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Island Camping in the Coastal Plain. A nature study.

This trip report is a compilation of multiple trips to the same area.

The photos are mostly nature photos, focusing on trees, and represent how I spent my time in the area. This is just a hobby and learning experience for me, as I work toward my Master Naturalist Certification. (sounds fancy but it's a fairly simple statewide program)

I hope you enjoy.

Physiographic Location: Lower Coastal Plain of South Carolina, a sub region of the Coastal Plain stretching from New Jersey to Texas.

Locale description: Multiple freshwater Islands located on a lake system created in the 1940's by damming up large tracts of farmland. Work done by the Army Corp of Engineers. Aquatic & semi aquatic plants & trees abound here. The area holds records in Catfish, Stripped Bass, and American  Alligator.

Two of the islands I visited. Size of the islands on the lakes varies from a couple acres to a couple sq. miles.

A closer look, a water channel runs through the middle of this island making it possible to canoe straight through the interior.

My plan was to canoe in to this cove and land on the sandy beach area you see in the crotch of the cove. Water here is only a few feet deep for several hundred feet out.

Satellite images from Google Earth.

Here you can see what my view from the canoe was as I approached the island. I had to get out of the canoe and stand in the water to get a steady shot.

Inside the cove. You get a lot of relief from the wind & waves here.

Very short video of a big storm starting to roll in.  'Cause Mother Nature don't care  where you camped'.

If you are tent camping, this is the best spot. The interior of the island is heavily forested, giving way to wetland. Hammock camping is possible farther inland but progress can be slow and aggravating, staying inland does offer shelter from the high winds coming off the lake.

First thing I do is fix lunch, paddling out here burned up all my calories!

Setting up guy lines for my shelter, I use a paddle to dig holes in the sand for dead-man anchors.

So after getting some food and setting up my shelter (which is a surprise I'm saving for a gear review) I get my camera & field guides and go exploring the area.

As I walk along the beach-head I stop to take photos of the Bald Cypress trees that grow out in the water here. You can see trees growing as far out as a 1/4 mile from land. Really cool!



As many times as I have observed these trees, I never get tired of the view!

Bald Cypress or Taxodium distichum, grow here in amazing numbers, the environment is almost perfect for them. They grow out in the water as well as all around the edges of the islands. Cypress can grow with their trunks submerged, or in damp soil.

Here you see a Cypress growing in sand, with rooty out growths called Cypress Knees sticking out of the ground.

In the middle of this photo: Under the twig with the Cypress needles you can see a whitish growth called a Gall. These Galls are caused by an insect, the Cypress Twig Gall Midge. The Midge lays it's eggs in the terminal bud and the fly larva survive the winter inside the gall.

Here on the left you can see the Cypress growing (brownish color) on the outer section of the island. On the right you can see how a mixed Pine & Hardwood forest (mostly green) defines the interior of the island.

The overall diversity of life here is truly amazing, especially the mammals considering these are small islands with no land bridge.

I have found: Raccoon - Opossum - WT deer - Marsh Rabbit - Gray Squirrel - Copper Head & Cottonmouth snakes - Alligator - Turtle - Red Crayfish - Snapping Turtles - and numerous other reptiles & amphibians.

Bald Eagle - Osprey - Hawks - Owls - Pileated Woodpecker - Prothonotary Warbler - Brown Pelican - Great Blue Heron - Little Blue Heron - Egret - and many other fascinating birds.

As you move into the interior of the island the ecosystem changes dramatically. You are no longer walking across a wide open beach covered in packed sand with Cypress, Oak, and Pine trees.


In the morning light.

As you move into the interior of these islands you encounter a mixed forest, comprised of, but not limited to:

Bald & Pond Cypress - Sand & Water Oak - Sweet Gum - Swamp Chestnut Oak - Tupelo - Honey Locust - Water Hickory - Sand Willow - Titi - Elm - Cottonwood - Sycamore - Red Maple - Pond Pine - Slash Pine.


Typical ecosystem along the edges of the wetland areas. Note all the Cypress knees sticking out of the ground.

Lots of Orb Weavers.

White Peacock Butterfly

Fishing Spider on the tree.

A Midge (I think)

As the sun begins to set lots of wind & rain move into the area. There is a small craft advisory for the lake the whole weekend.

I take this shot of a lone Cypress stunted by the winds.
In the warmer months Ospreys seek the shelter & solitude of these trees to nest and raise young.


Spanish Moss - it loves Cypress & Live Oak trees.

As I make my way back to my camping spot .

I am reminded of how diverse the area is and how lucky I am to be able to study it in such a pristine state.

There are probably more species here than I will ever be able to learn, the numbers of grasses - vines - shrubs - etc. is currently overwhelming to me, but at the same time is a wealth of species to study.

I hope to get to come here for many years, I have come to love these wetland areas the Coastal Plain has to offer.

Thanks, Mike G.

Incredible report, Mike!!! Thank you for sharing, and your hard work!

Just more photos!









At 2am this stump looked just like an Alligators head, scared the living crap out of me!!!!!

Just some of my stuff.

Full moon over the water at 2am.

Part of the island interior.

A lone Cypress Knee.

Cross Vine.



....and one last shot of the Lake.




Thank you Sean!

Are there delicious fish in that water? It looks like a very pretty trip, but delicious fish always make a trip better :)

Thanks for sharing this one. Very different than what I'm out in these days!

Yes awesome report Mike...thanks very much for sharing this.


You are spending time in a very unusual ecosystem, and you awareness  is at a high level. Cypress forests are really interesting, because of their ability to find oxygen in saturated soils.  Speaking of soils, have you ever looked at them in your area?  Great birds and reptiles.

Great photos and great story, Mike. My wife attended a seminar a number of years ago in Raleigh, N.C. and spent some time in the estuary along the coast. Not exactly the same area but similar ecosystems. She always speaks glowingly of the area.

Mike I heard that the cypress tannins (tannic acid) in thick groves actually kill toxins in the water thereby making swamp water safe to drink...ever tried it? :)

Tannic acid as water purifier? I wouldn’t try it alone. Although tannins, which are a group of polyphenols found in tea and wine, etc, are toxic to some microorganism the toxins produced by the organisms themselves may still be present in the water sample. Also, microbes are just one group of possibly lethal “bio-pollutants” and there removal still does not reduce the chemical pollutants that may be found in the water sample. Some tannins do have some health benefits to some humans in the form of cancer fighting antioxidants but like my chemistry professor said “a little will cure you and a lot will kill you”, so everything in moderation. Paradoxically, the same tannins capable of aiding with some forms of adult cancer perform oppositely in children. Studies have shown that they may be responsible for the causation of childhood leukemia. Lactating women beware.    

Ah excellent info North.....I was just kidding with Mike but that is fascinating.

Lonestranger - Yes: Bream - Largemouth, Smallmouth, & Stripper Bass - Blue, Flathead, Channel Catfish - Perch. I mostly fish for Bream in the early morning or Catfish at night.

The local divers say there are catfish as big as refrigerators in the really deep water at the bottom of the dam, could be a fish story though.

Patman - A lot of the free flowing swamps here (flows real slow) tannin laden water. It is brown to reddish brown, and remains that color even if you filter the water. I have heard & even read that the tannin acts as an antimicrobial, but so does the saliva in a dogs mouth and I don't let them lick me in the face...haha. But yes, I filter and chemically treat the water I drink from the swamp.

Ppine - Up until about ten years ago I was almost always in the Appalachians and while I prefer them to the coast, they don't have quite the ecosystem diversity as I have locally, especially as freshwater gives way to a marine environment. I have not studied soils, I have done some water quality sampling as part of a course with the EPA.

North1 - Yes, I think the coastal estuaries in NC & SC are very similar. I am about 50 miles inland during this trip report, and once I get within 15 miles of the coast I start getting into the marine estuary where the ocean tides drive your activities. The locals call it "Tide Time" or "Island Time".

I have run into tannin stained water in remote parts of Alaska. It was the color of dark tea even running in streams. The tannins had little or no effect on water quality.

This is why I love the weekly Trailspace News email. . . I completely missed this until seeing it in the email. 

Thanks TroutHunter! This looks incredible. 

KiwiKlimber said:

This is why I love the weekly Trailspace News email. . . I completely missed this until seeing it in the email. 

Thanks TroutHunter! This looks incredible. 

 Thank you,

I have struggled with how to do trip reports of the area because quite frankly it doesn't have the same WoW factor you get with photos of mountainous areas.

Once I started looking at the diversity of life and the numerous micro ecology's in the area I started to understand what made it interesting.

I really enjoyed this and i go to South Carolina every 2 years to see my brother..This is something I am going to have to get him to see..Thanks for sharing...:)

Hey Dennis,

Does your brother hike & such?

If so he would like it. Lots of opportunity to view wildlife.

September 27, 2020
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