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!

The Rattler That Almost Got Me

I’ll admit it: like so many others, my stupidity almost landed me a rattlesnake bite!

It was dark, the snake was crossing the road.  I hopped out of the car and took a couple pictures, but I made one bad assumption: I thought he had been hit.  In a split second, the snake I was leaning over flipped himself in the opposite direction and was poised to strike.  He could have hit me if I were a few inches closer.  That is one story a ranger would never want to share!

The one that almost got me!

Rattlesnakes are unique due to their capability to actually warn and alert creatures when they are too close.  They most likely developed this adaptation in response to living with large creatures like bison and crafty predators such as coyotes.  If they have this built-in warning system then why do bites on humans occur?

Lots of reasons!!!

Snake’s Fault

Sometimes snakes, just like us, make mistakes.  Since they are reptiles, they may be too cold to react fast enough to rattle before the shoe comes down.  They might confuse your hand, or even leg, for prey. 

With the prairie rattlesnake, younger snakes are often more aggressive and less predictable.  Something that wouldn’t even make an older rattlesnake flinch could possibly cause a rapid, fang-filled response in a young snake.  Quite often, too, the youngsters will strike multiple times. 

Human Error

Unfortunately, there are often more factors involved on the human side of a snake-human encounter and two primary factors are blood-alcohol levels and gender.  In fact, if you are a male that is between the ages of 20 and 40 and you’ve had anything to drink, STAY AWAY from any snakes.  These fellows fall into the category of ‘most often bitten’. 

In my case, I assumed the snake was dead.  I’ve picked up dead snakes, pushed snakes off the road with snow poles, picked them up with long sticks, but if there isn’t blood and the skin isn’t hanging loose, it’s not a safe snake to handle with your hands!  I thought the snake was dead because he was flat-ish and in the dark I imagined tire marks. 

Rattlesnake Attack!

So what happens when you encounter a rattlesnake?  What should you do? 

When a rattlesnake notices your presence, he’s going to do one of three things: Freeze, flee, or coil.  [**DISCLAIMER BELOW!] 

If he freezes, don’t assume he’s sleeping.  He’s just hoping his camoflauge is working. If he is flattened, he knows you are there, and he’s trying to look bigger.  Keep your distance.  Rattlesnakes can strike half the distance of their body in general.  Slowly walk away from the snake.  That’s that! 

If the snake flees, do not persue him.  But you need to keep in mind that rattlesnakes have tiny brains.  If his place of refuge is behind you, he’s going to come your way!  Get out of the way!!!  And never approach a coiled snake!

If the snake coils, slowly and as quietly as possible back away. He will most likely be flattened out as well.  He’s trying to not escalate to any contact by looking big and putting on a terrifying display.  The ‘experts’ recommend not to run, due to the fact that, if this encounter is happening during the spring, you may be near a den and another snake could be near by!  If you are dangerously close to the snake, within half the length of his body, hold still.  Most snakes do not want to waste their vemon on something they can’t eat and they know we aren’t dinner.  Just a note, snakes HATE dust kicked in their eyes, since they can’t blink it out–no eyelids!

**Alright, now that I’ve said all this, nothing is 100% fool-proof.  It really all depends on the snake’s personality.  The best prevention is to be aware of where you place your feet and hands and to respect the snake–don’t approach him and he’ll leave you alone!  They are very neat and interesting creatures to observe and they give us a unique nature experience and thrill, so respect their place and they’ll gladly leave you alone!  They are just big chickens with venom and fangs!

He wasn’t happy I picked him up with a stick, but it was better than becoming a tire pancake!  He probably wasn’t happy I was still there taking a picture, either!