Sunset Beach: Mainland Birding Areas

Mary McDavit

County: Brunswick

Habitats: Ocean, coastal inlets, coastal flats, salt marsh, Intracoastal Waterway, floodplain forest, cypress swamp, creek, freshwater lakes, Calabash River, sewerage ponds.

Key Birds: Summer: Wood Stork, Green Heron, Reddish Egret, Sandwich and Least Terns, American Oystercatcher, Black Skimmer, Wilson's Plover, Painted Bunting, Summer Tanager, Orchard Oriole. Winter: Black and Surf Scoters, Red-throated and Common Loons, Red-breasted and Hooded Mergansers, Bufflehead, Greater Scaup, Redhead, Canvasback, Marbled Godwit, Northern Gannet, Long-billed Dowitcher, Sanderling, Nelson's Sparrow. Year-round: Pileated and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatch, White Ibis, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

Best Times to Bird: Year-round.

Google map


Description and Directions: Across the causeway from Sunset Beach (see Birding North Carolina. Falcon Books for Sunset Beach description) are several birding areas. After crossing the causeway make a left on Shore Line Dr. (NC 179 BUS). After passing a little shopping center on your left, note on your right, but do not turn on Lake Shore Dr. Instead continue on Shore Line Dr, and you will come to a lake on the right, just past this intersection. This is East Lake of Twin Lakes, but there are no signs telling you that. Pull over and park here. In summer check the trees on the right for Wood Stork. Look for Green Heron, White Ibis, Great and Snowy Egrets, and Black-crowned Night-Heron which roost on the lake. Check the bushes along the lake for migrants especially in spring and fall. Boat-tailed Grackle and Fish Crow are present year round. In late fall and winter expect a good assortment of waterfowl. Bald Eagles turn up periodically in this region, but are most commonly seen on East Lake.

On the left side of the road is an extensive marsh adjacent to the Intracoastal Waterway. Look for wading birds and shorebirds, especially at low tide. Listen for rails, wintering House Wren, marsh-loving sparrows, and warblers. Return to your car and continue west past West Lake to reach Sunset Lakes.

Sunset Lakes: Turn right onto Lake Shore Dr. at the Oyster Bay Golf Course sign. This road continues around both lakes and comes back out on NC 179 east of East Lake. However, you are going to turn left on Sunset Lakes Blvd. You will come to a big sign for Sunset Lakes on your right at the corner of Medcalf Rd. This is Lake Medcalf. The 2 lakes that comprise Sunset Lakes are dammed up cypress swamps. Look for American Coot, Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon, and Gadwall in winter. Park and scope the lake from the road that crosses the earthen dam. Look for waterfowl sitting on the remnants of duck blinds.

Check the marsh on the left side of the dam for Clapper Rail. In the winter check any hummingbird feeders for Black-chinned, Rufous and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Check the bushes for migrants including Baltimore Oriole, thrushes and vireos. In the summer watch for Chimney Swift and Common Nighthawk. You may hear Great Horned and Eastern Screech-Owls at night. Black Tern can be seen in late summer. A variety of warblers are possible during migration.

Although Painted Buntings come to feeders on the mainland regularly, your best bet to see Painted Bunting may be a short side trip to the east end of Ocean Isle Beach. Retrace your route to Business 179. Turn left and when you reach the intersection where Sunset Blvd goes right to the Sunset Beach Island, continue on NC 179 BUS, which goes left. Go about a mile and a half and there will be a Planetarium on your left. Continue straight for 3 miles; turn right at light on Ocean Isle Beach Rd. Cross the high-rise bridge, then turn left on East 2nd St. Continue on 2nd St for a couple of miles. You will come to an area with trees. Start looking on the wires for Painted Bunting. Continue 3.4 miles from Ocean Isle Beach Rd, turn left on Charlotte St. where you will see a public parking just ahead of you. Park there and look and listen for Painted Bunting on the wires and in the more distant natural habitat.

To visit the Ocean Isle Water Treatment Plant from 2nd and Ocean Isle Beach Road go 2.2 miles back over the bridge, straight at the light on the mainland until you come to Yarbrough Street. Go left and if the gate is open you can drive on the dikes of the three little ponds. The plant is open weekdays, about 8:30 to 5, and in the morning on Saturdays. The treatment ponds are best in migration for shorebirds. In winter there will be ducks. Wading birds are possible year round.

Twenty species of warblers have been seen during migration. Brown-headed Nuthatch and Eastern Bluebird are common here. American Pipit and Wilson's Snipe have been found in the wet grass near the ponds. Expect Barn, Tree, Northern Rough-winged and Bank Swallows, and Purple Martin. Bonaparte's Gulls are common in winter, and Black Tern are seen in early fall.

To get back to Route 17, turn left onto Ocean Isle Beach Road and continue north until you reach Route 17 in a few miles.

General Information:

Many restaurants in South Brunswick County close for one or more winter months. There are chain type motels open all year-round on US 17 By-pass.

Additional Help

DeLorme map grid: page 86, B2

North Carolina Travel Map grid: H5

For more information: South Brunswick Islands Chamber of Commerce, (910) 754-6644

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