This place is fabulous, but a little confusing. Here’s why:
If you google Santee Coastal Wildlife Management Area, you will also find the Santee Coastal Reserve. Probably the same thing since both are listed as having 24,000 acres. With the Santee Coastal is the Washo Reserve. Good luck with boundaries and who manages what. The State of South Carolina perhaps runs both, but the Nature Conservancy acquired the Washo.
My advice if you’d like to hunt in this area, contact someone there first and get it all sorted out. We found a clipboard on an information kiosk that has the number of feral pigs tallied out. One fellow got 12 in one day! And, as we were dodging gators, we heard a pig squeal! So if pig hunting is your thing, there are probably tons out there for you.
•» Where is the Santee Coastal Reserve «•
Just north of McClellanville, SC and just south of both forks of the Santee River on Highway 17.
Trail Map from Kiosk:
Click to enlarge
It is purported that trail maps are sporadically available at the information kiosks. The trail system isn’t complex, but it’s always good to know where you are going. Perhaps snap a shot of the map and refer to it on your camera when necessary. The plastic over the map makes it a bit difficult to do so, by the way.
•» What to Do in the Santee «•
Already mentioned was gator dodging and pig hunting. There are a good number of hiking trails and depending on the gator activity, they could take you quite a while. Try the links below, they will take you to SC Trails.net:
• Woodland Trail
• Bike/Hike Trail
• Marshland Trail
We walked the Marshland and part of the Bike/Hike Trail. Off the Marshland is a boardwalk that keeps you above any alligator traffic, but once you pass through the forest section after the boardwalk, be prepared to be dodging gators on both sides while walking through the impoundment areas.
We went on a very active day, one of the first days that were warm enough for copious amounts of gator activity. While on the boardwalk, we heard an alligator thrashing and making a horrid choking or gargling sound…or maybe that’s what it was eating…we could only see the ripples and occasionally a tail through the cypress and tupelo.
“This site has been identified as being significant for world bird conservation and officially designated a globally important bird area” —Sign posted before boardwalk. American Bird Conservancy ABCbirds.org
This area is reowned for its birdwatching. Check this list from the Carolina Bird Club’s Wikipedia entry to see what could be there. As you drive through the pines, look for the trees with the white rings around the trunks, then look up in for a small hole with sap running down the bark. These holes are possible nesting cavities for the red-cockaded woodpecker. This area has one the higher concentrations of red-cockaded, check the USGS Map!
As you walk around the Reserve, keep your ears open! The forests and cypress swamps are dense and even though you might not see it, you’ll probably hear it! We heard a “Who-cooks, who-cooks-for-you-all!” while walking near the boardwalk. Is that what they’re really saying? I think it’s “Give me back my ball!” Just put an owl accent to that, and it sounds exactly like the barred owl’s call.
I believe, but am not certain, that the Santee Coastal is open one hour after dawn and the Washo Reserve is open from 1-5, according to their site. Not sure if they are still enforcing those hours or not. But early morning hours would probably be best to view and photograph birds, especially since the sun will be at your back for the boardwalk and good portions of the trail.
Check the photo gallery page of the Carolina Bird Club to peek at some great shots taken locally!
There seems to be a large potential for wildlife viewing during prime hours. Besides alligators and the destructive wild pigs, there are also alligators, anoles, turtles, gopher tortoises, deer, and amphibians. It is recommended not to bring your dog and also to not throw anything in the water. According to one of their info boards, “a splash means food.”
Most of the gators on our visit did the splashing, right before we spotted them. It seems to serve as a defense mechanism, much like mourning doves use where they wait until you are reasonably close and then launch up. In this case, the alligators wait until you are within 20 feet or so, then violently thrash through the water using their powerful tails.
*Did You Know*: The part of the head that is visible above water, the snout and eyes, is about a sixth of the alligator’s total length! Half of the body is made up of tail, a very powerful mass of muscle!
This fellow to the left took a keen interest to us. He was laying on an adjacent bank and as we approached, he quietly slipped into the water, swam towards us, and then slowly turned to climb on the little knoll there. I think he was hoping for something else.
Thanks for visiting!