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!

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!

It’s a gem! Precious stones and minerals galore at the Science Museum in Asheville

A touch of gold, diamonds, and ruby….

Precious sculpture of Andromeda

Andromeda sculpture of gold, sapphire and diamonds on quartz

Known for the original gold rush, North Carolina also has one of the largest varieties of mineral species in the United States.

Amazing gemstones to admire downtown Asheville

Enter a world of riches...

From clays to gemstones to valuable ores, more than 300 mineral species exist within the state’s boundaries.

The Colburn Earth and Science Museum has an amazing collection of gem stones and minerals for everyone to enjoy: emerald, sapphire, ruby, topaz, hiddenite, kyanite and much more.

Admission is $6 adults, $5 seniors, students, and children over 5 years of age.

The museum is open Tuesday – Saturday 10AM – 5PM, and Sunday 1 – 5PM.

Hiddenite discovery and early mining
In 1879 Thomas Edison sends William Hidden, a New York engraver and rockhound enthusiast, to look for potential sources of platinum to be used in his new photograph invention.

Hidden meets businessmen and fellow rockhound John Stephenson from Statesville, NC which shows him some unusual rock specimens found on a farm in present day Alexander county.

Hiddenite specimens at the Colburn Museum

Miners working at the Hidden Mine in early 1900s

Recognizing the potential value of the stones, Hidden quit his job and acquired the mineral rights of the Warren Farm near Stony Point, NC.

Hidden hired a mining crew and soon discovered numerous specimens of emerald and other unidentifiable green stones. It was later determined that the mineral was a new variety of spodumene and was named “Hiddenite” in honor of the discoverer.

George Kuntz, a good friend of Hidden and a jeweler for Tiffany’s recognized the value and beauty of the newly discovered minerals. Kuntz created a domestic market not only for hiddenites but also for the emerald coming from the North Carolina mine.

Second phase of hiddenite mining
“I wanted something to keep me out of mischief and it occurred to me that the collecting of minerals will be just the right hobby to take up.” Burnham Standish Colburn, 1953

The state gemstone on display at the Colburn Museum

The real green beauty and power!


Burnham Colburn retired to Asheville because of its proximity to North Carolina’s mineral fields. One of the first residents of Biltmore Forest and he had a museum in his home to house his minerals collection.

Colburn sought out Col. Joseph Hyde Pratt, the State Geologist for North Carolina, who told him that hiddenite will be the most interesting mineral to collect. Colburn obtained the mining lease to the land and reopened the mine in 1926. He found quite a few good specimens, yet not enough to make a real profit.

After two years, Colburn released the lease and donated his best specimens to the Smithsonian Institution in D.C., the University of South Carolina and the British Museum in London. After his death the family donated the rest of his collection to the Southern Appalachian Mineral Society for public display, thus the precursor to the current museum was started.

Emerald – The State Gemstone
Emerald deposits are rare in the United States, and the best are in North Carolina. The largest single crystal emerald ever found in North America is from the Rist Mine in NC. Named the Stephenson Emerald, this crystal weighs 1,438 carats and is valued at over $50,000. Discovered in 2003 by Jamie Hill it is now displayed at the Natural Science Museum in Houston.

Photo of the 1,861 carats emerald discovered at the Rist Mine in 2003

The real crystal is at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences

The Star of the Carolina
The ultimate value of a natural star sapphire depends on the quality of the cut, color, clarity and definition.

Guiness Book Record holder Star of Carolina sapphire

A star sapphire for the records...


The Star of the Carolina displays a six ray asterism that enhances its value and exclusivity. The uncut stone weighted one and half pounds, or about 2,847 carats.

Discovered in 1987 at the Old Pressley Mine in Canton, NC, The Star of the Carolina achieved the final finish of 1,445 carats in the hands of master gem cutter John Robinson of Dallas, TX.

The star appeared in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest star sapphire, but lost it to another stone from the same location.

Spodumene was first discovered in 1906 in Kings Mountain,NC yet it didn’t gain economic significance until 1942. Spodumene is the main source of lithium ore, a very light metal used in many industries from aeronatutics to cars to electronics. A small area in Cleveland and Gaston counties contain 80% of the known lithium reserves in the United States and is the country’s largest producer.

The countrys largest spodumene deposit is in North Carolina

Most of US lithium extraction comes from North Carolina

Granite – The 1 mile long Mt. Airy Quarry in Surry County is the largest granite quarry in the world. Mining operations began in 1889, and ever since granite from the mine has been shipped all over the world. This high quality granite can be cut in large blocks and used in many construction projects like the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk and the gold depostory at Fort Knox.

North Carolina has the largest granite quarry in the world

A granite world above the rest...

Discover the beautiful gemstones of North Carolina at the Colburn Earth and Science Museum in Asheville!

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).

Native Americans exhibit at the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville

The history museum in downtown Greenville has an interesting exhibit about Native American tribes in the South Carolina Upcountry. Admission is $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 children and students age 4 to 18 and free for children age 3 and under.

The Cherokees
“…The Great Buzzard flew all over the world…when he reached the Cherokee country, he was very tired, and his wings began to flap…wherever they struck the earth there was a valley, and when they turned up again there was a mountain.” Cherokee myth

“The males of the Cherokee…are tall, erect, and moderately robust, their limbs well shaped so as generally to form a perefect human figure…”
William Bartram, naturalist, 1791

18th century encounter with the Cherokee tribe

Early description of Cherokee men

Drawing of early Cherokee settlements in the Carolinas.

Cherokee settlements around 1250 AD

Cherokee village near Pisgah North Carolina 1250 A.D.

Over time the Cherokee settlements turned into towns that were more spread out and more advanced than earlier villages, as illustrated in the Tennessee’s Chota town layout below.

Cherokee town settlement

A look at a more developed prehistoric Cherokee town

Trade and war
In 1730, seven Cherokee warriors went to London to sign a treaty with the British government. They signed a trade agreement that will eventully build colonial fortunes for Great Britain. European traders obtained deerskins and sometimes slaves from the Cherokees. In the early 1700s, South Carolina exported 54,000 deerskins annually.

Cherokee come to England the early 18th century for a trade contract

Cherokee leaders travel to London in 1730 to establish a trade agreement


Native Americans became dependent on European manufactured goods, such as fabric, farming tools, hardware and weapons. They soon exhausted the deer population.

Mounting debt forced them to sell land in order to satisfy their creditors.

Treaties between the Cherokees and the Charlestown-based government limited European settlement in the Upcountry. South Carolina Governor James Glen secured treaties with Native Americans in 1743 that promoted trade and designated land for European settlement. However, as Piedmont region offered rich soil and clean water for farming, settlers ignored these treaties and moved into Native American land.

Native American artifacts from the Upcountry

Cherokee hunting and harvesting tools


In response, the Cherokees attacked the settlements in 1759. The following winter,
at Fort Prince George, the colonial militia killed hostages when Cherokee warriors stormed the fort.

After intese fighting a new treaty was signed creating a new boundary between Cherokee lands and European settlements.

During the American Revolution the Cherokees sighted with the British, hoping they would stop the advancement of the settlements. Patriot militia burned Cherokee towns and crops. On May 20, 1777 at DeWitt’s Corner, Outacite and other Cherokee leaders gave up their lands to the new American government.

The Catawbas
The Catawbas settled east along the Catawba and Wateree Rivers. They often fought with the Cherokees over precious Upcountry land. When the Europeans arrived the tribes agreed to a truce in order to participate in trading. Over time Catawba pottery became highly desired by European settlers who used it for cooking.

Catawba tribe artifact

Catawba peace pipe artifact

Once a distinct nation, by the 1730s, the Catawbas became an amalgam of different trives joined together from wars, settler incursion and disease. By 1760, war and smallpox ravaged the Catawbas to just about 500 people.

The Catawba in the Upcountry

Early drawing of a Catawba man

Riverbanks Zoo Enrichment Day: wild fun, special treats, free activities and funny moments

On September 25th the Riverbanks Zoo celebrated its animals and visitors with special treats, surprises and fun activities for kids. The event was free with zoo admission ($11.75 adults, $10.75 seniors and military, and $9.25 children 3-12). Here are the highlights:

Fun stuff for kids
Feed Little Boy, the zoo’s only American alligator. Visitors who bid and won this “behind the scene” adventure got to participate in the alligator training session. They were literally feet away from the crocodilian monster!

Children get up close to Little Boy

A real special treatment...getting to feed Little Boy, the Riverbanks Zoo alligator

Kids made their own craft using pasta shells, string and construction paper and also got a free tattoo.

Make your own pasta craft

Fun free activities for kids at Riverbanks Zoo

Kids got to learn more about animals at the zoo, touch a bear skull and claw, cayman teeth and leathery skin, etc.

Hands on learning at Riverbanks Zoo special Enrichment Day

These are some very big teeth!

Animal treats
The grizzly bears seemed the most pleased with their watermelon and molasses covered boxes.

I have a sweet tooth...

The grizzly bears love their sweet treats on Riverbanks Zoo Enrichment Day

Chalka, the silverback gorilla, was intrigued by his colorful snack tube filled with goodies.

Chalka is happy with his new edible toy

Hmmmm, what can it be?

This youngster giraffe couldn’t pull away from the tree. Most likely the zoo staff covered the bark with a delicious treat, as he kept licking and licking it…

Funny baby giraffe playing at the zoo

Peek-a-boo! Giraffe playing hide and seek at the zoo

The lion got a little frustrated trying to open his present filled with tantalizing smelling meat. Eventually he hauled in the cave to “finish” it off in private.

Lions enjoy new toys special treats at Riverbanks Zoo

Reveal yourself to me says the Lion King

Although we missed the elephant feeding session we still got to see the ladies giving themselves a nice mud spa treatment.

Riverbanks Zoo Enrichment Day

As you get older you need to take good care of your skin...

Big and small, feathers and fur all animals got a special treat on Enrichment Day. This exotic bird enjoyed a fresh juicy orange.

Exotic bird enjoys new fruit at Riverbanks Zoo

I love oranges!

The male baboon will take no chances! He claimed this treat as his very own.

Claiming the colorful prize Riverbanks Zoo Enrichment Day

This treat is mine!

While at the zoo take the free trolley to the Botanical Gardens filled with hundreds of flowers, ornamental plants, trees, spices and funky art. There is a special children’s garden and a nice shaded playground.

Mark your calendar for the Boo at the Zoo, a Riverbanks Zoo & Garden Halloween Spooktacular! October 14-16 and 21-30, 6-9PM. Tickets are $6 members ($8 regular admission).