Autumnal Beach

I’ll admit I am a bit jealous when I see photography of beautiful fall colors, even the monochromatic yellows of the cottonwoods and prairie grasses in South Dakota. South Carolina isn’t known for its fall color in the Lowcountry, but even though I can’t find any eye-popping chlorophyl around here, I have noticed some changes…on the beach!

During the Spring and Fall there are larger tides and when paired with an off shore breeze, they create some dramatic images, like this wave breaking with Ft Sumter in the background.

These higher tides seem to alter the topography of the beach, moving tide pools and cutting into the sand, as the Sanderling is pondering.

There has been a shift in visitors to the beach, which is probably the most telling of all signs that Fall has arrived. Instead of throngs of people playing bocce ball and relaxing in beach chairs, there are again seashells on the beach, birds en masse chasing food in the swash, and migrating birds stopping to visit. One of these visitors is the Ruddy Turnstone. These clever birds nest in the Arctic, where few humans visit, and winter on coastlines on every continent aside from Antarctica [read more here].

Another ‘visitor’ isn’t so much new as where it’s been spotted. Dragonflies are washing up in the surf and flying among the sand dunes. During the Fall, Common Green Darners are spotted migrating down the coast.

Above is a male, below is probably a female. Both sexes have a ‘bullseye’ or small dot in front on the frons, or between the eyes and face.

Another male pulled out of the surf. Green Darners are the official insect of Washington state and range throughout the United States south to Panama.

Another coastal visitor that can be seen crowding the beaches in Fall migration is the Gulf Fritillary. [Read *here* for an interesting article documenting Common Green Darner and Gulf Fritillary migration in FL] In FL, there can be as many as 3,000 of both Frits and Darners spotted in one hour! I don’t believe the numbers are that high here, but if you are on the beach during windy periods, it’s not uncommon to get a butterfly in the face every now and then. If you happen to have a maypop or passionfruit flower vine in your yard, you’ll definitely notice the Frit’s presence: vines this time of year are completely stripped bare of any foliage as hungry caterpillars race to become their winged-selves!

Lastly, as another tell-tale sign that Autumn has reached the beach, though not as dramatic as the northern displays, is the changing color of beach flora.  Unfortunately, the reddish-pink color belongs to a plant that I’m not convinced is native…it looks suspiciously like the ‘tumbleweeds’ in South Dakota, also known as halogeton and kochia, both species invasives from Eurasia. A quick search yielded no findings though, since beach vitex hogs all the headlines in the invasive beach arena.

If you look carefully you’ll notice one of the Fall migrants in this photo!

So though not as classic as the colorful chlorophyl in other parts of the country, the beaches of the Lowcountry have their own way of welcoming Fall, some being dramatic, like the Neap tides, and some more subtle. Hope you enjoyed!

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