Charleston, South Carolina trip report

When I lived in the South (of the US, that is) I’ve been to many historical plantations. They are interesting habitats, with huge Spanish moss-covered oaks and dense patches of introduced azaleas, usually good for fox squirrels and sometimes for canopy-roosting bats (Seminole bat in particular). But I’ve only been there during the day and often wondered what mammals occur there at night.

So this week I spent a few days in Charleston on a family trip, went to three such plantations during the day, and then re-entered them alone at night. They are easy to access, and No Trespassing signs, if present, are small enough to claim you’ve missed them if you run into security guards (which didn’t seem to be present). All three places were very beautiful because azaleas were in full bloom, and I ended up seeing 13 species of mammals (including many grey squirrels and one fox squirrel during the day), but I think mammalwatching would be more productive if I spent those three nights in more natural areas. The landscaped parts of all three plantations were a disappointment wildlife-wise. The nights were colder than forecasted so there was no bat activity and very few herps. Huge oaks had only a few sleeping birds in Spanish moss; the only mammals on the lawns were opossums and white-tailed deer; azalea groves had nothing at all (unlike natural rhododendron and azalea thicklets in the Appalachains that sometimes have shrews, moles feeding on surface, etc.). But all three parks also have natural areas, and these were better.

1. Magnolia Plantation has a cypress swamp called Audubon Swamp Garden (trailhead 32.87175, -80.08910) with boardwalks; it had a cotton mouse (the only Peromyscus in the area) and a black rat (a rarity away from human habitation). At the far end of the park I spotted a very cute juvenile golden mouse near the observation tower (32.88048, -80.08404).

2. The woods at Middleton Place had lots of armadillos, a few cotton mice including one tiny juvenile, and one eastern woodrat hiding in a large brush pile (32.89749, -80.13697). There is also an area called “Woodlands Nature Reserve” across the road from it; it’s mostly open meadows, but there were a very vocal southern flying squirrel and a marsh rabbit near the entrance gate (32.89372, -80.13346).

3. Cypress Gardens have trails around another cypress swapmp (only raccoons there) and two short loops through drier forest where I saw a few more cotton mice and a southern short-tailed shrew (33.04556, -79.95026).

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Vladimir Dinets

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