Sunday, April 5, 2009

Huntington Beach State Park - Atalaya Castle

A spring adventure in the Lowcountry should include visiting on of S.C.'s coastal state parks, in order to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the state park system. In Georgetown County very near to Murrell's Inlet the 2500-acre Huntington Beach State Park welcomes both beach-combers and history buffs. Standing on the wide, sandy beach one can look south and see Litchfield and Pawley's Island. Ample bike paths gives the active folks lots of options, plus fisherman can fish off the park's jetty or simply cast into the Atlantic Ocean from the beach. The park's signature freshwater lake, which is on the main causeway into the park almost always offers alligator viewing, but this birder saw something more. An osprey made a clutch dive into the lake and fished out a large silver specimen, and before he could shake his feathers dry and make some speed, a bald eagle swooped up and in towards the osprey and he promptly let go of the fish. The bald eagle never noticed the osprey again, as he zeroed in on the falling fish to enjoy a free meal. While the bald eagle sat on a nearby boardwalk to eat, the osprey went right back to his honey hole and plucked out another fish. Raptors were not the only treat on this breezy and sunny day, a walk on the beach with a pair of binoculars revealed a large black and white bird diving into the ocean. Bigger than seagulls with black and white markings, my instincts told me that this was a northern gannett, and after a consult with my Audubon bird book I counted this bird on my day's tally - the prizewinner to be sure! The northern gannett's wingspan and sleek look make him the "sci-fi" diving bird - modern good looks that provide superior ability. Loads of cedar waxwings flitting over the maritime forest rounded out my birding notes. The crown jewel of Huntington Beach has the be the on-site castle, simply known as Atalaya (or tower). The Moorish-style architecture (Spanish Mediterranean Coast) features a large inner courtyard, and its own brick water tower. The former home of philanthropist Archer Huntington and wife Anna, is now famous as the place where the artwork of Brookgreen Gardens was born. Anna was the sculptor who started using aluminum as a medium and had the wherewithal to bring in large cats and other animals (to the courtyard) in order for her to sculpt them in life size. Visiting Atalaya castle, a National Historic Landmark,  is an activity that allows one to delve into the past and marvel at the Huntington's accomplishments.

Photos By Jeff Dennis: The courtyard at Atalaya is now set up for environmental programs to teach guests about wildlife, The brick water tower at the center of Atalaya lords over the entire castle, and the signature freshwater pond at Huntington Beach State Park welcomes visitors. 

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