The salt marsh provides food and protection to a myriad variety of animals.
The murky water – filled with an estimated five million living organisms per teaspoon – provides nutrients for everything from the smallest plankton to apex feeders like dolphin.
While you may become accustomed to seeing the same selection of birds and mammals in and around the salt marsh, keep your eyes open for surprises. After all, nature rarely disappoints.
In fact, the patient observer is rewarded with opportunities to see amazing animals that venture into our little neck of the woods in search of food and protection. The summertime is no exception.
For as long as I’ve lived on Hilton Head Island, I’ve known about the annual summer visit of a manatee or two.
Back in the day, sightings were most frequent on Skull Creek, the body of water we all cross over coming onto the island. Within the last decade or so, the number of manatee sightings has increased. Perhaps we are all being a bit more observant. For the last several years, I’ve spotted this gentle mammal on Broad Creek, all the way into Shelter Cove Marina. Manatees are often drawn to outlets of fresh water, including water hoses at local marinas. It requires some diligence and patience to spot the slow moving manatee.
I feel fortunate to have seen manatees on several occasions, though my most memorable encounter left three distinct impressions indelibly marked in my mind:
Manatees are really big.
Adults average about 10 feet in length and can weigh 1,000 pounds. They have really bad breath! While the bulk of a manatee’s diet consists of aquatic plant life, it also includes small fish and crustaceans. The manatee’s large, disk-shaped, paddle tail is unlike any other animal tail I’ve ever seen. It provides a critical form of locomotion for one of nature’s most gentle mammals.
I’m also thrilled about seeing Roseate Spoonbills on Broad Creek.
The Roseate Spoonbill is a member of the same family of birds as the White Ibis. Generally, they inhabit areas farther south along the coast of Florida, Texas and Central America. Named for its specialized spoon-shaped bill tip, these birds usually travel in flocks. They feed along muddy embankments where small pools isolate the fish and shrimp that comprise their diet.
The first time I saw a Roseate Spoonbill, I was fascinated by its color. Initially, I thought it was an Ibis and attributed the pinkish cast due to the light of the rising sun – until I saw that distinctive bill.
Lately, three of these amazing birds have found safe haven (at least temporarily) along Broad Creek. My fellow guides and I are thoroughly captivated by the trio of Spoonbills, especially their feeding behavior. Join us and perhaps you will see them too.
Written by Captain Patte Ranmey, SC Master Naturalist
For more than 30 years, Outside Hilton Head, has provided personalized adventures for all ages, from kayak, fishing, nature and dolphin tours. OHH offers kids’ camps history excursions, family outings and stand-up paddle boarding. Don’t miss the guided full moon kayak tour, which explores the salt marsh. For more information, call (843) 686-6996 or go to www.outsidehiltonhead.com.