Sunrise, a light but steady northwest wind, a falling tide pulling the waters out of the marshes toward Bulls Bay and the Atlantic. These were the signs on my early morning run to the landing, all pointing toward a passage out to Bull Island. Kingfisher was launched and we were sailing at 7:45 to Andersonville Creek and Bulls Bay. The NW wind allowed mainland sounds to drift across the marsh for some time as we continued to put more water and marsh between us and the high ground. Coming into the creek confluence at the Shark Hole, a marine animal exhaled, and dolphins surfaced near the bank. Then the yellow-orange body of another marine animal appeared on the surface and lingered, and my jibe and sheeting in disturbed the loggerhead – or two. It could have been a coupling, yet I was not able to resolve the matter when flippers splashed and a dive ended the encounter. I recalled observing an “intimate” view of loggerheads mating last year in Cape Romain harbor behind Cape Island.
Mating loggerheads behind Cape Island May 2013
The Bay crossing was very smooth, allowing me to stand and observe all the way. There were no disturbances from other boats, since it was the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, and these waters would experience relative congestion. It was to be a negative tide (-.38), and even an hour and a half prior to the final ebb Bird Shoal appeared dimly to the north. I recalled my Walking across the Bay a few years ago. Halfway across, I passed a black skimmer on the opposite course, and in that moment another loggerhead rose to breathe. The wind was dying, but the push of the outgoing tide carried me on to the Northeast Point. In the last fifty yards, an ATV rounded the point coming in my direction, finishing up his patrol of the island searching for loggerhead nests. It was John Kiesling, completing a two day volunteer shift on Bull Island, and fresh from finding one nest that morning at the opposite end of the island. John and I have worked together for a number of years building the turtle hatcheries on Cape Island. We chatted for a few minutes, and he helped me drag Kingfisher up the beach to a safe height. John headed on to finish up, and I took a dip in the smooth inlet before beginning my walk to the Boneyard.
The Northeast Point had been rearranged again with a gully (now dry) running around the point and down the beach on the island’s eastern face. Ahead the beach was gullied and pooled by the remains of marsh sediments eroded out of the island’s sands. Beached cannonball jellyfish, food of marine turtles, were scattered along the strand. I stuck to the low tide line as I walked to the south seeking the low tide and the Boneyard. At the “Little” Boneyard, an assemblage of birds appeared at a typical low tide roost I have often described as the “Waiting Beach”: the group was dominated by royal terns, black skimmers, and brown pelicans. I took a path away from the birds on the way south.
Before the Boneyard, ruddy turnstones explored the intertidal area. One of the signature trees at the Boneyard, still standing out in the surf at low tide, was more notable due to a bird of prey perched at the top. As I drew closer, a huge nest occupied by the other member of this osprey pair appeared. The perched bird flew off, and I gave the nest a wide berth as I marveled at this new nest, built since my last walk past here in February. Stopping for a swim and lunch, I found my turnaround as the breeze was doing likewise. The wind was beginning to initiate its arrival from the south – a reversal as predicted.
I ran into a couple off the ferry, and we chatted for a few minutes. This was their third trip to the island, and shelling was a primary pursuit. Seeing them again on my return walk, I asked about loggerhead sightings on the ride over (none), though they mentioned that the captain (Richard Stuhr) spotted a small shark (they didn’t). As if on cue, the dorsal and tail fin of a 3-4 foot shark appeared right along the beach in the small surf, and we all got a good look as this fish patrollied the edge looking for a meal. They wondered about the species, and I deferred the possibilities to their ferry captain, a retired professional fishing guide.
Continuing alone down the beach, I spotted a larger black fin twenty yards out, and without the distinctive movement of a dolphin. This larger shark continued to parallel my walk for the next thirty minutes toward the Northeast Point. Numerous shorebirds were feeding on invertebrates along the marsh remnants, accompanied by other seabirds including the diminutive least tern. As I came into the area of shoals near the Point I lost track of my shark companion. Upon arrival at Kingfisher the waters were coming up toward the hull, and I took advantage of the smooth waters to cool off prior to rigging and sailing off. The south wind was solid on the ocean side, but had yet to fill the Bay. This wind coupled with the now incoming tide would provide us with the smoothest and easiest of sails back home.
The conditions allowed for standing again, but I only came up with a couple of possible loggerhead sightings. We now had the company of other boats also getting an early start to the big weekend. The patchy quality of the wind gave way to a solid south wind before we left the Bay. Appearing over the marsh toward the mainland in the ICW were several masts of snowbirds heading north. They carried headsails as they motored north; we arrived at the ICW with the wind at our stern, completing our trip under the most favorable conditions.
P.S. Those shark fins caught several people’s attention, and in the comments below Richard Stuhr suggested the shark right along the beach was a bonnethead. I would agree, having seen quite a few working the edges of marsh banks and beaches in the past. He sent a photo of one, and it is posted below, with both the dorsal and tail fins exposed. Thanks Captain Stuhr!