Edisto Island’s hidden gem is hotbed for nature, especially birds native to this region

I grew up in a house full of music. Instruments hung on the walls and the huge stereo that took up an entire corner of the living room played all day and night — everything from Patsy Cline to The Rolling Stones. As a young child, my mom took me to see live music at every opportunity. Whether it was at a tiny village hall or a huge outdoor festival, I was mesmerized by the magic that was created by a handful of people on stage. I couldn’t imagine anything more exhilarating than being up there, contributing to the alchemy.

As a teenager, I longed for a guitar of my own. I was the only child of a single parent and will always remember the day that my mom brought home a crimson Fender knock off she found at a yard sale for $3. It was one of the greatest gifts she ever gave me. Since then, my life has been consumed by music and I have made sure to pass on my mother’s gift to my own children. In our family home music still plays in every room, albeit on much smaller stereos.

So, it didn’t come naturally when my wife brought me to the back porch this spring, took out my headphones and turned off all the music. “Shhhhh. Listen…” she said. She had recently downloaded an app that identified birdsongs and had become infatuated by the variety of birds that visit our backyard. Since then it has spawned a burgeoning new interest for us. Armed with binoculars and a camera, every outing now becomes an opportunity to bird nerd.

I can barely distinguish a wren from a miniature poodle, but my wife is getting pretty good at it. We’ve seen goldfinches, dressed resplendently in yellow, various woodpeckers scrambling up and down tree trunks, and the usual assortment of chickadees and cardinals. The one prize that has so far proved elusive is the mother of all backyard birds — the painted bunting. They look like something a child has created, splotched with every color in the crayon set, and more like a bird you’d find in a Brazilian rainforest than something you’d see in a West Ashley garden.

We had read that Botany Bay on Edisto Island was a good place to see painted buntings, so we loaded up the children and off we went. This slice of paradise, less than an hour drive from West Ashley, is home to an amazing array of species including nesting loggerhead turtles, rare birds, and reptiles. Thousands of acres of undeveloped sea island and almost 3 miles of beachfront, famous for its boneyard of dead trees, means you can find some solitude even on the busiest of days. Removal of shells or driftwood is prohibited, so the beach is littered with huge intact whelk shells, sand dollars, and sea stars, many of which have been hung to adorn the fallen trees like Christmas ornaments. If you’re heading for the beach, be sure to time your visit right — much of it disappears beneath the waves at high tide.

There is plenty to see aside from the beach. The shell rings on nearby Fig Island are thought to be around 4,000 years old and are among the largest and best preserved in North America. Remnants from Sea Cloud and Bleak Hall Plantations, including a gothic revival icehouse are well worth a visit and can be seen from the 6-mile driving tour that takes visitors around the property without ever having to give up your air conditioning. Of course, if you’re able to get out on foot you will be richly rewarded.

On this occasion, the four of us left the car behind and set off on foot along the causeway leading us towards the beach through stunning marsh scenery. Tiny crabs danced sideways around our feet and we were treated with views of undisturbed maritime forest – our coast the way it was hundreds of years ago. The path took us to a tiny hammock island, no more than a stand of trees a few inches taller than the surrounding wetlands. Winding through the lush vegetation, a flash of color caught my attention and there it was. Smaller than I imagined, but every bit as magical, a painted bunting was shuffling around in the leaf litter before it took to the air and landed on a nearby tree branch. We all felt as if we’d seen a leprechaun.

Spotting that little bird has inspired me. Although I’m still very much an audiophile, I’ve added some variety to my playlist. Once in a while I take out my headphones, turn off the music, and listen to the live performance in my backyard.

Where: Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve & Wildlife Management Area
Cost: Free
Distance from the Coburg Cow: 39.8 miles
Pairs well with: The Byrds, The Eagles, or Sheryl Crow

Aaron O’Brien is a native of Great Britain. He and his wife Christina make up local duo Oh Valentino. When they’re not performing, you can find them exploring local attractions and outdoor spaces.

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