Hi everyone! I am so excited to share my recent birding adventures from Hilton Head Island! I was there the first week of April, and I loved it as much as I did a year ago! There are SO many birds in South Carolina in the spring. There are birds that migrate through the state on their journey north, birds that travel there to breed yearly, and birds that call South Carolina home year-round. Hilton Head Island (HH) is a sneaker-shaped island with many different habitats that many different bird species thrive in. It also has many wildlife preserves and beaches to attract birds and birders alike! I also had an agenda this trip. I spent the month of January in Florida. I searched for Painted Buntings EVERYWHERE there and went home disappointed. I knew these beautiful birds would be visiting South Carolina this spring, so I was so hoping to see one!

Last year, I discovered Pickney Island National Wildlife Refuge in HH. I dragged my sisters through this beautiful refuge teaming with birds and alligators. We discovered Ibis Pond, and I headed there again this spring, with only 1 sister in tow. It was breathtaking again. I saw so many nesting White Ibis, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Anhingas, and Tricolored and Little Blue Herons on the same little island surrounded by marshlands. The Common Gallinules were also breeding there again. The Eastern Bluebirds were in the houses again and the surrounding trees were full of songbirds. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and White-eyed Vireos were everywhere! I did not see any buntings though.

My husband came to HH with me this time but the only birdies he wanted to see “were on the golf course”. So, when I returned to Sea Pines Forest Preserve, he ran, and I looked for birds. The trees were FULL of warblers! They were very hard to photograph though because they like to stay near the treetops, hiding in the leaves. I heard or saw Northern Parulas and Black and White, Pine, Prairie, Yellow-throated, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet flew very close to me to check me out and I saw some Pied-billed Grebes in the lake. But the highlight of my birding at Sea Pines was definitely the Yellow-crowned Night Heron. Someone had reported a sighting the previous day on eBird and this heron was a lifer for me. I was amazed to see FIVE of the herons in 1 day! But I still did not see any buntings.

I dragged my husband on a boat tour of Broad Creek the next day to see dolphins and birds. We saw lots of shorebirds including terns and gulls flying about which were too tricky to photograph from a moving boat. We saw all 3 types of egrets, Brown and American White Pelicans, some Little and Great Blue Herons, and a Northern Gannet. There were some songbirds in the trees. Brown-headed Nuthatches were singing along with lots of Carolina Wrens, warblers, and Carolina Chickadees! The nuthatches and chickadees on HH sound similar the nuthatches and chickadees we have in Massachusetts. I heard an American Oyster Catcher but couldn’t find him. We did see a few dolphins in the creek, but they were pretty shy.

My next trip was to Fish Haul Beach Park. I only had 2 days left in HH and someone had reported a Painted Bunting there on eBird. I went birding while my husband golfed. It was a great place to bird. There was a beach, a forest, some marshes, and some fields in/near this 1 park. As soon as I arrived, I thought I heard a Painted Bunting. I used Merlin to confirm that it wasn’t wishful listening LOL! I heard it many times and spent over 2 hours trying to find it. Then, it stopped singing. I got frustrated and needed a break, so I went to check out the shoreline for birds. There was a bay-like beach with lots of tiny pools to attract smaller shorebirds. I saw Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlins, and Semipalmated Sandpipers searching the beach for clams. Willets and herons were also searching in the surf for food. I watched a pair of Laughing Gulls argue with each other and shared the tiff on my social media pages. I went back to the forest to listen again for the bunting in vain and then left. Songbirds were making beautiful music all day. There were Prairie, Orange-crowned, Blackpoll, Black and White, and Yellow-throated Warblers, a Red-eyed and many White-eyed Vireos, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and Chickadees and more. I reported 46 different species so far for this day.

We had to kill time on our last day in HH before our flight left. My husband offered to help me to search for the Painted Bunting again-yes, he is amazing! We arrived and heard him pretty quickly. We had trouble finding him again. I did see a rare Prothonotary Warbler though! My husband went for coffee, but I stayed, determined to see the bunting. I stayed still for over an hour as the birds around me began to relax and ignore me. My camera battery was almost empty so I couldn’t just keep snapping at any bird that moved and ID them later. Then, I saw them-2 or 3 Painted Buntings. I saw them singing and held my breath as I raised my camera. I got a couple of the worse shots I will ever publish, but I am so proud of these awful pictures LOL. They represent over a month of searching for these beautiful birds. There are jerks out there that want to capture these birds to sell them illegally as pets, so I will not share exact locations. I reported 56 other species so far for this day and hope to return to this park and maybe see these colorful songbirds again someday.

Here is some audio I captured with my Merlin app. It is a great tool but you need to verify as he makes mistakes sometimes! Merlin heard a Carolina Chickadee, a Northern Cardinal, a White-eyed Vireo, Tufted Titmouse, a Painted Bunting, an American Crow and a Great Crested Flycatcher! I hear a Fish Crow and not an American Crow. I also hear a Carolina Wren and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures and audios of the amazing birds I saw in HH this year! I have been posting some great videos of these birds I have discussed to my social media pages so check them out. Follow me if you don’t want to miss any of my amazing bird adventures! I have also been sharing some videos of my Blues from Wilbraham, MA recently too! I am headed back to Florida this week and hoping to see some baby Sandhill Cranes! Wish me luck! Take care and enjoy the spring migration in progress. I have seen lots birds returning to Massachusetts-check my blogs from last spring to see and hear the birds you should be watching for. Hummingbirds are almost here too! Until next blog, Robin