Aiken State Natural Area
From I-20 westbound, use Exit 33 and go south on SC 39 for 13 miles to the town of Wagener. In downtown Wagener turn right (west) on SC 113 - SC 302. Immediately after this turn, SC 302 branches off to the right. Keep on SC 302 (a right turn off of SC 113), and go west for 9 miles, to the junction with Road 53, State Park Road, which is just before the junction with SC 4. Here the three roads form a small triangle. SC 302 turns right and merges with SC 4 about 0.1 miles beyond the junction with Road 53. Instead of turning right and keeping on SC 302, keep straight ahead (which is actually a left turn off of SC 302) and get on Road 53. You will cross SC 4 in about 0.1 miles. If you miss the turnoff, and find yourself at the junction of SC 302 and SC 4, turn left on SC 4, go 0.1 miles and then turn right on Road 53, State Park Road. From the intersection of SC 4 and Road 53, go south on Road 53, State Park Road. In about one mile you will enter Aiken State Park.
From I-20 eastbound, get off at Exit 18, and go south on SC 19 for about 5 miles to downtown Aiken. Turn left (east) on US 78 (Richland Avenue) and go about 3 miles to the eastern edge of town. Here turn left (east) on SC 4 - SC 302 -- the back road to Columbia -- and go about 13 miles east to the point where SC 302 turns off to the left. About 0.1 miles beyond this junction, turn right (south) on Road 53, State Park Road. >From the intersection of SC 4 and Road 53, go south on Road 53. In about one mile you will enter Aiken State Park.
Birds to look for
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (s), Barred Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (w), Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Acadian Flycatcher (s), Eastern Phoebe (w), White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo (s), Blue-headed Vireo (w), Red-eyed Vireo (s), White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Brown Creeper (w), Blue-winged Warbler (m), Orange-crowned Warbler (w), Northern Parula (s), Magnolia Warbler (m), Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Yellow-rumped Warbler (w), Yellow-throated Warbler, Pine Warbler, Palm Warbler (w), Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart (m), Prothonotary Warbler (s), Worm-eating Warbler (m), Swainson's Warbler (s), Ovenbird (m), Louisiana Waterthrush (s), Kentucky Warbler (s), Hooded Warbler (s), Summer Tanager (s), Scarlet Tanager (m), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (m)
Aiken State Natural Area is centered on a couple of small lakes, with picnicking and camping. This park is special for birding because it is located along the upper reaches of the South Edisto River. The floodplain of the South Edisto has some of the best bayhead swamps in South Carolina. Small birds, especially warblers, are readily found in this habitat from April through October. Even in winter there are plenty of Yellow-rumped and Pine Warblers, and you might scare up an Orange-crowned, Yellow-throated, Palm, or Black-and-white Warbler.
The first birding stop is just before the bridge over the South Edisto River on State Park Road. Since this is not a busy road, it is easy to walk out on the short bridge to look the area over. A jeep road joins State Park Road just before the bridge. If you wish to avoid crowds, walk about 200 yards on the jeep road, until you notice a trail off to the left. This is the trail to the primitive campground. It loops around for about a half mile, giving good access to the swamps on the north side of the South Edisto River. Unless the area is overrun with a youth group campout, you will have the place to yourself. The birds here are about the same as on the Jungle Nature Trail, in the main part of the park.
To reach the main part of the park, cross the bridge and turn right almost immediately, then turn right again at the main gate of the park. >From the main gate, enter the main park loop road (one-way). Go to the parking lot near the first lake. Here you will find the trailhead for the Jungle Nature Trail. The best birding in the park is often along this trail, which, true to its name, leads you into (and hopefully out of) the jungle-like thickets along the river.
From April through July, once you have finished with Aiken State Natural Area, you might want to visit nearby Aiken Gopher Tortoise Heritage Preserve to see Bachman's Sparrow. (This site has its own description.) To reach the Heritage Preserve from the Natural Area, go south on Road 53, State Park Road, for about 4 miles to Oak Ridge Club Road. Turn left (east) on this unpaved road for about 5 miles to the preserve parking lot.