If you’re at the pool, big bend dock, or Old House Lane this week, be sure to look up. There has been a group of Mississippi Kites overhead, putting on a show, pretty much on a daily basis. This raptor soars like a falcon on the thermals, and today I saw a total of 13 of them at the same time. At first glance, they appear to be floating gently along the thermals, almost suspended in the air.
But then one of them will take a sudden movement and whoosh in another direction. Using their square off tail to dip, twist, plummet, and lift, these incredible aerialists are catching dragonflies and cicadas in mid air with their talons, and then eating them as they fly.
When you look at them with your eyes, it looks like they are just hanging out. But zoom in with binoculars or a camera, and you can get a clear sense of them as effective predators. Yesterday, I took my camera over to big bend to lie on the dock and watch. They took my breath away with their dizzying dips and turns!
They snatch cicadas and dragonflies. The cicadas protest loudly when grabbed, and if you look closely you can see the birds eviscerating them while flying.
Mississippi Kites, Ictinia mississippiensis, are a species of least concern in our area. In fact, check out this article from Living Bird Magazine about how their range is actually expanding. That said, I have never seen them here as often as I have in the last week. They may be staging for migration: In some states like Texas, they apparently gather in large groups before migrating south. Each time I have been watching them, there have been blue jays in the trees below, making a screeching sound. They shouldn’t really object to their presence; apparently blue jays and northern mockingbirds often nest near Mississippi kite colonies. It’s been the blue jays that had me looking up, though, so they are worth listening to. And the cicada… when the kite first grabs the cicada, it makes a loud buzz, which was another thing that made me look up. Usually cicada calls come from the trees rather than overhead.
It was exciting to see a large earth mover at 6 pipes last week; even more exciting when we heard Pete Y describe it coming out of the water at 6 pipes. The Lake Timicau Restoration Project has begun!
And no time like the present: six pipes has seen some “adjustment” since hurricane Matthew, and the erosion has been compounded by high tides.
This photo was taken in January 2016:
And this in June of 2016:
By this month, a good bit of the road has eroded around the pipes:
So it was great to see this big piece of equipment come ashore at six pipes this week. For a day or two it was visible at six pipes, and then it moved along Lake Timicau towards the end along Lake Timicau Lane.
Apparently it’s amphibious: Pete reports it coming right out of the water (and the tracks prove that.)
Part of the Lake Timicau Restoration Project is a canal that links the areas that get good water flow at one pipe and six pipes with the far end of the wetland behind lots 65 and 80. It’s pretty amazing how natural this machine can make the canal look. This video shows the canal starting at one pipe:
Watch videos in HD for better results.
This is the outside of One Pipe:
This shows the track from one pipe toward the other end of Lake Timicau:
And at the other end, from the intersection of Pelican Flight and Lake Timicau, it looks like this:
Meanwhile, back at six pipes, not much has happened. These photos show what it looks like right now:
And this video explores further. Exciting things are coming: you can see a large piece of equipment on the beach toward Capers Inlet.
We’re pretty excited about some changes coming for the North end of Dewees Island: The Lake Timicau Restoration project. After several years of studying the hydrology of Lake Timicau, searching for better ways to provide habitat for migrating at risk birds and provide water flow through the Impoundment, we are seeing our efforts come together! This project has been on my radar since becoming chair of the EC (ERB, EPB) in 2005, so it’s been a long term goal for the island. Since I get a bunch of questions about this, I thought I’d try to explain what will be happening over the next year. Disclaimer: I am not a hydrogeologist or an engineer.
The pipes are aging and don’t keep enough water in the Lake for long enough periods of time.
Erosion is increasing.
Ages ago, the pipes were placed in Velvet Creek and the bridge was created over the creek, making the north part of the island accessible. These pipes have a few current limitations, and we’ve known there would be a need to fix the situation for at least 12 years, when the Wetlands Committee was formed to examine the problem and propose a solution. For years, the Water subcommittee spent a lot of time and energy and resources looking at this situation from a variety of angles. The pipes will eventually fail due to age, and the way they were situated allows less water to get in and stay in Lake Timicau over time.
It’s possible that they are too high to move water throughout the entire area, or that the hydrologic period compounds the situation: We get longer low tides than high tides and the 6-pipes structure compounds this. Anecdotally, the depth of the Lake doesn’t seem to be as deep. It is also possible that there has been some silting in of the areas around the edges. There is currently some increased vegetation along the edges of the lake, and parts of the Lake that are dry for very long periods of time. In addition, the water that flows through those pipes is heavily compressed (think of putting your thumb on the hose) which increases the speed at which the water flows. This acceleration adds to erosion around where the pipes are. If we could better manage the flow of water coming in a 6-pipes, perhaps there will be less velocity, less turbidity, and less silting.
Shorebirds are declining worldwide, and many are on target to become extinct in our lifetime. Lack of habitat, of suitable foraging and resting sites, and of food to fuel up for long migrations all contribute to rapid declines in shorebird populations. If we could manage the water levels in the Lake Timicau area, we could create optimal habitat for food resources, shelter, and resting habitat for many of these imperiled species. Some of these include: Red Knots, Wood Storks, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Sanderlings, Semi-palmated Plovers, etc.
The goals of the Lake Timicau restoration project are to:
create better habitat for imperiled shorebirds,
replace the compromised pipes,
allow for better water flow and management between Lake Timicau and the Impoundment.
Other possible outcomes include a wider variety of opportunities for fishing, enhanced passive recreational activities, like kayaking and bird-watching. and more open views for lots that front Lake Timicau along Lake Timicau Lane and Pelican Flight drive.
Replace the Pipes with a more comprehensive, stable, and sophisticated water control structure. The engineers have come up with a plan to replace the pipes with two water control structures similar to what used to manage the water in the impoundment, but they will be made of concrete and aluminum. They will allow us to control (manage) the levels of water in Lake Timicau in order to be able to provide better habitat for shorebirds and migrating birds; as well as fish and crustaceans. This should make the area more stable in terms of erosion as well.
Put in a water control structure at the area now known as One Pipe, so that more water can flow through to the northwest section of Lake Timicau and we can control the in-flow and out-flow of water through that part of the Lake.
Create a way for water to flow between Lake Timicau and the impoundment. This will involve extending the canal behind several lots on the north/west side of Pelican Flight lane. A small water control device will be installed under Lake Timicau Lane connecting the newly extended canal with the impoundment. Water flow can be regulated between the impoundment and Lake Timicau as needed.
This means that the community decides how much water to keep in the wetland and for how long (based on management goals and objectives and grant requirements): it will no longer be strictly tidal. In my understanding, this won’t change the water depth significantly along the edges (a couple of inches), but there will still be deeper pockets for fishing. Since the intention is to provide better habitat, there will be an emphasis on understanding and attracting invertebrates that migrating birds feed upon. An additional result will probably be that some of the surrounding vegetation will have their roots immersed for longer periods of time and may die back, and may provide additional views. Like the impoundment, there will be times when we keep the water higher for fishing and recreation, and times when we drop the water levels so birds have resting and feeding places.
DU’s regional engineer, Malcolm Baldwin, has mapped, surveyed Lake Timicau and designed the canal route. The water control devices have been successfully used in other Ducks Unlimited projects, most recently on Capers Island.
The entire project has already been budgeted for. The majority of the cost is being paid by our partner organizations: Ducks Unlimited, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The total cost of the project is expected to be $510,000. The Dewees Island POA has already collected reserves of $107,000 as part of our planning and budgeting process, which represents the total contribution of the POA. The Dewees Conservancy, a non-profit 501c-3 corporation based on the island and dedicated to habitat preservation, will also contribute $107,000. The grant that provided most of the money is a USFW North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant.
I saw a swallow-tailed kite on Dewees! This is a new bird (for me) on the island, and I might have frightened the real estate clients who were in my cart, because I shrieked, pulled off the road, and jumped out of the cart while jumping up and down. Swallow-tailed Kites have been recorded on Dewees in the past, including during a bird count, but I haven’t seen one. I think they have been here on and off for a few weeks: I got a call about a huge tern with a forked tail from renters John and Michelle in early July, as well as a text from my neighbor Jim Mack asking what the very large white bird with a forked tail was that soared past quickly over the impoundment. Since I didn’t get a good photo, I asked some of my favorite local nature photographers Pam Ford, Keith McCullough, and Nolan Schillerstrom for illustrations.
A Swallow-tailed kite is a big bird, with a wingspan of 51 inches, and a big forked tail. They are mostly white on the underside with striking black edges against that white plumage. The one I saw was flying fairly low over Pelican Flight Drive. They pluck insects and lizards from the treetops, and might even make off with a whole nest of blue-gray gnatcatchers, a tiny bird that does nest regularly on Dewees. They usually eat their prey while flying. The one I saw was sort of swooping for insects. Swallow-tailed kites are about the same size of a red-tailed hawk, but weigh about half as much. They are getting ready to begin some pretty significant migrations to Central and South America, and this website has a lot of information about them and is collecting citizen science data on sightings.
Gliding along in easy flappings, it rises in wide circles to an immense height, inclining in various ways its deeply forked tail, to assist the direction of its course, dives with the rapidity of lightning, and, suddenly checking itself, reascends, soars away, and is soon out of sight… Their principal food, however, is large grasshoppers, grass-caterpillars, small snakes, lizards, and frogs. They sweep close over the fields, sometimes seeming to alight for a moment to secure a snake, and holding it fast by the neck, carry it off, and devour it in the air.
Dewees Island does not provide appropriate nesting habitat for them, but they do nest north of here in the old growth freshwater forests of the Waccamaw Wildlife Refuge, and they can be seen in nearby Francis Marion National Forest. I’ve also seen them at Caw Caw county park. They may pass Dewees on their migration route to central or south America. This video from South Carolina Audubon has some great footage and information about these gorgeous kites. (watch in hd if you can.)
As storm clouds threatened to provide island residents with some natural fireworks last night, a manatee named Goose calmly meandered the creek outside the rice trunk with some friends. Goose, who was rescued from the Cooper River in December, malnourished and struggling to survive in cold water, spent the winter rehabilitating at Sea World in Orlando. He was released at Merritt Island in Florida on March 10. By May, he had been reported in Lowcountry waters. Island residents spotted him in the marsh on the other side of the crab dock.
Manatees aren’t all that uncommon in South Carolina waters; SCDNR reports some individuals regularly spend the summer in the waters around Charleston. While we were watching from the road, I called the manatee hotline (one incredulous onlooker was surprised that there is a hotline for manatees!) and found out that DNR is monitoring one manatee in South Carolina this summer, and what might look like an entangled crab pot is actually a geotransmitter to provide scientists with information about manatee migration. I came home and googled to find the info about Goose. Since DNR also collects data on sightings, I entered our sightings in their database. The creek outside the rice trunk is officially named Old House Creek, at least according to the lat/long sites I was using to determine coordinates. It didn’t take long for Dr. Al Segars, a DNR veterinarian, to get back to me with verification. Goose and his friends continued to forage in the creek:
It was a typical Dewees evening: neighbors gathered to watch the manatees, and stayed despite a short rainstorm. There were audible gasps when two surfaced face to face.
When there’s a fascinating wildlife activity, our Dewees Island roads often look like Yellowstone with cars stopping to watch bears along the highway, and last night was no exception. We watched as Goose and his friends explored the very shallow marsh on a king tide, and then made their way back to the main channel and slipped out to sea.
It’s a good reminder to keep alert when you’re driving a boat! Manatees surface for air like dolphins do, but also leave a sort of footprint: a series of round rings on the surface of the water that signify a manatee right below the surface.
If you spot Goose or any other manatee, you can enter the details on this form. If you see Goose, don’t touch him or the buoy: it may disconnect the transmitter and ruin all the research associated with it. In addition, if you are on a dock and you’re running fresh water that attracts a manatee, turn the water off. Inviting managees to come closer to people and boats puts them at risk!
SCDNR makes the following suggestions for protecting manatees, which are listed as endangered:
Look around for manatees before cranking your boat’s motor.
Use caution when navigating in shallow water and along the edge of a marsh. Manatees cannot dive away from boats in these areas.
Please heed “slow speed,” “no wake” and manatee warning signs, especially around docks.
Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare, making it easier to spot manatees below the surface.
Watch for large swirls in the water called footprints that may be caused by manatees diving away from the boat.
Dock owners should never feed manatees or give them fresh water. This could teach the animals to approach docks, putting them at greater risk of a boat strike, and it is illegal.
Never pursue, harass or play with manatees. It is bad for the manatees and is illegal.
It’s loggerhead turtle nesting season, and here on Dewees we’re on target for a record-breaking turtle season, with our 17th nest discovered and marked this morning near Needlerush walk. By comparison, last year Dewees had 5 nests for the whole season. Since we started the turtle protection program in 1999, we’ve seen 217 nests, with an average of 11-12 per year. The lowest year was 2001, with 1 nest, and the biggest years were 2006, with 21 nests, and 2013, with 20 nests. Since we’re only halfway through turtle season, we will probably break the record and have the best year yet!
Assuming the state average of 52 days of incubation, we should begin to see hatching nests around the 8th of July. (Don’t worry if they take a little longer, sometimes the first nests are laid during cooler temperatures and take more time.) This is a banner year for us, and we’re hearing that numbers are up across the state as well. Last year the state had high numbers of nests, but Dewees had a relatively low number of nests. There are lots of factors beyond sheer turtle numbers that determine whether we have a great turtle year or a more sparse one: turtles may have a few years between nesting cycles, sand bars and natural erosion/accretion cycles make a difference, etc. Our hunch is that last year the sand bar (which brought us lots of great sand) provided a hazard to turtle navigation and they gave up when they hit the sand bars. This year, we have plenty of high dunes for them to nest in, and a huge open beach with very soft sand.
We take one egg from each nest for DNA testing, which enables us to learn more about the mother (the eggshell is cleaned of yolk so it contains just maternal DNA.) This project, through the University of Georgia, has taught us a lot about our turtles– many of the turtles who nest on Dewees also nest on Capers, Bull, IOP, Sullivans, Cape, and Lighthouse islands. Far fewer nest to the south of us on the other side of the Charleston jetties. Gary McGraw, the team leader, keeps a chart of where Dewees turtles nest based on the returned DNA data.
I’ll try to keep this page updated as we go through the summer with nests and predicted hatch dates.
72 hours after first evidence of hatching, we will conduct a nest inventory to see how successful the nesting was. All members of the Dewees community are welcome to join. Inventories are usually conducted in the evenings around 7:30, and will be announced on the activity calendar and on the ferry. Sometimes, during an inventory, we get the thrill of seeing live hatchlings.
You can be a part of the loggerhead turtle nesting team.
Yesterday, we tried to post a spreadsheet with the nesting information so far. Sorry, but something about that created a problem for the blog, so I have cut and pasted the relevant date. Eventually we’ll get that up in a dynamic form, but for now, you’ll find a chart at the bottom with the nests and predicted hatch date. If you want to check nests near the hatching time, please let Judy or Gary know, and be sure not to use white flashlights on the beach– they can disorient the hatchlings. In addition, you can still sign up to walk in the mornings by clicking the sign-up form below.