Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve (formerly called the Old Coast Guard Station)
From US 17 west of the Ashley River in Charleston, or from the junction of SC 30 and SC 171, Folly Road, on James Island, go south on SC 171, Folly Road, until you reach Folly Beach. Once at Folly Beach turn left (east) at the red light onto East Ashley Avenue. The eventual gated end of this road is the entrance to Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve (formerly called the Old Coast Guard Station). The gate remains locked at all times. There is a small beach access parking lot (paid parking) near the entrance to the area. If this parking lot is full you will have to park somewhere along East Ashley. Make sure all four tires are off the pavement as this is the criteria for ticketing along roads at Folly Beach. Once you park you have the choice of walking around the gate and down the paved road toward the inlet, or out to the beach first where you can walk around to the inlet. Behind the gate, the public is only permitted along the main paved road to the inlet. All side trails are posted and off limits. Dogs are not allowed on this end of Folly Beach AT ALL.
Birds to look for
Lesser Scaup (w), Surf Scoter (w), White-winged Scoter (w), Black Scoter (w), Bufflehead (w), Hooded Merganser (w), Red-breasted Merganser (w), Red-throated Loon (w), Common Loon (w), Horned Grebe (w), Red-necked Grebe (w), Northern Gannet (w), Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (s), White Ibis, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Black-bellied Plover, Wilson's Plover (s), Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, American Oystercatcher, Willet, Whimbrel (spring, fall), Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpiper (spring, fall), Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Purple Sandpiper (w), Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher, Laughing Gull, Bonaparte's Gull (w), Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull (w), Gull-billed Tern (s), Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern (s), Common Tern (spring, fall), Forster's Tern, Least Tern (s), Black Skimmer, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Loggerhead Shrike, Orange-crowned Warbler (w), Yellow Warbler (spring, fall), Black-throated Blue Warbler (spring, fall), Yellow-rumped Warbler (w), Prairie Warbler (spring, fall), Palm Warbler (w), Clay-colored Sparrow (fall), Lark Sparrow (fall), Savannah Sparrow (w), Painted Bunting (s)
Once you find a place to park (tough, especially on weekends and during the summer) birding the Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve (formerly called Old Coast Guard Station) at the northeast end of Folly Beach is easy and fun. Check the scrub for passerine migrants, the grassy areas for good sparrows, the inlet and its sand bars for gulls and terns. There is also a rocky groin that sometimes has a Purple Sandpiper in winter and an ocean beach. Please take care where you walk in late spring and early summer as the Wilson's Plover is nesting on the beach or in the dunes. Nest scrapes can be out in the open in front of the dunes, highly camouflaged. Please walk along the water line if possible. Because of this, the time to visit is low tide during spring and early summer. There is a lot here in a very small area. Many rarities have been found here over the years.
You can give the area a quick look in less than an hour, or you can spend an entire day checking out its many possibilities.