The Raleigh Naturalist

August 10, 2021

Edisto Island seems 1,000 Miles From Nag’s Head

Filed under: About & reflection, climate change, Exotica, Nature Lore — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 6:25 pm

Edisto Island back road – 2 miles from the ocean

When we traveled with our daughter and her partner to South Carolina Carolina for a week at the beach, I knew we would have nature adventures. After all, Lily was the 2019 Environmental Educator of the Year, and Collin is a bonsai artist and expert botanist who looks for new plant experiences at every opportunity. Sure enough, the back porch of our beach house in Edisto Beach looked out on a vast prairie-sized marsh of cordgrass (spartina) slowly oozing fresh water toward the ocean, crisscrossed by freshwater creeks and a river, (though pushed backward twice daily by the tides),and edged on the other side by a heavily forested state park. Our house was surrounded by beautifully formed live oaks and other hardwoods, which were inhabited by cardinals, blue birds and several kinds of wrens. Thing is, we were two blocks from the beach. All week, I pondered: “How and why is this so different from the North Carolina beaches I grew up visiting?”

Edisto is an example of a Carolina Sea Island, of which there are over 100 between the Santee in SC and St John’s River in Florida. They are a special kind of barrier island that usually faces somewhat southward. These islands are the historic and present home of the Gullah people and culture, of which we saw evidence at the historic museum and in the basket weavers making and selling sweetgrass baskets at the craft market. The accents of the basketmakers and indeed many of the African American folks working all over, sounded Creole. Their history as the dominant population in this land of rice plantations is a wonderful story itself. But my first love in this situation is topography, and I found myself in one of the wettest topographies to be found.

Young greater egret hunts freshwater creek 2 blocks from ocean

Edisto barely qualifies as an island because at its northern tip, the Edisto River sends part of its flow on a different path toward the ocean, forming the North Edisto. The larger area of which it is part is called the ACE basin, for the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto rivers that flow through it. The 350,000 acres are about half wetland, and comprise one of the largest wetland natural areas on the East coast. Our beach house stood at 4 meters above sea level. Ten miles back up Highway 174 toward 17, the marshes beside the road are at 5 meters and the high point at the middle of the area has a wooded rise that is just 18 meters above the sea. That’s flat=wet! This is one of the main reasons excessive development has not reached the area , because very few through roads connect the necks of the woods, which are everywhere fragmented by marshes. The tide pushes back such that even inland where the waterways are not brackish the fresh water rises and falls with the tidal rhythm that allowed rice to be grown and harvested.

HIghway 174 leading from 17 to Edisto Beach

   The other reasons for the lack of massive development are a fascinating human history. The rice planters made large fortunes using slave labor to clear and dike the wetlands for planting. As the Industrial Revolution produced a new class of wealth in the north, some of those men developed a passion for waterfowl hunting and purchased many of the plantations after the Civil War, maintaining the dikes and managing the landscape for hunting. Alongside these developments, the black residents, who predominated the population and acquired significant land holdings in the aftermath of the Civil War, developed a strong and somewhat isolating local culture that helped maintain the Gullah language, crafts and outlook that permeate the area to this day.

Boat channel beside Spanish Mount, a large shell midden

In the 1980’s duck-hunting organizations joined with the federal government and conservation groups to place permanent protections on well over 100,000 acres in the ACE basin, which has become a premiere legacy of South Carolina’s Low Country and its unique ecosystems. From 250 bird species to loggerhead turtles to shortnose sturgeon, the area’s success at what amounts to ecotourism represents a boon to wildlife and local residents and treasured experiences for the many visitors.

A live oak in the Botany Bay Nature Preserve about 3 miles from the beach

Edisto Beach jetty built to reduce beach erosion. One is at each public access point (verboten in NC!!)

Edisto Beach is full of beach houses, but the look and feel is retro – that is the beach towns of my childhood. There is one small Food Lion, with a Subway next door. Otherwise, all the shops and businesses are local. There are no high-rise motels. The only four story building is a residential hotel that is part of the large marina. A Wyndam villa resort shares the interior of the town with civic facilities and a small golf course. Bike sharrows edge all the roads, and the ubiquitous bike and golf cart rentals minimize car traffic. The edge road on which we stayed was so quiet a five year old would be safe bicycling on it (we can’t wait for that – our grandson is three). The beach houses get grander and less rental looking as you travel from the main island out to the point. Many of the sound side houses have boat docks.

The larger area is filled with wonderful naturalist destinations. The Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve contains the most popular and dramatic: Driftwood Beach, a remote stretch of sand that is inundated with the bleached skeletons of oak, palmetto and pine trees which were washed out of existence by severe erosion over the last 100 years (the shoreline has moved a mile landward in that time), but have persisted in death to create a surreal and quite beautiful tableaux.

2 Roseate Spoonbills hunting the marsh at Botany Bay

On the half-mile walk to the beach from the parking area, we had the great luck to encounter two Roseate Spoonbills hunting in a marsh creek. When we got to the beach, we wandered among the trees, some toppled, some partly submerged, a few eking their way back up the beach with each tide after being torn out by the roots by a hurricane.

Soil profile created by ongoing erosion at Driftwood Beach

“It was erosion that formed Botany Bay in the first place. One hundred years ago, the shoreline was nearly a mile out to sea, and the area where the beach now stands was a saltwater marsh.  This is evidenced by large strips of slick mud deposits that line areas of the beach called “marsh relicts” which mark the foundations of where the marsh once stood.  Over time, erosion caused by longshore drift currents formed a twomile beach along one of the wooded barrier islands.  The saltwater poisoned the trees, and the sun turned them white.

The erosion that created Botany Bay is now wearing away at the current beach, accelerated by the passing of hurricanes. It was closed for nine months after Hurricane Matthew ripped away the causeway bridge. The beach took a beating again when Hurricane Irma swept through, carving a large, impassible inlet towards one end of the beach, and sweeping almost all the sand away for a period of time.” Kristina Rackley in the Carolina News & Reporter

 

Mother and baby egret below our back porch

The huge salt marshes that predominate the visual and road landscape are richly populated with species that need patience to observe. The denizens are mostly hidden by the tall cordgrass, but every few minutes, a greater white egret or two will rise up and cruise around looking for a new spot to disappear.Gulls come twisting through, swooping closer to the plants and then resuming long distance flights. Popping shrimp sound like percolating bubbles in the mud, reminding one of all the invisible creatures that depend on and enrich this homogeneous and thus also specialized ecosystem. The cordgrass provides no food for wildlife during its life cycle, which confused early developers into undervaluing and destroying it, but the previous year’s rotting cordgrass is the base of the entire rich field of nutrients that nurture so many ocean and shoreline species.

Since the 1980’s, he ACE Basin preservation efforts have protected over 200,000 acres and is one of the most successful campaigns in the country. The acquisition of Botany Bay through a deeded agreement with the private owner was a highlight. We will be returning to this unique area for further exploration of its natural and human history.

black vultures have at a dead armadillo

Book resource

The Ace Basin  A Lowcountry Legacy

Websites

Ace Basin description

Nature Conservancy page

Fish & Wildlife visitation info

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The Raleigh Naturalist, formerly called Raleigh Nature, has taken on a statewide perspective following the publication of a book based on this blog. Check it out here.

May 20, 2015

Raleigh Nature Starts a Shift Westward With Lake Lynn Residency

Filed under: About & reflection, Nature Lore, Rural Raleigh, waterways, West Raleigh — Tags: , , , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 7:25 pm

A red-throated loon shows his Springtime stuff at Lake Lynn  in northwest Raleigh

A cormorant shows his Springtime stuff at Lake Lynn in northwest Raleigh

Blog News June 2015
This blog always centered on a book project: The Natural History of Raleigh, which now exists as a finished manuscript of 25,000 words I am working to get published. Having retired from over twenty years as a special educator, my wife Cara and I are selling our Oakwood home and moving to Asheville, setting up book arts studios as well as a big garden and small greenhouse to grow food, papermaking fibers, and flowers. For Cara’s final year of teaching, we are renting a small apartment that overlooks Lake Lynn. The blog will eventually take on a state-wide perspective, but will always focus on urban natural areas and have plenty of posts about Raleigh. For now, enjoy the Lake Lynn and Falls Lake areas I will pop into when in Raleigh, while I explore and document what to show you up in Baird Cove.  Best,  John

Sliders at Lake Lynn

Many kinds of wildlife inhabit Lake Lynn, but (for enthusiasts) it has a citywide reputation for its turtles.

Lake Lynn, along with Shelley Lake, was created to provide flood protection to Crabtree Valley Mall, which was constructed in a former muddy cow pasture and flooded soon after it was built. Hare Snipe Creek, which feeds Lake Lynn, runs from the back of Tabernacle Church on Leesville nearly due south all the way to Crabtree by the Golden Corral headquarters on Glenwood Avenue. Lake Lynn has a gigantic earthen dam but is normally quite shallow, and its edges are dissected by the numerous small creeks and freshets that formerly found their way to Hare Snipe Creek. A popular greenway with long boardwalks encircles the Lake, and a spur follows the soggy wetlands of its headwaters up to a public park. At uncrowded times (and I’m talking people driving and parking at my apartment complex just to walk here) it’s an opportunity for some remarkable encounters with nature.

ducks

Some of the more interesting  birds to watch are naturalized escapees – dark, red-wattled Muscovy ducks and aggressive white barnyard geese. Lake Lynn itself is a mixture of native and natural features blended with the man-made lake and the surrounding (relatively wooded) apartments and houses. The Canada geese, well described in an earlier post, are so numerous and boisterous as to evoke aquatic chickens as they honk out the rising day outside our windows each morning.

 An Enticing Nearby Area

Cypress trees on the southwestern shore of Falls Lake

Cypress trees on the southwestern shore of Falls Lake

Just a few miles north of Lake Lynn I can cross over the highest spot in Wake County – Crestmont off Leesville Road – and travel out of Crabtree Creek’s watershed into that of the Neuse, inundated by Falls Lake. North of 98, off Baptist Road, is an access point for the Mountain-to-Sea Trail, which traces the southern shore of Fall Lake. Here a juncture of powerline cuts and shallow lobes of the lake provide wide open views and a nifty look at a population of cypress. There is a stunning serpentine boardwalk that serves the trail, and a raised bridge over Lick Creek with gorgeous views. More to come, as well as more on the whole stretch from here to the Rollingview Marina.

Lick Creek footbridge

cypress in Falls Lake

April 9, 2013

Raleigh Swamp Shifts with Sewer Project

sewer project meets Raleigh Swamp_1_1

The huge sewer project – seen above at Crabtree Boulevard looking toward the Mouth of Pigeon House Branch – has introduced a new geography to Raleigh Swamp, my name for the body of water off Raleigh Boulevard just north of its intersection with Crabtree Boulevard.  The large wooden causeway and gazebo were wonderful additions to the meeting of Buckeye trail and Middle Crabtree Trail.  Now the sewer project has dictated a large dam and concrete bridge section that bisects the “swamp.”  I know a real swamp is moving water with trees, but this lowland was dotted with dying trees for years after its establishment, and the snags of many remain as resting spots for herons, cormorants, and the occasional wood duck.  Canada geese and mallards breed here, while the turtle population has grown to a staggering level.  It is all thanks to the beavers.

Raleigh Swamp_1_1

When I first returned to Raleigh from Greensboro in 1980, they were starting to build the Raleigh Boulevard bridge over Crabtree Creek.  The caissons they used to sink the bridge piers were impressive, and Dulci, my black lab and I kept a close watch on the process.  At this time, the “Raleigh Swamp” area was a sometime wetland dotted with scrub trees and ribboned with the paths of homeless campers. Like many floodplains in the area, it got wet in the winter but stayed dry most summers.  The Boulevard project changed that, with a little help from the local beavers.  The transition was clarified for me by a city engineer years later through a comment on this blog in 2009.  I quote it in full below:

Was reading through your website after getting the link from the Fletcher Park Watergarden and noted that the “pond” off Raleigh Blvd was one of your favorite places. I thought I’d mention that this was actually a City of Raleigh mitigation project I designed many years ago to offset the environmental impacts from the construction of Raleigh Blvd. It was supposed to be a wetland but the beavers in the area had a different idea as they immediately blocked the culverts under the roadway causing the water to back up and form a permanent pond. Can’t say I object to the result of their efforts. It’s a beautiful spot and the addition of the greenway has made it accessible to the masses.

Mark Senior, PE, Senior Project Engineer, Water Quality Section, Stormwater Divsion of the City of Raleigh Public Works Department

The beavers have indeed made great use of the spot with several different lodges in different spots.  New generations of beavers tend to build their own lodge. Until I got the info from Mark, I assumed the construction of the road bed dammed up the water.  The water on the east side of Raleigh Boulevard acts more normally – rising and falling with rains and seasons.  I know the beavers play over there as well, because you can see their slides into Crabtree Creek as you walk down Buckeye toward Rollingwood.

Raleigh Swamp sewer dam_1_1

sewer pipe dam looking toward Crabtree_1_1

sewer dam bridge on causeway_1_1

Getting back to the sewer project, you can see above the large dam across the wetland.  This, along with the upgraded line in general, has changed the location and depth of water around the edges of the marsh (which is technically what it is).  Some areas are now totally dry – at least for now – and some are substantially deeper.  No real harm done, since nature and time effect these kinds of changes all the time anyway.  but the newly dry areas, which were beaver playgrounds until now, will undergo an interesting and specialized kind of succession – new plants adapted to the new conditions will take over.   It should be a fascinating transition and Raleigh Nature will keep an eye on it.  Below are shots of the stranded areas.

dry area behind sewer dam_1_1dry wetland near stairs of causeway_1_1new dry area at Raleigh Swamp_1_1

The beavers had a lodge at the very spot pictured below years ago but abandoned it during the drought of the early 2000s.  Perhaps they will rebuild now that the water situation is restored!

former beaver lodge water restored!_1_1

All posts on Raleigh Swamp

previous post on this sewer project

February 27, 2011

Triangle’s Art for the Birds

Crabtree Creek from greenway deck just west of Capital Boulevard

Art is gaining ground here on Raleigh Nature, as perhaps it well should.  Last summer, I posted about art shows related to Raleigh nature, and now I’m really enjoying participating in a piece of correspondence art, or at least communication art, by Julie Thomson, an artist and a scholar I met at the Black Mountain College conference last October.  Still haven’t written about that event over at Raleigh Rambles, but I had to share this wonderful project.

Julie’s installation consists of a poster about her piece inviting people to chalk “Do You Hear Birds?” in places they heard them, with a large pile of beautifully printed and wrapped chalks for people to pick up. Her blog documents responses.   The piece is part of a show called “Local Histories.”    Saturday, March 5, Julie is conducting a bird walk in association with her installation.

Edna Metz Wells Park, an excellent central raleigh birding spot

Julie Thomson’s project blog: http://www.doyouhearbirds.blogspot.com/

Her upcoming bird walk:

Saturday, March 5 at 8 am
Do You Hear Birds Bird Walk
Artist Julie Thomson and Biology graduate students from North Carolina
State University will lead a walk around Chapel Hill listening for,
and identifying, bird calls. Participants are encouraged to bring
binoculars if they have them for bird watching. Dress for the weather
and meet in front of the Local Histories exhibition building entrance,
523 E. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill.

Closer to home, Lee Moore’s show about birds opens Friday, March 4 at the Museum of Natural Sciences Nature Art Gallery.  Lee is a dear friend, a Bain artist who got me involved in that project, and a wonderful artist whose bird art was shown in the last couple of years at the Cameron Village Library.  She’s also the person who first informed me of the presence of coyotes inside Raleigh – Boylan Heights, specifically.

Lee Moore’s show:

Attracting Birds: Sounds and Skies,”  is part of an ongoing series that
partners bibliographic inspirations with the artist’s expressions of
personal bird encounters in collage paintings, photography and recordings.
This most recent rendition is a collection of visual poems about the bird
encounters in residential landscapes of two historic neighborhoods in
Raleigh and Durham.  Also included are soundscapes, skyscapes and
treescapes that create an environment for Attracting Birds. 

Lee’s show blog: http://www.leeattractingbirds.blogspot.com

As if these shows weren’t enough synergistic art for Triangle birds, Adam Peele has a show entitled Raleigh Is For The Birds at Design Box.

  I also have to add this lovely image from an older bird show – Susan Toplikar’s show in 2008, based on notebooks of bird sketches she created while medically homebound.  Birds have a presence that enters our lives: we take them for granted and yet we do observe and react to them, and they frame the audial background of our day in ways we hardly realize.  Do you hear birds?

December 30, 2010

Best Views, Best Intentions, 2010

Glory in the Morning. all pictures by John Dancy-Jones
 All pictures click to enlarge

It has been a slow year at Raleigh Nature, squeezed by my Meniere’s Syndrome, classroom teaching, other online interests, and gardening.  Here are some nice images from 2010, some with notes on the separate posts I would  liked to have written with them.  Thanks for checking in and we’ll keep plugging.  Have a great one!

snowy trees on White Oak Road, December 2010

 The snowy holidays were great fun and a white Christmas seemed like an enticing treat from the Climate Change Coming. We are still working on raising food year round at the Person Street urban homestead and the chickens have been a spectacular success and my best excuse for not being out in Raleigh nature.

Esperanza, our combless Aracauna, with her friends, out for a stroll

Fall pond at Oak View Park

I am truly grateful for Get To Know a Park, since I would rather concentrate on out of the way places, but there are still plenty of park rows to hoe.  Besides Oak View, there is a small new one on Honeycutt Road, and little gems like Hymettus Woods at Wade and Dixie.  One of my biggest regrets of 2010 is not getting over to the new section of greenway emerging by the beltline on House Creek, where I have been specifically invited by a reader (lo siento 😦 ) 

Fall colors at Oak View

boulders in Cemetery Branch at Brookside Drive

Cemetery Branch

 
Crabtree on east Buckeye Trail

There is always a lot of nature lore to explore, and 2010 was no exception.

woad blue mold after heavy rains

Raleigh Swamp mallard hen

sunlit slider on Middle Crabtree

my TFA science classroom's pet box turtle

 

Oakwood hawk with a diappointingly invisible captured squirrel

biggest gall yet!

snapper in the Wilmington creek beside Dorian's apartment

There is a lot I would like to cover from my travels outside Raleigh as well. The Maine post went well, but my mountain traveling has been heavy, and there is always just sooo much to tell.

Boulders on 64 in western NC

rock sculpture at UNC-A's Botanical Garden

ballon from rest stop on 40

Bass Harbor, Maine

There are so many things happening with parks and green amenities in Raleigh.  I had hoped to write about the beginnings of the Neuse River trail, which starts at Fall Dam and eventually hits Anderson Point, the river’s intersection with Crabtree.  This wonderful, under-used park has been the source of many a stimulating walk and deserves multiple posts.  Halfway down that trail (where it joins the existing one) is Raleigh Beach and the Milburnie Dam, which is up for possible removal.  Now THIS topic I would have preferred to address at Raleigh Public Record, and I may yet (the project is on a back-burner currently).

Milburnie Dam

raccon midden at Milburnie Dam (hat for scale)

Happy New Year and here’s hoping again for an invasive species page, a record trees map and more straight street pieces in 2011 – and if we’re lucky, Marsh Creek Part II !           Love,  John

September 7, 2009

Brookhaven Offers “Old Raleigh” Nature

heron profile_1_1

I finally got around to finding Brookhaven Nature Park, which is truly hidden away in one of Raleigh’s oldest suburban subdivisions.  Come to find out Scott Reston’s excellent new blog,  Get to Know a Park, covered the spot in July with a nice pictorial post.  With a respectful nod to Scott, here is my own quick take on the park.

Brookhaven Trail_1_1

It’s hard to find! The entrance is located is off Rembert Road, off Glenwood.  Brookhaven was begun in 1958 and contains many fairly regal residences with large yards and woodlots surrounding the numerous small waterways.  Scott mentions that the park is maintained by the Junior Woman’s Club of Raleigh, and the few reviews I find online describe it as decidedly low-key as a nature adventure.  But the small pond with a nifty zig-zag deck and the additional decks over wetland area make it a perfectly lovely site, in my humble opinion.  I had fun snapping shots of the heron.

pond at Brookhaven Park

pond at Brookhaven Park

heron at pond's edge

heron at pond's edge

Great Blue Heron at Brookhaven Nature Park

Great Blue Heron at Brookhaven Nature Park

wetland deck at Brookhaven

wetland deck at Brookhaven

The post at Get To Know a Park has some nice photos (and an excellent map!).  It’s good to have some friendly, high quality competition in providing online coverage of Raleigh’s natural amenities.  Those features are more valuable and unique than most people realize.  Brookhaven Nature Park established that tradition well before the greenway system was begun.

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Bonus Shot

harassed hawk_1_1

This hawk was being harassed by crows.

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