Making Tracks

Striped Hermit Crab Clibanarius vittatus

This hermit, like the name implies, has white stripes running longitudinally down its brown legs and claws. It is able to survive outside of water longer than other hermit species here in South Carolina. This fellow was trekking back to the water after being stranded by a receding tide. 

Hermit crabs are scavengers, feeding on decaying plant and animal material, as well as occasionally snacking on bivalves. They have very small or no back legs and their abdomen is reduced and coiled, looking more worm-like than crab-like. 

They are territorial and will constantly fight over shells. While they grow, they must constantly seek out larger shells, since their exoskeleton provides no protection.  As research suggests, having a larger shell is better for females and egg production, for all individuals to avoid predation, and globular shells are easier to move around with than longer shells.

Many species of hermits are found within the pet trade, including the land hermits from Brazil. Striped hermits, requiring an aquatic habitat, are often used for salt water aquariums as cleaners.

In a Fish Bowl

With schools hitting the homestretch this month, we’re up to our ears in school programs full of kids anxious for the summer and teachers trying to keep up. And since it is late spring, we are encountering TONS of critters on the beaches, in the marsh and in ponds. Many of these creatures are small and fit perfectly in a kid’s hand, inevitably leading to one question:

Can I Take It Home???

Probably a lot of us said this when younger–I know I did often, but I am amazed at the variety of creatures kids want to take home. Everything from baby snapping turtles and mosquito fish to coquina clams and juvenile pompano fish.

I ask the kidnapping kid what they would put the little creature in and the majority proclaim that they have a wonder fish bowl that would work well [a few mention their freshwater fish tank…].

This is what they call a ‘teachable moment’–one of those moments that you weren’t planning on, but that just spontaneously provides a perfect time to expound on a relevent tangent.

Habitat

That one little word is essentially the answer to the fish bowl dilemma. Can you provide the necessary food, water, shelter, and space–all the components of a habitat–for the creature?

Food: Most creatures have a complicated diet that is not easily found in stores. Even pet stores carry food specifically for their breeds and not necessarily for wildlife.  Unless you want to spend hours collecting and preparing the proper food, it’s much easier to buy a creature whose diet we can mass produce.

Water: It seems simple, doesn’t it? Water is water, but our clean water is deadly to many creatures. Chlorine is one problem, but the lack of bacteria can be deadly to fish. When you set up a fish tank, you aren’t just putting a filter on a glass case, you are creating a micro-ecosystem complete with a bacterial population in the gravel bed that will break down waste and ammonia that would otherwise kill fish.

Shelter: Most animals see humans as predators and for this reason would rather hide than be stared at all day. Stress like that can kill, you know?

Space: What is it to a fish or turtle if they have lots of room or not? What’s it to you to have all that square footage? Imagine just living in one room of your house, not being able to leave and not being able to take out the trash on your own. If you couldn’t sweep, all sorts of stuff would pile up, crumbs would accumulate, as would your hair and dander. Pretty gross, huh? Space is very important, even if you are ‘just’ a fish or turtle.

Just One Room

You probably wouldn’t be happy if you were only allowed in just one room of your house and never allowed to leave. This one room wouldn’t allow you any privacy and it also wouldn’t be well ventilated or insulated. Essentially, that’s what a fish bowl amounts to. Such a small body of water is basically a stagnate puddle and how many creatures do you see thriving in puddles? Perhaps a few, but unless you are adapted to puddle life such as a betta fish is, then you are going to have a hard time not feeling closed in, dirty, stuffy, too warm or cold, etc.

“Nature is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” –Blaise Pascal

With that quote in mind, that good ol’ glass fish bowl isn’t of much use.  Not even goldfish have a good, long life in a bowl [especially since they are the ‘dirtiest’ fish you can buy!]. As mentioned above, bettas are really the only thing that can eek out a living in the sphere of doom and wildlife certainly have no place confined in a bubble.

Bottomline: Fish bowl =/= Habitat

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!

First Signs of Spring

There’ll be no robins in this post! I’ve seen them digging around in the snow, so I don’t believe they know what winter is!

Daffodils are blooming, trees are budding, and various ectotherms are moving about.

We visited Lake Moultrie hoping to see some wildlife.  We spotted a large group of yellow-rumped warblers and an osprey, but not much else at the dam. 

 A couple U-turns later and a few uncertain rights and we made it to a FWS managed area and walked around some impounded water areas. Spotted some woodducks, great blues, an egret, and a mallard pair that I swear were decoys.

 

We walked until we hit a canal opening.  There was a board damming it and a chain with a sign that would make it easier to walk across, but if you google ‘Lake Moultrie’ and look at Google’s suggestions, one is “Lake Moultrie alligator attack” and indeed, there happened to be, on a slightly cold, last day of February, an alligator waiting on the other side.

The photo’s blurry because I’m shaking in my boots!  Haha, not really, I didn’t try to touch this one. My battery was dead so I warmed it up a bit and put it back in my camera to squeeze out one more shot [I’d already done that twice, so I was hoping it worked just one more time!]. The website http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/cnhc/csp_amis.htm says that feeding doesn’t generally occur below 68 degrees and the high that day was 58, so I assume we were safe enough. I think alligators will become my new rattlesnakes, but their habitat of blackwater swamps is a little discouraging.  I either have hydrophobia or ichthyophobia so I won’t be going in the water any time soon…

On a side note, we visited Angel Oak on Johns Island yesterday and found the tree [Whew! It’s a bummer when the navigator can’t keep ‘John’ and ‘James’ straight!] and also found some more uniquely colored South Carolina squirrels. Unfortunately, they weren’t too pleased with the camera pointed at them, so I didn’t get them sitting together. 

The mighty Angel Oak. They [angeloaktree.org] believe it’s 1,400 years old, and the oldest organism east of the Mississippi. It spreads over 17,100 square feet, has a lightning rod and supports for some of the branches. Check http://www.angeloaktree.org/history.htm for more info.

White Squirrel One above and White Squirrel Two below.  Note the black stripe down their bodies. WSOne has some spots as well.

If you are wondering, like I am, where these white squirrels are from, check out this article from the Post and Courier from May 2003.  [Link will open in a new window]

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!

Battle Royale in the Badlands

So the other day, I woke up to a lot of racket on the front porch.  When I went out there, I found a little baby magpie sitting on one of the bikes.   I went to grab my camera and ended up snapping a few pictures before the parents came back.  They made more noise than the baby and didn’t like me that close.

A few days later [June 24th, I believe], the morning started the same way, with tons of noise on the porch.  This time, though, when I opened the door, I found not only the parent magpies, but a large bullsnake, a rabbit, a robin, a kingbird, and two bluebirds.  They were all taking turns beating on the poor snake.  The snake was eventually chased around the building and under the shed, where he stayed until evening, and then left.

He’s not too happy and the bikes didn’t offer much cover from the pecking magpies and biting rabbits and swooping robins and chirping bluebirds.

He just struck at the magpie.

Magpies are very brazen birds.

They would peck the ground, puff up, and squak.  I’m not sure how much the snake could see of this performance, but it was entertaining.

It was like they could hear him move!  Everytime he started to crawl away, they would come back and start the whole process again.

I think he would have liked the door open…

The magpies had six chicks to begin with, but they lost two, maybe to west nile.  One other we haven’t seen for days amd he couldn’t fly like his siblings.  If you think about it, six is quite a few, so maybe nature made a few extras.  They are all pretty loud and rascally and seem pretty healthy for now.

I have found a couple owls out and about, but I haven’t been able to get a good shot nor ID them.

Here is a great picture to illustrate the sweet clover problem.  This was taken last week and the flowers have begun to fade.

I’ve got more pictures to upload, so another posting is due.  I can’t keep up!