By Rick Kurz, Vice President of Friends of Crystal Lake and Kristen Marshall Mattson, Environmental Educator, The Lowcountry Institute
Recently, a group of 15 volunteers from the Master Gardener and LowCountry Master Naturalist Associations spent most of a day at the Crystal Lake Park for the purpose of taking an “inventory” of all the types of plants, birds, reptiles, fish and other creatures that live within the park’s boundaries.
The trip was organized and led by Tony Mills and Kristen Marshall Mattson of The Low Country Institute which is headquartered on Spring Island. The intent of the county and the Friends of Crystal Lake group responsible for developing the park is to continuously monitor everything that lives in or exists at the 26 acre park so as to be able to educate future visitors to the Park about what they are seeing when they are walking its trails. Information gained from surveys like this will also help insure that future development of the property, into a passive park with a boardwalk and trails around the 7 acre lake, can be focused in such a way so as to not be disruptive of the natural habitat.
This year’s survey expanded the species list which was started during a preliminary survey last summer. Over 120 different species of birds, plants, trees, reptiles and other creatures were observed and identified. Specifically, 33 species of birds were seen, 67 types of trees/plants were observed along with 15 different reptiles, fish, and other “creatures.” These findings represent a significant increase over the numbers recorded in last year’s survey and the belief is that as more surveys are conducted in the future that additional species will be identified. Some of the more interesting species identified included the following: black racer snake, southeastern crown snake, sheepshead minnow, mullet, alligator, grass shrimp, mosquito fish, ground skink, five-lined skink, red-jointed fiddler crab, wood stork (a federally endangered species), Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, osprey, least bittern, great crested flycatcher, eastern kingbird, great blue heron, tricolored heron, downy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, chimney swift, painted bunting, barn swallow, Eastern bluebird, and cedar waxwing. An extensive number of trees and other plants were identified and included species such as sweet gum, live oak, loblolly pine, red cedar, hickory, water oak, yaupon holly, Southern magnolia, red bay, laurel oak, black willow, sassafras, flowering dogwood, bald cypress, black gum tupelo, coral honeysuckle, coral bean, fox grape, bracken fern, cinnamon fern, hawthorn, and Carolina jessamine.
Over the course of the past year, numerous volunteer efforts have been focused on eradicating the invasive Chinese tallow tree, sometimes known as the “popcorn” tree here in the Lowcounty, and these efforts have been successful but much more work remains to be done because the tree is still present in the park area. This tree crowds out desirable native trees and limits a healthy vegetative understory growth. While these trees are still present today it is hoped that a successful eradication program will remove them completely. Water testing of the lake is in progress but early indications are that it is brackish because both salt water tidal flow and fresh rain water runoff enter the lake. Many of the plants and wildlife that were identified thrive in low salinity brackish water.
A special note of appreciation is extended to all who participated in this survey effort and to the many volunteers supporting the on-going work to make Crystal Lake Park a reality.