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  • Writer's pictureBethany Plonski

Hickory Knob State Park

This year I had an amazing opportunity to focus on nature photography through the 2022 South Carolina State Parks' Artist in Residence Program, and I’m excited to start sharing some of the photos from this experience!

I am a huge fan of the state parks (I even got married in one), so I was thrilled to learn that my neighboring state South Carolina hosts an annual program that gives artists a chance to gain inspiration from its parks. Each year artists are assigned to different parks around the state for week-long stays that allow them to focus on creating an original piece to donate to their host park.

I was assigned to Hickory Knob State Park in McCormick, South Carolina, located along the Strom Thurmond Reservoir (near the border of Georgia and South Carolina, about an hour north of Augusta, GA). The reservoir sits in the Savannah River Basin in an area known as the “freshwater coast” due to its network of lakes.

Shoreline of the Strom Thurmond Reservoir
View from one of my favorite docks on the Strom Thurmond Reservoir

This part of South Carolina was new to me, so I was excited to get out and explore. My first morning in the park was full of memorable moments, including a beautiful, slightly misty sunrise, a pair of orchard orioles, and four other species of birds I hadn’t seen before, but the highlight of the day was yet to come.

First sunrise in the park

Later that morning while I was standing on shoreline, I saw what I thought was an osprey flying in from the far side of the lake, so I tried my best to switch my settings and get a few shots while it approached. I’m still working on my bird-in-flight skills, so I didn’t quite catch the approach, but I did get one clear shot that helped me realize this was not an osprey—it was a bald eagle!

I’ve only seen a handful of bald eagles in my entire life, so I was delighted to see one when I actually had my camera. I saw several others during the rest of my stay in the park, but none were close enough to photograph. I think what surprised me the most about bald eagles—aside from the fact that they are utterly majestic—is their size. They are much larger than the red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks I’m used to seeing around my home.

My first day set a high bar for the rest of my stay, but there was so much to see and discover. I loved every minute of exploring the park's trails and all the wildflowers and wildlife they had to offer.

Carolina ruellia, a new wildflower for me

A sunflower that I've yet to successfully identify. They were everywhere, and the pollinators loved them.

American lady butterfly

Widow skimmer


Everything was so beautiful and green

I especially enjoyed the deer; there were so many! Watching them every morning, I started to recognize some of them, like the young buck and doe below. They were still following their mother, and I saw the three of them grazing together every morning.

The little buck was curious and posed for a few sweet portraits. I loved his giraffe-like antler buds.

There was another doe with two tiny fawns too. Too sweet!

Mama and her two little ones

Deer never cease to amaze me with their creativity when it comes to food!

It was an absolute joy to have an entire week to devote to photography without all the usual distractions. So far 2022 has been a bit of a whirlwind, and having this time away to focus on my work in such a peaceful and serene setting was so restorative and rejuvenating. It has been an honor and a privilege to give back to the parks in this way, and I’m so grateful for the experience.

Of course, I took tons and tons of photos, so I wanted to share a few overall highlights first, but there will be more to come on sunsets and sunrises, woodpeckers, and another one of my favorites—the osprey nest! See you again soon.


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