Bear Island Wildlife Management Area is a Birdwatcher’s Paradise

A bird-lover’s paradise

American Bald Eagle hunts over the waterways of Bear Island WMA.
Photo by Jim Killian.

If birding is your passion, Bear Island Wildlife Management Area is the place for you !This Lowcountry barrier island is managed  to provide quality habitat for wintering waterfowl and other wetland wildlife including threatened and endangered species such as wood storks and bald eagles. Here you’ll find a vast array of waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and songbirds. There are two observation platforms and miles of dikes that provide numerous wildlife viewing opportunities.

Roseate Spoonbills are a favorite at Bear Island. Image by Kristin Baggett.

Bear Island is managed to provide quality waterfowl habitat and to protect local endangered and migratory non-game species. Public recreational opportunities are provided for hunting, nature observation and fishing. Explore thousands of acres containing managed impoundments at 27 different sites.

An Osprey searches for her next meal. Photo by Jim Killian.

Bear Island is a major wintering area for waterfowl as well as an important shorebird area during migration. It is also an important nesting area for Bald Eagles and a foraging area for wading birds including Wood Stork, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Tri-colored Heron, White Ibis and Glossy Ibis. Concentrations of migratory shorebirds include Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Dowitcher and Common Snipe. Shorebird concentrations are noted during times of pond drawdown associated with the waterfowl management program.

Canadian Geese and Tundra Swans have been spotted at Bear Island. Photo by Jim Killian.

Bear Island is part of the ACE Basin estuarine reserve area and is managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The area is open to the public from early February to late October and is a popular spot for hiking, biking, birding, and fishing. A wide variety of waterfowl species inhabit the area. The area shuts down periodically for special hunts.

A Belted King Fisher waits patiently on its perch. Photo by Jim Killian.

Bear Island is one of the best birding areas in the state. Be on the look-out for Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Roseate Spoonbill. In addition to common birds of the Coastal Plain and the specialties listed above there is a long list of rarities that have been spotted here, including—among others—Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Common Goldeneye, Eared Grebe, Roseate Spoonbill, Black Rail, American Avocet, Hudsonian Godwit, White-winged Dove, Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl, Western Tanager, and LeConte’s Sparrow.

Herons are a common sight at Bear Island. Photo by Jim Killian.

The main part of Bear Island is open to birders Monday through Saturday, from 1 February through 14 October. At other times birders are restricted to areas right along Bennett’s Point Road, including Mary’s House Pond, which is just south of the residences by the main entrance. Do not go in to closed areas, even if the gate is not locked, or you risk getting a ticket.

This egret makes a successful catch. Photo by Jim Killian.

The best birding is usually along the main unpaved road east from Bennett’s Point Road, called Titi Road. A good strategy is to park along Titi Rd and walk in along any of the many side roads. If you have time you might also want to check one or more of the roads that lead west from Bennett’s Point Road. It takes at least a day to enjoy the entire area.

Bear Island is located off Highway 17, between Edisto Island and Beaufort in Green Pond. From Hwy 17, turn onto Bennett’s Point Rd and travel 13 miles. The entrance is on the left, approximately 1 mile after crossing the Asheepoo River.

Wading birds of all sizes hunt and nest on Bear Island. Photo by Jim Killian.