Santee National Wildlife Refuge, Cuddo Unit, Summerton, SC

Osprey in flight over their nest.

Located only a few hours from the Sandhills of North Carolina in Summerton, South Carolina is the Santee National Wildlife Refuge. If you love nature and wildlife, this almost 8 acre drive has thrills around every turn.

The Santee National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1941 along the shores of Lake Marion. The lake was created as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal when the Santee River was dammed in the early 1940’s. Today, the refuge is a haven for numerous species of wildlife.

Cypress growing in Lake Marion.

Growing up in rural PA, my dad and I spent a lot of time outdoors. I’ve always been a Mother Nature type, even going so far as to rescue all manners of birds, rabbits and the like growing up, not to mention  the stray cats and dogs I found along the way.

My dad instilled my respect for nature at a very young age. We spent many hours together in the woods or fishing, during which time his reverence for the natural world was abundantly obvious. I have always regarded my dad as a modern day renaissance man and pioneer: the perfect blend of art, science, history and outdoorsman all wrapped into one.

First alligator of the day!

Today, my admiration of flora and fauna alike is honed from those early years in PA. Trees, plants, and flowers paint the landscape in vibrant colors while offering you their sweet perfume, while their leaves whisper to me in the gentle breeze. If you’re lucky, you’ll spy wildlife such as birds or alligators, if only for a moment.

Personally, I can do without insects. They serve a purpose, of course, but I prefer not to get too close. Bees and other pollinators are fascinating to watch, but spiders and other creepy crawlies I much prefer to watch from afar, away from contact with my person. Should the accidental contact occur I completely lose my composure and take off for the hills, screaming and flailing like a scared chicken.

One big fella (or gal) getting that last bit of sun for the day.

Toothy McToothington here needs some serious dental work on that overbite!

On a recent visit to the Santee National Wildlife Refuge Cuddo Unit the visit started off rather slow. No birds were seen flitting through the fields and no there was no sign of other animals.

A cover or raft of American coots, also known as “mud hens.”

And then I saw them. Off in the distance on a nest atop a bald cypress were two majestic osprey. I watched them for several minutes flying off the nest, skimming the water, returning to the nest. This cycle continued for several minutes.

A barred owl preparing to land on a tree branch.

I wanted to get closer to get a better photo. The recent hurricane left many fallen trees in its wake and what I suspect as wild hog activity left the Earth pitted and torn to shreds. It was hard to be quiet walking over old, dry leaves. Finally I made it to the shore of the lake, only feet from the nest.

Almost there….

Unfortunately the noise disrupted the osprey and they noisily took to the air, encircling the lake behind me. Trying to contain my excitement, I waited and waited for them to return. No such luck.

Osprey overhead.

Intently searching for food…

Not one to be discouraged it was back in the car to seek out other wildlife in the park. Only feet from the osprey was a small impoundment with, wait for it, an alligator wading in the shallows. An alligator, y’all!!! They don’t have alligators in PA unless it’s in a zoo.  Heck, they don’t really have alligators in NC either unless you’re at the southern coastal area of the state.

I believe this little guy to be an Orange-crowned warbler.

The trip got better from there. More alligators, turkey vultures, osprey, a small flock of American coots, a barred owl, and many passerine birds were found as I wound my way through the park.

It was an afternoon filled with flora, fauna, and fond memories of my dad. A good day, indeed.

Santee National Wildlife Refuge, Summerton, SC, 29148.

“Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs
as nectar to the tongue.”
― John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

2 comments on “Santee National Wildlife Refuge, Cuddo Unit, Summerton, SC

  1. Whoa! Looks like you saw a lot of great wildlife! What a great nature preserve and looks like a fantastic visit, love all the photos!

    • Hi Liz!

      I think the alligators and osprey were my favorite wildlife on this visit, but there is so much to see there it’s really hard to pick a favorite. It’s a neat place to explore and a fun place to pack a picnic!

      ~Mindy

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