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Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve, eBird Hotspot #5

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

I headed out this morning to explore the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve at the North end of Folly Beach. The Lighthouse Inlet ranks #5 on eBird with 267 species of birds recorded. The Preserve offers many great habitats for birds including beach, dunes, jetties, open ocean, salt marsh, sandbars, mud flats and maritime forest. It was a sunny and calm morning, I grabbed my gear and headed straight for the beach. The first bird of the day was a Willet scouting for food on the beach. A trio of Sanderlings quickly joined the Willet moving back and forth with the breaking waves. The beach was quiet as high tide was about half an hour away. I continued further up the beach toward the jetty. A flock of ducks flew along the shoreline, I counted 10 Lesser Scaup. As I rounded the Jetty I could see the spectacular Morris Island Lighthouse built in 1876.

Morris Island Lighthouse

As I was enjoying the view an adult Bald Eagle entered my line of sight with a recent kill. I watched the massive eagle land on a distant sandbar with the prey in its bright yellow talons. I could see two wings and black feathers only assuming the prey was a Black Skimmer. I headed further down the beach on the inlet side, the high tide had now covered the beach so I walked through a portion of the maritime forest. The scrubby vegetation was loaded with Yellow-rumped Warblers, a few Northern Cardinals and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. As I passed the maritime forest I entered a vast open area of grass and salt marsh habitat with tidal creeks in the distance. I was welcomed with low flying Tree Swallows flashing beautiful metallic blue-green colors as they maneuvered in the rising sunlight.

Tree Swallow

I walked to the beach and set up my Vortex Spotting Scope to get a better look at the Bald Eagle and the resting birds in the distance. The Bald Eagle was still enjoying its fresh breakfast on the sandbar. I scanned the hundreds of birds resting on the sandbar finding 4 Gull Species, 3 Tern Species, 16 Black-bellied Plovers, over 100 Black Skimmers, and over 400 Dunlin! As I was counting the birds in the distance a flock of sandpipers migrated to about 20 yards from me! I cautiously turned to view my new neighbors and noticed 5 adorable Piping Plovers. The majority of the flock were Dunlin with a couple Sanderlings, a Least Sandpiper and a Willet. The flock was spooked and leaped into flight moving right across my position. I could see the mostly white Sanderling (same size as the Dunlin) and one small peep with black legs, a Western Sandpiper.

Dunlin, 1 Sanderling, 1 Western Sandpiper

By this time the tide had began to subside lowering the water just enough for me to navigate the salt marsh and look for the elusive Saltmarsh, Nelson's and Seaside Sparrows. I searched a few spots with little luck when finally I found the right spot. I made some "phishing" calls and suddenly a continuous movement of about 20+ sparrows appeared in the grass. The group were mostly darker Seaside Sparrows with a few Nelson's and Saltmarsh Sparrows mixed in. It is a special treat to see all 3 of these sparrows at the same time! As I was trying to get pictures of these little skulkers a hungry Cooper's Hawk flew in and landed right in front of me! The hawk was unsuccessful in catching any prey and only stayed for a few moments before moving on. I decided to leave the sparrows to their preferred spot and head back to the maritime forest.

Copper's Hawk

I walked the main road back which is paved and covered in colorful graffiti. The road has thick maritime vegetation on both sides which is great cover for all sorts of wildlife. Yellow-rumped Warblers were scattered throughout the bushes and trees, along with Song Sparrows and Northern Cardinals. I could heard the harsh mews of several nearby Gray Catbirds along with the vee calls of a single Hermit Thrush. I reached the end of the road and decided to take one last look from the beach over the open ocean. Scanning the calm water I found a small loon, and after a few more looks I could see it was a Red-throated Loon! Beyond the loon I could see large birds in the distance plunge-diving into the ocean. These massive fish hunters were Northern Gannets! Two great birds to finish the day. I found 52 species and counted over 1300 individuals birds. The trip took 2 hours and 15 minutes and I walked 2.46 miles.

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Happy Birding!