Desperate for some paddling but short on time we set out to do some birding and paddling in S.C. We had visited Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge once before for a quick birding stop in December 2001. Covering the reserve would take a full day since it is a fourteen mile hike, and that's just the main path. Bikes are allowed, no motorized vehicles. We arrived late afternoon to find an excellent Holiday Inn Express in Bluffton, S.C. After reviving in the air conditioning, we took a brief drive to the island. We had already sighted a swallow-tail kite over one of the bridges just before our motel exit. Lots of Ibis, egrets and herons on our evening walk, nothing else mainly due to lack of time. We also took time to find the boat ramp, an easy right hand turn 0.5 miles over the bridge off route 278. An easy put-in and lots of parking.
On Monday AM we ate a quick motel breakfast and were off to paddle. We were the second car in the parking lot and didn't see any others. Surprising since it was summer and we were near Hilton Head Island. We had an easy put in at Mackay Creek, and proceeded to paddle out into the refuge. We rounded Dick Point Pond and to our surprise found a boat ramp not identified on either the Trail Guide map or other maps we had checked out. We took a brief break to stretch our legs, and my first surprise was seeing a painted bunting fly past my head about 2 feet away. Having been on many searches for these beautiful birds without success, seeing one in flight had already made my day! We never determined why the boat ramp is there, but it provides easy access to a trail leading to a managed area of the island. Saw some common song birds, took a quick dip in the water and then set off again.
Since the temps were better than expected with some cloud cover, we decided (with Steve's strong suggestion) to do a circular route instead of backtracking in the refuge. We followed the creek to the back side of Big Harry Island, behind Corn Island and down to the Chechesse River. This was a beautiful section, with some interesting scenery. With Wood Storks perched in the trees we felt like we were being watched/welcomed into a different era. They always look so prehistoric! We also spotted several night herons in this section. Before meeting the river this section does narrow down, and we had to look out for a few oyster bars. No problem navigating, even with low tide approaching. We took the Chechesse River over to White Point, our next take out site. It was obvious upon approach, because it's, well, white, in contrast to the vegetation. A fairly easy spot to take out, give or take a few oyster shells. By now it was afternoon and we found some shade to eat our lunch and make note of the fact we were paddling in July and still had solid ice in our coolers! We saw several amusing crabs at our lunch site. We pulled our yaks up into the tall grass to make them invisible, and set off on a short hike. Despite the heat, the bugs were minimal and we were hearing birds. I again sighted a painted bunting, this time perched in front of us. We were also able to identify the female, which is known for being "the only all green finch in the U.S." Also sited a wood peewee, several bluebirds and a wealth of crabs. At one point in the path we crossed over a wide section which is probably flooded in normal (no drought) conditions. The crabs were so thick we had to step lightly, and you could hear them moving away by the clicking noise they made. There are some closed areas at this end of the island, but there are signs around that make this clear. After completing the clubhouse pond trail loop, it was back to the kayaks for the paddle back. We again took advantage of the water for a dip, despite spotting a small shark swimming earlier in the shallows. Emphasis on small, we weren't sure what type of shark it was.
By the third clap of distant thunder we realized we might need to get it in gear to avoid paddling in thunderstorms. The wind had picked up enough to provide some pleasant paddling, although somewhere along our path back to the ramp we seemed to be paddling against the tide instead of with it. The cloud cover was welcome, as were the dolphins we were able to stop and view while they followed the rising tide. They were close enough to hear and watch within 20 feet of our boats. We followed a slightly different path around Buzzard Island on the paddle back, with no stops along the way. We managed to avoid the storms and arrived back at the ramp by 4 PM. This turned out to be a very scenic, pleasant paddle with only two motor boats sighted while we were out. It is always nice to leave an area feeling like there is more to see, and Pinckney Wildlife Refuge is one of those places.