings. Also take advantage of one of the many birding programs the park offers throughout the year.
As you enter the park, you will pass over the causeway: to your right is a managed freshwater marsh impoundment known as Mullet Pond, to your left are the tidal salt marshes of Murrells Inlet. At the end of the causeway to your right is a parking lot – leave your car here and walk back along the sidewalk for a closer look.
Birding the Causeway
First, we’ll survey the freshwater side of the causeway. If you keep your eyes on the skies, it probably won’t be long before you spot our national emblem, the bald eagle. Once an endangered species, these majestic birds have made a great comeback. In fact, a pair of these birds are currently nesting across the marsh from the nature center, and they spend much of their day feeding over the park’s wetlands. Believe it or not, these birds breed in the middle of winter rather than in the spring. Because they are nesting, this is a great time for watching the eagles pirate fish from ospreys over Mullet Pond. It takes a lot of fish to feed eaglets, and the parents will stop at nothing — even thievery.
Winter is likewise the best time of year to view a variety of waterfowl at Huntington Beach - ducks in particular. Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal are fairly abundant, as are wigeon, canvasback, ruddy and ring-necked ducks. Look for them feeding on the wigeon grass which grows abundantly on the bottom of the marsh. Across the causeway, the salt marsh’s tidal waters play host to hooded and red-breasted mergansers which use their saw-toothed bills to capture small fish. Also found in the marsh are buffleheads. Although they resemble hooded mergansers from a distance, buffleheads have a white waterline.
Birding the Jetty
The final hot spot for winter birding is the jetty at the northern end of the park. It’s quite a hike up the beach (it is a 1.2 mile walk from the parking lot), but it’s worth it. The jetty is man-made replica of a rocky coastline and is the southernmost point recorded in the ranges of several species. Some of the unusual wintertime birds found here include razorbills and black guillemots, both relatives of the puffins. Because the jetty is paved on top, visitors can stroll out across the breakers for a great view of the waters just offshore of the beach. Here, you will find wintering common and red-throated loons, not to mention delicate horned grebes. Pay close attention to the rocks as you walk out to the point - here, you will find the very well camouflaged purple sandpipers.
Birding the Beach
As you make your way along the beach, keep an eye out for other shorebirds. Winter is one of the best times of year to see the federally endangered piping plover, many of which have been banded in an effort to learn more about this disappearing species.