Island Living

Tropical Storm Ana keeps hanging around…

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IMG_9355There is a storm (Tropical Storm Ana) sitting off the Carolina coast right now, and it’s actually creating some gorgeous weather conditions.  It’s also causing the ferry to sit out an occasional run, which provides island residents with either an extra hour to watch the beautiful weather from the island, or a chance to hang out at Morgan Creek Grill and grab a snack and beverage with your friends.  “Tropical Bands of Moisture” have been wandering across the island (although there has been no precipitation today) with some pretty intense downpours, and the pattern is set to continue through tomorrow evening. So, since we know here that we have friends from across the country that have been watching the national weather and wondering, we’re sending some photos to update you on the weather conditions today.

from Storm Team 2

Dewees Island, with Charleston County, is now under a Tropical Storm Watch, while areas to our north, starting at the South Santee river, are under a tropical storm warning.

Truly, it’s gusty on the beach. Forecasters have been saying all along that the biggest threat from this storm to the Charleston Metro area will be mostly in the form of rip currents and beach erosion. This post from 2010 has a lot of information on rip currents. As for beach erosion, we are really thankful that Dewees Island has the setbacks it does: they are often 3x what they are on neighboring islands. So while Isle of Palms is bracing with sandbags:

IOP beach in the Post and Courier this morning: photo by Anne Chandler

(click here for the whole story), the Dewees beach (which has actually grown significantly since Irene blew by in 2010) looks like this:IMG_9332
And elsewhere on the island, the combination of moisture rich tropical clouds and intermittent sunshine has provided us with some lovely views:
The impoundment
Sand blowing on the front beach
Huyler House pond
view from the bird blind

Birds and Birding

April Birding Update

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Yellow Throated Warbler

One great thing about our big year birding contest is that it has forced me to be more specific in my birding. No more glancing at a bird and assuming its identity because of the shape or the song… I want to be absolutely sure that I am correct. This morning, I got a new bird while drinking tea on my porch… an Orchard Oriole hopped up to the top of the live oak into the sunlight and serenaded me. He was gorgeous, right in the dawn sunlight, but when I reached for the camera, he flew off. Some things are meant to be enjoyed and not recorded.

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher

Our warm weather has brought lots of spring birds back early. Northern Parulas are singing from the spanish moss near the fire station, where they may build nests hidden deep in the moss clusters. Warblers flit through the underbrush; I was lucky to catch a great glimpse of a Yellow-Throated Warbler (top photo) near the landings building, and a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher foraged nearby. Black Necked Stilts and Glossy Ibis are feeding in the impoundment, Killdeer are nesting on grassy areas, and Great Crested Flycatchers are calling from the trees along the start of Old House Lane. Green Herons are back at Huyler House pond, and I expect we’ll see Painted Buntings any day now.


If you haven’t joined the Birding Big Year contest, please join us! It’s a lot of fun, and a great way to learn about the winged residents of the island. You don’t even have to know all the species to play… we’ll help you. There’s something hilarious about running into fellow birders at cocktail parties and watching them grin slyly and hold up four fingers, dropping you a place in the rankings. One great way to start is May 6, a Sunday, when the Audubon Birding folks will be on the island for the spring count. We start fairly early, meeting at the flagpole. Then we head over to our porch to count the impoundment and have breakfast, and then divide and cover the island to see how many species we can find. If you are not a confident birder, we can pair you up with an experienced counter and you are sure to learn a lot! Let me know if you are planning to come, and I will put you in touch with Cathy Miller, the count chairperson for Dewees Island.


Memorial Day Festivities: Pork, Perlo, and Patriotic tunes

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It’s a rare neighbor that gets up with you in the predawn hours to schlepp a pig in a tub on a golf cart and then onto some coals.  We were lucky this year in that there were LOTS of volunteers to participate in the fun.  Tripp and Paul both met us at the oyster shack between 5:30 and 5:45, and Paul even made a quick trip home for his coal chimney, which hastened the lighting of our moisture laden charcoal.  By 6:00 am, the pig was all settled over the slow fire and well on its way toward barbecue.

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Bob Drew has been cooking pigs for a long time; we estimate that the hardware in the pig cooker is more than 35 years old.  We’re all thrilled for some new assistants!  In addition, Peter brought his scrabble game over to our barbecue supervisory area, which led to some great fun during the day!  With the addition of the 2nd South’s festivities, there was no time to even wish for a brief nap.  Usually at about 5:00, we don gloves and “turn” the pig... this time we especially enjoyed the drumroll from the drum corps.  Click the link above for video.

Island residents and visitors brought side dishes and desserts to share, and the screened dining area under the Huyler House was lively with discussion, greetings and fishing tales. At the end of dinner, those who have served our country in the Armed Forces were asked to stand and be recognized, and David Smith led us in singing some Patriotic Songs.

We also want to thank everyone who helped organize the day– it was a spectacular show of community.  We appreciate everyone who stopped by to visit, and all those who came back on Sunday to clean up.

Featured Creature

Spring Full Moons, Horseshoe Crabs, and Migratory birds

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Talented Island Photographer Bubber McAlhany sent this photo today, of two crabs embedded in sand.

During the week this week, there was a full moon, with high tide falling right at dusk. The full moons in April, May, and June are spawning times for Horseshoe crabs, Limulus polyphemus. For millenia, these prehistoric arachnids have been coming ashore to lay eggs on a full moon tide. The eggs are buried in the sand, and within them, the crab molts 4-5 times in the next two weeks. Two weeks later, the new moon again creates an above average tide, and the tiny crabs hatch out and take residence in the sea. Turtle watchers and beachcombers are encouraged to interfere with crabs that appear stranded ONLY if they are flipped upside down. (The information campaign encourages you to “just flip ’em,” turning them over and pointing them to the sea.) If, for some reason, they do not have a telsun (tail) strong enough to flip themselves over, you can help them out.

If you look up some evening and the moon is full, think about an ancient creature stirring on the ocean floor or a small bird flying through the night.  (PBS special, A Tale of Two Species)

Horseshoe crabs provide slow moving real estate for other organisms, like this slipper limpet.
Horseshoe crabs provide slow moving real estate for other organisms, like this slipper limpet.

Horseshoe crab eggs are a really important source of food for some migratory predators, like the red knot, a tiny shorebird that winters in Chile and nests in the arctic. Birds time their stopover resting in places where horseshoe crabs are spawning. (We saw a few red knots in Copahee sound over mother’s day weekend, and you can see ruddy turnstones flipping over the sand in search of eggs on many area beaches.) My Master Naturalist class took a trip to the ACE basin last week, and found out that there is a migrating population of red knots that has been banded there, who were NOT recaptured in Delaware Bay. This would mean that rather than hopscotching their way up the coast, red knots fly thousands of miles with very few stopovers. Which makes the time they spend here and in the ACE Basin even more important to the survival of the species.

Here is a link to a very interesting video on PBS
about red knots and horseshoe crabs… from the way we harvest and test horseshoe crab blood right here in Charleston, to the people who tag red knots on their journey, to the massive impact each species has on the survival of the other, it is a comprehensive look at a whole ecosystem. I enjoyed the video, and highly recommend it.

Here’s a link to a post about Horseshoe crabs and a lecture by intern Erica a few years back.


Wild Plum, prunus americana

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This tree at the Landings Building is a Carolina Wild Plum, prunus americanus, which will grow to about 24 feet high.  Besides the lovely flowers, it provides a source of nectar for black swallowtail butterflies and gray hairstreaks.  You might also see Palomedes swallowtails and carpenter bees attracted to the tree.  Fruit in the fall may be eaten by songbirds.  Wild Plums are even a recommended plant for attracting wild turkeys. Identifying features include flowers that emerge as the leaves appear, and scaly bark.

When I searched for more information about this tree, I found it recommended by a bunch of extension websites for southeastern states as a desired plant for attracting wildlife.  Here’s an interesting article out of Kentucky on Edge Feathering… a way of designing wildlife habitat so that there are transition spaces between grasslands and woods in order to attract differing wildlife species.


Spring Brings Sunshine, Sand and Interesting Patterns to Beach

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We took a family stroll on the front beach north of Osprey Walk on Saturday.  We were the only ones on the beach, enjoying the sunshine, kicking a soccer ball, looking for special shells and just spending time together.

The weather was great and it’s gotten even nicer since then.  The high on the island today is 74 degrees.  The next few days are predicted to be back in the sixties.

While we were out for our family stroll, we found the interesting pattern in the picture below etched into the sand.  We have no idea what made the pattern.  If you do, let us know.

pattern etched in the sand