Francis Beidler Forest - South Carolina
Joe Kegley | E-Mail | Updated 05-17-08
Prothonotary Warbler and chick, Francis Beidler
- Joe Kegley
The Francis Beidler Forest is a cypress-tupelo swamp in South Carolina owned and managed by the Audubon Society. This wildlife sanctuary consist of over 15,000 acres, with a portion being virgin old growth forest.
The section of the sanctuary open to the public has a 1.75 mile boardwalk which meanders through an old growth segment of the refuge. The trail (which is a loop) takes one into the swamp as far as Goodson Lake. A few of the bald cypresses off the boardwalk are over 1000 years old. A small fee is necessary to enter the park and boardwalk. When the water level is high enough guided canoe excursions are also offered for a fee.
The boardwalk loop is famous for birding and wildlife observations. Photographers, birders, and nature enthusiasts come from miles around to enjoy the natural history.
Barred Owl, Francis Beidler
- Joe Kegley
Although access to the sanctuary is mainly limited to the boardwalk, this trail in the Francis Beidler Forest manages to deliver a wealth of flora and fauna for the naturalist. The route is popular for birding year round, though especially during the spring and fall migrations. Some of the bald cypresses off the boardwalk are simply spectacular. The Audubon staff offer special educational programs for the younger age groups.
During the spring nesting season Prothonotary Warblers are more that just common, they seem to be everywhere. This yellow-orange songbird adds amazing contrast to the browns and greens of the swamp. This bird is just beautiful. April and May are nest building times, look for pairs gathering mossy nesting material. The chicks are usually hatched in late May and early June.
Barred Owls are commonly seen throughout the boardwalk trail, but the elevated ground on the south side of the boardwalk loop (when entering the split for the loop, take a right) seems to offer the best opportunity for an encounter.
Yellow-crowned Night Herons are frequently observed searching for crayfish in the wetter areas. Ibis, Great Egrets, and Great Blue Herons are other waders that are sometimes encountered from the trail.
Sightings of various species of woodpeckers are a common occurrence. Be on the lookout for Pileated and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Occasionally you will catch a Pileated near the boardwalk at ground level, working hard to extract nourishment from a dead tree.
Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin), Francis Beidler
- Joe Kegley
If snakes are your quarry, then Francis Beidler is the place for you. Cottonmouths (water moccasins) are commonly observed from the boardwalk during spring and summer. The swamp is home to variety of water snakes including but not limited to: banded water snakes, red-bellied water snakes, and brown water snakes. In addition, greenish rat snakes are sometimes found climbing trees or on branches in search of prey.
Another fairly common reptile is the carolina anole. It is often seen on the boardwalk railing or on branches and tree trunks. While alligators inhabit the swamp, they are not frequently encountered from the boardwalk. Your best opportunity for alligators would be the guided canoe tour.
White-tailed deer are frequently spooked when one walks the boardwalk trail. Otters are also observed from this trail, though less frequently.
Wilderness Experience Perspective
As far as I am aware, camping is not available to the general public and access to the reserve is limited to a few areas. One must remember this is a wildlife sanctuary and not a playground for personal human endeavors. Except for the guided canoe tours, the general public doesn't have the opportunity to get deep into the swamp.
You are going to encounter other people on most weekends. Be prepared for large groups of children touring the forest on weekdays when school is in session. Arriving at opening time is your best bet for a quite experience. Expect to observe folks birding year round while photographers mainly come during the spring.
White-tailed Deer Fawn, Francis Beidler
- Joe Kegley
Outstanding, at least during the spring and early summer. The Prothonotary Warblers alone justify a reason to come photograph. The sanctuary is a great place to obtain Barred Owl and snake photographs.
Because of the heavily forested landscape, the sanctuary can offer the same problem sometimes found in the Congaree National Park: high contrast. On sunny days expect very bright highlights and dark shadows. Pick your photography shots wisely and/or use a flash.
If I only had one tip for this location it would be to immerse yourself in the environment. The swamp wildlife here is very dynamic, you may not see anything you wish to photograph the first walk thru, but don't leave. You might be amazed at your second attempt.
Don't just come, spend an hour, and walk the boardwalk once. Bring a lunch and stay all day. Bring a cooler and leave it in your vehicle. If you need a break, head back to the visitor center or your car.
- Insect Repellent - This is a swamp so be prepared, although sometimes repellent is not necessary.
Location and Points of Interest
Francis Beidler Forest Map (Google interactive map)
left double click to zoom in
right double click to zoom out
click and drag to move
hover over markers to see descriptions
This beautiful wildlife reserve is off the beaten path, I suggest you go to Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest website for detailed directions. See below.
- http://sc.audubon.org/audubon-center-sanctuary-francis-beidler-forest - Francis Beidler Forest Audubon web site.
Francis Beidler Forest ... a nature, wildlife, and photography perspective.