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In the heart of the swamp, Francis Beidler Forest astonishes and enlightens

Interpretive signs
Interpretive signs

Deep in Four Holes Swamp in Harleyville about 45 minutes from Charleston, you will find Francis Beidler Forest much like a velvet swathed box tucked away in a dresser drawer, holding some of nature's most extravagant jewels for safekeeping. Home to the prothonotary warbler, the yellow-crowned night heron and other elusive and astonishing creatures, Beidler Forest is itself a jewel in South Carolina's crown of exquisite natural places of beauty and ecological diversity.

The Prothonotary (pro-THON-otary) Warbler sings in abundance, nests in cypress knees.

Listed as one of the nation's most important birding sites, Beidler Forest is talked about in hushed tones by enthusiastic birders, not to keep it a secret, but because encounters there demand reverence. A popular highlight of the Santee Birding and Nature Festival, those who had been there recommended it as a place to see "lifetime" birds, or birds you've never seen before and will never forget after.

Equipped with an interpretive booklet, visitors follow a 1.75 mile boardwalk into the heart of the swamp, guided by with interpretive signposts, rain shelters and plenty of good gazing spots.

Nature does not wait for you to catch up. Nature does not pose on demand and appear just because you are there to see it, but if you move so as not to break the spell, nature astonishes. Beidler Forest teaches this lesson of the attentive and hopeful approach, without expectations, ready to be surprised. And here, nature will surprise you around any given corner at any given moment.

One minute you may be straining your eyes, even with binoculars, to catch sight of a mysterious flutter high in the leaf canopy. And then, a warm yellow flash bursts out of the gray-green swamp just feet in front of you and there, on a cypress knee nearby, a prothonotary warbler looks straight at you from his bright eye and sings his head off in ecstatic salutation.

Or the yellow-crowned night-heron stalks through the dappled brilliance of fitful sun and wind playing in the swamp's foliage, pauses to catch a fish and eats it while you stare, astonished.

"How can we ever stop looking? How can we ever turn away?" asks poet Mary Oliver. This is precisely the question resounding in the birdsong at Beidler forest where a 1.75 mile walk can take hours and last a lifetime.

Subscribe to this column to learn more about Beidler Forest and Project Protho.


  • Stan Dotson 5 years ago

    Sounds like a great walk, Leslee. If only the Beatles had been to Francis Beidler, we could be singing "Prothonotary Warbler singing in the dead of night. . ."

  • Tina Ranieri 5 years ago

    Oh precious!

  • Dave Sandersfeld, Oregon Nature Examiner 5 years ago

    What an East coast Treasure free for all to see!

  • Ann Shahid 5 years ago

    Thank you so much for such a beautifully written article on Beidler Forest. I enjoyed meeting you at the Santee Birding and Nature Festival. Please come back to visit us.

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