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Spoonbills and Buntings at the West Ashley Greenway!

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

The West Ashley Greenway is a fantastic 8 mile trail through West Ashley. The former railroad is part of the City of Charleston’s Park system and extends from Albermale Road to Main Road. The trail is a popular location for residents and visitors to walk and bicycle through neighborhoods, woods, fields, creeks, and marshes. I birded the Greenway on 3 occasions in June focusing on the section between mile marker 7 and 8 (near Main Road). This section of the trail is mostly tidal marsh with some wooded areas. The West Ashley Greenway MP7-8 is eBird Hotspot #42 with 166 bird species recorded.

Great Egret
Great Egret

Roseate Spoonbills
Roseate Spoonbills

The parking lot is situated under mature woods with wetlands on the edge. I was able to find a few unique birds near the parking lot including Common Yellowthroat, White-breasted Nuthatch and Northern Parula. The wooded area continues through the trail entrance eventually opening up to a vast tidal marsh. Along the edge of the wooded area I found an immature male Painted Bunting singing on all 3 birding trips!

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

As the trail opens up there are wonderful long views of the picturesque tidal marsh.

View of Marsh
View of Marsh

All 3 visits were planned to catch a lower tide going out which provides the best opportunity to see wading birds feeding in the shallow water and mud flats of the marsh. One of the main target birds was the breath taking Roseate Spoonbill. I was lucky enough to see Roseate Spoonbills on all 3 trips with a high count of 19 Spoonbills on the first trip! The Spoonbills were seen flying, roosting and feeding throughout this ideal habitat. They typically forage in shallow water sweeping their open spoonbill through the water in search of shrimp, prawns, aquatic insects, and fish. I was able to get fairly close views of a Roseate Spoonbill feeding along side the trail at low tide.


Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill

Along the trail there are trees and brushy vegetation which is great for Painted Buntings, they could be seen and heard throughout the trail.

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

There are two bridges along the trail and both provide great views of the open marsh. The first bridge provides an open view of a tidal creek which reveals a large mud flat as the tidal water subsides. This is a popular spot for wading birds and gulls.

Laughing Gulls
Laughing Gulls

There is also a grassy area just beyond this bridge that a group of Clapper Rails seem to enjoy as I encountered them on 2 of the 3 trips. Clapper Rails can be heard all along the trail as they love this tidal marsh habitat, however trying to catch a glimpse of these elusive birds can be challenging. I was able to see the rails in close proximity and capture lots of photographs, even a video of one rail bathing!


Clapper Rail
Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail
Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail
Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail
Clapper Rail

On the mud flat near the Clapper Rail hotspot I watched a couple of Willets skillfully catching Fiddler crabs in the freshly revealed mud holes.


Willet
Willet

The vast tidal marsh and creeks also allowed for great views of many other wading birds including: Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Green Heron, White Ibis and Wood Stork!

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

Great Egret
Great Egret

Tri-colored Heron
Tri-colored Heron

Green Heron
Green Heron

Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron

Wood Stork
Wood Stork

This section of the West Ashley Greenway is an awesome trail to explore. The trail is an easy walk and provides an up close experience with this thriving tidal marsh habitat. This hotspot is one of the best low country locations throughout the summer time to find two super colorful birds, the Painted Bunting and the Roseate Spoonbill! I took my 3 children on the first trip and they loved seeing the Roseate Spoonbills with their bright pink feathers and unique spoon bill, they also enjoyed the cargo train that sometimes passes by! Over the 3 birding trips I tallied 48 bird species including a total of 13 Painted Buntings and 36 Roseate Spoonbills!

Happy Birding,

Charles




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