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Wetland Night Sounds at Donnelly WMA

Nature lovers may already be familiar with the 8,000-acre Donnelley Wildlife Management Area located in southern Colleton County. The large tracts of land in this area form the heart of the ACE Basin, where biodiversity can flourish without the threat of habitat loss. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources held an event on May 9 for folks interested in visiting Donnelly for a wagon ride through both forest and wetlands in search of the sounds and scenes found only as dusk grips the Lowcountry.
Veteran SCDNR employee Al Segars met participants at 5 p.m. at the game check station on Donnelly WMA and signed them in for this program, a part of the Coastal Exploration Series. Sitting on picnic tables under the shade of a grand live oak surrounded by freshly planted dove fields, it was exciting to think about all manner of wildlife that we might soon be viewing.
Tony Mills is a herpetologist with the Lowcountry Institute at Spring Island and he was in charge of the one-hour grass class about wildlife found at Donnelly WMA. Some people know Mills from the TV show on ETV called Coastal Kingdom. Mills experience is extensive having served 20 years UGA’s Savannah River Ecology Lab, and his outgoing nature comes in handy when teaching Master Naturalist courses each year.
“One thing we should definitely be hearing later is the green tree frog,” said Mills, who produced a live example of a green tree frog from his traveling classroom kit. “I’m going to hold this little guy and show it around so everyone can notice the distinctive white line down its side.” The

Herpetologist Tony Mills show the underbelly of a Mud Snake. Photo by Jeff Dennis.

next critter shown is actually the state amphibian for South Carolina, a spotted salamander, with a dark shiny skin accented by large yellow spots. Salamanders use the temporary ponds and bays of the Lowcountry for breeding areas.
Moving on to show and tell of reptilian life Mills brought out some juvenile box turtles. “These box turtles come from my backyard since we have an area fenced off for turtles we keep as pets,” said Mills. “These box turtles can have a long life, and I estimate that ours is potentially 60 years old right now. I have had it for twenty years, the friend who gave it to me had it for twenty years before that, and it was already mature before that.” Yellow-bellied sliders and spotted turtles were also discussed as common to the ACE Basin.
Two large snakes from two separate cases were up next during Mills thorough display. The black and white king snake was up first, and it was docile enough to be handed over to a volunteer who then took it around for everyone to touch and feel the texture of the snakeskin. The next


snake out of the bag was a mud snake, which is not all that common except in the large protected regions of the ACE Basin. The totally dark colors on top are opposite from the brightly colored belly on this snake, and I don’t think I was the only one in attendance who had never seen a mud snake before.
We then boarded a wooden wagon that holds about 25 people, and Segars pick up truck pulled us around to predetermined viewing points. At one large pond with lots of aquatic vegetation, we saw blue-winged teal, fulvous tree ducks, gallinules, herons, wood storks and even a bald eagle sitting in a pine tree. The intermittent roar of a pig toad would mix in with the more constant chorus of the tree frogs. The ample amount of alligators seen pitched in with splashing sounds and of course a few bellows every now and then.
SCDNR’s Nick Wallover was riding with participants and gave a narration as the wagon rolled through the woodlands. We saw white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and feral hogs as the daylight dimmed. Just then someone saw the first firefly of the evening and soon the entire forest was lit up with these frolicking flies, blinking intermittently. “One certain occasion we have seen the fireflies display mating behavior and they all link up and flash on and off at the same time,” said Wallover. I had never even heard of such behavior and hope to see that in person one day.
While we did not see any owls during the early evening, we did drive within sight of some owl nesting boxes that have been set up at Donnelly WMA. Segars told how owl pellets found under these nests are then scooped up and shared with school kids who dissect them in order to learn more about the natural world. A few youths were present on this field trip accompanied by their parent and Segars thanked them, saying that we need more kids to get outdoors these days to listen to all the wonderful sounds of nature.
Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (327 Posts)

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