‘Swamped’ at Four Holes

The cypress and tupelo gum swamp keep watch over the Francis Beidler Forest. So be on your best behavior.

You can be sure birdwatchers know all about this daytrip destination. Two hours south, a 109-mile drive, will take you to two natural areas well worth the drive. Down near Harleyville, you’ll find the Francis Beidler Forest and within that forest runs Four Holes Swamp. Despite the name “swamp,” Four Holes is a river that runs in a series of interlaced streams that braid themselves into a river that feeds into the Edisto River, the world’s largest free-flowing blackwater river.

Four Holes Swamp rises in Calhoun County and runs just 62 miles. It’s in the Francis Beidler Forest, one of the largest wetland reserves on the East Coast. More than 16,000 acres of bald cypress and tupelo gum swamp — the world’s largest stand — and 1,700 acres of old-growth forest remain here, some trees more than 1,000 years old. Within the forest is an Audubon wildlife sanctuary, the aforementioned Four Holes Swamp, a blackwater creek system. Visit the Audubon Center and Sanctuary at Francis Beidler Forest for educational information on this vital natural area. Audubon has managed this natural area for more than 40 years and it is a great place to see how much of our valuable wetlands once looked before man altered them. When it’s not hunting season, the area is used for natural history education courses conducted by the Audubon Society.

Whether you are an amateur or a veteran birdwatcher, you’ll love the sanctuary, an Important Bird Area. Approximately 140 bird species nest or migrate through Beidler Forest. One of the feathered stars is the gold and rare prothonotary warbler that sweetens the sanctuary’s swamp music with its chirpy birdsong. If you see a brilliant flash of yellow-orange among the trees you’ve witnessed a prothonotary warbler. Were you to really get lucky you might catch a glimpse of the majestic painted bunting. Overhead and through the swamp canopy you may see bald eagles. Other wildlife residents include otters, owls and rare plants such as the dwarf trillium, a flower found in South Carolina only at Four Holes Swamp in Beidler Forest.

Keep an eye on the weather and when a few warm days arrive plan a trip to Francis Beidler Forest and Four Holes Swamp. Take your binoculars, a good camera and a bird guide and strike out. Work on a boardwalk has been under way and you may be able to walk into the swamp where you can see and photograph wildlife species such as the anhinga. When complete the boardwalk will stretch two miles. If it’s warm enough you may see alligators cruising through the water. The good thing about the boardwalk is it lets you see 1,000-year-old cypress without getting your feet wet.

In this age of urban sprawl, over development and adverse land use practices, it’s good to see that important natural areas are being kept just that, natural. In the words of naturalists you’ll find a rich biodiversity here and it’s not far away.

 If You Go …

 • Francis Beidler Forest
336 Sanctuary Road
Harleyville, S.C. 29448
• 843-462-2713 / 843-462-2150

• The Audubon Center charges an $8 adult admission. Children are $4.

• www.audubon.org/locations/audubon-center-sanctuary-francis-beidler-forest

 

Learn more about Tom Poland, a Southern writer, and his work at www.tompoland.net. Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected]