Birders have flocked – yeah, we said it — to South Carolina’s Hammock Coast for years to enjoy our unique coastal area that’s home, throughout the year, to more than 300 species of birds. Southern Living noted that the area is the best birding site on the East Coast, and experts at Clemson University have said the region offers the best birding opportunities in South Carolina.
This year’s festival will feature a keynote speech by Patrick McMillan, a celebrated naturalist and author. See more details about him further down this page.
When it comes to an overall birding experience, there’s nothing quite like the Hammock Coast with its miles of pristine beaches, marshes and rivers teeming with birds and waterfowl, as well as tens of thousands of acres of protected forests. That’s why we’ve teamed up with four of our premier birding locations to offer the 2024 Hammock Coast Birding Festival in February. Our first festival in 2023 attracted birders from 17 states and Canada with dozens of species observed. Many attendees were able to add extensively to their life list.
Once again, we will have a showing of Zach Steinhauser’s acclaimed Purple Martin documentary, “Purple Haze: A Conservation Film.”
Our special tours of Brookgreen Gardens, Hobcaw Barony, Huntington Beach State Park, and the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center are back! Lots of new lectures happening for our second year, too.
Details are still coming together, but registration to attend the festival opens Monday, Dec. 11, at noon. Tour and lecture location registration will happen later.
The 2024 festival has been set for Feb. 9, 10 and 11, 2024. Participants will pick up Welcome Packets, official lanyards, etc. on Thursday, Feb. 8. (We may even have some “Early Bird” events on Feb. 8! Details coming soon!)
Keep checking back here for more information.
Why February? Well, it’s one of the best times of the year for migrating winter birds, especially waterfowl. Our area also has locations where the increasingly rare Red-Cockaded Woodpecker can be found, as well as other birds such as the Swallow-Tailed Kite, the Roseate Spoonbill and more. Nestled between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, the Hammock Coast has long been a draw for visitors seeking a more laidback and nature-centric vacation, and birds seek out our area, too — either as an all-year-long home or a stop over on their trips north and south.
Our festival will offer three days of tours, presentations and speakers — and, most importantly, special tours and access to Brookgreen Gardens, Hobcaw Barony, Huntington Beach State Park, and the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center. Those four areas combined offer more than 50,000 acres of protected land where birds of all kinds live and thrive. Some of the areas where festival goers will be able to tour are rarely open to the general public.
This is a rare opportunity to hear from experts who live and work here, offering an opportunity for first-hand experience about the birds that call the Hammock Coast home.
We are so excited to announce that our keynote speaker will be … Patrick D. McMillan, PhD – Botanist, Conservation Biologist, Plantsman, Horticulturist, Botanical Garden Management Specialist, Author, Television and Radio Personality, TV Producer!
Patrick is a well-known fixture in the horticultural, taxonomic and conservation circles. For over 30 years, he has worked as a professional botanist, horticulturist, naturalist, biologist, and educator. His explorations of the globe have added hundreds of new species and cultivars to the horticultural world. His transformation of the South Carolina Botanical Garden including the development of the natural heritage garden exhibits were formative in the development of the gardening style he has coined as “natural community gardening.” His horticultural research interests lie in the maintenance and generation of diversity using our managed landscapes and the conservation of rare species both in their native habitats and in gardens. He has also worked extensively in the introduction and evaluation of plants from the Chihuahuan desert ecoregion as landscape plants in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest. His range of experience has concentrated on botany, though he is also well-respected through his work in ichthyology, herpetology and mammalogy. Patrick is perhaps best known as the Emmy Award-winning host, co-creator and writer of the popular ETV nature program “Expeditions with Patrick McMillan.” Patrick is a longtime fan of birding along South Carolina’s Hammock Coast and will bring a wealth of knowledge about birds here in the Lowcountry.
Founded in 1931 by Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet has been described as a unique melding of art, nature and history. With the slogan “Ever Changing, Simply Amazing,” it features life-sized sculptures by Anna Huntington and other artists throughout the 9,100-acre property. Brookgreen Gardens is one of America’s premier sculpture gardens which also offers a zoo with animals native to the area. For the festival, Brookgreen will offer exclusive tours by land and by boat with a local expert to offer insight about the birds that can be seen in this extraordinary setting. As a bonus, your ticket to Brookgreen isn’t just good for your festival tour — it’s good for the whole week, providing you access to the full gardens, as well as art galleries and the Lowcountry Zoo, if you choose to extend your visit to South Carolina’s Hammock Coast.
Slightly north of historic Georgetown, Hobcaw Barony is a 16,000-acre preserve and wildlife refuge owned by The Belle W. Baruch Foundation. Historically, it was the winter residence of presidential adviser and Wall Street millionaire Bernard M. Baruch. Open to the public through expertly guided tours, visitors see the 13,500-square-foot mansion he called home and where he hosted such visitors as President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Other areas in the refuge include the grounds and stables of Bellefield Plantation and a salt marsh boardwalk. For the festival, tours will not only provide access to the historic aspects of Hobcaw but will, through the aid of experts, provide details on the birds that can be found there. Hobcaw is important for its location at the mouth of Winyah Bay and its extensive longleaf pine forests with Red-cockaded Woodpecker colonies and excellent Bachman’s Sparrow habitat.
A 2,500-acre coastal nature preserve, Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet features a pristine, rarely crowded beach and some of the best birding in all of South Carolina, with more than 330 bird species logged at the park. Ranger Mike Walker will offer various tours, especially designed for the festival about the birds and habitat offered at one of the most beautiful state parks in the USA. Walker will take attendees along the Atlantic Ocean to visit a jetty that attracts visiting waterfowl throughout the year – and especially during winter migrations. Hiking trails throughout the park bring birders and other nature enthusiasts together for amazing wildlife viewing opportunities. The park also features Atalaya Castle, the one-time home of Archer and Anna Huntington, founders of nearby Brookgreen Gardens.
The southern-most area for the festival will take attendees to the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center, which spans more than 24,000 acres and shifts from longleaf pine forest to maritime forest and ocean beach with marshes and managed wetlands in between. More than 200 different species of birds and a host of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects live there. The center encompasses North Island, South Island, and the majority of Cat Island in Georgetown County’s portion of the Intracoastal Waterway at the mouth of Winyah Bay. The center remains a reflection of Yawkey’s vision, a place where animals and natural ecosystems can thrive, and people are only an occasional visitor. Festival attendees will be provided special tours by Department of Natural Resources personnel that are rarely offered to the general public.
Three friends enjoy a long weekend of birding on the Hammock Coast