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South Carolina

Birding the Lowcountry

With its salt marshes, abundant forests, coastal estuaries and diverse wildlife refuges, South Carolina’s Lowcountry is an ideal destination for both birds and birders alike.
Rating (5)
Program No. 20959RJ
6 days
Starts at
South Carolina

Birding the Lowcountry

With its salt marshes, abundant forests, coastal estuaries and diverse wildlife refuges, South Carolina’s Lowcountry is an ideal destination for both birds and birders alike.
6 days
Starts at
Program No. 20959 RJ
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At a Glance

Bring your binoculars for an adventure that’s perfect for novice birders. South Carolina’s Lowcountry, woven with salt marshes, blackwater swamps and hardwood forests, is a veritable haven for more than 250 bird species, including endangered species, threatened species and species of concern. Learn birding techniques, then hone them as you observe birds during migration along the Atlantic Flyway. Spot shorebirds, raptors, songbirds and other seasonal travelers on field trips to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, Bear Island and Pinckney Island. Possible species include White Pelicans, Prothonotary Warblers, Purple Gallinules, Wood Storks and others.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 10 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Search for the protected Red-cockaded Woodpecker during an excursion to the Webb Wildlife Center.
  • Enjoy special field trips to sites in the ACE Basin and Port Royal Sound.
  • Savor the cuisine of the Lowcountry as you enjoy an oyster roast, Lowcountry Boil, Hoppin’ John and more.

General Notes

The Retreat Difference: This unique, often basic and no-frills experience at a Road Scholar Retreat includes opportunities for early morning exercise, interaction with the local community for insight into local life, an authentic farm-to-table or locally sourced meal, and a live performance or event. All Road Scholar birding programs have a maximum participant-to-instructor ratio of 7:1 in the field. We adhere to the American Birding Association’s Code of Ethics. Learn more at http://www.aba.org/about/ethics.html Due to the nature of this program, listening devices are not available.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Nature Guide to the Carolina Coast: Common Birds, Crabs, Shells, Fish, and other Entities of the Coastal Environment (2nd edition)
by Peter Meyer
Copied from Book Description: "Nature Guide to the Carolina Coast, second edition, is a completely updated, revised, and expanded version of the book originally published in 1991. It is a practical, entertaining, reader-friendly guide to the common animals, plants, and environment of the Carolina coast. Fully illustrated, with over 150 color photographs to aid with identification of over 120 subjects, plus additional drawings with in-depth information on each subject. Scientifically accurate, yet written in language the lay public can understand. It is a perfect resource for coastal residents and visitors along the North Carolina/South Carolina, and even the Georgia coast. A beachcomber's handbook; valuable to any seaside explorer."
South Carolina Naturalists: An Anthology, 1700-1860
by David Taylor and Rudy Mancke
“This volume illuminates the wealth and significance of antebellum natural history studies in South Carolina and the state's natural diversity,” says the product description; our Bill Hamel notes that it’s “great all around for naturalists and history lovers.”
The Water is Wide
by Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy's memoir about teaching on Daufuskee Island in a one-room schoolhouse. The book was made into the movie Conrack, starring Jon Voight. Sense of place and people. Product Description from publisher: The island is nearly deserted, haunting, beautiful. Across a slip of ocean lies South Carolina. But for the handful of families on Yamacraw island, America is a world away. For years the people here lived proudly from the sea, but now its waters are not safe. Waste from industry threatens their very existence--unless, somehow, they can learn a new life. But they will learn nothing without someone to teach them, and their school has no teacher. Here is PAT CONROY'S extraordinary drama based on his own experience: the true story of a man who gave a year of his life to an island and the new life its people gave him.
A Coast for All Seasons: A Naturalist's Guide to the Coast of South Carolina
by Miles O. Hayes, Jacqueline Michel and Joseph M. Holmes
From Book Description: "Explore the marvels of the South Carolina coast through the eyes of two gifted coastal geologists. Miles O. Hayes and Jacqueline Michel take their exceptional understanding of the Carolina coast with its barrier islands, estuaries and bays, and, offer rare insights into this beautiful, and, sometimes, treacherous world. Illustrations, photographs and satellite imagery enhance a narrative that presents hard science and makes it accessible and very human. This is a book that investigates the changing face of the coastline through erosion, hurricanes and climate change. This is a book that matters."
The Prince of Tides
by Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy's novel captures the beauty of the lowcountry as it moves from present to past and back again. Made into a movie by the same title starring Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte. Narrated by Tom Wingo, the novel explores the relationships between members of a dysfunctional family as it moves between the lowcountry to Manhattan. Shrimping, good description of salt marshes.
Looking for Longleaf: The Fall and Rise of an American Forest
by Lawrence S. Earley
Our Naturalist Bill Hamel says this is the “best all around for naturalists and history lovers.” Longleaf pine forests are a special ecosystem and home to the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. From Book Description: "Covering 92 million acres from Virginia to Texas, the longleaf pine ecosystem was, in its prime, one of the most extensive and biologically diverse ecosystems in North America. Today these magnificent forests have declined to a fraction of their original extent, threatening such species as the gopher tortoise, the red-cockaded woodpecker, and the Venus fly-trap. Conservationists have proclaimed longleaf restoration a major goal, but has it come too late? In Looking for Longleaf, Lawrence S. Earley explores the history of these forests and the astonishing biodiversity of the longleaf ecosystem, drawing on extensive research and telling the story through first-person travel accounts and interviews with foresters, ecologists, biologists, botanists, and landowners. For centuries, these vast grass-covered forests provided pasture for large cattle herds, in addition to serving as the world's greatest source of naval stores. They sustained the exploitative turpentine and lumber industries until nearly all of the virgin longleaf had vanished. Looking for Longleaf demonstrates how, in the twentieth century, forest managers and ecologists struggled to understand the special demands of longleaf and to halt its overall decline. The compelling story Earley tells here offers hope that with continued human commitment, the longleaf pine might not just survive, but once again thrive."
The Spirit of Sweetgrass
by Nicole Seitz
Seitz's main character is Essie Mae Laveau Jenkins, a Gullah sweetgrass basketmaker who weaves her magic on the roadside near Mt. Pleasant. With her special love baskets, she works to brings people together. Conflict ensues when her daughter wants her to go to a rest home, and the florist she's been trying to fix up turns out to be gay. Sweetgrass making, roadside basket sellers in the Charleston area, mystery, comedy, family relationships, friends.
Tideland Treasure
by Todd Balantine
Our naturalist Bill Hamel says this is "a bible around here." Hand-drawn illustrations enhance the explanations. Each page was once an article in the local paper. Written for regular folks, there's information to satisfy trained naturalists.
"The Swamp Fox"
by Amy Crawford
Here's the link to this article about one of the most famous Revolutionary War heroes in SC, and one for whom counties and cities are named. Francis Marion used his knowledge of the swamps and woods of SC and his attention to details to outwit British troops and earn his nickname. A poor speller, he was nonetheless a great report-writer. www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/biography/fox.html
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6 days
5 nights
14 meals
5 B 4 L 5 D
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Ridgeland, SC
LifeTides Institute's Community of Cottages

Activity note: Activity Notes Check in, settle in, and meet the scholars sharing your cottage or lodge. An orientation to the week's activities will follow dinner.

Afternoon: Arrive at Palm Key between 4:00-5:30 pm to check in and pick up program materials. Once you are settled into your room, meet the others who are sharing your cottage and enjoy a chat on the back porch. At 5:30 pm, meet and greet other participants at a little party before dinner. Please note that Indicated times are approximate. Program activities, schedules, and personnel may need to change due to local circumstances including weather and seasonal hunting restrictions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: You are probably hungry after traveling, so enjoy the first of our sumptuous lowcountry dinners, served at 6:00 pm. Join other scholars to compare notes about previous programs and follow up on earlier conversations. Don't miss the dessert buffet!

Evening: After dinner, join us for a short orientation as the instructors share specific plans for the week and answer any questions you have about the program and facilities. We'll also talk about some of the birds you might expect to see this week and have a preview of the places we'll visit. But we know you're tired from traveling, so we'll be sure you get to bed at a reasonable hour!

Birding at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge & More
Ridgeland, SC
LifeTides Institute's Community of Cottages

Activity note: What a great day! Put on your walking shoes, grab your binoculars, Sibley's Guide, and sunscreen, and plan to see some really neat birds.

Breakfast: Breakfast served at 8:00 am. Fuel up on our sumptuous low country breakfast--you'll have an active day! Will it be grits and eggs? Or is it an oatmeal day? Come dressed for birding.

Morning: OK, breakfast over, it's time to get down to the business of birding. Appropriately dressed, well equipped with binoculars, bird ID book, and your water bottle, you're ready to visit several wildlife refuges. Be prepared to spend some quality time in the van discussing the birds we see. In addition, instructors will highlight the day's likely sightings: Grebes, Coots, Green Herons, and Bitterns, await you. Alligators and turtles, though not on your bird list, are still exciting to see!

Lunch: Lunch is a picnic, prepared by us from the delicious lunch buffet at breakfast. Did you make a sandwich out of whole-grain bread? Or choose trail mix, nuts, and fruit? Or both? Whatever you fixed, you'll enjoy it while we talk about what we've seen and what we hope to see.

Afternoon: Enjoy the beauty of the refuges as we bird from one place to another. Everyone's eager, but we're being polite and letting everyone take a look through our spotting scopes. Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge is a former plantation made up of a wide variety of land types: salt marsh, forestland, brushland, fallow field and freshwater ponds. These habitats support a diversity of bird and plant life. On Pinckney, we have the opportunity to see waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, neo-tropical migrants, white-tailed deer, and alligators. The area is rich in white ibis, herons, and egrets. If you want help extra help with bird ID, just let our instructors know--they are always happy to help and share their knowledge!

Dinner: Back on site, showered, and relaxed, it's time to enjoy a leisurely lowcountry dinner. Will it be rosemary chicken and brown rice? Or long-simmered roast beef with salad? Or savory southern barbecue? Whatever the menu, you'll surely enjoy it!

Evening: After dinner, join us for one of our popular evening programs. We always try to offer you the opportunity to use your brain cells after supper--as well as relax, have some fun, and learn more about the lowcountry.

Birding at Bear Island Wildlife Management Area & More
Ridgeland, SC
LifeTides Institute's Community of Cottages

Activity note: We'll take the van to more wonderful birding sites today--these complementary sites will give you a chance to hone your bird-identifying skills.

Breakfast: Start the morning out right with a delicious low country breakfast at 8:00 am. Is today the day you'll try grits? Or is fruit and toast more your style? Be sure to fill your plate: you'll need energy for today's outing! And don't forget, you'll want to pack your lunch before making your final preparations for the morning's birding extravaganza.

Morning: We're visiting some gems today: Bear Island is recognized as one of the best birding areas of the state. Besides a wide variety of year-round common and migratory species who are regularly here, Bear Island and Bennett’s Point have been known to host a number of rare birds: Roseate Spoonbill, Black Rail, American Avocet, Hudsonian Godwit, etc. Who knows what birds we might see?

Lunch: Today we enjoy a bag lunch--did you bring a boiled egg and craisins or a turkey and cheese sandwich? We hope you picked up a homemade cookie at the buffet this morning!

Afternoon: This afternoon is a continuation of the morning--birding by foot, by eye, by ear. Keep a snack out of your lunch to enjoy during the mid-afternoon--you'll be glad you did!

Dinner: At 6:00, we'll enjoy another lovely lowcountry meal--maybe fish tonight, with black-eyed pea salad! Swap stories about the day's adventures with your table-mates, and don't forget the dessert!

Evening: This evening, join us for a program on South Carolina's lowcountry and its history and culture. The LifeTides Institute is known for its engaging presenters and interesting programs. Whatever it is, you don't want to miss it.

Savannah NWR, Tupelo Trail and More!
Ridgeland, SC
LifeTides Institute's Community of Cottages

Activity note: We've all been seeing some great birds--and today will be no exception! What new birds will make their way to our group list today?

Breakfast: As always, be sure to fuel up with a delicious lowcountry breakfast. Don't forget to prepare your bagged lunch for later!

Morning: Load up the van! It's time to head out to the Savannah NWR. We will stop at the visitor center for an orientation as well as drive the Tupelo Trail, stopping along the 4 mile loop to bird along the way. Listen up when the instructors review what birds we're keeping an eye out for today.

Lunch: We'll have a healthy picnic lunch on our outing. Was it turkey today? Or organic peanut butter? Soy nuts or craisins? There's something for everyone.

Afternoon: After lunch we'll continue our field trip at the Savannah NWR, exploring the Tupelo Trail and other access points at the Refuge.

Dinner: This evening, we'll meet for another lovely lowcountry meal--maybe shrimp and grits, or barbeque ribs and the fixings. You will have worked up an appetite today!

Evening: This evening, join us for a program on South Carolina's lowcountry and its history and culture. The LifeTides Institute is known for its engaging presenters and interesting programs.

Webb Wildlife Center & More
Ridgeland, SC
LifeTides Institute's Community of Cottages

Activity note: Webb Wildlife Center is the home of the Red Cockaded Woodpecker, which nests in the Longleaf Pines there

Breakfast: What will it be this morning? Ham and eggs? Homemade bread? Or maybe a bowl of fruit? But don't be late: we have a busy day ahead! (Don't forget to pack your lunch.)

Morning: After breakfast we all load up in the van and travel to Webb Wildlife Center. Why would we want to go there? Well, Webb Wildlife Center contains longleaf pine forest, the preferred habitat of the Red Cockaded Woodpecker, a jewel in this program’s crown. This morning, Scholars will bird in hardwood forest, blackwater swamp, and the aforesaid longleaf pine forest.

Lunch: Once again, we'll picnic on our outing--what did you choose today? Whatever it is, it's sure to be healthy and delicious.

Afternoon: We continue the fun into the mid afternoon. This is a full and active day, but it's not over yet.

Dinner: Dinner begins early tonight with an old-timey Oyster Roast! Come join us at 5:00 as we steam fresh, local oysters over an open fire. Don't know how to open oysters? You can learn by doing--and eating. And then--it's time for another lowcountry dinner!

Evening: After dinner, you won’t want to miss the wrap-up party. This is our last evening, and we can’t let it go by without doing it up special. Everyone will find something to enjoy as we share highlights from the week over dessert (if you still have room). You don’t want to miss this--but to tell you more right now would be to spoil it! If you brought one with you, do bring your musical instrument to our gathering spot.

Program Concludes
Ridgeland, SC

Activity note: Our final breakfast together--if you haven't tried grits yet, this is the day! Make plans to come back to see us. Please return your name tags and lanyards so that we can reuse them.

Breakfast: Breakfast at 8:00, and your last chance for grits! If you haven’t tried them yet, you just have to have some today. You’ll want to eat hardily, as today you will be packing up and leaving us for wherever your road takes you. (Please return your name tags and lanyards before you leave us.)

Morning: This morning, after telling parting stories, asking questions, issuing invitations, or listening to one more joke from you-know-who, it’s off to pack up and prepare for departure. We hope you’ll stay in the area and do some more exploring—and/or birding--ask the staff for recommendations and directions. We’d love to share more of South Carolina and the lowcountry with you!

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