Explore Outdoors - Publisher's Choice

Aiken City Lifestyle Publisher and Wildlife Photographer, Gayle Bryan, Shares Some of Her Favorite Spots to Explore Coastal Carolina

Most that know me would agree that I am averse to mornings. When we first got married, my husband would get up on Saturday mornings and fix breakfast. He stopped when he realized I would eat and go back to bed. Imagine his surprise when, once or twice a month after our nest emptied, I set my alarm for three a.m. on Saturday morning to head somewhere along the South Carolina coast to join a kayaking excursion or just to catch the golden light of sunrise. As far as mid-life crises go, it is fairly benign and has allowed me to interact with nature and wildlife in ways that I could never have imagined.

So, when pondering this month’s theme of explore, my mind immediately traveled outdoors. My contribution to this issue is to share some of my favorite places to explore in South Carolina and the images I have captured there.

If you want a taste of nature without going too far off the beaten path, Hunting Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet is a good place to start. Wildlife is abundant and you don’t have to venture far from your car to find it. If you are lucky, you might spot a painted bunting as you make your way from your vehicle to the causeway. Walking along the causeway, keep your eyes peeled for alligators, mink, bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, herons, egrets, and brown and white pelicans.

The Cypress Wetlands in Port Royal is another great spot to observe wildlife in different habitats without much risk of getting a tick. A boardwalk surrounds the bird rookery, and if you hit it near sunset, you can observe hundreds of wading birds returning to their nests and the alligators in the waters beneath patrolling and protecting them from other predators.

Speaking of alligators, I came across the big, ugly one pictured here when I was hiking through the rice fields at Caw-Caw Interpretive Center in Ravenel. I turned a corner, and there he was. I clicked off some quick shots and backed away slowly! 

One of my favorite images is of a white ibis on a cypress knee I shot at Audubon Center & Sanctuary at Francis Beidler Forest in Harleyville. It is a songbird paradise and the world’s largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest. 

The boneyard beach at Botany Bay on Edisto Island is a great place to catch a sunrise. The bleached-out felled trees against the backdrop of a Carolina pink and orange sky is something that everyone should see in person. Check the tide chart before you go because there is not a ton of beach left due to erosion.

Bulls Island, an uninhabited barrier island off the Charleston coast, has it all including a pristine boneyard beach (the shelling is unbelievable), close to 300 bird species and over 1,000 alligators. You can get there by kayak or ferry with Coastal Expeditions.

Captain Sam’s Spit is a sandy inlet on the southern end of Kiawah Island and one of the few places on earth that you can observe dolphins strand feeding. Strand-feeding is a learned behavior wherein pods of dolphins work together to corral fish onto shore, breach and quickly gobble them up. One fine day I hauled my camera gear the mile and a quarter jaunt from Beachwalker Park in hopes of seeing this phenomenon for myself. I lucked out and saw them breach several times including once close to where I was set up. Fortunately, my camera settings were already set because I was too caught up in the moment to give them a second thought!

My outdoor exploring has temporarily taken a backseat to the great adventure of publishing Aiken City Lifestyle every month, but I hope to see you out enjoying our great state soon.

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