Beautiful bird encounters while traveling in South Carolina

My favorite thing to do while traveling in South Carolina is to take pictures of wildlife, especially birds.

Spotting a bald eagle last December while kayaking in the marsh at Cherry Grove Beach is by far the most cherished bird watching moment.

Amazing bald eagle sighting while kayaking in the marsh

The majestic bald eagle returns to South Carolina coast.

Witnessing a great white egret couple, delicately preparing their nest for the upcoming chicks, is a close second favorite encounter.

White Egret males and female building a nest

And here is the rest…get out there and enjoy nature at its best!

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A Myrtle Beach kayaking trip to remember! Bald eagle, dolphins, egret, cormorant encounters

My first time seeing a bald eagle in the wild! We love kayaking in the marshes near North Myrtle Beach (Cherry Grove inlet to be exact) because is so peaceful and you get to watch a variety of wildlife in their natural habitat. This was indeed icing on the cake…

We started out at sunrise and let in at the boat ramp inside Cherry Grove Park adjacent the Heritage Shores Nature Preserve (highly recommending visiting , free admission).

Boat ramp and fishing dock at sunrise

Best way to start the day: going kayaking in the marsh at Cherry Grove Beach!

After a hearty 30 minutes paddle going against the current as we were trying to reach

Easy kayaking away from the main channel

Paddling through the side inlet to avoid going against the current

the ocean, we turned around looking for a better way.

We found it right across the dock where we let in. There is a mini inlet going parallel to main channel (Go only at high tide to avoid getting stuck in the sea grass or the oyster beds).

What a world of difference!

While my husband guided the kayak at a leisurely pace, I was able to take photos, enjoy the beautiful marsh views, and look out for wildlife.

We hit the jackpot! A remarkable American bald eagle perched on a pole,

Bald eagle perched on a pole in the middle of the marsh

Great reason to go out paddling...a chance to see the majestic American bald eagle!

scanning the marsh in search for a morning prey, oblivious to our presence…

For a long time it stood so still I wondered whether is one of those fake birds you see around the beach.

But it did eventually move when we got really close.

As I was shooting a video of its huge, beautiful wings in full strike, my batteries ran out…go figure! At least I got some nice still shots.

Here is another big bird beauty, a great white egret sitting in a tree in the middle of the preserve.

Wading bird up in the tree

Great white egret trying to spot its next meal

A double crested cormorant gliding smoothly above the water. Did you know that cormorants dive for food and after catching a fish, resurface, flip it into the air and swallow it head first?

Amazing bird viewing in North Myrtle Beach

Rewarding wildlife viewing while paddling in the marsh

Our initial attempt to pass “the Gauntlet of Death” (the nickname my husband gave the spot where the inlet meets the ocean and strong waves push against you) failed. But our second try through the side inlet succeeded with ease. We reached the barrier island and decided to take a break.

Good time to take a break from paddling

Where the inlet meets the ocean at the "Gauntlet of Death"...

Another treat in store: bottlenose dolphins feeding offshore. During our extended winter vacation at Cherry Grove Beach we were lucky to see dolphins swimming by the pier almost every day. Here is a memorable video with a pair of dolphins doing a spectacular synchronized jump.

Kayaking wildlife viewing by the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina

Enjoying a relaxing break from paddling on the barrier island

What else can you ask for? The ocean, sun, amazing wildlife encounters and a healthy dose of exercise at the beach, all free. Happy New Year everyone!

On the barrier island looking out to cherry grove beach resort

Gorgeous beach vista from the barrier island

Start a new family tradition this year: kayaking along the South Carolina coast!

Walking the Nature Preserve, Cherry Grove Beach fun free things to do

Ever wonder what is like to be in the middle of a saltwater marsh? Visiting the Heritage Shores Nature Preserve is the perfect way to find out. The preserve is feet away from Cherry Grove Beach and provides a mile long roundtrip boardwalk through a beautiful and diverse ecosystem. Admission is free and the park is open all day year around.

How to get there and where to park: The Nature Preserve is located next to the Cherry Grove Park and Boat Ramp at the end of 53rd Avenue North. The park is a very popular fishing destination in North Myrtle Beach and most of its parking spots are designated to cars with boat trailers. The preserve has its own mini parking lot and from here talk the short walk to the preserve entrance (turn right, away from the boat ramp area).

Welcome to the Nature Preserve

Start of the 1 mile walking trail inside the preserve

There are many interpretive signs about the marsh, fauna and flora you can observe along the trail. There is a boating dock and two shaded picning shelters (no restrooms). Bicycles are not allowed inside the preserve.

Oyster reefs are nature’s purest water filters, capable of cleansing 10 to 15 gallons of water a day.

A bed of oysters in the Cherry Grove inlet

The purest water filter...

Bird watchers enthusiasts are in for a treat. You can often spot blue herons, brown pelicans, white ibis and great egrets. Occasionally you may see double crested cormorans, osprey, hawks and barred owls.

Great blue heron wading at Heritage Shores Nature Preserve

The king of the tidal marshes

A majestic looking brown pelican hunting for its next meal. When fishing pelicans dive bill first from up to 60 feet high. An air sack under the bill cushions the blow that will otherwise kill most birds. A pelican can live almost 30 years.

Beautiful brown pelican at Nature Preserve

Master fisherman in action

Scenic picnic area overlooking the inlet and the ocean.

Relaxing inside the Cherry Grove preserve

Picnic area overlooking the marsh and the Atlantic Ocean

Dogs on leash are welcome inside the preserve.

Easy walking trail inside the preserve

Walking the dog inside the preserve

The Cherry Grove Hog Inlet provides good fishing opportunities for silverside, winter flounder, mummichog, pinfish, Atlantic croaker and striped mullet.

Fishermen Nature Preserve tidal marshes

A great way to spend the day in the tidal marsh

There are many different trees inside the maritime forest preserve. Here is an example of the sour cherry tree, where the Cherry Grove Beach name comes from. Other trees are the loblolly, red cedar (which is actually a juniper!), wax myrtle, groundsel and the strange looking hackberry.

Maritime forest cherry trees

There are indeed cherry trees at the beach...

My favorite was the Yaupon Holly, a very important tree for the Native American tribes that inhabited the area thousands of years ago. They used the caffeine-rich leaves for medicinal (“black drink” tea) and ceremonial purposes. Nowadays the berries are an important food source for many birds and small mammals.

Beautiful holly berries

Yaupon Holly tree at Cherry Grove Beach

Here is prickly pea cactus, nature’s own holidays ornament! Other plants include the Indian blanket, sea daisy, goldenrod (another popular medicinal plant used by Native Americans to treat fever, coughs, colds and measles), pickleweed, cord grass (the “civil engineer” of the tidal marshes) and reindeer moss (high in carbohydrates and vitamins A and B)

Salt marshes plants

Giant pea cactus inside the preserve

Animals big and small used to thrive in the maritime forest and the saltwater marsh, an excellent nursery home for many marine species. Who may live here? In the forest are red foxes, raccoons, white tail deer, broadhead skink; in the marsh crabs, snails, mussels, oysters, mud hoppers etc. While kayaking my husband was “escorted” by a noisy pod of bottlenosed dolphins who often come to the inlet to hunt for fish.

Walking through the mini maritime forest

A piece of paradise at Cherry Grove Beach

More fun things to do in North Myrtle Beach

  • Kayaking the Cherry Grove inlet all the way to the Atlantic Ocean (look out for friendly dolphins). Make sure to check the tide schedule and plan accordingly.
  • Ride the Sky Wheel, the newest family attraction downtown Myrtle Beach ($12 adults, $10 children 3-11)

Here is a more detailed list of affordable family friendly activities you can do from Wilmington NC to Georgetown SC.

Have fun in South Carolina!

Kayaking at Cherry Grove Beach: amazing scenery, great bird watching and fishing bonanza

Ahhh! Kayaking at the beach…This past weekend we got our feet wet at saltwater paddling with our 7 years old. With its calm and relatively low water the Cherry Grove inlet was a great choice for out first family kayak ride. We enjoyed beautiful scenery and up close encounters with egrets, pelicans and seagulls.

Preparing our inflatable kayak to ride the Cherry Grove Inlet

A rite of passage...her first kayaking experience

Things to know before you go
• The Cherry Grove Boat Ramp on 53rd Avenue North provides access to the marsh and ocean. There is a double boat ramp, boat trailer parking, a fishing pier, dock and restrooms. Parking spots go out quickly and we had to use the little beach opposite the boat ramp to let our kayak in.
• Check the saltwater inlet tidal guide and use common sense before entering the inlet to avoid any surprises.
• Our round trip, from the boat ramp to the ocean and back, lasted about an hour at a very leisurely pace.
• The Cherry Grove tidal marshes are very popular for fishing, crabbing and shrimping. Be prepared to navigate your way around fishing lines, especially when you let in, go under the bridge and when you reach the Atlantic Ocean.

Beautiful fall ride in the salt marsh near the beach

Out and about in the tidal marsh at Cherry Grove Beach

The boardwalk was one of my favorite landmarks along the way.

Board walk Cherry Grove inlet

Scenic boardwalk and bird watching along our kayaking trip

The egrets were quite active that morning, we saw several wading or flying about looking for a meal.

Beautiful egret in the tidal marsh

The queen of the marsh

Some seagulls fishing! (I thought they only ate chips and crackers…)

Fun kayaking at North Myrtle Beach

Seagulls fishing in the marsh

Busy day for fishermen at Cherry Grove.

Boat and surf fishing Cherry Grove inlet

Fishing enthusiasts flock to Cherry Grove Beach in the fall

A picture perfect family outing…

Fun riding the kayak in the Cherry Grove inlet

Peace of mind

Here is a list with fun and affordable family friendly things to do in and around Myrtle Beach.

Make sure to ride the Sky Wheel downtown Myrtle Beach (open daily til midnight, tickets are $12 adults and $10 children over 3).

Amazing herons, ibis and egrets grace the cypress swamp aviary at Brookgreen Gardens

Brookgreen Gardens features the only known aviary built atop an actual cypress swamp. Here you can enjoy a leisurely stroll on the boardwalk while watching magnificent birds feeding and flying in a natural setting: great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, egrets, hooded merganser, white ibis, redhead and wood ducks. Free with general admission ($12 adults, $10 seniors, $6 children 4-12), which is good for 7 consecutive days.

Great blue herons live along coastlines, in marshes, and near the shores of ponds and streams. They are expert fishers.

The largest Lowcountry bird wading in fresh water marshes

The Great Blue Heron is the black waters king of the South Carolina Lowcountry

Herons stand still for long periods of time waiting for fish to come near their sharp bills. They kill their prey with a quick thrust and then swallow it whole. Some have been known to choke to death attempting to swallow fish too large for their S-shaped necks!

The great blue is the largest heron in North America with an average wingspan of 6 feet. They can cruise at some 20 to 30 miles an hour.

Though great blue herons hunt alone, they typically nest in colonies. Females produce two to seven eggs, which both parents protect and incubate. Chicks can survive on their own at two months of age.

Blue herons are very sensitive to human intrusion and will often abandon the nest if disturbed.

Great egrets are found near water and feed in wetlands, streams, ponds, tidal flats, and other areas. They mainly feeds on fish but can also eat frogs, snakes and small mammals.

Large freshwater marsh birds near Myrtle Beach

The Queen of the Cypress Swamp


Great egrets nest in trees, near water and gather in colonies. They are monogamous, and both parents incubate their three to four eggs. Young egrets are aggressive towards one another in the nest, and stronger siblings often kill the weaker chicks.

Did you know? The great egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society. During much of 19th century they were almost completely wiped out, being hunted for their magnificent white feathers. Today, the great egrets population has recovered significantly while under legal protection for more than a century.

The white ibis has reddish beak and legs. It wades in shallow water feeding on crabs and crustaceans. The white ibis lives in huge colonies, some as large as 50,000 birds! Nests are built by both parents with materials usually stolen from other birds’ nests. The male brings the materials while the female is the one constructing the nest. The young are cared for by both parents until fledged, at about 4 weeks of age.

Bird watching at its best at Brookgreen Gardens near Myrtle Beach

What you got there? The heron is stalking the white ibis trying to steal its catch...

The black crowned night heron is one of the most common herons in the world. It can be found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. They are short-legged and stocky birds that inhabit freshwater swamps and marshes. The black crowned night heron is mostly active at night. They feed on small fish, invertebrates, amphibians and mice. Like all herons, they are very social birds and live in colonies.

Social nocturnal heron live well at Brookgreen Gardens

The smaller but feistier black crowned heron

This exhibit opened in 1977 and it was the first aviary habitat built on an actual cypress swamp.

Bird watching in the cypress swamp

This is my house!

The tallest center poll is anchored 70 feet into the grounds and extends 90 feet into the air. The Cypress Aviary exhibit withstood many hurricanes including Hugo.

Swamps are forest wetlands. They act like a sponge, filtering pollutants out of the water.

The water looks black because of tannins that come from decomposing plants and some plant roots. Waccamaw River which supplies water to this swamp is considered a “black water” river.

The plants in swamps have special adaptations that enable them to tolerate high water levels. Some of the swamp trees featured in this exhibit include Tupelo, Gum, Red Maple and Bald Cypress.

Make sure to see the rare farm animals and the daily live wildlife demonstration at the Lowcountry Center.

Here is a list of fun activities kids can enjoy around Myrtle Beach for about $10 or less.

It’s a Zoo! Come see Brookgreen Gardens’ native wildlife and rare farm breeds

Brookgreen Gardens is most famous for its exquisite collection of American sculptures and lavish gardens. They are also great preservation stewards of native wildlife and rare farm animal breeds. Here foxes, alligators, deer, wild turkeys, river otters and many wading birds live in a natural habitat. At the farm you can enjoy seeing (and sometimes pet) unusual types of horses, cows, sheep and fowls. The breeds were brought to South Carolina from Europe and Africa as early as 1500s!

Highligts from the Lowcountry Zoo and farm (data from the exhibits)
Foxy ladies! The gray fox is the only native fox in North America. The red fox was brought here by Europeans in the 1700s to continue their royal fox hunt tradition. Did you know?

Wild native foxes at Brookgreen Gardens Zoo

The gray fox is the only fox that can climb trees


• Gray foxes can climb trees, which is a great advantage when trying to escape predators such as the coyotes.

• Gray foxes are often mistaken as red foxes. However they are smaller, mostly gray and have a black tip tail. Red foxes are bright red-orange and have a white tip tail.

• Gray foxes are omnivores.

• Red foxes mate for life.

You can always count on the river otters to put a smile on your face. They are playful, funny, cute and may even pose for you! What else can you ask for?

Funny aquatic mammals Brookgreen Gardens

Playful otters are very fun to watch at Brookgreen Gardens

Marsh Tacky horses, Red Devon cows, Tunis sheep and Guinea fowls
Marsh tacky were brought to America by Spanish settlers in the 1500s. They are closely related to the Bankers ponies of the North Carolina Outer Banks and the Cracker horses in Florida.

Marsh tacky Outer Banks ponies Cracker Florida horses

Marsh Tacky horses used by Marion Francis troops in the American Revolution


Marsh tacky horses have narrow shoulders, a sloped rump, a striped down back and a mellow disposition.

Being short and steady on their feet, and with large heart and stamina, they can maneuver swamp terrain without panicking or getting stuck in the mud.

That’s why the “Swamp Fox” General chose them for his soldiers during the Revolutionary War. The Gullah also used them to plow fields and carry heavy loads. Today they are fewer than 250 pure Marsh Tacky horses.

The first Red Devons arrived in America in 1623. The sturdy and docile cattle were used on plantation as food for their meat and milk, and as oxen to plow fields and haul wagons. Both male and female grow horns.

Rare cow breed Brookgreen Gardens animals

The Red Devon, one of the rarest cow breeds in North America

Tunis sheep were brought here from Africa in 1799. They produce very good meat and remarkable long wool. The lambs are reddish at birth and turn white as they grow. Tunis sheep are very tolerant to heat.

Rare breed of sheep at Brookgreen Gardens

African Tunis Sheep brought to America in 1799

The Guinea fowl originated in sub Saharan Africa. They were kept on plantation for meat. As wild birds they were allowed to roam freely and roost over night in trees to escape predators. They forage well for themselves and are tolerant to heat.

There are more fun kids things to do inside the Lowcountry Center and the Children’s Discovery room (free with garden admission).

Brookgreen Gardens admission is $12 adults, $10 seniors and $6 children 4-12 ($1 off coupon in most travel brochures). Tickets are valid for 7 consecutive days. Call (843) 235-6000 for more info. Open daily 9:30AM to 5PM.

Carolina Children’s Garden, Columbia free, fun and magical things to do

Recently we visited the Carolina Children’s Garden inside the Clemson Research and Education Center, right across the Sandhills shopping center. The garden is open daily from dawn to dusk and admission is free. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on leash at all times.

Columbia free outdoor attractions

The view from inside the park is spectacular. I’ve seen people walk around the lake, sunbathing on the lawn or just enjoying a picnic with family and their four legged friends.

Walk the dog around beautiful lake

Very young kids can enjoy a slide, a large sandbox and many places to play hide and seek.

Best outdoor playground picnic tables

I liked the fact that the garden is themed after famous children stories and songs. You can visit Old McDonald’s Farm…

Carolina Childrens Themed Garden

Learn basic gardening skills, like using a wheel barrel to carry things around.

Carolina Childrens Garden Columbia free things to do

Hey, these are Peter Rabbit’s clothes! And that’s how you build a scarecrow for your garden

Magic children themed garden Columbia parks

Kids can see and even sift through a tiny compost bin. And yes, there are few live little crawlers in it!

Columbia fun natural education conservation program

Every month there is something going on, check the website for upcoming programs and events. Next to the garden is the Conservation Station where you can learn how to protect the forest, wildlife, and the quality of water, soil and air.

Mark your calendar! Every year, on the last weekend in April is the Sparkleberry Fair at the Clemson Research and Education Center.

Relax with Winnie, Tiger, Peter Rabbit, The Three Little Bears at the beautiful Caolina Children’s Garden!