Francis Marion National Forest

Birds & Wildlife
Salt Marsh on Francis Marion National Forest

The ecosystem of the Francis Marion National Forest provides endless opportunities to view birds. Habitats include upland forest, bottomland/hardwood swamp, maritime forest, salt marsh, and managed wetland impoundments. Nearly 300 species of migratory and non-migratory birds have been documented in the Forest. Notable among these are the swallow-tailed kite, the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, and the wood stork.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers live in a social system called a clan. Two to nine birds nest and roost in a group of cavity trees called a colony. New cavities take the birds months or years to complete. Since Hurricane Hugo in 1989, forest service employees have aided the birds by creating more than 500 new nesting holes using chainsaws and drills. The woodpecker population recovered nearly to its pre-Hugo numbers until 1995, according to Kiser. The species' population then began to decline slightly—a phenomenon currently under study by naturalists, who do not yet know the cause.

You can watch birds all across the Forest. For the most rewarding opportunities, go to several key areas that offer ideal access where bird-watching can easily be explored.

Buck Hall Recreation Area provides an excellent vantage point for bird-watching. Located along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, it has nearly 300 yards of sea wall to provide visitors with cool breezes and spectacular views of the waterway and the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.

South Tibwin/North Tibwin Plantation, accessible by foot and bicycle, has 15 miles of dirt roads. You can see songbirds, common egrets, mottled ducks, red-shouldered hawks, river otter, yellow jessamine, red buckeye, painted buntings, and bald eagles. South Tibwin is a natural haven for hikers and mountain bikers through hardwood bottomlands, pine uplands, and around tidal marsh, freshwater ponds, and waterfowl impoundments (managed wetlands).

I'on Swamp Reservoir, with a two-mile loop trail, has bottomland hardwood/swamp (greentree reservoir) and the opportunity to see songbirds and wading birds. Little Hellhole Reservoir, accessible by foot, is a greentree reservoir with impoundments, populated by shorebirds. Nicholson Creek Swamp, accessible by foot, is a greentree reservoir and is home to songbirds and wading birds.

Santee River Floodplain, accessible by foot, has bottomland hardwood/swamp habitats and features songbirds, birds of prey, and swallow-tailed kites. Waterhorn Area can be accessed by car, by foot, and by bicycle. In its upland forest and bottomland hardwood/swamp, you can see songbirds, birds of prey, and the red-cockaded woodpecker.

The forest is a example of a longleaf ecosystem. "Its associated plant and animal communities don't just survive fire, they require fire, especially spring and early summer burns," according to forester Anne Kiser. "Fire is nature's way of ridding the longleaf ecosystem of damaging insects, disease and too many plants competing for soil, nutrients, water and light. Fire is also a necessary agent of change. When a fire changes a log to ashes, the nutrients that are bound in complex chemical compounds are released and turned into a form plants can use," Kiser says.

Francis Marion National Forest conducts controlled burns, primarily in the winter, but increasingly in the spring and early summer months, according to Kiser. Visitors should call ahead to plan their visit to avoid prescribed burn areas.

A highlight of the Forest is the presence of the fragile ecosystems known as "Carolina Bays"—wetland habitats supporting a large variety of plant life. Some bays are open-water depressions dotted with pond cypress trees and rimmed by pitcher plants and sundew. Some bays are thick pocosins of shrubby sweet bay, fetterbush, and pond pines. They can comprise one acre or thousands of acres.

The common denominator of Carolina Bays is their symmetrical formation. They are generally oval depressions and the long axis always runs from northwest to southeast. The geological origin of these wetlands remains a mystery.

Only about 200 of South Carolina's original 2,600 natural bays have remained in their pristine state. Many have fallen victim to drainage and clearing. There are about 25 well-defined Carolina Bays on the Francis Marion National Forest. All of the bays on the forest are protected.

Some of the plants and animals to discover include the trumpet pitcher plant, sundew, blueflag, pond pine, pond cypress, amphibians, and songbirds.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 20 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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