We checked into our hotel late, after 10+ hours on the road. A stand with tourist brochures beckoned me. I showed Arthur a bird park flyer with a photo of an alligator. When the hotel clerk heard us wondering about the northern boundary range of alligators, she said she saw them all the time. They hung out at one of her favorite spots, a place where she and her girlfriend often walked – a city park not far from the hotel.
The Great Swamp Sanctuary is a 842-acre preserve in Walterboro, South Carolina. We headed there the next morning, before another long day of driving home from Florida.
From the website: South Carolina’s newest nature-based attraction, the Great Swamp Sanctuary in the City of Walterboro offers visitors the ultimate Lowcountry experience, combining history, culture, recreation and education in a singularly southern lowlands setting. Just three minutes from I-95, this environmental jewel is ideally positioned to serve as the gateway to other nature-based centers in the state and as a catalyst for the lucrative ecotourism market.
The park was quiet on the morning we arrived. Light was bad but the walk was not. First, we didn’t see many birds. But there was more to see.
One of the paths ended alongside the swamp. There the sanctuary really came to life. Woodpeckers, warblers, wrens, herons. We spent an hour there, standing, looking, marveling. We heard a familiar-sounding call but never saw the bird scolding chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee – our lifer Carolina Chickadee.
It was getting late, and we were at the far end of the small park. We headed back to the car, walking as hurried travelers, not as birders. The huge spider web we had carefully ducked under on the way out was forgotten until we had passed it again – without incident. A large bird flew across the path ahead of us and we were back to birder mode. Arthur found it after a beat and there it was, our lifer Barred Owl.
We shouldn’t have been surprised, since there’s a photo of a Barred Owl on the sign at the entrance (scroll up), but we were. Surprised and thrilled. We hit the road again after watching the owl for a bit. Never got to see a South Carolina alligator, but that was fine with us.