Wednesday, 23 July 2014 13:50

On the Isle again

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out natcornThanks to the generosity of dear friends, my family gets to vacation on Isle of Palms every summer. If you follow the “Naturalist’s Corner” regularly, you’ve seen accounts of these expeditions — maybe about “pluff mud,” “gourd heads,” “sister island,” etc. Every year it’s a wonderful trip, and this year was no different. Four-and-a-half days flew by in the blink of an eye. There were tried-and-true adventures, new adventures and one mild curiosity. 

I’ve been left scratching my head about the absence of blue crabs this trip. While we are vegetarian and do not eat crabs, the girls love to dangle a chicken neck in the marsh and catch crabs, which they keep in a bucket until they get bored and release them back into the marsh. This year there were no crabs. I saw one blue crab that was 4 or 5 inches across and a couple of smaller ones, and that was all. I suppose it could be a seasonal thing — we are usually here a month later and I know crabs use different parts of an estuary at different times for different reasons, so I guess timing could be a factor. There were also pretty big tides this trip, leaving only a little water, even at the end of the dock, during low tide. I don’t know if these were factors or if we simply didn’t spend as much time crabbing this trip, but at this point it is a curiosity.

As for new adventures, wow! Again we’re indebted to great friends. Don Bolger is a mountain neighbor I’ve known since the early 1990s. He has a cabin just down the road from me in the shadow of Plott Balsam, but he has one foot deeply rooted in the sand of Sullivan’s Island. Don is an old salt — been sailing since his teens and has a College of Charleston Sailing Association membership. Don and his able and capable first mate Melissa took us for a wonderful tour of Charleston Harbor. We slid by Fort Sumter, got looks at Ft. Moultrie, then tacked up the Ashley River before coming about and skimming Charleston’s Battery, cruising past the Charleston Aquarium, getting an up close view of the new Cooper River Bridge before returning to the College of Charleston’s dock in the shadow of the USS Yorktown.

During the sail we had watched brown pelicans falling like boulders from the sky as they foraged for fish and we had gotten glimpses of dolphins. One pair, we were sure, was a mom and calf because the dorsal fins were only inches apart when they would briefly breach the surface. Then after we dropped the jib and were waiting for the dinghy to come out and tow us back to dock, a pair of dolphins cruised by really close, giving great views. A magical ending to a great sail.

We also had two new, close encounters of the avian kind. One afternoon during low tide when we were out at the end of the dock a black skimmer came by checking the cut out. It was so close we could see the bright orange bill, with its longer lower mandible that the bird uses to “skim” the surface of the water as it feeds. Then one afternoon returning from our annual kayak trip to Sister Island, Denise spied a colorful bird above us. It was a roseate spoonbill. While it was a thrill to have this flyover, it only got better the next morning. We were on the dock again when the roseate came into the cut and began foraging — swinging its large spoon-like bill back and forth in the water feeling for prey. This cool bird was, at times, less than 50 feet from us.

Then, in a blink of an eye, four-and-a-half days are gone and we’re packing up to head back to the mountains. There could be worse places to head back to.

(Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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