top of page

Fall Migration at Fort Moultrie National Historical Park

This October I focused a majority of my birding at my favorite Charleston birding hotspot, Fort Moultrie National Historical Park! My goal was to find migrating birds and share my exploration with you all. Fort Moultrie National Park is eBird Hotspot #4 with 274 bird species recorded.

Fort Moultrie National Monument
Fort Moultrie National Monument

Migration season is an exciting time to get outside and go birding. Birds are very active and we get to experience birds that are not typically in the Charleston area during the rest of the year.

Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler

This fall migration was filled with a variety of super cool birds! On the first day of October I headed out to the fort for some late afternoon birding. This day yielded some great birds including a Magnolia Warbler, a rare Clay-colored Sparrow and a Peregrine Falcon the fastest animal in the world!

Clay-colored Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

Over the course of the month I was able to find 7 different sparrow species!

Most of these sparrows are expected and as we get further into the cooler months a few more unique sparrows may visit Fort Moultrie.

Savannah Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow

According to BirdCast's live migration map there were nights during October with over 1 billion birds in flight over the United States! After one of these high bird migration nights and a cold front moving through the southeast I set out to explore Fort Moultrie and the Sullivans Island trail. I started the morning on the edge of the scrubby fields close to the beach and main fort.

Fields on the South end of Fort Moultrie
Fields on the South end of Fort Moultrie

There were birds everywhere! Many of the birds were Palm Warblers with other songbirds mixed in the constant activity. I did my best to follow the movement and identify as many individual birds as possible. Along the scrubby field edge I spotted a different sparrow showing crisp dark streaking on a buffy breast, it was a Lincoln's Sparrow! This was a rare treat and this Lincoln perched for a moment allowing me to get a few photos confirming the sighting.

Lincoln's Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow

I was also lucky enough to observe a White-crowned Sparrow and I observed 2 more throughout the month!

White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow

The weather was absolutely gorgeous for most of October but there was one rainy morning that I decided to brave the weather and look for birds. I threw on my waterproof gear and headed into the woods. The maritime woods were filled with a variety of songbirds including warblers, vireos, thrush, and many others.

Woods near Fort Moultrie
Woods near Fort Moultrie

American Redstart
American Redstart

White-eyed Vireo
White-eyed Vireo

I then headed toward the beach and on the way I stumbled upon a perched Barred Owl!

Trail to the beach
Trail to the beach

Barred Owl
Barred Owl

Making it to the beach I found lots of resting birds including a unique sandpiper. I slowly moved closer to get a better look and discovered it to be a Pectoral Sandpiper!

Pectoral Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper

As I was watching the Pectoral Sandpiper flocks of Black Skimmers began to fly by hugging the shoreline.

Black Skimmer
Black Skimmers

Further down the beach I watched a Ruddy Turnstone defend a tasty fish head from some hungry onlookers.

After the beach I walked back toward the open field near Battery Jasper. The sky was covered in Tree Swallows! It was an incredible sight and I was able to capture a portion of the massive flock as they gracefully danced in the sky.

Throughout the month I experienced many exciting encounters with a variety of Raptors!

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk

Great-horned Owl
Great Horned Owl

Barred Owl
Barred Owl

Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk

American Kestrel w/ a dragonfly
American Kestrel w/ a dragonfly

Sharp-shinned Hawk in a flock of Tree Swallows
Sharp-shinned Hawk near a flock of Tree Swallows

Cooper's Hawk
Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk
Cooper's Hawk

On nearly every bird trip I observed and heard Indigo Buntings. They are more brownish this time of year but can be easily detected by their distinctive zeep calls. I also encountered Blue Grosbeaks and Painted Buntings.

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting

Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

One of my favorite birds to look for during October migration are warblers. These small songbirds are challenging to find and even more challenging to identify in fall plumage. Incredibly this October yielded 19 different warbler species!

Common Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat

Blackpoll Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler

Magnolia Warbler
Magnolia Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler

Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler

Tennessee Warbler
Tennessee Warbler

Ovenbird
Ovenbird

Northern Parula
Northern Parula

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Chesnut-sided Warbler
Chesnut-sided Warbler

Pine Warbler
Pine Warbler

Cape May Warbler
Cape May Warbler

Black and White Warbler
Black and White Warbler

Prairie Warbler
Prairie Warbler

Northern Waterthrush
Northern Waterthrush

Orange-crowned Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler

American Redstart
American Redstart

Nashville Warbler
Nashville Warbler

One October morning I was exploring the maritime woods adjacent to the large field when I received a rare bird alert. The message stated that fellow birders and good friends, Craig Watson and Pam Ford just sighted a Philadelphia Vireo near battery Logan! (only about 5 minutes from my current location) Excited about the potential of viewing this would be lifer (A lifer is your first time seeing a particular bird) I quickly raced through the woods as if I was on a Hollywood movie set. I made it to the exact spot finding very little bird activity. I stayed at the spot for a bit hoping the Philly would re-appear, but no luck and I finally surrendered the effort. I decided to try again the next morning hoping the Philadelphia Vireo stayed in the area for another day. I arrived at Fort Moultrie and headed directly to the last sighting location on the corner of Battery Logan. There were several active birds but no vireos. As time elapsed I was considering moving on when a fellow birder and friend, John Cox appeared around the corner. John and I greeted each other when some more birds began to appear on the edge of the trees and brush. We were observing a Blackpoll Warbler when a unique vireo species crossed our line of sight. It was the Philadelphia Vireo! The vireo stayed for bit allowing us to get great views and take pictures. It was an exciting lifer!

Philadelphia Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo

Philadelphia Vireo
Philadelphia Vireo

The fields around Fort Moultrie not only attracts birds but they attract an array of beautiful butterflies!

Common Buckeye
Common Buckeye

Common Buckeye
Common Buckeye

Long-tailed Skipper
Long-tailed Skipper

Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary

Monarch
Monarch

It was a super fun October birding this awesome location especially with fellow birders Craig, Pam, Elizabeth, John and David! Over 13 days of exploration I recorded 112 bird species and counted over 5,400 individual birds!

eBird Trip report for October: https://ebird.org/tripreport/163424


Happy Birding,

Charles