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Mornings on the marsh

The Lowcountry is a nature lover’s Paradise. Here are a few animals living in our rich ecosystem. 

Story + Photography by Emily Vairo

About a year ago, I moved to a home on the marsh in Sea Pines. I was looking forward to the sunset views but never realized just how incredible each day would be, how much wildlife I would encounter. The marsh sparked such a photographic interest in me that I spent a good chunk of my savings to invest in a decent camera and lens. Here are some of the outcomes of my mornings spent on the marsh.

Deer in Spotlight

Hilton Head white-tailed deer (odocoileus virginianus hiltonensis) are a subspecies of white-tailed deer indigenous to Hilton Head Island. The deer live in a mainly suburban environment and have developed home range areas on the island. They are gorgeous animals that look majestic and proud as they roam the marsh munching on spartina grass.

Bath Time for the Bunting

Pictured here is a male painted bunting. Throughout the spring and summer months, if you are lucky, you can see these beautiful birds around the island. Their bright and vibrant colors are simply magnificent. Their counterpart, the female, is much more muted in her appearance, fully covered in a light green color, but much more social and less skittish than the male, frequently visiting feeders and bird baths.

Morning Mist

During the winter months, it is very common to see deer crossing the marsh during dawn and dusk. I was lucky enough on this brisk morning to watch the sunrise, as the mist spread across the spartina grass, and these beauties passed by. The deer on the island, especially around the marshes, aren’t very shy. Just the other day, I caught one eating from my bird feeder.

In Plain Sight

Here is a rare sighting of a male painted bunting out in the open on a branch. Usually these birds can be seen hiding in shrubbery or trees and are very tricky to spot. This guy made it easy for me to capture a portrait of him when he came out of hiding.

Lizard Out of Luck

Here is a Carolina wren found with his prey, a lizard. Such is the circle of life. The Carolina wren is the state bird of South Carolina. Its normal diet consists of insects, but they also eat berries, some fruits and seeds as well. They have beautiful and loud songs and are a joy to watch and listen to.

Down the Hatch

Here is an anhinga enjoying his catch of the day. These birds are unique and interesting to watch. Anhingas swim with their bodies partly or mostly submerged and their long, snakelike neck held partially out of the water. They use their beak to spear their fish before gulping it down. Oftentimes after swimming, they can be seen spreading out their wings and tail to dry off in the sun.

Fresh Catch of the Day

This is a yellow crowned night heron seen getting ready to eat a ghost crab. Night herons are more active during the nighttime as their name would imply. However, if you live on the marsh, you can see these guys hanging around during the summer and fall season pretty much at any time of the day. They spend a lot of time wading through the marsh fishing for crabs and also can be seen hanging out in trees. They aren’t very shy birds, and are therefore quite a nice photographic subject.

Just a Nibble

Here is a portrait of an adorable marsh rabbit. These little rabbits are too cute for words. They have distinguishing features that separate them from cottontail rabbits, such as shorter ears, legs, and tails. They love to munch on grass, seeds, and the most beautiful flowers in your garden. But they are so precious, you just might not get mad at them for it.

Where’s Waldo?

Here is a yellow bellied slider found covered in duckweed at the Whooping Crane Conservancy. They are aquatic turtles. They spend most of their time in the water but unlike amphibians, they need to be able to get out of the water to dry off and breathe. They are the most common turtle that you would see on Hilton Head Island.

Sweet Tooth

This lizard was just begging for a taste of the sweet sugar water that is meant for hummingbirds. He kept going back for more and more. I think he got a little tipsy. When lizards aren’t drinking sugar water, they are very helpful in removing palmetto bugs from the backyard.