Manchester State Forest
From the intersection of US 378 and SC 261 in Stateburg go south on SC 261 for 9.4 miles to Headquarters Road, a sand road on your right. Here turn right (west) and go about a mile to the headquarters of Manchester State Forest, where you can get information.
Birds to look for
Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser (w), Wild Turkey, Pied-billed Grebe (w), Anhinga (s), Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (s), White Ibis (s), Wood Stork (s), Osprey, Swallow-tailed Kite (s), Mississippi Kite (s), Northern Harrier (w), Red-shouldered Hawk, American Woodcock (w), Common Ground-Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo (s), Eastern Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Chuck-will's-widow (s), Whip-poor-will (s), all of South Carolina's woodpeckers (including Red-cockaded; perhaps Ivory-billed as well), Acadian Flycatcher (s), Eastern Phoebe (w), Red-breasted Nuthatch (w), White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Winter Wren (w), Northern Parula (s), Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Yellow-rumped Warbler (w), Yellow-throated Warbler (s), Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler (s), Palm Warbler (w), Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart (m), Prothonotary Warbler (s), Worm-eating Warbler (s), Swainson's Warbler (s), Ovenbird (s), Northern Waterthrush (m), Louisiana Waterthrush (s), Kentucky Warbler (s), Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler (s), Yellow-breasted Chat (s), Summer Tanager (s), Scarlet Tanager (m), Eastern Towhee, Bachman's Sparrow (s), Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow (w), Vesper Sparrow (w), Fox Sparrow (w), Blue Grosbeak (s), Indigo Bunting (s), Painted Bunting (s), Eastern Meadowlark, American Goldfinch
Manchester State Forest is a huge area, with many miles of unpaved roads and trails. The Palmetto Trail runs through the forest and gives good year-round access to some of the good birding sites. Manchester State Forest and vicinity offers many different birding habitats—mature longleaf pine forest, pine plantations, upland hardwood forests, bay thickets, agricultural fields, floodplain forest. The result is great birding. Note that many of the trails are closed (except for Sundays) during the August to December deer hunting season. The Palmetto Trail is open every day of the year.
Nearby you will find Poinsett State Park (which has its own entry), the Upper Santee Swamp, and Oak Lea Wildlife Management Area (administered by Manchester State Forest). There are many private inholdings in the state forest. Look for diamond-shaped white signs indicating state forest land.
Here are some good places to visit in the area. This is not an exhaustive list. Do some exploring if you have time.
The Wateree River floodplain. From the intersection of SC 261 and Headquarters Road, go west on Headquarters Road for 1.0 mile to the intersection with Campbell's Creek Road. Here turn left (southwest) on Campbell's Creek Road. At 2.6 miles from SC 261 you will reach a crossroads. Here turn left and immediately park at a wide pulloff. This is where the Palmetto Trail comes out of Poinsett State Park. From this point you can follow the Palmetto Trail south into Poinsett State Park (where there is an official Palmetto Trail Trailhead in about 1 mile) or you can follow the Palmetto Trail north. The northbound Palmetto Trail runs for a mile along the continuation of Campbell's Creek Road (closed to vehicles and gated). Then the trail goes up a steep bluff that gets about 200 feet above the floodplain (good views in winter). About two miles from the pulloff the Palmetto Trail returns to the floodplain where it follows an old railroad causeway into the floodplain of the Wateree River. The trail goes over nine bridges before ending just shy of the Wateree River. The trail goes about four miles out into the floodplain.
Another way to get into the Wateree River floodplain is to continue driving past the pulloff at the Palmetto Trail. The all-weather road reaches a gate at the edge of the Beidler Tract of Manchester State Forest at about 3.1 miles from SC 261. If the floodplain is not flooded you can park at this gate and walk for many miles on a network of old hunt club roads and jeep trails through the floodplain forest. If the gate is open you may be able to drive in, but the roads are not maintained and can be tricky. It is better to walk, and you will see more birds anyway.
Red-cockaded Woodpecker areas. Currently there are two roads through the state forest that have active clusters of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Return to SC 261 and go south, towards Pinewood. Soon you will reach the intersection with Poinsett Park Road, the paved road that leads to Poinsett State Park. Re-set your odometer. At 1.8 miles south of Poinsett Park Road you will reach the intersection with Road 51, the road to Rimini on Lake Marion. Keep going on SC 261. At 4.3 miles south of Poinsett Park Road you will reach the intersection with an unnamed but well maintained sand road to the right, into the state forest. There is a Red-cockaded Woodpecker cluster a short way down this sand road. Look for the trees with white rings painted on them.
There is another Red-cockaded Woodpecker cluster farther on, in better habitat. Keep going south, towards Pinewood, on SC 261. At 5.0 miles south of Poinsett Park Road turn right onto Road 508 (paved). There are Red-cockaded Woodpecker trees on both sides of Road 508. This area has had breeding Bachman's Sparrows in the past and may still have them.
The Upper Santee Swamp. This area is owned by Santee-Cooper, the state-owned electric utility company and managed by SC DNR. One way to get to this area is at Sparkleberry Landing, a boat landing and a trailhead for the Palmetto Trail. You can explore the swamp in a small boat, camera at the ready to photograph an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in an area where there are many rumors of IBWO, or you can walk along the edge of the swamp on the Palmetto Trail. To reach Sparkleberry Landing from the intersection of SC 261 and Poinsett Park Road go south on SC 261 for 1.8 miles. Here turn right on Road 51, the road to Rimini. At 6.0 miles south of Poinsett Park Road you will see the turnoff to the right for Sparkleberry Landing. Turn here and go another 1.6 miles to the landing, which has a large parking lot for boat trailers.
Oak Lea Wildlife Management Area. This is an area of 2000 acres or more in northern Clarendon County, administered by Manchester State Forest. It has agricultural fields and wood lots, and a public dove field. The dove field has the best birding. With luck you might find Common Ground-Dove any time, Painted Buntings in summer, and various sparrows (including Henslow's and Vesper) in winter. From Manchester State Forest go south and east on SC 261 to the small town of Pinewood. Reset your odometer when SC 261 crosses the railroad tracks in the town of Pinewood. At 2.3 miles east of the railroad tracks turn right (south) on Panola Road. At 6.0 miles from the railroad tracks look for the entrance to the public dove field on your left (east). Drive in and park at the designated area. Be sure to wear blaze orange during the August to January deer hunting seasons and do not bird there if there is a dove hunt in progress (a few days in the fall). Agricultural fields in this area often have wintering American Pipits and permanent resident Horned Larks.
The Swallow-tailed Kite area. From the intersection of Headquarters Road and SC 261 go north on SC 261 to a complicated little junction of sand roads where Old Charleston Road, River Road and Arthur Gayle Road come together on the west side of SC 261. (This intersection is 3.8 miles south on SC 261 from the intersection of SC 261 and SC 763 in Wedgefield). Go west (away from SC 261) on Arthur Gayle Road. At about two miles west of SC 261 you will be in an agricultural area with large fields and a chicken farm. This area of private land is an inholding in the state forest. From mid July to early August this area often has an aggregation of kites. On favorable days there may be as many as a dozen Swallow-tailed Kites and two dozen Mississippi Kites.