California Rattlesnake Encounter of the Close Kind

We usually don’t stray far from the coast. On a typical week during the summer, I usually don’t make it more than 10 miles from the coast, buried in the fog and salty air or under towers of redwoods.

Recently, fires broke out in the mountains to our east. We debated which high vantage point to visit to see the fires, or at least the smoke and opted for the one farthest away, hoping to avoid the commotion.

Smoky and Foggy View

The Road Less Traveled [or less shot at]

At the top of Horse Mountain, we didn’t really have a clear view from the usual vantage points, so we trekked up a hill covered in waist-high hoary manzanita and huckleberry oak. Unfortunately, as we just crested the hill, some teenagers pulled up to our car and began their target practicing. Without a clear visual on which way they were shooting, we decided to abandon the little goat path we were on and bushwhack down to the dirt road.

Oops.

See it?!

Bashing through the huckleberry oak wasn’t my favorite–too many spiderwebs [of imaginary black widows, of course], so reaching an open rocky patch was a relief. Just then, the boys with guns broke out their larger arms [a shotgun, I guess], and BOOM! My husband and I, a little PTSD-y from the last time we were shot at, ducked. To my surprise, my husband then took a flying leap, like a wide receiver catching a hail Mary. A low insect buzz accompanied the flying leap: our first meeting with Crotalus oreganus oreganus. Apparently, they don’t like loud booms and people stepping within 6 inches of them.

Here Be Dragons

I’m not going to lie, we were both scared.  I still am not sure how scared of the snake we would have been without the pop and boom of the guns. Considering we stood in that rocky patch for quite a while with the snake pondering our options, I guess we were more worried [or at least I was] about the target-shooting teenagers and the blind approach up to them than standing within a few feet of a rattlesnake.

A Less Hostile Reptile

Eventually we left the rattlesnake, made it to the road, tried to get back to the car, gave up, and walked the other direction until the boys left. No holes in the car and no holes from rattlesnakes. It all worked out in the end, but I’m pretty sure my husband won’t go back until those rattlesnakes are buried under feet of snow again.

Layers of Hills

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Conflict: How Best to ‘See’ Nature

My job doesn’t often involve conflict, but I often feel divided on how to approach certain subjects. One subject that I feel is ever-difficult to tackle is if someone has very little time, how should they best ‘get a feel’ of a place: driving all of it, or hike one single, short trail. I find myself agreeing more and more with Edward Abbey. Of course, not fully; I don’t find it necessary to include blood in hikes and travels.  I do appreciate those [i.e. tourists and visitors] that want to marvel at something natural, because that is the path to understanding and appreciating a resource, but I do often disagree with the manner in which people prefer to ‘take it all in’.

It is hard to dispute that America is a car culture. It is equally as hard to dispute that what you see from your car isn’t even half of what you see on foot.  Some folks do feel that just driving through an area means they have ‘been there’ and they can mark it off their list. The loss is theirs, to an extent. I won’t even go into the benefits of physical activity and what the car and television have done to us.

Abbey, while extreme, brings up a good point in his quote below long before cars were so climate controlled, equipped with entertainment centers and pleasant to sit in for long periods. Imagine what he’d say if he found out that children in the future will no longer look out the car window, but instead stare at yet another screen!

Boy Scout Tree Trail

“Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages. In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe. Probably not. In the second place most of what I write about in this book is already gone or going under fast. This is not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial. You’re holding a tombstone in your hands. A bloody rock. Don’t drop it on your foot – throw it at something big and glassy. What do you have to lose?”
Abbey, Edward, Desert Solitaire Introduction page xii, Ballantine Books, New York, 1967

I don’t know, I do rather like people coming to visit National Parks. I be out of a job and entertainment otherwise. But Abbey’s point boils down to the fact that you will glean nothing substantial [aside from treasured family memories, which he doesn’t care to acknowledge] from a place you visit just in your car. And even if you hop out onto a trail, you will still likely not “see anything”.  In order to understand a place, one has to become infused in the essence, character, and rhythm of the place, and that takes time. More time than downloading an app and snapping some shots.

I feel that I accomplished that in the Badlands. It was almost an insult to hear someone condemn the place as ‘snake infested’ and ‘hell-like’ after I had spent hours listening to meadowlarks and grasshoppers and the wind whisper through the prairie grass like frolicking kids playing muted flutes as they skipped around with abandonment.  Such quick judgments without a second thought! But they had no time to investigate, less than an hour was allotted on their trip to pass judgement on a place, check-mark it, and then move on to the next item on the list.  Hard to compete with Wall Drug these days.

Redwoods on Lost Man Creek Trail

The Redwoods are no different. They are an area most people have on their lists, but frequently as just a stop over or at worst, something to drive through on the way to another destination. The only difference is that I myself haven’t had the time to get to know the forest, only to do recon so far.  I had the advantage in the Badlands of living in them, hiking around every evening and day off.  Here, I haven’t made it past my to do list; haven’t had the time to just sit for hours on end with my face in the duff, watching as the mechanisms of the forest move like gears in a giant, fern-covered watch.

The number of trails I’ve hiked is far overshadowed by the number I haven’t, but I rather walk them purposefully than merely check them off my list. Boy Scout Tree Trail was a very nice hike. There are lovely trail descriptions on the web already, so I don’t need to rehash any of that. In my opinion, the best part are the unique and characterful redwoods dotted along the trail side.  The oddness of each hints at their interesting pasts and makes one wonder at their future.

Twin-like Trees on the Boy Scout Tree Trail

I also managed to squeeze in a three hour mile of the Lost Man Creek Trail. Once a logging road, the trail leads along the creek as well as redwoods that show obvious signs of the recent past. Scars from passing logging equipment not only expose the inner layers of the tree, but also the carelessness of our use of vehicles. I’m sure the thought was that the trees will come down,  so no bother. I try to bite my tongue at the irony that the same mindset occurs today even with the trees protected. The same carelessness is facilitating damage to the trees that were spared the ax and saw. Are the redwoods that remain just elegies and tombstones?

Scarred Base

The Old Logging Road

Scarred and Gone on Lost Man Creek

Charles Towne Sepia Scenes

Visit Sepia Scenes, a great blog meme for the ‘Sepia Inclined’!

Paid a visit to Charles Town Landing State Historic Site the last time we had days off. I was very impressed with their elegantly modern and informative visitor center. The exhibits took you through life as one who arrived and subsequently settled Charles Towne for brevity that they were there; they moved to the present-day location of Charleston a few years later.

I was especially taken by the fancy wood panelling–you don’t often see that in interpretive exhibits–and it beautifully contrasted the very modern lobby from which you enter.

Directly outside the entrance were some intriguing hibiscus. As you entered the visitor center and to the left was a panel with the flower featured–apparently it’s the subject of many questions! While they labeled it the Star Hibiscus, it also goes by the common name of Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus).

There were not many animals visible in the zoo, the majority were probably hiding from the heat, but there was an aviary full of rehabilitated but unreleasable birds. There is a boardwalk within the enclosure that allows you to get a bit closer.

We also found a little bit of wildlife, although, these fellows were extremely habituated. When you walk to the edge of the pond on the property [do be aware that there are alligators!], a dozen turtles will greet you and beg…hopefully they are being fed something ‘turtle-healthy’ and not cheetos!

I’On Swamp Trail

Update!

I’ve been getting a lot of hits on my blog about the Ion Swamp Trail so I went today to check out the conditions.

Flooded Trail in January. High and mostly dry now!

It’s fully passable, just muddy in a few spots and there’s a breach in the dike where you have to walk over some small branches, but the mosquitoes weren’t awful and the birds are very active!  There were a few deerflies around the parking area and at some of the more clear points of the trail. 

We spotted a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, a Prothonotary Warbler, a recently-emerged dragonfly, and a few herps.

There were a few trail guides at the kiosk interpreting the rice field history and explanation of the name of the swamp as well as the confusion with the name.

To get there: Take Highway 17 North towards Georgetown. I’on Swamp Rd is almost directly across from the Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center [neat place to visit, I think they are still open despite what Google Maps says], but 100 yards or so before if you are coming from the south. Highway 17 is a divided highway and there is an median access directly across from I’On Swamp Rd, which is on the left.  The road curves here, so it’s not too hard to miss. Once on I’On Swamp Road, drive about 2 miles on the gravel road, passing two roads on your left and one on the right [although it’s on a curving-left so you might not see it]. The parking lot for the Ion Swamp Trail will be on the left side.

Scenic Sunday Middleton Place Benches

For more wonderful photography, stop by Scenic Sunday!

These two benches can be found in the lovely azalea- and camellia-filled gardens of the Middleton Place Plantation. Started in the mid 1700s, the well-planned gardens on the Ashley River, 16 miles northwest of Charleston on Highway 61, recall an extraordinary history of residents and events, from colonial times to the modern day. Very much worth a day’s visit.

Dogwoods in Bloom along a Reflection Pool

A Bench outside the Restaurant

 

A Gator-filled Santee Coastal WMA

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.

Google Map:

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 «•

Trails:

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.

Birding:

“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!

Wildlife Watching:

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!

First Signs of Spring

There’ll be no robins in this post! I’ve seen them digging around in the snow, so I don’t believe they know what winter is!

Daffodils are blooming, trees are budding, and various ectotherms are moving about.

We visited Lake Moultrie hoping to see some wildlife.  We spotted a large group of yellow-rumped warblers and an osprey, but not much else at the dam. 

 A couple U-turns later and a few uncertain rights and we made it to a FWS managed area and walked around some impounded water areas. Spotted some woodducks, great blues, an egret, and a mallard pair that I swear were decoys.

 

We walked until we hit a canal opening.  There was a board damming it and a chain with a sign that would make it easier to walk across, but if you google ‘Lake Moultrie’ and look at Google’s suggestions, one is “Lake Moultrie alligator attack” and indeed, there happened to be, on a slightly cold, last day of February, an alligator waiting on the other side.

The photo’s blurry because I’m shaking in my boots!  Haha, not really, I didn’t try to touch this one. My battery was dead so I warmed it up a bit and put it back in my camera to squeeze out one more shot [I’d already done that twice, so I was hoping it worked just one more time!]. The website http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/cnhc/csp_amis.htm says that feeding doesn’t generally occur below 68 degrees and the high that day was 58, so I assume we were safe enough. I think alligators will become my new rattlesnakes, but their habitat of blackwater swamps is a little discouraging.  I either have hydrophobia or ichthyophobia so I won’t be going in the water any time soon…

On a side note, we visited Angel Oak on Johns Island yesterday and found the tree [Whew! It’s a bummer when the navigator can’t keep ‘John’ and ‘James’ straight!] and also found some more uniquely colored South Carolina squirrels. Unfortunately, they weren’t too pleased with the camera pointed at them, so I didn’t get them sitting together. 

The mighty Angel Oak. They [angeloaktree.org] believe it’s 1,400 years old, and the oldest organism east of the Mississippi. It spreads over 17,100 square feet, has a lightning rod and supports for some of the branches. Check http://www.angeloaktree.org/history.htm for more info.

White Squirrel One above and White Squirrel Two below.  Note the black stripe down their bodies. WSOne has some spots as well.

If you are wondering, like I am, where these white squirrels are from, check out this article from the Post and Courier from May 2003.  [Link will open in a new window]