Paddling Through Paradise

TALL GRASS AND STILL WATER beckon us to explore Broad Creek—the vast wetland and waterway preserve in the heart of Hilton Head Island. In past blogs we’ve learned that the Creek is the nexus between two geological eras, and the result of some crafty engineering using dynamite. Today we slide into a comfy kayak, sink our paddle into the dark stream, and go exploring.

Ride the Tides

Tides rise and fall almost eight feet in Broad Creek. Caused by the gravitational pull of the sun and moon on Earth and its waters, tides flood and drain the Creek, nourishing its ecosystem. When you’re kayaking, it’s important to know tidal cycles for three reasons:

  • Tidal currents can make paddling easier. A good strategy: Plan your trip so you can travel comfortably with the tide.
  • Avoid low tide times. It’s too easy to get stuck in a quiet creek, which too quickly can morph into a very warm, humid wait, once the water runs out.
  • Wildlife follows tides. Plan a 2-3 hour paddle as tides turn. You will observe more species and different species coming and going.

Wildlife Watching Secrets

Are you a birder, angler, photographer or recreational paddler? The best way to observe and locate animals in Broad Creek is to find their niche. A “niche” is the specific location that an animal inhabits—for feeding, nesting, and taking shelter. Here are several niches that yield excellent wildlife watching:

  • marsh wren

    Long-billed marsh wren and nest. Illustration by Todd Ballantine

    Grass islands. Salt marsh cordgrass is the tall billowing grass in the salt marsh. Many birds, like the elusive clapper rail (“marsh hen”) and long-billed marsh wren hide and feed in the clusters. Wading birds—egrets and herons—hunt in shallow water under cover of overhanging grass.

  • Mudflats. As tides fall, exposed muddy shoals are busy with energetic fiddler crabs, millions of mud snails, shorebirds, and the occasional raccoon or river otter that come to eat them.
  • Oyster reefs. Eastern oysters from colonies in the “intertidal” zone between high and low tides. These are true reefs, where fish congregate at high tide, and may crabs and other small animals dwell permanently.
  • Marsh banks. Steep, exposed banks are home for belted kingfisher, bank swallows and other burrow-nesting birds. Their excavated abodes are high on the bank to avoid flooding.

Discovering this tidal preserve is only a few paddle strokes away. So let’s go—your beautiful Broad Creek the next adventure is just around the corner.