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!

Shuddersome Santee

We took another trip up to the Santee Wildlife Management Area [see A Gator-filled Santee Coastal for info] and found some surprises!

While on the board walk we heard lots of pileated woodpeckers. Didn’t seem much until we started back. We stopped this fellow:

And right next to him. on the hammock, was  this fellow:

We left the swamp after finding those two. After running through the trees trying to evade the biting flies and clouds of mosquitoes, we made it to the marshes. Five inches of rain had fallen, so there was lots of water and lots of fish jumping everywhere. They were attracting all sorts of predators, such as this tern [Caspian?]:

As we were watching the birds hunt when in the grasses in front of us we noticed something not so normal.

Now while it strikes an odd chord to see one type of animal eat the same type, it is bizarre to see such a sight while copulation is occurring as well. This dragonfly carnage [the male doesn’t have a head] I guess isn’t that uncommon. Consulting the guidebook for the Eastern Pondhawk, as this hungry female is, pondhawks are commonly seen eating other pondhawks. I can’t seem to find a good match for the poor pair meeting their fate, but they might be Slaty Skimmers.

The Pondhawk had a lot to deal with and kept jumping from one blade of grass to the other while juggling its meal, attracting the attention of another hungry insect:

He watched very interestedly. Perhaps he knew the Pondhawk wouldn’t be able to finish two helpings and was hoping to get some scraps…or, as someone suggested, he was praying for their souls!

While watching that buggy horror, we took a gaze behind us and found a whole flock of wading birds behind us. The great blue heron towered over the egrets and it looked as though he was standing with a fish in his beak. As we watched him and the dragonflies, he never swallowed his catch. I snapped a photo and zoomed in…sadly, he had rope of sorts wrapped around his bill.  I knew he wouldn’t let us get close to pull it off [besides it’s very dangerous to do so, those sharp bills can stab very deep and herons go for shiny areas–like eyes!], but we tried anyway.

After leaving the drama of that little area and running through another wooded area full of biting flies, we heard lots of splashing and, after finally getting all the flies to leave us alone, we found the source of splashes.

The water was rippling with fish. It appeared that most were mosquito fish and that the alligators were chasing after them, but we did spot some slightly larger fish…either way, it would take a lot to fill the alligator’s belly, reptile or not!

Both times that we have visited this area, the clouds have looked like this! Maybe something to do with the seabreeze? There’s an alligator in this photo, too! We didn’t move from this spot for an hour, there were 8 alligators [or more] in this area. Most of them were quite large.

There were four Tricolored Herons in the spot trying to get fish as well. I didn’t envy them and their task one bit.

We watched the alligators thrash around as they tried to catch fish. Once they caught a fish [or two?], they slightly lifted their heads and chomped their meals.

The kicker part of the whole walk was the fact that we had been no more than 10 ft from obviously hungry alligators, jumping every time they thrashed. I think it might have been this fellow above that decided he wanted to be where the action was, and after swimming towards us to get a better look, he backed off. We didn’t realize that when we walked up a dozen yards on the impoundment, surrounded on both sides by water, that we were blocking his path! As we retreated the few steps back to the place we had stood for an hour, I mentioned I felt like looking over my shoulder the whole time we had been there. Then, right where we were, came this fellow:

Even though we pulled several muscles while there from jumping so much, this places is an absolute favorite! Though there were 8 hungry alligators feeding in the area, they generally aren’t out for human meat, though they certainly do deserve respect. This place has, both times we’ve visited, supplied us with natural entertainment and I’m eager for another visit!

Thanks for stopping by!