Beverly and I Go to the Santee

Beverly (@BeverlyEverson) and I went to the Santee Coastal Reserve [mentioned in: Shuddersome Santee and A Gator-filled Santee Coastal ] to see what we could see–and we saw a lot!

It seems a little surreal to meet people through social media–like listening to Lady Gaga–but I am so glad that Twitter was there to be the medium through which Beverly and I met! She is such a wonderful, nice person with great stories, knows a lot about photography, wildlife, and Black Friday deals!

We started out on the boardwalk, spotting a wren that kept dashing between the boards and popping back up to see if we had left yet. We heard a ruckus in the cypress swamp and eventually decided that it was a very large flock of robins. Seemed odd for them to be there, but judging by the noise, they either agreed or were having the time of their lives.  No alligators this time. The temperature was at or near 70, so it would have been a little cool in the shade for the reptiles anyway, I suppose.

After checking out the boardwalk, we headed towards ‘Alligator Alley’, spotting some grebes, egrets, ibises, terns, and a pair of ladies catching blue crabs [they were good at it!].

Beverly under a towering live oak after sneaking up on some egrets and ibises.

Grebes are amazing to watch–one minute they are there, the next they are submerged with barely a ripple–rivaling the best submarines we’ve got!

Terns are funny to watch, too. They circle around looking for fish, but do so while making a whimpering call. They sound so timid and lost!

We walked on towards ‘Alligator Alley’ and found some other lovely birds. One was an egret hiding in the shadows. I look forward to seeing Beverly’s photos of this bird [I unfortunately set my exposure comp up and shot like that the whole day, I think starting here!]!

As we walked on, we came upon the first large marsh area with a hunting blind set up and plenty of ducks [and coots] to hunt. Luckily and hopefully, no one was there. I have truly never seen so many birds aside from Sandhill Cranes in one spot!  They dotted the sky, filled the marsh, and were all so jumpy!

Farther down the path we found a lovely large fellow soaking up the late Fall rays. I assume he wasn’t heated up enough since he sat there the whole time, or perhaps he just knew how large he was!

Then we hit ‘Alligator Alley’ and they were there in force! These were a bit smaller and much more jumpy. I think there were six or seven on the far bank and close to us at least one splashed–less than ten feet away! It’s a gauntlet of gators and it’s where we turned around.

On the walk back, we spotted perhaps the same egret and the same grebes, but the ladies catching crabs had left.

It was such a fun day with such wonderful company–I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend the day!

[I learned about spot metering from Beverly…but it’s that ornery exposure comp that got me!]

The Small Things

I don’t get out and photograph as much as I’d like to in this lowcountry heat.  A string of days with heat indices in the 100s [think 110 to 125] makes anything outside a bit of a chore. But while running between oases of air conditioning, I have managed to snap a few photos this summer.

People aren’t the only ones to feel the heat under the grueling Summer Sun. Many creatures take cover out of sight, making them more difficult to spot, especially when the Sun is at its highest. This is especially true for the alligators and deer. Some creatures, the smaller ones, don’t seem to be bothered by the boiling air.

This fellow seemed to love the mid-day heat, but not my camera in his face.  Probably hunting for other insects, this Milkweed Assassin Bug was perched just below the flower with his head facing upward. Either the wasp or my camera spooked him into what looks like a get-out-of-here wave. Though not visible in the photo, this bug has a long proboscis, used to pierce any bug without protective armor that happens too close.

This little fellow, perhaps hiding from direct sunlight, was perched prominently on a leaf, though a few visitors missed seeing him. I still can’t pinpoint his name, but I think he’s a brown green tree froglet.

This little 5 year old alligator was floating in a shaded pool filled with mosquito fish. He was the only gator visible during midafternoon, but there was evidence of alligator activity:

If you look closely, you’ll see not only where the tail scraped through the dirt, but also the claw marks and where the alligator lazily dragged its feet between steps.

Mud dauber nests are so neat, unless of course, you are a spider. The wasp-relatives hunt the spiders down, paralyze them with a sting, and then encase them in the tombs for hungry mud dauber larva to eat. Though a spider’s worst nightmare, mud daubers aren’t a threat because of their non-aggressive, just curious, nature.  The difference in colors comes from the different sources of mud that the dauber visits. My guess is that the grey on the left comes from the parking lot, the brown from the swamp, and maybe the yellows from some of the higher trails around the area. Pretty neat to think about!

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]