Thursday, September 13, 2012

Low Country Wildlife

Myrtle Beach seems over flowing with gift stores and miniature golf, hotels and condos, all-you-can-eat buffets and Ripley's Whatever. At first sight, it's not quite the place two nature lovers would choose for vacation.

But a diligent search finds two nice state parks, and the 9,000 acres of Brookgreen Gardens, just a few miles down the road. In 1931, Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, purchased three old rice plantations to found Brookgreen Gardens, a non-profit garden museum, to preserve the native flora and fauna and display objects of art within that natural setting. Anna suffered from tuberculosis and needed a warmer winter climate and a place to display the sculptures she created. Today, Brookgreen Gardens is a National Historic Landmark with the most significant collection of figurative sculpture in an outdoor setting by American artists in the world and has the only zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums on the coast of the Carolinas.

We enjoy visiting butterfly houses, but usually they are filled with exotic tropical butterflies. They are pretty, but we are unlikely to ever see them again. Brookgreen's butterfly house features butterflies from the southeastern US. It was great fun to see many butterflies we already knew, such as monarchs, buckeyes and mourning cloaks. We had to check the book to identify the green malachites and  and marigold-orange julias.

As we exited the house, they checked to make sure no hitch-hikers were escaping by clinging to our clothes. But another visitor asked if some of the local butterflies invaded the enclosure, and the guide said yes! They have to be careful that the local sulphurs and gulf fritillaries don't come in and bring some disease to the hot house raised butterflies on display.

Brookgreen also has a zoo of local wildlife such as this red fox, which kindly slept in full sight at the bottom of a tree in its enclosure (which smells like skunk).

The sign for the grey fox said it climbs trees, and sure enough, there it was slung over a tree branch sound asleep in the shade!  Doesn't look too comfortable, does it?

As in all good zoos, signs explained other low country animals, such as turkeys, deer and diamond backed terrapin. As we read about the grey fox squirrel, sure enough, one walked right up the sidewalk, as if on cue!  This little guy had several sore spots and didn't seem to be in very good health though.

Before European settlers arrived, the low country was all cypress swamps cleared by slaves and filled in for rice plantations. As part of Brookgreen's mission to restore the natural setting, they have netted over a swampy area as an aviary, filled with Black-crowned Herons, White Ibis and Cattle Egrets, both adult and juvenile. I'm sure most of the non-birder visitors have never seen any of these species. They sure yelled and ducked when one flew overhead! Non-releasable Bald Eagles, Red Tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures were in large netted enclosures.

Insects and arachnids are well represented too. Given the swampy conditions, dragonflies abound, especially large eastern pondhawks. The female is bright green while the male is bright blue. It's a good thing I brought the dragonfly book along on this trip.

Google helped identify the 3 inch long spiders we have found everywhere - the banana spider. Anytime we see a spider web which is over 12 inches across, we look for these huge spiders! We pointed one out to the next couple along the trail and they ran away as fast as they could. We just couldn't understand why!

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