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!


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 «•


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

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

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!