Beach Boneyards of South Carolina

Growing up in the snow belt of Ontario we all dreamed of March break on the beaches of the South East coast.  You thought of the sandy beaches, the warm water (or at least not frozen solid), golf courses and beach houses.  Interestingly, now that I can get to those beaches in a few hours I look for things that are a bit different in my beach vacations.  

The coast changes rapidly along the eastern seaboard.  Weather makes new sand bars and takes them away over time and sometimes within one storm.  One interesting part of this change are the beach boneyards, locations that don’t look like they have changed in years with dead trees on the beach that are exposed every 6 hours or so with the tide.

Salwa shooting through the roots on the beach at Botany Bay Plantation

Salwa shooting through the roots on the beach at Botany Bay Plantation

There are two locations in South Carolina that are fairly easy to get to wander along and are fantastic for landscape photography.  Hunting Island State Park is a good starting point.  You can camp on the Island or stay in the nearby town of Beaufort.  The other location is Botany Bay Plantation close to Edisto Beach.  Edisto Island also has camping or beach houses that can be rented.

Both of these locations have been hit hard by hurricanes in the last couple of years, changing the landscape and often making it a challenge to get out to these locations.

So many textures and details on the beach at Hunting Island state park

So many textures and details on the beach at Hunting Island state park

Hunting Island

Camping at Hunting Island State park will allow you access to the beach boneyard as well as the salt ponds and marsh areas at all times of day or night.  You are going to want to walk this beach at sunrise, during the day, through sunset and even get night shots with long exposures.  

Shore birds are plentiful wandering around the dead trees as the tide goes out, with plenty of herons and egrets looking for fish caught in tidal pools.  Bald eagles and Osprey can be found along the salt marsh and in the big pond.  Pelicans will be feeding just off shore and black skimmers flocks will fly by.  In the woods there are plenty of small birds including the painted bunting….or at least that is what I have been told….still don’t have a good picture of one.

Snowy egrets playing and preening after the tide went out in the salt marsh on Hunting Island.

Snowy egrets playing and preening after the tide went out in the salt marsh on Hunting Island.

Late spring and early summer is a good time to chance upon nesting loggerhead turtles.  Take a look at the website for when it is best to see the turtles nesting and the babies hatching.

One thing to be prepared for is the no-see-ums.  These little bugs live up to there name and can be active to the point of frustration on the beach just at dusk.  If you can make it through, they do disappear again leaving you to enjoy the night sky.

Sunrise on the beach at Hunting Island State park. Get out early, it is worth it.

Sunrise on the beach at Hunting Island State park. Get out early, it is worth it.

For dusk and dawn definitely bring a good tripod, long exposures of the water swirling around the trees can look amazing.  Astrophotography can be excellent as well, especially if you use some of the trees in the foreground.

As the tide goes out take out your telephoto lens and start looking for birds.  Ibis, tri-colored herons, little blue herons, wood storks and plenty of egrets can be found looking for what didn’t make it back to the ocean.  This is a great place to get down low and shoot these birds feeding and fighting at eye level.

Tri-colored heron hunting on hunting island

Tri-colored heron hunting on hunting island

Botany Bay Plantation - Edisto Beach

Edisto Beach State park has camping on the beach and a second area that is more protected on the other side of the salt marsh.  Both locations make for a great place to relax.  The beach is a “no light zone” or certain times of the year when the loggerhead turtles nest on this beach.  There are organized night walks if you are there in June or July.  If you want to take pictures you will need to do so without flashes, so high ISO capabilities will be important.

Sunset on the beach bone yard at Botany Bay Plantation

Sunset on the beach bone yard at Botany Bay Plantation

The beach itself is great for morning and evening walks with tonnes of seashells to pick through.  The boneyard beach is a few miles away on Botany Bay Plantation which is accessible from dawn to dusk but check the schedule as it closes for hunters a few times a week.  The drive in through the plantation is beautiful as the live oaks make a canopy over the road and the sun tries to make it through the leaves.

Live Oak canopy drive into Botany Bay Plantation.

Live Oak canopy drive into Botany Bay Plantation.

To get to the beach itself you need to walk across the salt marsh and through a couple of hammocks (tiny islands with many small birds). As you walk over the last sand bank you come directly into the middle of a boneyard of trees in all directions.  The best time to go is about an hour after high tide and up again until about an hour before the next high tide.  Sea shells are everywhere as it is illegal to remove anything from the beach.  This can make for some amazing foreground elements in your landscape shots.  Each time we go we find new compositions based on the height of the tide and what the weather has brought in or moved around.  

Shadows and silhouettes at sunset on Edisto Beach

Shadows and silhouettes at sunset on Edisto Beach

During the high sun we look for details in the scene and wait for the sun to head down for some great shadows and less harsh scenes.  If the tide is right, definitely stay for the sunset and have a couple of compositions picked out.  The tide moves so quickly that you might need to change up even as the sun starts to set.

Getting down low with ruddy turnstones

Getting down low with ruddy turnstones

There is definitely more to see on the Plantation, a number of places to hike along trails, tidal creeks with plenty of birds and even dolphins fishing along the creeks herding fish up onto the banks and almost beaching themselves to feed.  Nearby there is Ernest F. Hollings Ace Basin National Wildlife Refuge with hikes along manmade channels and beautiful old live oaks surrounding an old plantation house.

There is always more to explore on the south east coast, and hopefully soon we will get a chance to tell you about the Georgia and North Carolina coastlines.