Fern Canyon

We hiked Fern Canyon today, nearly the most un-redwood part of the redwood parks.  I didn’t take any pictures, but our drive out to Fern Canyon was highlighted by a fellow, father of two young children apparently, who rode the whole road after the fee kiosk on the roof of his van, holding his legs in the air and whatnot…

Anyway, we hiked just a wee bit down the trail and found this lovely fellow:

It didn’t take long after watching the elk to find ferns. It did take longer than anticipated, though. The seasonal footplanks aren’t in yet…but we quickly came on this scene:

We admired the fern-clad canyon walls for a good while, or at least until we couldn’t take the mosquitos anymore.

All over the canyon–even in the water, were the cyanide millipedes. In the shot below, the one on the left has just newly hatched; the other is slighly older. Eventually, they will turn black with bright yellow spots.

Although the redwoods weren’t a feature of the loop trail, the Sitka spruce were very large!

After leaving the canyon, we went for a walk on Gold Bluffs Beach.

Yellow Sand Verbena

Not a bad walk to break in a pair of new shoes!

For more Fern Canyon photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shainaniehans/sets/72157626833813623/with/5831371595/

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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!]

Seaside Stroll

A stroll down the beach on a warm fall day.

Though most of the tourists are gone, there are a few fishing and crabbing along with the locals. Every time we’ve been to Breach Inlet lately, there has been a juvenile Brown Pelican begging at the feet of the fishermen and families crabbing.

While it seems harmless, even helpful, to toss this beggar a few scraps of bait, or even a bait ball [which he steals now], this fellow is wasting his invaluable learning year on being hand fed.  Pelicans have a specialized method of feeding that isn’t inborn, they have to learn it over time. Adults have a higher feeding success rate than juveniles, suggesting not only that juveniles need time to perfect their technique, but that it’s also harder for juveniles to get the required caloric intake. So are you REALLY helping wildlife when you give handouts?

Anyway. Moving on…beaches are the best for looking at invertebrates. A neat pair we found on our stroll was a Grey Sea Star and a Long-wristed Hermit Crab in a tide pool.

The Sea Star seems to have had a rough time holding on to his arms. The Grey Sea Stars don’t have suction cups on their tube feet like other sea stars do, but instead they use their tube feet to dig in the sand for clams.

Here is a good view of the underside and the tube feet. I’m not sure what is protruding out of his belly, but sea stars only have a mouth, so anything that goes in and can’t be digested is regurgitated back out…lovely thought, eh?

Though not whole nor alive, this was still a neat find: a Calico Box Crab!

Much more lively was this Speckled Crab. His camouflage is pretty good, but he’s much better at burying himself until only his eye stalks are showing! Works well to hide from gulls and fish, but doesn’t do much good in avoiding being stepped on.

By far the best find while on the stroll was this fellow:

A Ghost Shrimp! They are responsible for the plethora of holes you find on the beaches here in the Lowcountry, though they almost never come out of them. In fact, a researcher working with these guys said they would die within three hours of being excavated out of their burrows, though they were adequately accommodated. This individual is probably Callianassa major since it was so large! It seemed really disoriented, but eagerly went down the burrow once I put his head in it.

Every now and then you’ll see a curious person try to dig out and discover what makes all the little holes. Unfortunately for them, the burrows of ghost shrimp can go down 6 feet, and they are fast, so finding one is pretty tough. A really awesome and rare find for us, I am sure it was terrifying for the shrimp.  Though called a shrimp, this fellow cannot swim and is more closely related to another non-swimmer, the hermit crab, instead of its namesake cousin the swimming shrimp. The exoskeleton isn’t hard by any standards and though most ghost shrimp have one large claw, it won’t provide much defense.

That find topped off our Seaside Stroll. 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!

Charles Towne Sepia Scenes

Visit Sepia Scenes, a great blog meme for the ‘Sepia Inclined’!

Paid a visit to Charles Town Landing State Historic Site the last time we had days off. I was very impressed with their elegantly modern and informative visitor center. The exhibits took you through life as one who arrived and subsequently settled Charles Towne for brevity that they were there; they moved to the present-day location of Charleston a few years later.

I was especially taken by the fancy wood panelling–you don’t often see that in interpretive exhibits–and it beautifully contrasted the very modern lobby from which you enter.

Directly outside the entrance were some intriguing hibiscus. As you entered the visitor center and to the left was a panel with the flower featured–apparently it’s the subject of many questions! While they labeled it the Star Hibiscus, it also goes by the common name of Scarlet Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus).

There were not many animals visible in the zoo, the majority were probably hiding from the heat, but there was an aviary full of rehabilitated but unreleasable birds. There is a boardwalk within the enclosure that allows you to get a bit closer.

We also found a little bit of wildlife, although, these fellows were extremely habituated. When you walk to the edge of the pond on the property [do be aware that there are alligators!], a dozen turtles will greet you and beg…hopefully they are being fed something ‘turtle-healthy’ and not cheetos!

Hunting Island State Park

Took another trip down to this state park (Official Site), about a 2 hour drive from Charleston, to see what it was like in the summer months.

The marsh grass, Spartina, was much greener than before, but we didn’t see any alligators about like we thought we would around the park.

 

While the Spartina grass is native here, it has been introduced in California and is unfortunately doing too well for the natives’ own good.

On the opposite side of the island from the marsh you will find the beach. It stretches for four miles, with the northern half being covered in snags claimed by the sea and erosion.

We did see a few more wild creatures than the time before. The fiddler crabs were more colorful, almost resembling bird droppings, and as territorial as ever. The little fellow in the photo below spent a lot of energy trying to get the attention of the larger crab in order to spar.

 

Here are a couple other animals spotted around the park, including a Red-bellied woodpecker, a barrier island subspecies of raccoon [though I don’t think the white mask indicates that], an over-heated grackle, and a cute chickadee.

I’m sure if you spent some time, and not just a couple hours, on Hunting Island, you’d see quite the list of creatures! While the island is busy, there are many little quiet spots tucked away for both wildlife and crowd-shy visitors.

As for the lighthouse, they currently charge $2 to climb the 150+ stairs [you have to be over a certain height–not small kid-friendly]. The view was beautiful, though the day cloudy and a little drizzly, so not any great photos from the top. The staircase is nicely detailed and there are signs to read as you climb.  This is the only lighthouse open to the public in South Carolina.

Lighthouse grounds

View from a Lighthouse Window

We went to the Pier to watch the fishermen, but there was more crabbing going on, and anyone with a line in the water was losing their bait to the crabs. Attached to the Pier is the Nature Center–definitely worth the visit!