Church Ruins? Yep, We Have Those!

While watching a show about local churches on ETV, they showed shots of ruins. Doing just a tiny bit of research led us to three easily accessible churches, each with a unique personality. Oddly, the stories of all three are very similar.

Biggin Church Ruins

Parrish Church of Saint John’s, these ruins are just outside Moncks Corner. With only two walls standing, and bricks falling out of those, these ruins aren’t the most unique, but the surrounding cemetery adds some interest. As the historic marker says, this church was built in 1712, burned by a forest fire in 1755, by the British Army in 1781, and again by a forest fire in 1886.

Pon Pon Chapel

Though not a church, the Pon Pon Chapel of Ease is found near Round O. The National Register states that the Chapel was established in 1725 and rebuilt in brick in 1754.  Sometime around 1801 the Chapel burnt, was rebuilt between 1819 to 1822, and again was ruined in 1832. Further damage was done in the 1950s due to a hurricane, after which stabilization was required.  The area is heading toward being overgrown and ironically there is a new interpretive sign propped up against the rusting steel gate.

Old Sheldon Church Ruins

This is by far the most impressive of the three ruins. Built sometime in the mid-1700s, it was burnt during the Revolutionary War. It is debated whether it was burnt by Sherman’s troops or just ransacked and later dismantled by nearby homes and plantations that were in desperate need of building materials after Sherman’s march. In contrast to the English bond style of Biggin and the Flemish bond of Pon Pon, these church ruins are in the Greek Revival style.  The grounds are well-kept, with large oaks looming. The graveyard surround the ruins are still used. There is a yearly service and a very large parking lot on the opposite side of the road.

Photo Gallery

If you visit:

Keep in mind that most of the cemeteries are still used or have members of families that still live nearby. Be respectful.

Mosquitoes are rampant.

The road to Pon Pon is not in best of shape. Drive carefully and watch for large trucks.

Leave everything where you found it. Even if there is a brick on the ground, it belongs on the ground where the church has stood for hundreds of years; not in your pocket or collection.

Driving Directions and More Information:


Pon Pon Chapel


Stay tuned for the fourth ruin, St Helena!

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!

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!

Holes on the Beach

Do you remember when you were a little kid and you maybe loved digging holes at the beach? Perhaps you tried to excavate tunnels or you simply dug a hole in which to bury your feet. What we do to entertain ourselves, animals do for survival.

“What makes all these holes on the beach?”

Within the first week of moving here, my husband and I took a stroll on the beach near Fort Moultrie.  Being January, there weren’t many people walking around, aside from an elderly midwestern couple that was headed towards us.  The fellow stopped when he was withing speaking distance, leaned heavily on his cane, and stated: “You two look like beachwalkers. What makes all these holes?” Still confused as to what of my appearance suggested beachwalker [I had hiking boots on!], I fumbled around for a logical answer. I really had no idea since we had just moved here, but I threw out ‘worms’ as a possibility, to which the gentleman countered “But there’s so many!”

While there are beach worms that make holes, like the lung worm, there is also another hole-loving character–the ghost shrimp.

Ghost shrimp, as well as other shrimp, crabs, and lobsters are crustaceans with ten legs, called decapods. While the ghost shrimp sounds like it would be related to the shrimp you find on your seafood plate, it’s actually more closely related to the American lobster and hermit crabs. They have long bodies, a fanned tail, and usually one claw is extraordinarily larger than the other, white in color, and very smooth, as seen in the photos.

These ‘shrimp’ dig extensive passages under the sand, going as deep as 6 feet below the sand, and pump water through the burrows with their bodies. The water can come out so forcibly it looks like a miniature Old Faithful spewing [see photo right].  Other times, small bits of shells and sand will flow out.  These burrow systems are found near the low tide line, occasionally with fecal pellets deposited outside. It is said that these burrowing crustaceans love their homes so much that they can only survive a few hours without feeling their burrow walls.  Other holes found in the same area with mounds of sand or mud around them are generally worms. 

“Precise Little Holes”

There seems to be a phenomenon on the beach where thousands of beach-goers find perfect little holes in shells but don’t know how they got there.  These holes are generally found on the back-end of bivalves [things like clams, scallops, and the like], but can be found on other gastropods as well. They look like they were drilled there by someone looking to make necklaces out of the shells, but in fact, they were created by another mollusk.

Some sea snails, and in this particular case, the Atlantic moon snail, Polinices duplicatus, also known commonly as Shark’s eye, are carnivorous and actively pursue prey.  They use their very large mantle and foot to encase their food and with their radula bore a beveled hole into shells. A radula in this case is a tongue-like apparatus with many sharp teeth-like projections used to, essentially, lick holes in things.  It isn’t clear if the moon snails suck the prey out of this hole that it creates, or if perhaps because of the positioning of the hole, the abductor muscle of the bivalve releases and allows the shell to open, or maybe due to the acid in the radula, liquification of the bivalve’s muscles occurs. Whatever the case, the snail is a very efficient predator and its handiwork is spread along the beaches of the lowcountry.

Besides the child-dug holes often found scattered across busy summer beaches, there are many other holes that open up to fascinating, under the waves, drama.  Check them out and see what you find!

All photos are taken by the author. The larger versions may be viewed by clicking on them. 

Species information adapted from Seashore Animals of the Southeast.