Egrets, storks, ibis and more egrets - Huntington Beach State Park
If you do a web search on Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina, you'll find it listed by many birders and photographers as a top spot. I was there a few weeks ago, in the latter part of August, and it certainly didn't disappoint, providing great photo opportunities for various waterbirds: Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Tri-coloured Heron, Great Blue Heron, Wood Stork and Roseate Spoonbill. Add into the mix a scattering of shorebirds, the chance of a fly by Caspian or Royal Tern and Anhinga, and there's plenty to keep the bird photographer busy. This aside, it's also simply a great birding spot, boasting a bird list of more than 300 species, with something to interest the avid birder throughout the year.
I shot over a period of three mornings and one evening, almost exclusively photographing from the causeway. On one side you have a freshwater area (also known as Mullet Pond), and the other a tidal marsh area. There are some key factors to be aware of to ensure you get the most from this site - which I'll get to later in the article (hint - sun angle and shooting height). Right now let's get to the birds.
During my early morning visits, Wood Stork (highest morning count was 192) were often gathered on the far shore of Mullet Pond. The rising sun would create a golden glow to the reeds, which reflected beautifully on the water.
As morning progressed, birds would depart periodically, offering good flight opportunities as they crossed the causeway.
Many were headed to the trees at the entrance end of the causeway, where they would sit, wings-out-stretched, warming themselves in the morning sunshine.Wood Stork, Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina
On the final morning, an overnight lowering of the water level (the park management apparently controls the water level in Mullet Pond) triggered a huge increase in the numbers of birds present. There may have been other factors contributing to this sudden increase (fish kill?), but this was the most obvious change.
On this morning, in addition to the Wood Stork, I estimated over 100 each of Great Egret, Snowy Egret and White Ibis, 80+ Tri-coloured Heron, a handful of Little Blue Heron and Great Blue Heron and 5 Roseate Spoonbill.
Patterns of reflected light, and simple reflections were bountiful on the final morning.
The Roseate Spoonbill and White Ibis were most often on the marsh side, and here the morning light direction was very challenging. Great for back-lite shots, but not so great for evenly illuminated birds. Added to which the light would get very harsh very quickly (passing clouds offered short relief, softening the light wonderfully!). Of course the reverse situation exists in the evening!
And of course there are ever present Alligators that would occasionally cruise by...
Reflections on getting the most from a visit in August
I've only been here once, in August, shooting for three consecutive days, so this may not be a typical experience. However, there are some photography tips that apply quite distinctly to this place, which it's worth being aware off should you choose to plan a visit at this time of year.
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