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Signs of Spring in the Myrtle Beach area

Spring has sprung with the area weather of late, even through the calendar says the season doesn't begin until Sunday.

Whether folks get outdoors at a park to enjoy the growing amount of greenery and hear birds and spring-peeper tree frogs singing, or check out some art timed for the season, this celebration turns into a reward after a chilly winter.

The planting of 61,400 spring bulbs - including daffodils, tulips and crocus, for 430,000 in all since 2006 - has turned Brookgreen Gardens into a flurry of yellow fringe, and its nature and history programs are stepping into gear.

Brookgreen's "Diggin' It" spring expo will fill the day on March 26, and the Whispering Wings exhibit takes flight for its second year on April 1, the start of seven months in which visitors can see hundreds of butterflies soar amid tropical plants.

Richard Camlin, senior interpreter for the Belle M. Baruch Foundation's Hobcaw Barony, near Georgetown, embraces the emergence of daffodils and "dogwoods about to break open and start blooming."

"That's what I like as the mark of spring out here," he said last week.

Camlin said any big white tree on Hobcaw's 17,500 acres "stands out so much" at this time of year, and so do azaleas breaking buds for their hues about to dawn.

"The color changes: That's a big thing to me," he said. "We're starting to see turtles, snakes and alligators."

Birding galore

Farther north in Georgetown County, across from Brookgreen, Mike Walker said Huntington Beach State Park opens its wings in spring for the return of migratory birds in what he called "easily the best birding site" in the state.

"You can see almost every wading-bird species in South Carolina," said Walker, an interpretive ranger at the park.

Other frequenting feathered friends at the park, such as painted buntings, will return shortly.

"They're psychedelic," Walker said.

He said visitors to the park expect to see certain birds and wildlife at the park, and the causeway into the park brings two gateways, with a freshwater marsh to the north and salt marsh on the south.

Whether people want to check out alligators or fiddler crabs, guests can access two observation decks in the marshes, both of which have been rebuilt, replacing structures dating to 1989, the year Hurricane Hugo made landfall in McClellanville.

The park's education center, by the salt marsh, also boasts some new features, such as a touch tank with a stingray and horseshoe crab.

Walker said shorebirds will start nesting shortly, a sure sign of spring at the park. The sight of a piping plover, a species in decline, excited him, just as a flock of wood storks still does in summer.

"I remember in August 1991, I saw just one stork," he said. "Now I'll see 300 in a day."

Walker said in 20 years of park ranger work, he has noticed that people dig more - and bigger and deeper - holes in the sand, "the most dangerous things on the beach." He said if everyone who builds a hole would situate them below the high-tide line, or fill them in afterward, it improves safety for people and the wildlife, especially for sea turtles that will come ashore to lay their eggs at nighttime, and the hatchlings that will begin their lives by crawling into the surf.

In tune with nature

Another longtime interpretive ranger, Ann Malys Wilson, has been planning for Myrtle Beach State Park's fourth annual "Park Palooza," a tradition begun in 2008 for the first Saturday in April. About six or seven park staff members and 20 volunteers team up for the event.

For five hours on April 2, park guests of all ages can take part in activities such as orienteering with compasses, helping with seed and tree planting, and making animal tracks with plaster.

"We keep trying to add different programs," Wilson said. "This is not just for kids."

Like at Huntington Beach, the pace of Myrtle Beach State Park's nature programs throughout the week also picks up for spring and summer.

Last Saturday, the park began a campfire-cooking series, tackling different recipes on the second Saturday monthly through May.

"The great thing about outdoor camp cooking is everything might not work that day," Wilson said. "That's the fun of it. It's not always a home run. That's the joy of trying new things."

She said the staff also learns new cooking techniques through experimentation, and coping with the weather.

Wilson called apamascos, which bloom in early April, "the most gorgeous flowers."

April and October reign as the most spectacular months for Wilson at the park.

"People are shocked by how beautiful our park is in April," she said. "And we have red-bud trees blooming. We have all these fresh greens."

Spring peepers' evening serenades by the pond along the road into the park also tickle Wilson's ears as a new season dawns.

"Our park is such a special place," she said. "Even in the different parts of the day, it's different, depending on the sun, clouds and the weather. Even after a rain, it's gorgeous."

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