Saturday, July 12, 2014

Barely Skating By: You Better (Os)Prey That I Stop Trying to Force This Pun (Day 3, SC 2014)

On our third day in South Carolina, we played some games in the morning, but by about noon everyone else was exhausted and had to take a nap. I was not tired, so with a small-footed, friendly companion in my ear, I set out on a quest to find some more excitement! Compared to the events of the day before, I didn’t find much (which is good considering that the day before I had walked into a banana spider web, and almost been bitten by a lone star tick). I did find several creatures, though, including this small green anole (Anolis carolinensis), pictured below.
I also got my first good look at the Mississippi kite (Ictinia mississippiensis).  We don’t have many kites in Colorado, with the Mississippi kite only occasionally in the state, and the swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus) a vagrant, so I don’t know as much about them as I do about some other raptor groups.  Apparently, the Mississippi kite is primarily an insectivore, and only sometimes will kill prey such as frogs and snakes.
Now this next identification I am not terribly certain about. Here in North America, we actually have two types of crow. Most people are familiar with the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), which lives all over the United States. However, we have a second type of crow, the fishing crow (Corvus ossifragus), native to the eastern United States. The fishing crow looks very similar to the American crow, and the best way to tell the two crows apart is to listen to their respective calls. The American crow has the well know “caw, caw” sound, while the fishing crow has a much more nasally cry. Some websites do list other, physical characteristics to distinguish between the two, but for the most part, it seems like auditory verification is the best way to go. I also seem to remember thinking to myself that this crow, as well as five or six others nearby, were making noises that I didn’t think sounded like a normal crow.
After my fun-filled walk, I arrived back at the Beckley’s house, where people were starting to wake up. Jim asked if we wanted to go out gator hunting (I’d like to point out that when I talk about gator hunting I mean trying to find them to take pictures of them and get really excited and embarrass myself in front of the locals by making it abundantly obvious that I am, indeed, a tourist), and so my parents, sister, Chris, Jim and I all prepared to head out. While we were waiting in the driveway for everyone to get ready, I noticed one of those eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) running around. They really shouldn’t be this exciting for me, but for some reason even they seem exotic. Just like our fox squirrels (Sciurus niger), the gray squirrel has very flexible ankles so that they can climb down trees headfirst, like you can see here.
We also saw a male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) flitting around in the trees. This bird is sexually dimorphic, with the females mostly pale brown, with tinges of red.
As is always the case, we were never far from a banana spider web. What was interesting about this particular web was Chris wasn’t really paying attention, and was spinning his iPod earbuds, and accidentally smacked one of the support lines of the spider web that was attached to a nearby clump of saw palmettos (Serenoa repens). Amazingly, it didn’t break: in fact, it barely even budged! It’s incredible how strong the tensile strength of this particular type of spider’s web is.  We've talked about similar-looking spiders that inhabit the South Pacific who also have incredibly strong webs, sometimes used by fisherman to catch fish!
At last, everyone was assembled, and we headed out. As we drove, I noticed an osprey (Pandion haliaetus) sitting in a nest very close to the road. I made a note of it, and decided to check it out the next day. Below is a picture from the next day. This is a story for another day. Maybe the next day. Who even knows.
We arrived at the first potential gator pond, one where Jim, Chris, my dad and I had fished for a few minutes on our last visit two years ago.  On that trip, I had spotted a gator track on the bank, so we know that they were sometimes in there.  But despite this, and despite a warning sign that graces the bank of nearly every pond close to human habitation in South Carolina, we saw no sign of a gator. Turtles, yes. This interesting looking fire ant (Solenopsis sp.) hill, now abandoned? Interesting, yes, as were these orange mushrooms and little burrows dug out by some sort of crab. But no gators.
On our way to a second pond, we stopped at a small crab dock that people use for fishing, crabbing, and shrimping. We likely wouldn’t see any gators here, since it was a salty, brackish area. The alligators here prefer fresh water over brackish or salty water, although I suppose anything is possible. It was pretty quiet and peaceful. Looking out over the water, we could see a laughing gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) flying nearby, and a brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) taking off from the water across the Wando River.
Looking down between our feet, we could see why it was called a crabbing dock. Marsh crabs (Sesarma reticulatum)  are all over the area, and we could see many of them hanging out on the wooden poles supporting the dock. Just beneath the surface of the water, we could also see a blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) hanging onto one of the supporting pillars.
Jim pulled up a few of the traps hanging off the side of the dock to show us what was going on inside.  The first trap was a minnow trap, and inside were several mudminnows and finger mullets.  The central mudminnow (Umbra limi) is a member of the mudminnow family, family Umbridae.  Despite their name, mudminnows are not actually minnows, and are instead more closely related to the pikes in the family Escoidae.  The two families together make up the order Escoiformes.  Meanwhile, finger mullets seems to be a colloquial term that applies to any small member of the mullet family, family Mugilidae, although I'm not entirely sure how precise I am about this definition.
The other traps were for blue crabs, whose scientific name apparently translates to "savory beautiful swimmer."  Blue crabs are omnivorous, and can find themselves prey to herons, sea turtles, and large fish.  Inside one of the crab traps was a large portion of a bottomfeeding critter, like a ray or a skate.  It was a little tough to identify, but I think that it might have been part of a clearnose skate (Raja eglanteria), a relative of stingrays and, more distantly, sharks.

Just as we finished investigating the traps, one of us spotted something: a dorsal fin, slicing in and out of the water! It was a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), the first sighting of the trip! We watched for several minutes as it cruised by a few times. It looked like there was at least one other dolphin out there, which comes as no surprise considering their gregarious nature.  Jim was telling us how he had seen a bottlenose dolphin actually send a wave of water and fish up onto a sand bank, and intentionally strand itself on the bank to snap up some fish, before sliding back into the water.  This behavior has actually been filmed on the fantastic BBC program "Planet Earth!"
After the excitement of the dock, it wasn’t even disappointing to not see anything at the third pond. Besides, we had many more days of gator-hunting filled vacation ahead of us! When we got back, we spotted a good-sized skink, I believe a five-lined skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) hanging out on the wall above their garage.
That night, we decided to go to dinner at the Morgan Creek Grill.  This is a double-decker restaurant, with a fancier side below, and a less fancy level on top, where we have eaten at the last two times we visited. With a very nice view overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, we’ve seen dolphins there in the past. As we waited outside for our table, I was able to get some nice pictures of some very exciting seabirds, including this juvenile gull. Lots of brown pelicans and laughing gulls were flying by as well, and several times we were able to watch as several gulls swooped and dove at each other, fighting over scraps of food. We also got to watch a group of laughing gulls diving at the water to catch fish, which was cool as well!
As we ate, a cute dog sailed by, manning the helm of the boat.
I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but this ship’s anchor looked a lot like a shark tooth!
So here we have the new and improved, updated faunal list after Day Three:


American Toad (Anaxyurus americanus)
Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea)
Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus)


American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
Fishing Crow (Corvus ossifragus)
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)
Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis)
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)


Central Mudminnow (Umbra limi)
Clearnose Skate (Raja eglanteria)
Mullet (Family: Mugilidae)


American Cockroach (Periplaneta americana)
Atlantic Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus)
Banana Spider (Nephila sp.)
Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus)
Fire Ant (Solenopsis sp.)
Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum)
Marsh Crab (Sesarma reticulatum)
Mosquito (Family: Culicidae)
Squareback Marsh Crab (Armases cinereum)
Wolf Spider (Family: Lycosidae)


Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)
Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
White Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)


Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)
Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans)


American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
Five-Lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus)
Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Works Cited:

Blue Crabs. (n.d.). SCDNR. Retrieved July 12, 2014, from

Chesapeake Bay Program. (n.d.). Bay Blog RSS. Retrieved July 12, 2014, from

Fish Crow ID. (n.d.). Fish Crow ID. Retrieved July 12, 2014, from

Mississippi KiteIctinia mississippiensis. (n.d.). Mississippi Kite. Retrieved July 12, 2014, from

Mudminnows - National Wildlife Federation. (n.d.). Mudminnows - National Wildlife Federation. Retrieved July 12, 2014, from

Northern Cardinal. (n.d.). , Identification, All About Birds. Retrieved July 12, 2014, from

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