Manatees pay July 4 visit to Dewees

Posted on Posted in Dewees Island Conservancy, Mammals

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.

“Goose” with transmitter (photo by Emily Fairchild) If you see this manatee with this transmitter, it is not entangled.

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.

Manatee greeting photo by Emily Fairchild
manatee, photo Emily Fairchild

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.

Manatees have shown up on Dewees in past summers: we reported them in the waves (also during July 4 celebrations) in 2010, and in 2011 Captain Rick got photos of manatees in the water at the marina.  And after posting our sightings on this blog and on facebook, we heard from others who had spotted Goose this weekend.  At James Island on July 3, as well as at the City marina.  This means that Goose came from Charleston Harbor to Dewees on one of the busiest boating days of the year!  Perhaps the marker makes Goose easier to see and avoid.

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 Bat Week! The story of a Tree Bat on Dewees

Posted on Posted in CoastalMasterNaturalistsFeed, Featured Creature, Mammals

I’ve seen bats on Dewees fairly often in early spring, and occasionally in summer. Since it’s National Bat Week (who knew?!) I thought I would share a story of a lovely encounter with a tree bat in June. I was headed to the beach for a turtle walk slightly before sunrise through the maritime forest, and I was following what I thought was a pale winged warbler/wren through the rather dark forest, when suddenly it seemed like a pine cone fell in front of me, and a small chip broke off and fell slightly further away.

Tree Bat, Seminole
What I thought was a pinecone and a chip

Something seemed weird, so I parked the golf cart and walked up to find a small bat with dark reddish brown wings spread out along the sandy path. The tiny chip turned out to be a baby bat about a foot away, and the mother flew off when I got close, so I retreated about 50 feet to see what would happen. I got back in the golf cart because for some reason the birds are happier when I am not on foot, so I figured that might apply to bats.

Lasiurus seminolus
Baby bat waiting for the mother to return

It was hard to see in the pre-dawn gloom, but eventually the mother returned and covered the baby and froze on the ground.

Tree Bat, Seminole Bat
Mother bat covering baby

I went closer to look and could see the small arm of the baby reaching around the mother’s neck, like a hug, and as I went for the camera she seemed to tuck it underneath and flew off with the baby.
tree bat

You can just barely see the baby on the right side of the photo above.

tree bat
Seminole Bat before flying off

I was left with a bunch of questions: What species are possible? Where do they nest/roost? What would make a bat drop a baby? Is that some ecosystem thing to worry about? I assumed that intervention would make things worse– but should I have done anything differently?

I emailed my South Carolina Master Naturalist Instructor and guru, Keith McCullough, and he said he’d research it and get back to me. He reached out to a grad student at Auburn who had been doing bat research at Caw Caw County Park, and this is what she said:

The bat in the pictures is either an Eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis) or a Seminole bat (Lasiurus seminolus). It’s kind of difficult to tell from the colors in the picture, but it looks more like a Seminole based on the mahogany colored fur.

Baby bats can be born at up to 40% of the female’s body weight (!) and only increase in weight as they grow. Most tree bats (what reds and Seminoles are called) forage with their babies clinging on to them. It is not uncommon for the baby to fall off the mother while she is flying and sometimes people assume they’re rabid and kill them. Finding a bat like this is nothing to worry about. It is possible that the baby was falling off the mom and the mom was trying to catch it. It is also possible that something entirely different was happening. I’ve heard of bats occasionally falling out of trees but I’ve never seen one do it.

Lasiurine bats are some of my favorites and are absolutely gorgeous! These bats tend to roost in foliage or under exfoliating tree bark. Females can have 1-4 pups, but having only one or two is more common.

I was relieved that there was nothing ecologically wrong going on, and also that I had been right to back off and not intervene. I also agree with her that tree bats are certainly are beautiful bats, and I hope to find them again in the maritime forest. I drove that road most of the summer before dawn, but didn’t find them again. I did do a little research on Seminole Bats, part of the family of tree bats, and this is what I found:

I came away from the experience with a little awe– these amazing animals are right outside our door, feeding little ones and roosting in the trees, and we are mostly unaware of them. I felt fortunate for the magic of the encounter that let me glimpse a little of that hidden life.

The US Department of the Interior put out this interesting bat video in honor of bat week:

Bobcat Photos taken 2 ways by Conservancy Interns

Posted on Posted in Featured Creature, Mammals

On July 1, Nicole (one of the Dewees Island Conservancy’s summer interns) was scanning the photos taken by the wildlife trail camera out on the North End of the Island when she came across these three photos, showing a bobcat out at that end of the island:

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We have seen tracks and scat out on the beach, and we know they swim between Dewees and Capers Island, and between Capers and Bull. On Dewees, we’ve found the tracks going in and out of the water, and photographer Ben Sumrell captured this incredible shot in 2012 while watching one swim from Capers to Bull Island.

Then, Monday morning, our other Conservancy Intern Allie was on Capers Island with turtle team head Gary McGraw, and they landed downwind of a Bobcat near a turtle nest. They were able to get close before startling the cat, and Allie snapped these photos:
bobcat1
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Allie says,

When I first saw it I was just looking for turtle crawls near the dunes. Then spotted it walking along in the tall grass about 15 Yards from me. We were down wind though so were able to watch it for a couple minutes before noticing we were there. Once it saw us, it froze and just stared at us for a minute, which was when I was able to snap a few shots before it wandered off.

The north end of Dewees is entirely within a conservation easement, which means that there are no houses out there, and relatively large tracts of undisturbed maritime forest and marsh. Click here for vacationer John Stoffel’s account of watching one on the road out there on his first visit to Dewees. We enjoyed seeing the Stoffel’s back on the island last week– it’s kind of cool that they seem to be able to time their vacations with bobcat activity.

One year, Gary McGraw saw a bobcat stalking a deer on the island: by the size of the tracks, we almost convinced ourselves that it was a cougar, but after consulting with DNR and taking plaster casts, it was determined that it was just a large bobcat. Here is a link to that story and photos of the plaster casts we took of the tracks.

bobcat kill
the south end of a fawn on the north end of the island, photo (and caption) Peter Cotton

And Peter Cotton discovered a half eaten fawn on his way up to Capers Walk on a turtle patrol. Here’s his evidence of a (then)recent bobcat kill:
When Peter returned to fetch his cart, the fawn was gone. Bobcats can cache their prey to return to it later. Click here for a post about bobcat caches.

On Kiawah Island, there are far more bobcats; they have learned to adapt quite well to living in close proximity to humans. I have been there to band birds and for various meetings, and on every single visit I saw either a bobcat or field signs of one. They have a tagging/gps tracking program to learn more about their bobcats, and they have learned a few things about their bobcats: They hunt nocturnally around scrub-shrub, forest, and developed areas, and they prefer scrub-shrub habitat along marsh edges and secondary dunes for daytime resting cover. The biologists on Kiawah even know where the dens with kittens are– I’d love to see that someday! For now, I love knowing they are out there, elusive and beautiful, and it makes me appreciate our wild habitat even more!

For an article in SC Wildlife magazine about bobcats, click here.
National Geographic produced a video about the Kiawah bobcats: