Huntington Beach State Park Offers Bird-Watching Bonanza

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The Carolina coast is one of the prime locations for bird-watching in the United States, and the nearby Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet has been named the top spot to go birding in South Carolina. The diversity of landscapes inside the 350-acre state park attracts a wide selection of permanent residents, like bald eagles, egrits and herons, and a broad array of seasonal birds.

Located only 15 miles south of Compass Cove Oceanfront Resort, Huntington Beach State Park serves as an oasis for wildlife, particularly birds making their way through the Grand Strand en route to more moderate climates. Flocks have been stopping off at this protected preserve and the surrounding wetlands and salt marshes to rest, feed and breed before returning to their ultimate destinations.

Experienced birders and newcomers alike can encounter rare species at Huntington Beach State Park, where more than 3,000 different types of birds have been documented over the years. Thanks to a unique habitat, the park attracts a diverse range of shorebirds (American Oystercatcher and Buff-Breasted Sandpiper), waterfowl (Canadian Goose and Mallard Duck) and birds of prey (Kingfisher and Red-Tail Hawk).

One hot spot you don't want to miss is the causeway that connects the mainland to the island. The south side of the causeway is a small freshwater lake known as Mullet Pond. This location is a hub of activity for fish, alligators and a variety of birds of prey, including bald eagles and ospreys. Watch them swoop down from the trees and sky and scoop a meal from the water with a sudden splash, a challenging catch for both the birds and photographers. There's a small parking area on the southeast side of the causeway that's a short walk to the action, but keep an eye out for crossing gators.

On the other side of the bridge is a tidal salt marsh that features brackish water and a contrasting habitat than the freshwater side of the causeway. At low tide birders can spot herons, loons and cranes searching through the pluff mud for snacks, like clams, mussels and mullet. High tide brings in schools of bait fish and lots of hovering birds of prey following the all-you-can-catch seafood buffet. Visitors can get an better view from the pier behind the education center, which offers occasional bird-watching tours and loads of information about the park's best vantage points.

But perhaps the best place to spy some high-flying action is the beach, where shorebirds such as Purple Sandpipers, Red-Throated Loons and Horned Grebes. If you don't mind the 1.2-mile one-way hike to the jetties, located on the north end of the park at the opening to Murrells Inlet. The paved rock walkway into the ocean allows visitors to get far enough past the breakers to capture shots both in the water and on the shore, including such rare recent sightings as the rare Razorbill Puffins, Black Guillemots and the federally endangered Piping Polver.

Veteran birders will feel like a kid in a candy shop with the abundance of subjects, and first-timers may fall in love with the sport at Huntington Beach State Park. You will need a good camera and/or binoculars, a pair of boots or outdoor shoes you don't mind getting a little muddy, and a little patience. Bring a jacket or a windbreaker even on seemingly calm days to deal with the ocean breeze, and sunglasses with UV protection can help you spot targets in the glare of the sun off the ocean. Be sure to pick up a check list at the education center to record and report your sightings.

For Compass Cove Oceanfront Resort guests interested in checking out our fine-feathered friends at Huntington Beach State Park, make a day out of it by also visiting the nearby Brookgreen Gardens and enjoying a seafood feast at the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk. For experienced birders looking for other hot spots, Hobcaw Barony, Winyah Bay and Bull Island to the south, as well as Bird Island to the north, are excellent choices. After a fun day or birding, head back to your nest at Compass Cove Oceanfront Resort for a fun and relaxing vacation in Myrtle Beach.

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