Monday, March 10, 2014

Charleston, SC 2013

Following our one night stand at the Cabin Creek Campground near Jacksonville, NC, we crossed over into South Carolina. By mid afternoon we had checked into the Lake Aire RV Park & Campground located 15 miles west of Charleston near the small town of Hollywood. Our intention? To spend several days exploring the Charleston area.
Unfortunately, with the government shutdown still in effect, visiting any federal properties remained out of the question. But contacting the local Charleston Audubon Chapter for information about birding areas that were unaffected by the shutdown, lead us to a site just down the road, the Caw Caw Nature Preserve.

tree frog and boadwalk at Caw Caw
Part of the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission, Caw Caw turned out to be quite a gem. Admission was a mere $1/person that gave us access to the interpretive center filled with rich displays that described in great detail the natural, cultural and historical impact that rice plantations had in the area (rice fields were carved out of the cypress swamps). Over 6 miles of trails offered access to a variety of habitats with a nice section of boardwalk for quiet contemplation.
That night we drove into Charleston to attend a chapter lecture “On the Trail of the Toco Toucan: Birding in Paraguay” by Andy Harrison. After the meeting we met with the chapter’s field trip chair, Don Jones, who in turn introduced us to Steve Moore who would be leading a field trip to Botany Bay WMA (another area unaffected by the government shutdown).
Accessing beaches for shorebirds turned out to be a very difficult. The areas we had heard about all required a fee with very limited parking. As a result, most of our birding occurred away from the shore which was very different from our experiences on the Outer Banks.
Off Folly Beach is the Morris Lighthouse. Now completely surrounded by water, the Coast Guard had planned on demolishing the structure but a local citizens group, interested in preserving the lighthouse, has started a campaign to preserve the landmark.

Morris Lighthouse off Folly Beach
Of some interest, especially to Carol, the Audubon chapter meetings are held at The Citadel, a military college and as such, endowed with a lot of military tradition. Young cadets were seen walking smartly from building to building. Carol’s observations were, “everyone looks so serious” and “they all walk so stiffly”. Having been in the military and subjected to military uniform pomp and precision, I couldn’t help but smile about her civilian point of view.

We spent a few days hanging close to Lake Aire RV park getting caught up on laundry, grocery shopping, an oil change for the truck, and an opportunity to wash the RV (especially to get rid of some of the salt buildup from our stay on the Outer Banks).
We had both been to Charleston on prior separate occasions in the 70’s and 80’s. A lot had changed, but at the same token, much had remained the same. One of the most obvious changes as we drove into the city was the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge, the second largest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It had replaced the very scary white-knuckle drive over the old Pearman cantilevered bridge. There also seemed to be a lot more traffic interchanges and wider highways that lead to the historic downtown area than before (also more congestion).

The historic Charleston district is best known for its well-preserved architecture which spans the Colonial, American Revolution, Antebellum, Civil War and Postbellum eras, right on up to the present Contemporary era which began in the mid 1940’s. 
Culturally, the city is a blend of English, French, Spanish and West African elements giving it a unique twist on the more traditional Southern U.S. atmosphere. The downtown’s peninsula, well known for its art district, is probably best known for its mix of classic Georgian, Federal, Adamesque, Greek Revival, Italianate, and Victoria homes. The best way to see the peninsula? Don a good pair of walking shoes and put them through their paces, which is exactly what we did.

Not one for formal tours, we opted for a self-guided tour of the city’s gardens, parks, homes and churches. Our walk included lunch at Fleet Landing (a bit too commercial for our tastes) and a beer break at the Southend Brewery (this would have been a much better choice for lunch). Fortunately, our walk through Charleston was on a pleasant and sunny day, taking in all the architectural eye-candy found in several of the city's backstreet nooks and crannies.

The next morning we were off to visit another local “must see”, the Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Sanctuary in Four Holes Swamp, a blackwater river preserve of virgin cypress and tupelo forest home to over 50 reptiles species, 40 amphibian species, and 140 bird species.

Like Charleston, it had been years since either of us had visited the sanctuary. The main attraction has been, and continues to be, an elevated 1.75 mile boardwalk. Constructed in 1977, the boardwalk had been showing signs of serious wear. A project to replace the aging boardwalk with a naturally occurring, renewable and sustainable tropical hardwood was well underway when we arrived.

One thing that was radically different from our previous visit - the advent of technology. In addition to a sanctuary blog to keep visitors up to date with changes and events at the sanctuary, there is now “an app for that”. Download a virtual “Francis Beidler” guidebook to inform and guide as one walks the boardwalk to one’s smartphone or tablet:

Following a second visit to Caw Caw County Nature Preserve on Saturday, we joined Charleston Audubon on a day long Sunday outing to Botany Bay SWA, located on Edisto Island. What started out as two separate plantations (Bleak Hall and Sea Cloud) where sea island cotton was grown (prized for its long and silky fibers), the two plantations were eventually combined into the Botany Bay Plantation which in 1973, was deeded over to the state of South Carolina as a wildlife preserve.  Today the 4,687-acre state wildlife area is open to a variety of recreational opportunities that include seasonal hunting, catch and release fishing, an interpretative driving trail…and of course, birding.
By Monday it was time to start packing up with an eye to exploring an area neither of us had been to before: Savannah, Georgia. Lunch at the Stone Farm Market (“The Shed”) on Monday and by Tuesday, we headed off on the next leg of our exploration of East Coast United States.

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