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Season cycles in focus for ACE Basin book

“The ACE Basin” cover depicts native flora and fauna. Photo provided

“The ACE Basin” cover depicts native flora and fauna. Photo provided

A new book on the fledgling legacy of the ACE Basin brings together observations from the field by author Pete Laurie with nature photography by Philip Jones. This dynamic duo worked together for years at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and they leveraged those experiences to produce “The Ace Basin: A Lowcountry Legacy.”
Opening with a chapter on the history of the formation of the ACE Basin project, simple geography is a part of the conversation. Many of the large acreage plantations along the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers were involved in rice culture. This practice involves putting water on agricultural land and then being able to manipulate the water levels, so proximity to the rivers of the ACE was pivotal.
In many cases, entire swamps were cleared of trees to make more acres that could produce a cash crop. Now imagine these winding rivers, and the associated feeder creeks and wetlands, and one begins to understand why infrastructure like highways and bridges never reached these special places. The second chapter on habitats found in the ACE mentions the front beaches, salt marshes, impoundments, forested wetlands and uplands. Properties like the Botany Bay WMA on Edisto Island contain some of all these components, and a mosaic of habitats is especially attractive to wildlife.
The remainder of the book is dedicated to a look at one full year of the season cycle in the ACE Basin. The focus is on the coastal portion of the ACE Basin, and not the upper reaches of the broader focus area which stretches into Dorchester County and into the northern reaches of the Salkehatchie Rivers. The author begins in spring with birding activity at Donnelly WMA in Colleton County, and concludes with winter duck hunting tales from Bear Island WMA.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Pete Laurie worked with SCDNR for 27 years. I have witnessed him as a fixture in the landscape of the ACE Basin during birdwatching tours and other naturalist-related activities, and his stories in the ACE Basin book come from seasoned sources. Photographer Philip Jones provides the eight-page color photo section that conveys the spectacular diversity of wildlife found in the ACE. Having worked with Jones before during a muzzleloader deer hunt at Webb WMA, I can report that he is talented with a camera lens and his body of work is considerable.
Laurie declares winter to be the ACE Basin birdwatcher’s favorite season. “Of the 280 species of birds that regularly spend part of the year in the ACE Basin, only 90 have permanent resident status,” said Laurie. “Another 90 species, including 28 species of waterfowl, spend only the winter months in the ACE.” The public drawing duck hunts at Bear Island WMA which extends until late January, get a close examination from Laurie.
“On a couple of mornings I rode with Bear Island manager Ross Catterton as he picked up the duck hunters,” said Laurie. “Around every twist of the dike, we encountered wildlife. At each blind the hunters greeted us with broad smiles and detailed stories of success, and proudly hoisted their feathered trophies.” Having been on multiple draw hunts at Bear Island WMA, I can echo Laurie’s post-hunt reporting. Catterton is a busy man, especially during duck season; readers will be glad to know that I spoke to him recently to inquire about flooding damage at Bear Island, and he told me that they suffered only minor erosion and that conditions are looking fine for the upcoming duck migration and public draw hunts.
Indeed, due to the unique conservation efforts in the ACE Basin of South Carolina, the outlook for future avian migrations is looking good whether it is shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, ducks or neotropical songbirds. Many good viewing areas in the ACE Basin are just about an hour from Walterboro, and they are well worth the drive time to watch nature in motion. For those who prefer to experience nature through a paperback book, pick up “The ACE Basin” by Pete Laurie for $21.99 from the History Press and Arcadia Publishing.

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (367 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com