Wildlife in Charleston

December 04, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

You may not think "wildlife" when you visit Charleston, South Carolina, but wildlife flourishes in and around the Charleston area. While most experiences staying in Charleston have been at Seabrook Island I have seen quite a bit of wildlife all around the area. Alligators, hawks, snakes and, of course, lots of deer; there is so much to see. Seabrook Island is probably 20 minutes outside of downtown Charleston (depending on traffic) and faces, generally, southeast on the Atlantic Ocean. I am still wanting to visit the Caw Caw Interpretive Center which I understand provides fascinating opportunities to see native wildlife.

My last trip to Seabrook was a buffet of wildlife. Despite having spent four vacations at Seabrook, it was this year that I finally spotted an alligator on the island. This particular specimen looked relatively young but definitely interested in my proximity to the shoreline when I approached to get a closer look. While I know alligators are incredibly dangerous I find them clock-like predictable (if you understand what they do). This particular adversary was not any different. As I approached the pond it was floating in it seemed to pay me no attention whatsoever; however, it did move. Typically, no rippled water, no sudden movements -- just the snout and the crown of the head moving though not toward or retreating from me. Once I reached the edge of the pond it was obvious it was paying me more attention. Instead of remaining perpendicular to me it turned so that we were on the same line of eyesight. Still, no obvious sign of movement otherwise. If I had poor vision, not only would I perhaps not know of an alligator there, I probably would not have seen the subtle changes. Playing along, I crouched down into a squat along the edge of the pond. Now the alligator was clearly moving toward me but again... zero signs of movement other than its visible parts becoming larger. Somewhere around 40 or 50 feet away it vanished. Okay, time to step back away from the edge of the pond to a safe distance. I waited for several minutes and there was not another sign of it. I had the feeling it was somewhere right at the edge of the pond out of sight, just waiting. These bastards are highly skilled and stealthy predators and I have a huge amount of respect. I would say they are beautiful creatures but who am I kidding? They are hideous killing machines -- but, perhaps, this is the beauty. Alligators have reached the apex of predatory skill and stealth for their kind and they are something to respect.

I Pieblock deer on Seabrook Island, SCWhite StagI Pieblock deer on Seabrook Island, SC On to other encounters! Coming back from dinner one evening we came across something I did not know existed. A white deer with brown spots (bare with me for second). I am aware of the odd albino in any given species but this beautiful buck was not albino. He was just predominately white with a smattering of brown. After a few moments outside the car his acclimation to humans was obvious. In the sense that he was confident so long as you stayed out of his personal space. The first night I saw him resulted in a quick snapshot from a respectful distance.

I craved to see this beautiful creature again, though. I kept an eye out for him at the same spot (I know deer tend to frequent the same spots to browse the vegetation). A couple of evenings later my vigilance was paid off as he was in the same spot. Unfortunately, I didn't have my proper camera with me this time but I decided to get closer this time and be a little more deliberate with my phone's camera to take a few more shots. I even held out my hand to see if he'd take sniff at me. His personal space seemed to be about six feet. It was about there that he showed a sign that he was going to bolt if I got any closer. The fact that he let me get that close was astounding to me. But I managed to get a couple blog-worthy shots with my phone. Next year will yield better results with a proper camera.

A Pieblock deer on Seabrook IslandWhite Stag 2A Pieblock deer on Seabrook Island












A number of birds call Seabrook Island home as well. I have seen hawks, skimmers, and pelicans, among many others. Seabrook's birds are a great way to take in the island and let time wash away like a sand castle in the tide. The pelicans can be a good indicator of where dolphins are and seem to be omnipresent on the beach. Seabrook Island is my happy place, I have to admit, and the pelicans help bring utopia to reality. The last two visits I have sat at the beach club bar, reading; drinking coffee in the mornings and watching the ocean for a break from reading. Lunch. Then reading more, maybe doing some email and having some adult beverages in the afternoon. "Relaxing", is a criminal understatement. Just my music, a fantastic view, my books, and a good beverage -- mixology for near utopia. Over two weeks I saw the same (I presume the same) dolphin pod swim by probably a half dozen times. The diving pelicans were a dead giveaway and it was just amazing to see this huge pod dolphins swimming past so close to shore. I could have waded out to them on one of the days.

On the morning of departure I crossed an interesting snake straddling the main road that circles the island. Granted, we are not talking Los Angeles traffic but at peak times it does see enough tires that a snake should have concern. I felt compelled to stop and remove this serpent from imminent danger. I'm sure s/he was warming itself on the asphalt but, given it was the approach to the beach club, death was certain by car tire. As I drove past I noticed that this particular snake seemed curiously "fatter" than any other snake I had seen (in the wild). After pulling off, I approached the snake and instantly realized, "Wow. Not your garden variety snake.". It was a juvenile Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake. It still hadn't developed rattles but that definitely did not prevent it from beating its tail against the pavement letting me know that it did not like me approaching. About the time I realized what I was into, it lunged -- even though I was well outside striking distance (it wasn't more than a meter long and I was well over two meters away still). Definitely a juvenile in all senses of the word. Even though it was a rattler I decided that if it was going to die it should be due to nature and not a car tire. I first tried making myself as big as possible and herd it toward the side of the road. Let me tell you, I should have known when it first lunged despite my distance, this wasn't going to work. I think all I succeeded in doing was agitating it more. We spent a few minutes in a weird sort of dance with me waving my arms and doing the box step (trying to stay out of range). Clearly, that wasn't going to work and each time this little SOB coiled up a little tighter -- like I was teaching it how to lunge further. I backed off and about that time the first car (aside from mine) approached and as I suspected they didn't see it so I made sure I positioned myself so they'd go around. After the car passed I went found myself a stick about a meter long. Not quite long enough for my comfort but it would have to do. I briefly considered trapping this snake, Jeff Corwin style (without the fancy "snake catcher"), and just picking it up and tossing it into bush off the road. Just as quickly, I realized, "Dave. Dumbass. You've never actually done that. Maybe an agitated, impetuous, venomous snake isn't the right time to try it for the first time." I agreed with myself.  Instead what ensued was a weird sort of street hockey with a very short hockey stick and a really pissed off snake for the puck. As this "game" began another car passed and this time they decided to stop for photos. Sigh. By the time they decided to move on I'd lost almost all the ground I'd gained moving it off the road. Keep in mind, I really didn't know which side of the road this dude wanted to be on but I thought it was a safe assumption it didn't want to head to the beach. That seems logical, right? I wish I had a photo of this at some point but having both hands occupied probably would have been a bad idea. I'm glad I didn't think of this as a "photo op". At one point I managed to get this critter wrapped on to my "hockey stick" and tried to fling him to the side of the road. I got him just short of the curb with a meaty splat. Now he's really pissed. The last few inches felt like an epic battle of will that lasted for hours but I'm sure only took a minute or two and probably looked comical from a distance. I succeeded in getting this critter into the short grass alongside the road and in the exposure of the Sun. For all I know, it slithered back out into the road and is now part of the pavement but I like to think that it lived to be angry and contemptuous another day. Perhaps a day I'm back on the island.

2018 has been a year of wildlife and I am very beholden to it. Ever since being a young child I have had an appreciation for wildlife this year has been a gift in terms of seeing wildlife in its natural habitat and I've been able to photograph much of it. It is a year I won't soon forget and I hope to have many more years with at least half the wildlife experience I had this year -- it is something we should all treasure and help to protect.





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