This past Sunday, I spent the morning on Bull Island, a part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge (I found the map here, there's also a useful map of the trails on the island) - you can find Bull Island on the lower lefthand corner of the map. Coastal Expeditions manages the passenger ferry to the island - and on this gorgeous Sunday, they volunteered their time to benefit the SeWee Association (South Eastern Wildlife and Environment Educational Association, Inc.) - a non-profit organization that you could easily describe as a ' dedicated friend' of Cape Romain and other wildlife areas in South Carolina.
The morning was perfect - a little cool first thing, as we were ferrying over to the island. The treat of this tour, however, was that Rudy Mancke was joining us - you're probably familiar with him if you've spent any time in South Carolina, but if not, you can visit his audio blog NatureNotes here. Having lived in SC for over 10 years now, I'd caught him from time to time on ETV's NatureScene and on the radio - but I'll be honest, I never paid that much attention to him. But on Sunday, being out 'in the field' with him (which really meant on the back of a truck, stopping periodically) - his ease and awareness of the natural environment was really impressive. Standing not far from this once wet area (above) he scurried down bank and caught a black racer snake that was in a tree. He told us the story about why it's species name became 'constrictor' when it really isn't a constrictor at all - something about a dead snake being in a jar of preservative being taken out of the jar by the guy who later named it...it obviously isn't a constrictor, since when Rudy Mancke was standing there with the thing, it'd didn't constrict at all. I also learned that it's a non-venomous snake that will bite you, if you give it the chance. I didn't give it the chance (nor will I give the black racer who is living in my front fence row the opportunity either...).
Further down the road, closer to a little more water (although all of the Coastal Expeditions and wildlife folks that joined us said the water level was really low), Rudy Mancke brought a group of dragonflies to our attention. He pointed out these gorgeous fluorescent blue dragonflies mating on a few reeds by the water's edge, and then a beautiful pink-rose dragonfly (that, if I remember correctly, he was the first person to identify in SC). After a few attempts, he finally captured (in a net) a black saddleback. After giving us a little lesson about this dragonfly, he placed it on his nose - where the dragonfly proceded to stay for a few minutes, without seeming too worried (although I'm not sure how to tell if a dragonfly is stressed).
So, since we were near water - you couldn't help but think alligator - the american alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). There was a bunch of them around, hanging out in the water - and one thing that I learned, that I somehow missed before (I would have remembered this!) is that alligators will eat each other. I had no idea. It was hard not to see those smaller alligators in the pond, and think that perhaps they were wondering if they were going to be dinner later that night. That would suck. There was this one alligator, off to itself, lying in the mud - I'm guessing that gator was the one thinking about eating those little guys.
So next, we headed to Boneyard Beach. It's a place to go if you want to see what a hurricane can do to a barrier island. The beach is covered with the skeletal remains of once great trees - and I remember the first time I went to Bull Island and walked the trail to Boneyard Beach, thinking 'what could do this' and recognizing the power of a storm like Hugo.
After the beach, we drove back to the picnic area - driving through trails filled with Gulf Frittilaries (Agraulis vanillae) - Rudy Mancke even spotted one of them laying an egg on the tip of a passionvine (and we all looked at the egg under his magnifying glass - and he then placed the egg in a ziploc bag with a few passionvine leaves, so he could watch it develop) - wolf spiders and toothache trees (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis, known for it's medicinal properties) and flowers and...wood storks and american oystercatchers and...
...it was a great day. One thing that was so interesting about Rudy Mancke was his power (and ease) of observation - there's so much around us, we just need to slow down and look. To pay attention. When I arrived home on Sunday, after such a nice morning - and prepared to starting reviewing grants again, I stopped first and walked out on the deck. At my bird feeder, for the first time in weeks, was a male painted bunting - but upon closer look I realized that it wasn't the father that had been at my feeder all spring and summer. No, this one was smaller, and perhaps was an offspring of the pair that nests in my garden each spring. Offspring! A first for my own little wildlife refuge.