A Rainy Day In Georgia

By Pam Rice

    It started out like any other shell club outing, meeting at 7:00 AM at the library to start the journey to go to St. Mary’s, Georgia to meet the Cumberland Island Ferry.  We had originally started out as five members making the trip to Cumberland Island but this dwindled to a measly two. D. D. Jewell and I decided to brave the weather and go. The severe thunderstorm warning forecast for the afternoon was the deciding factor for the lack of shellers.

Armadillo [Joel Wooster Photograph]    We arrived at St. Mary’s at around 7:45 AM and went to a quaint restaurant to eat a little breakfast before we were able to get our tickets. The ferry left the dock at around 8:45 AM and was pretty full considering the weather forecast.  We were planning on coming back on the 2:45 PM ferry because of the weather forecast but I found out that it did not run on Sundays. So, we were out there until 4:45 PM whether we wanted to be or not.  We were accompanied on the ferry by 21 Boy Scouts and their four troop leaders. (The leaders made the kids ride on the top deck of the ferry. Ha ha!) There were several other families, couples and one single gentleman carrying a telescope on a tripod.  We started our journey and a few minutes later some kids came running into the cabin telling us that there were dolphins out in the river, and of course I had to run out to see them.  I saw one dolphin at the bow and it really looked like it was racing the ferry. Such speed I have never seen! We got off the ferry at the first dock at Dungeness.  Renee, one of the park rangers, gave us a little introduction to Cumberland Island, the wildlife found on the island, directions on how to get to the beach and how to get to the other dock (Sea Camp).

    The giant live oak trees were breathtakingly beautiful and they formed a covered walkway along the 1 mile trail to the beach. We were just walking along when I spotted an armadillo. I have seen just a couple alive before but D. D. never had.  How cool to see it just moseying along the path.

    We finally made it to the beach before anyone else from the ferry, and the hunt was on.  D. D. and I both looked around at the low and high tide marks to see what we could find. We were basically alone on the beach until … yes, the Boy Scouts had invaded the beach.  I believe D. D. said it best when she said, “I thought the army was invading us!”

    We had almost made it to the Sea Camp boardwalk leading to the dock when I found a nice Knobbed Whelk. I was rinsing it out to make sure that there was nothing living inside, when the skies opened up right at noon.   D. D. was up near the boardwalk and started walking to the closest shelter, which was a bathroom about a 10-minute walk away. I made it a few minutes later. We were both soaked to the bone and we proceeded to dry our stuff under the heated hand drier.  We then ate our lunch and wondered if the rain was going to let up.  At around 1:15 PM we decided to venture out to a new location.  We ventured about 8 feet from the bathroom to the drinking fountain lean-to so at least now we had a view.

    Another hiker seeking shelter happened by.  He looked like a fisherman that had weathered many storms and he was carrying a telescope around with him attached to a tripod - with the legs extended.  He was a scientist studying the migration of the Red Knot, a species of Sand Piper. He had just recently left the Texas Gulf Coast, went to Merritt Island, and is working his way up the Georgia Coast and will be ending this part of his study in North Carolina.  We didn’t catch his name or the organization he is with but he loves birds as much as we love our shells. He told us that the Red Knot has dwindled in population about 60% over the past 10 years.  He also told us about the tagging of the birds and it was very interesting. The sequence of the colored bands around the birds’ legs tells him where and when the bird was tagged and how old it is.  He saw two of the tagged birds at Cumberland Island. It’s truly amazing. 

    We told him about our club and found out that we had a lot in common. An hour flew by and we thought we would make our way to the beach to see if there was anything to show for the great minus low tide.  Our gentleman friend was just standing at the end of one of the paths and he started walking back towards us and we wondered why.  He said that he held a “lightning rod” in his hand and that he didn’t want to chance it.  We were walking on the boardwalk and D. D. spotted two of the famous Cumberland Island wild horses off to the right.  They were beautiful, thin but muscular at the same time, and they were as curious about us as we were of them (staring contest).  We finally made it to the beach covered with DD’s beach towel and were sadly disappointed that there were no shells visible to us at the low tide line.  The rain and sand must have covered them. 

    We then decided to make our way up to the ranger station which was about 25 minutes walking time distant.  We stopped again at the bathroom about 10 minutes into the walk to dry off a little. We used the hand drier again!  We then trudged on to the ranger station where once again I had to use the hand drier. There were tons of people on the porch of the ranger station at the Sea Camp Dock.  The rain had subsided a little and we went inside to get a good seat for the 4:00 PM ranger slide presentation.  I looked out the door and saw what looked like lots of shells on the beach.  We got excited, left our stuff in the presentation room, and made our way to the beach.  The shells on the beach were oyster shells but we found a couple of Knobbed Whelks that had oyster shells attached to them.  That was kind of disappointing, so we went back inside the ranger station and waited for the slide presentation to begin.

    Ranger Renee showed us some beautiful slides, most of which she was the photographer.  She first came to Cumberland Island 21 years ago and has actually lived on the island for the past 17 years.  She told us that Cumberland Island is the largest of the Barrier Islands and is 17 miles long which is the same size as Manhattan.  She proceeded to tell us about the beautiful Live Oak Trees and how they live for 300 years.  It takes 100 years to grow, they live for 100 years and it takes 100 years for them to die.  Some of the animals of the island were also part of the slide presentation.  She had slides of the 300 plus wild horses that live on the island, the wild pigs, wild turkey (no not the liquor), and deer.  After the presentation we all walked down to the dock to catch the ferry back to St. Mary’s.  The campers had to load all of their “stuff” onto the boat first which took about twenty minutes and it was raining and getting colder by the minute.  The downstairs cabin was full by the time D. D. and I were able to get on the ferry so we had to ride topside.  Talk about freezing to death!

    I tried to think of the warm beach on the way back to St. Mary’s and also about the heater in D. D.’s car.  During the whole trip back, kids were going up and down the ladder between decks and we couldn’t believe that the parents let their kids do that. It was not smooth sailing on the river and we made it back to St. Mary’s safe but cold.

    We went to the bathroom and changed into dry clothes then we were on our merry way back to Jacksonville.  I believe we arrived at the library around 6:30 PM.  Overall it was a rewarding day; we got some great shells, saw nature at it’s finest and met some interesting people.

    This is a list of most of the shells we found:  Neverita duplicata (Say, 1822), Dosinia discus (Reeve, 1850) [Disc Dosnina], Terebra dislocata (Say, 1822) [Eastern Auger], Dinocardium robustum (Lightfoot, 1786) [Atlantic Giant Cockle], Busycon carica (Gmelin, 1791) [Knobbed Whelk], Eurytellina alternata (Say, 1822) [Alternate Tellin], Busycotypus canaliculatus (Linnaeus, 1758) [Channeled Whelk], Noetia ponderosa (Say, 1822) [Ponderous Ark], Donax variabilis (Say, 1822) [Variable Coquina], Petricolria  pholadiformis (Lamarck, 1818) [False Angelwing], Anomia simplex d’Orbigny, 1853 [Common Jingle], Sinum perspecivum (Say, 1831) [White Baby Ear], and hopefully I identified this correctly, Gemophos tinctus (Conrad, 1846) [Tinted Cantharus]. There are still a few other species that I could not identify as of yet.