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A Hot Summer Day at Caw Caw, Swallow-tailed Kites and Indigo Buntings!

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

I explored Charleston County Parks' Caw Caw Interpretive Center this past Sunday. It was a midday trip on a hot but beautiful July day. I usually prefer to bird in the morning time but with my 3 kiddos out of school "birding time" has been limited. I seized this free moment to explore one of my favorite parks in all of Charleston! Caw Caw Interpretive Center is eBird Hotspot #9 with 244 bird species recorded.

Caw Caw Interpretive Center
Caw Caw Interpretive Center

The day's exploration begin on the Upland Forest Loop, I immediately began to hear Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and Carolina Wrens. I joined up with the Marshland Trail and continued through the forest, this section of trail is often an active area for a variety of songbirds. On this day I heard several songbirds singing including Summer Tanager, Northern Parula, Red-eyed Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. As I made it through the wooded portion and approached the forest edge I began to hear a male Painted Bunting singing loudly. Even with all of the Painted Bunting's brightly colored feathers I had trouble finding this sweet singer. Finally I spotted the remarkably colorful songbird high in the dense tree canopy.

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

I walked the dike along the tidal marsh and freshwater marsh. This area is a great spot to hear and sometimes see a King Rail. King Rails are large birds with rich buffy feathers and neat stripes. They reside in freshwater and brackish marshes. These super cool and secretive birds are in decline due to wetland habitat loss but they are thriving here at Caw Caw! I was not lucky enough to encounter a King Rail on this day. Below are 2 previous pictures from this past May at Caw Caw.

King Rail
King Rail

King Rail
King Rail

At the corner of this trail there is an active Osprey nest atop a man-made nesting platform. These fish lovering raptors live year round in Charleston and catch a fish 1 out of every 4 dives or better!

Osprey on nest
Osprey on nest

After observing the Osprey I could see another bird of prey in the distance over the former rice fields. I headed in that direction to get a closer look. The acrobatic flyer was the super sleek and often birder favorite, the Swallow-tailed Kite! The amazing fork-tailed raptor was foraging for insects and showing off it's incredible flight maneuverability. I stood on the boardwalk that overlooks the vast open marsh and enjoyed the air show.

Swallow-tailed Kite
Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite
Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite
Swallow-tailed Kite

Walking down the Rice Fields Trail I counted numerous Red-winged Blackbirds while enjoying their continuous songs and calls.

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird

I noticed a different singer beyond the blackbirds, it was another super cool bird, the Indigo Bunting. As I got closer to the forest edge the song became louder. It sounded like: sweet, sweet, chew, chew, see-it, see-it. The dark blue songbird was singing very close but I struggled to see the bird in the dense vegetation. I stood on the bridge over a canal and looked for while but was unsuccessful.

I headed further down the trail and into the forest. I like to take the shortcut trail through the thickets and understory of the forest. The shortcut is well shaded and looks like a natural tunnel of thicket.

"natural tunnel"
"natural tunnel"

I turned and headed toward the Swamp Sanctuary Trail. The Swamp Trail has a boardwalk allowing you to walk through a unique and picturesque habitat.

Swamp Boardwalk
Swamp Boardwalk

Swamp Habitat
Swamp Habitat

Swamp Habitat
Swamp Habitat

There were lots of active birds including Tufted Titmice, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Parula, a Great Crested Flycatcher, an Acadian Flycatcher and a Yellow Throated Vireo!

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker

As I headed out of the Swamp area I heard another Indigo Bunting, I followed the song hoping to catch a glimpse. I could hear the song move to a different group of trees, following the sound I finally located the striking Indigo Bunting perched on a bare tree. It was a distant look but it was satisfying to finally see the bird especially while it was singing!

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting

It was an exciting trip to Caw Caw even in the middle of a hot Summer day!

I had some exciting interactions with incredible birds like the Swallow-tailed Kite and Indigo Bunting. Caw Caw is a great park to walk and explore, the diverse habitats are well managed and attract a diverse bird population year-round. I always look forward to visiting this wonderful Charleston County park. In 2 hours and 19 minutes I encountered 36 species of birds and covered 3.95 miles.

eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S144154710

Happy Birding,

Charles