Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

Overview

Area name

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

Area Location

Off-Island. Road signage indicates the entrance between the 2 bridges leading to Hilton Head Island on Hwy 278.

Area Map

Access

  • No fee.
  • The Coastal Discovery Museum offers regular guided walks; for more information call 843-689-6767 or visit the museum website at www.coastaldiscovery.org.
  • Open in daylight hours – check website for exact times on http://www.fws.gov/refuge/pinckney_island/.
  • From the parking area the following are estimated times for round-trip walks at a leisurely walking pace and allowing for periodic stops to observe wildlife.
    • Ibis Pond – 1.2 miles, 1.5 hours.
    • Shell Point – 4.6 miles, 4.25 hours
    • Starr Pond – 2.0 miles, 2.5 hours.
    • Nini Chapin and Barker Ponds – 3.6 miles, 3.5 hours.
    • Bull Point – 5.0 miles, 5 hours.
    • Dick Point – 7.4 miles, 6.5 hours.
    • Clubhouse Pond – 6.2 miles, 5.5 hours.
    • White Point – 7.8 miles, 7 hours.

View the PinckneyMap2014 for specific pond locations.

Facilities

  • Kiosk with informative displays and trail maps in parking area.
  • Parking.
  • Mowed grass trails accessible by foot and bicycle.
  • No restrooms.
  • No water.
  • Dogs are not allowed.
  • The Coastal Discovery Museum offers regular guided walks; for more information call 843-689-6767 or visit the museum website at www.coastaldiscovery.org.

 

Key Birds

Resident

Wood Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, Wood Stork, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Clapper Rail, Sora, Common Gallinule, American Coot, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, White-eyed Vireo, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Towhee, Savannah Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark.

Spring

Resident herons and egrets nest at Ibis Pond.  Green Heron and Least Bittern may be observed there.  April-June shorebirds migrate through coastal South Carolina including Black-bellied Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Yellowlegs, Whimbrel, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper.  American Oystercatcher may be seen on the shell rakes off the island.  Painted Bunting arrives by mid-April to breed as does Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue Grosbeak and Summer Tanager.  Spring migration may bring small numbers of warblers.

Summer

Least Bittern, Mississippi Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, Painted Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager.

Fall

Painted Bunting leaves early Fall.  The fall migration can bring good numbers of warblers.

Winter

Common Loon, Scaup, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser and Horned Grebe are all fairly common in open waters, with Red-throated Loon and Scoters also present.  Hooded Merganser, Ring-necked Duck, Blue-winged Teal and Bufflehead are typical on the freshwater ponds.  Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, American Widgeon and Green-winged Teal are present but much harder to find.  Painted Buntings are uncommon but have been observed.  Pine Siskins may be seen in irruptive years.  Eastern Phoebe.  Several fields are managed to attract Sedge Wren, Henslow’s and Le Conte’s Sparrows, though sightings are rare.

Background

Pinckney Island has an undeniably rich natural history, but it is as interesting to historians as it is to naturalists. Archaeologists believe that prehistoric inhabitants — cavemen, if you will — lived on the island as long ago as 10,000 B.C. Coastal Indians later inhabited the island until the mid-1700s, when the Pinckney family acquired it.

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney retired to the island and built a home near White Point, which was subsequently destroyed in 1824. As a Revolutionary War commander, signer of the U.S. Constitution, and candidate for president in the 1804 election, Pinckney was considered to be quite an accomplished fellow. He went on to develop a prosperous cotton plantation on 297 acres of Pinckney Island. Though he died in 1825, the plantation continued to thrive until 1861, when the island was invaded by Union troops during the Civil War. In 1862, South Carolina troops attacked the Third New Hampshire Infantry here, killing four Federal soldiers. The Pinckney property changed hands a few more times before it was finally donated in 1975 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be used as a nature and wildlife preserve.

Nearly 70 percent of this South Carolina Low Country refuge is salt marsh or tidal hammocks, which are actually just small islands. Tall marsh cordgrass gently sways in sea breezes that blow across the marsh. Sea ox-eye gives the landscape some color with its burrlike, yellow flowers. In autumn, marsh elder dresses up the causeways with its greenish-white blossoms.

This easy, eight-mile (round-trip), out-and-back mountain bike ride offers beautiful vistas of pine forests, freshwater ponds, and broad Carolina salt marshes. Though it is not a technically challenging ride, the excellent surface and outstanding scenery make it appealing to most cyclists. It runs along the entire length of Island, from the parking area near Last End Point to the northern tip at White Point. Counting the grassy side trails, there are over 14 miles of nature trails available for hiking and bicycling at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Two of these trails lead out to the island’s eastern shore at Shell Point and Bull Point. From the shoreline you can see the marinas at Hilton Head Island across Skull Creek (the Intracoastal Waterway). The main ride follows a road of pale dirt and gravel that beckons mountain bikers to come along and see the sights of the refuge. And what sights there are to see!

During high tide, notice the salt marsh snails that cling to the stalks of these marsh plants; these air breathers would drown if they were covered by water for more than one hour. At low tide, the mudflats and shallow creeks create a smorgasbord for wading and shore birds. Just a few of the birds that you might find dining in the salt marsh are oystercatchers, terns, sandpipers, herons, snowy egrets, ibises, willets, and gulls. Excellent points from which to view the marshes as you ride include the tenuous isthmus of roadbed between the parking area and Ibis Pond, as well as a tidal creek crossing on the trail to White Point.

Hilton Head Island protects the refuge from destructive sea storms, thus creating a safe sanctuary for resident animals and migratory birds. This pristine habitat is a mecca for wildlife. Four species of animals federally listed as threatened or endangered have been recorded within the refuge boundaries: the Southern bald eagle, peregrine falcon, wood stork, and American alligator. The refuge personnel work diligently to preserve their habitat from degradation and to protect them from human predation.

There are other animals in the refuge that are also given a little man-made help. As you cycle along, look for nesting boxes that have been erected throughout some of the ponds for wood ducks. Near the salt marsh, you will see nesting platforms provided for roosting osprey. You are bound to notice the V-shaped hoofprints of white-tailed deer in the white sand; these wary creatures are prolific on the island. The refuge personnel maintain the deer herd by scheduling hunts as needed on a yearly basis, rather than establishing a hunting schedule and season in advance.

  • Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is one of the 7 coastal refuges of the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Designated an Important Birding Area by the South Carolina Audubon Society, the refuge is a beautiful place to observe and photograph wildlife.
  • The refuge beyond the parking lot is accessible on foot or by bicycle only. There are 14 miles of mowed grass trails so bicycle enables more trails to be covered. Habitats are maintained for native plants, animals and migratory and nesting birds. Signage explains the flora, fauna and maintenance of the refuge.
  • Migratory birds, nesting waders and songbirds are attracted to the diverse habitat of saltwater marshes, mud flats, saltwater waterways, fields, pinewoods, mixed hardwoods and freshwater ponds. A butterfly garden by Ibis Pond with many native plants attracts butterflies from the region.
  • A causeway through wetlands ends at the parking lot where there is an information kiosk. A trail from the parking lot leads to the gravel road accessing the refuge. Watch for Red-headed Woodpecker in these areas.

Birds To Watch