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Life on a Saltmarsh Tidal Creek

Updated on June 16, 2012
Alston Creek at mid-tide
Alston Creek at mid-tide

Live Oaks

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Spanish moss on live oak
Spanish moss on live oak
Spanish moss on live oak

Marsh and Spanish Moss

From the Atlantic Ocean, stop at Charleston, South Carolina and follow the Wando River up until it fingers into Alston Creek. That is where I live, on a saltwater creek surrounded by marsh, woods, and a spectacular assortment of wildlife. It is a slow, picturesque paradise complimented by a warm climate and mild temperatures through the winter. Watching the tidal creek fill and empty reminds me that the world is alive.

Living on a creek, I am surrounded by nature from the Spanish moss draped over live oaks to the tiny shuffling of fiddler crabs near the palmetto trees. Herons and egrets sail by as wild honeysuckle and blackberries spread through the woods. A soothing environment, though the tidal creek also brings exhilaration in the way of water sports and other activities.

Low and High Tides

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Low tideHigh tide
Low tide
Low tide
High tide
High tide

Tidal Creeks

Switching direction every six hours, the Wando River flows in and out of our tidal creek, the difference being nine feet deep at high tide, and only a few inches at low tide. In with the tide come blue crabs, shrimp, and fish such as bass. We have even spotted a pair of dolphins gliding in with the tide. The replenishing waters provide an abundant habitat for animals in and around the creek.

At low tide, the mud bank is revealed to show the home of fiddler crabs. These small crabs stay hidden during winter, but in April, peek out and even roam the backyard. The shallow creek is a popular place for herons and egrets to dine on small mud minnows. In summer, we catch blue crabs right off the dock using a crab trap and individual crabbing lines. There is nothing like ending a long summer day with a pot of steamed blue crabs.

At high tide, we like to ride kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. In summer, we add swimming and boating to the activity list. Our favorite thing to do is swim down the river against the current, and float back on an inner tube. From the water, we enjoy the beauty of the natural foliage and the amazing shorebirds.

Wando River - Charleston, South Carolina

Palmetto Trees and More

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Palmetto treePalm treepalm treeLive oak
Palmetto tree
Palmetto tree
Palm tree
Palm tree
palm tree
palm tree
Live oak
Live oak

Coastal Trees

Our backyard is wooded and contains a variety of local flora. My two favorites are:

  • Palmetto tree - South Carolina's state tree represents our people who are as strong as the palmettos that stopped the British at Fort Moultrie. The palmettos are flexible, and the cannonballs actually bounced off the island's barrier of tree logs.
  • Live oak - These majestic trees are linked to The South. Coastal animals especially like the abundance of acorns.

Coastal Birds

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Painted buntingyellow-crowned night heronJuvenile yellow-crowned night heron
Painted bunting
Painted bunting
yellow-crowned night heron
yellow-crowned night heron
Juvenile yellow-crowned night heron
Juvenile yellow-crowned night heron

Wildlife Near the Saltwater Creek

The creek and surrounding landscape invite such beautiful birds and interesting animals to our yard. One of the most interesting birds here is the wood stork, which has been on the endangered species list since 1984. Other coastal birds we often see are:

  • Great blue heron
  • Yellow-crowned night heron
  • Green heron
  • Double-crested cormorant
  • Great egret
  • Snowy egret
  • Laughing gull
  • Belted kingfisher

We also enjoy our songbird friends such as the Carolina chickadee, Carolina wren, tufted titmouse, red cardinal, blue jay, bluebird, pileated woodpecker, northern parula, ruby-throated hummingbird and the elusive painted bunting. The painted bunting is a real treat. Along with the hummingbirds, they return in April and start their cheerful song back and forth across the creek. They are rather shy, but we wait patiently for a peek of the male's rainbow colors.

As for other fauna, we have white-tailed deer, raccoon, possum, rabbit, gray squirrel, and one little red fox that we keep our eye on. It is not uncommon to wake up to five or six deer grazing in the backyard, or to have a raccoon or possum scavenging seed under the bird feeders in the evening.

Paddle Boarding

Stand-up paddle boarding
Stand-up paddle boarding

Summer Water Activities on the Creek

The tidal creek allows us a six hour window of time to get a boat or jet ski in and out from our dock before the tide get too low. We mostly enjoy riding and taking in the scenery, but also can water ski or pull the kids on a round inflatable, fondly named the Crabby Patty. Since the creek is quiet with gentle currents, it is the perfect place to ride kayaks or stand-up paddle boards. Swimming, though, is by far the favorite summer activity. The water is very similar to beach water - salty, but no waves

With summer, comes Atlantic blue crabs to our creek. From our dock, we can catch only about ten keepers, or good-sized, crabs, but that is enough for our family. To catch more, we would take the boat out to deeper waters. Shrimping and fishing are also popular on this creek. We throw the cast net right off the dock to catch shrimp, but it is hard work to pull in a dinner's worth. This summer. we may attempt to pull a seine net across the creek to see what we catch. There is always a new adventure to find on the creek!


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