An Early Spring on Daufuskie Island

On Daufuskie Island, it is normal to see a layer of sandy dirt covering homes, buildings, and golf carts.  However, anyone who has visited the island over the last couple of weeks has probably noticed a new shade of dust that has taken over the island — the dust of yellow pollen.

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Yellow pollen currently decorates the majority of homes on Daufuskie Island

The Spring bloom came early this year to Daufuskie, about 20 days earlier than usual according to the U.S. Geological Survey.  The month of February saw an average temperature of 68 degrees Farenheit; 8 degrees warmer than February’s usual average.  There were seventeen days in February over 70 degrees on Daufuskie Island this year.

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The Azalea, one of the most popular flowerings shrubs in the southeast, usually blooms late March into April.  The Azaleas on Daufuskie Island this year, however, started blooming in late February!

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“Phenology” is the study of earth’s natural cycles, which includes seasons.  Spring is categorized by not only warmer temperatures but the return of migratory birds / insects and flowering of plants.  Daufuskie Island has certainly seen warmer temperatures and flowering plants, and many migratory birds have begun to resurface.

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Wood Storks, who migrate south for the winter months, have arrived back on Daufuskie Island.

While we enjoy the early warm temperatures and splashes of colors popping up, an early spring can be dangerous.  In previous years, the early onset of warm temperatures in February and March promoted early growth and flowering of spring species.  Temperatures then dropped in April, resulting in extensive loss in diversity in the southeast. The average last frost date on Daufuskie Island is April 1st-10th, so our frost-sensitive flowers could be in danger.  If these species die, they do not regrow for that year, which leaves crucial pollinators with little food.

False or early spring upsets the complex relationships within our ecosystem.  Some plants (such as many of the flowering plants on Daufuskie) respond to changes in temperature as their queue to flower.  Other species such as Beech and Oak trees use daylight as their signal that Spring has arrived.  Thus, these species will become out of sync if warm temperatures precede extended daylight time.  In addition, if a plant blooms a month early, hibernating animals which eat those plants may lose an important post-hibernation food once they become active.

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This map shows the early onset of spring in the south-eastern United States. This year, early spring is happening first in the Southeast, but it is advancing upwards and outwards.

Early spring is one of the biggest red flags of global climate change throughout the United States. Spring plant growth has been shifting earlier documented over the past couple of decades amid rising global temperatures. “Earlier spring onset may cause phenological mismatches between the availability of plant resources and dependent animals, and potentially lead to more false springs, when subsequent freezing temperatures damage new plant growth,” says a recent study in Environmental Research Letters.

For now, we bask in the March sunlight, enjoy the blooming flowers, and hope that no damage is done to our unique and flourishing ecosystem here on Daufuskie Island.

 

-Tour Daufuskie Naturalist

Oysters: to farm or not to farm?

Harvesting oysters was a culturally and economically significant activity on Daufuskie Island.  From the late-1800s to mid-1900s, oysters were heavily gathered in the waterways surrounding Daufuskie, and the Gullah people made a good living off of this practice.  Although a pollution incident depleted the oyster populations in 1959, harvesting oysters continues today – both wild and farmed populations.  With so much consumer confusion regarding farmed seafood, it can be difficult to discern what is sustainable and what is not.  Tour Daufuskie’s Naturalist is here to help!

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While “farmed seafood” is the cheaper and more available option in the US food industry, it has a strong negative connotation tied to the practice.  Health experts warn that farmed fish are full of antibiotics, disease, and parasites due to their overcrowded environment.  While this generalization holds true for the majority of farmed salmon, talapia, cod, etc, there is one group of farmed seafood that may be the exception – oysters.

First off, how does this oyster farming process work?  Sterile larvae (which cannot create offspring) are created by mating a 4-chromosome male to a 2-chromosome female. This is similar to the science used to create seedless fruits.  These larvae are introduced to ground-up oyster shells, which they then attach to (called “spatting”).  The spatted larvae are contained in fine mesh bags, and are later upgraded to crab-pot type containers where they grow to full size.

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Bluffton oyster farming (bluffton.com)

How do farmed oysters vary from wild oysters?  There are two key differences.  First, the farmed oysters are smoother and rounder.  Farmers disrupt the oysters from time to time to reduce clustering, so there are fewer imperfections on the farmed variety.  Secondly, farmed oysters are meatier.  Because the farmed oysters are sterile, they do not lose energy to reproductive activity.  Wild oysters, on the other hand, spawn in the summer.  Their body mass reduces greatly during this time and they become somewhat “watery”.

All in all, consuming farmed oysters is something that you can feel good about on an environmental level.  The only “unnatural” aspect of the process is the creation of the sterile larva, which does not change the nutritional value of the food.  The farmed oysters don’t disrupt the well-being of the wild oysters.  In fact, propagation of these species through farming can help wild populations be more resilient!  So eat away, oyster lovers!

The Daufuskie Island Cat Sanctuary

When Laura Winholt moved to Daufuskie Island in 2006, she was alarmed by the number of stray and feral cats present.  Not only was it an unhealthy situation for the cats themselves, but these animals were causing a nuisance for businesses and homes in the area.  With the help of Daufuskie volunteers, Laura successfully implemented a trap/spay&neuter/release program which dramatically decreased the number of feral kittens born on the island.

While this program was a major success, Laura and her volunteers felt as though their mission wasn’t quite complete.  Feral cats on Daufuskie were still at risk, and their relocation efforts became challenging.  With the support of the ASPCA and Daufuskie volunteers, the Daufuskie Island Cat Sanctuary was created.  This fenced-in outdoor sanctuary is a half-acre plot of land on Winholt’s property, and it serves as a place for “at risk” cats to safely live with food, shelter, and care.

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vertical space allows the cats more room to spread out... and have fun!

Vertical space allows the cats more room to spread out… and to have fun!

Over 70 cats call this sanctuary their happy home.  Every morning and evening, volunteers arrive at the shelter to feed and water the animals, clean up the sanctuary, and give the felines much-needed love and affection.

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Feeding stations are spread throughout the sanctuary

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Re-purposed styrofoam coolers are used for shelter in the colder months

Re-purposed styrofoam coolers are used for shelter in the colder months

When volunteers arrive at the sanctuary, they are always greeted by a handful of friendly cats waiting at the entrance.  These kitties crave attention and appreciate it when volunteers take the extra minute to say hello!  Other cats stay below the radar; still feral, they tend to hang out in the back of the sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the volunteers.

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the greeting party

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The sanctuary is a happy place, and its presence on the island has minimized the problem that feral cat populations once posed.  What’s in the future for the Daufuskie Island Cat Sanctuary?  Winholt hopes to eventually open up the shelter to the public as an interpretive walk.  Not only will this provide education to visitors, but the cats will get some extra playtime with new people – something that they’re certainly looking forward to.

WWOOFers on Daufuskie Island

Walk into the house of Daufuskie Community Farm‘s general manager and you’ll see an unlikely sight.  77 year-old Pat Beichler shares her home with a horde of farm volunteers called “WWOOFers”.  WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, an organization that pairs willing volunteers with organic farms all over the United States.  WWOOFers (farm volunteers) usually work 20-30 hours a week in exchange for food and housing provided by the host farm.  It’s a way to travel, learn about sustainability, and meet interesting people without the logistical & financial concerns of housing and food.  You simply work to live.

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Beichler’s home

Pat built her house 18 years ago (at the age of 60) about a half-mile down the road from the farm.  A couple of years ago she decided to move out of her self-built home and into a little shed in the backyard.  She liked the privacy of living away from the bustling house, and decided that WWOOFers could stay in her house instead.

For a downsized experience, WWOOFers have the option to stay in the “gypsy caravan” which is located on the farm.  Dan and Brian (pictured below) called the gypsy caravan home during their month-long stay on the island.

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The Gypsy Caravan

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Brian shows off the orchard’s ground cover, which includes delicious watermelons!

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Dan prepares Sursy the goat for milking

 

Some WWOOFers bring their home with them.  Matt and Anna Clark barged over their cargo-trailer-turned-tiny-home earlier this fall, and expect to stay until March 2017.  They use the animal pasture as their front lawn, and enjoy the company of geese and goats as neighbors.

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The Clarks and their nosey neighbors

WWOOFing is for everybody; both old and young.  18-year old Farley Hammond, Daufuskie WWOOFer, explains why this is a special way to live:

I love WWOOFing because it expands your horizons in a way that no other form of travel can. Staying in a big city, taking guided tours, and enjoying a fancy hotel is one thing; but meeting the people and animals that support the local community, and having your own hand in cultivating both physical and metaphorical growth, is another. I chose to WWOOF because I wanted to choose a more raw, involved, and radically different experience from daily life.

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Farley brushes Oreo, a farm-favorite goat

Of course, everybody loves getting to know the friendly goats on the farm, especially the babies!  This year the kids needed more care than ever.  Two young goats broke their legs and needed daily attention and care.  A pair of sisters lost their mother and had to be bottle-fed throughout their upbringing.  This is usually the WWOOFers’ favorite aspect of the job!

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Overall, the WWOOFers bring some much-needed young energy to the farm and to the island in general.  They mill lumber, construct buildings, design and implement permaculture landscape, muck stalls, feed the animals, pull up weeds, and more.

WWOOFer Gena helps finish up some landscaping in the orchard

WWOOFer Gena helps finish up some landscaping in the orchard

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Patrick begins building a new chicken coop

 

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Milling lumber is one way WWOOFers use their energy to improve the farm

What’s so great about WWOOFing specifically at Daufuskie Community Farm? Courtney, a New York office worker turned WWOOFer, explains her experience:

On Daufuskie, everybody knows everybody and the whole island greets each other with a smile. Doors are left unlocked, bartering and work / trade is a real form of currency, and the residents all have a unique and friendly disposition to both local islanders and visiting tourists. I’ve never before encountered such hospitality from strangers.

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Courtney and Junebug

Courtney, who grew up in the suburbs of New York, was getting tired of her 9-5 office life and turned to WWOOFing as a way out. “I’d always been infatuated with agriculture and farming but never had the opportunity to immerse myself,” she says.  Courtney is not alone; many WWOOFers at the community farm have left their financially-secure career life to explore a new way of living.

“In our culture it is the norm to work forty-plus hours a week at a job you are not necessarily passionate about”, one WWOOFer says. “You then use your paycheck to buy food that has been shipped from all over the country.  This lifestyle doesn’t make sense to me.”  In the WWOOFing world,  you put in physical work to help create the food and goods you need to survive.  Plenty of WWOOFers take side jobs during their stay, and they end up leaving more financially secure than when they came.

More importantly, though, WWOOFers leave with a greater understanding of their role within the world’s ecosystem.  WWOOFing is growing in popularity every year, and some hope this reflects a global mindshift in which we become connected to the food systems that sustain us.

Daufuskie Peach

When Jan Crosby started experimenting with home-made soaps, she had no idea that she would eventually become the number one provider of bath and body products for Daufuskie Island. With an impressive variety of scents and products, “Daufuskie Peach” pleases the taste and style of anyone who comes through her door. Her soaps are made and sold in-house, which invites customers directly to her back porch.

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Oddly enough, the roots of Daufuskie Peach began with a dinner party. A handful of Jan’s friends attended John C. Campbell Folk School, where students can choose to learn about a variety of hand-made crafts (wood-turning, pottery, blacksmithing, spinning, etc). These friends came together for dinner and showed off what they learned during their attendance of the folk school, from French Bistro cooking to doll-making. “I came away from that dinner so inspired,” Jan explains, “I thought, ‘I want to do something crafty and creative too!’”. While checking out the folk school catalog, the category of soap making jumped off the page at her, and she was immediately hooked. Jan started doing research and became more interested with the more she learned. She started playing around with soap bases and essential oils to get a feel for the creative process. Eventually she realized her desire to make the soaps from scratch, which is a much more intensive process than using a soap base. “I experimented for a better part of a year on and off before I actually sold anything,” Jan says.

After about one year, Jan was convinced to showcase her soaps at a fundraising event for the Daufuskie Island Community Farm and Artisan Village. “I sold a fair amount considering I’ve never sold before,” she recalls, “People thought it was great, and I thought ‘I need to start a business!’” Daufuskie Peach was formed, and Jan had success initially by selling her soaps at the local farmers’ market.

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At first, Daufuskie Peach was based around 8-10 soap scents. “I then realized that I really needed products that compliment the soap,” she explains. She thought about what she, as a customer, would hope to find at a bath and body store. Jan knew right away that pump lotion was to be added to her list, and over time richer products such as body butters and scrubs entered the mix. Lotion sticks were later added for convenience sake. “I carry one with me always, in my purse,” Jan says, “It’s just so handy.” Her newest addition is a bath bomb, which hit the market last month.

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In addition to soaps, Daufuskie Peach offers lotion bars, pump lotion, body butter, and scrubs.

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Bath bombs are the newest addition

“I had to start [Daufuskie Peach] part time at first,” Jan explains. She had a full-time job and two children along with her soap-making. “You hit a crossroads sometimes where you have to make the decision – what’s it going to be?” Jan left the financially security of her full-time job in 2015 to commit completely to Daufuskie Peach. Would she change anything if she had the chance? “No regrets,” Jan says with a smile.

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the soaps offer a scent for everyone

Jan has over 30 scents including peppermint, honeysuckle, lavender, and a “camp fuskie” bug-off bar. Common curiosity wonders what Jan’s favorite scent is. Her top three:

  • Black Raspberry “The first time I smelled it out of the bottle… it was one of those ones that I immediately had to make.”
  • Islander “It’s the combo of the coconut lime with a little extra coconut in it… I knew it would sell great.”
  • Lemongrass “I love the exfoliation of the poppy seeds. It’s so fresh and citrusy but earthy at the same time.”

Even though Jan creates a number of additional bath and body products, the original is number one. “Soap is still my favorite.”

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Daufuskie Peach products make a great gift!

Jan draws inspiration from the island for her scents, and she is lucky enough to call Daufuskie her home. What does she love most about living on Daufuskie? 

“Something I realized very early on was that there is such a strong sense of community here… It’s such a great place to raise kids. You can really control the pace at which life hits these kids here. Because it’s such a slower pace, they grow up to be more conscientious and observant about the community, the environment and the people they are around.”

 

Check out Jan’s online store at www.daufuskiepeach.com!

Tour Daufuskie Explorers Membership

Are you looking for a great outdoor activity to offer your family?  Want some help entertaining your guests that come to visit Daufuskie?  Would you like to kayak or paddle board without dealing with the logistics of buying, storing, and maintaining the vessel?  Looking for a unique gift for your adventurous family?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then a Tour Daufuskie Membership could be right for you!

What is a Tour Daufuskie Membership?

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This all-inclusive one year membership is a great way to explore the island from multiple angles.  You’ll gain a number of guided golf cart tours, access to hours of kayaking and/or paddle boarding, free merchandise, and discounts on apparel.  Every level up offers more adventure, and you can upgrade at any time.  One membership is good for an entire family; you may divide up the tours and kayaking hours however you’d like!

Daufuskie residents, you will realize the benefit of having this membership ready-to-go when friends and family visit.  Instead of worrying about how to entertain your guests, send them off for a guided tour or a paddle on the water!  They’ll come back with a greater understanding and appreciation of this little island you call home, and you don’t have to worry about being their tour guide.  Leave that part to us!

Once you buy a membership, all that’s left to do is explore and have fun.  Pay now and leave your wallet at home for the rest of the year!

For more information on the Tour Daufuskie Explorer’s Membership, give us a call at (843)842-9449.

Daufuskie Island Conservancy

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The Daufuskie Island Conservancy, established in 2005, helps to protect what it is that makes this bridge-less island so special.  With the slogan “Love it, Save it, Share it”, the Conservancy’s goal is to protect & manage the natural resources of Daufuskie while educating the public about the island’s unique ecosystem.

The Conservancy hosts a series of public environmental talks, each discussing a different aspect of Daufuskie ecology.  Topics include sea turtles, gardening, alternative energy, and fishing.  This year, the Conservancy joined forces with the Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation to showcase “the year of the oyster”.  This is year-long series of educational talks, social gatherings, and field trips celebrating the importance of oystering on the island, past and present.

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The Conservancy’s “Adopt-a-Road” program was established in 2009 to tackle the issue of litter on Daufuskie.  Willing residents “adopt” roads on the island in a promise to keep them free of litter.  A monthy clean-up day is established, but most volunteers casually pick up trash as they see it day-to-day.  Many of the Adopt-a-Road volunteers are also involved in two beach sweeps annually.

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Daufuskie keeps its charming roads clean through the Adopt-a-Road program

One completed Conservancy project that is considered a large success by many is the implementation of a new recycling center for the private community of Haig Point.  First established in 2007, the intention was to reduce items going to landfill while educating Haig Point members about the benefits of recycling.  In 2011 this center got a major upgrade to a large single-stream recycling center including drop-offs for paint, e-waste, batteries, and more.

The downside to this project is that it serves only Haig Point; Daufuskie residents outside Haig Point gates are left without a recycling option.  For the environmentally-minded residents on Daufuskie, bringing recyclable materials to the dump is a frustrating and unethical experience.  The Conservancy has been working to create an all-island waste management facility which would include recycling.  Conservancy members developed a Solid Waste Integrative Services Study and presented it to Beaufort County in the hopes of establishing island-wide recycling, but have encountered roadblocks along the way from the county of Beaufort.

To learn more about the projects and programs that the Daufuskie Island Conservancy offers, visit their page.  In addition, the website has wonderfully detailed information regarding native plants and animals on the island.

 

 

 

 

 

“Daufuskie Blues”, the indigo artisans

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Leanne Coulter and Rhonda Davis have hit the Daufuskie artisan scene with their new endeavor, Daufuskie Blues. These ladies use organic indigo to create eye-catching dye patterns on scarves, cloths, and other fabrics. Indigo is culturally significant to this area of the South, and Daufuskie Blues is honored to be carrying on the tradition with this unique and tricky dye.

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a selection of Daufuskie Blues’ indigo-dyed fabrics

Before the synthetic age in the late 1800s, using the indigo flower was the only way to obtain blue dye.  Interestingly, the first successful cultivation of indigo in America was done by a 16-year-old girl named Eliza Lucas.  After her success, indigo quickly became one of the colonies’ largest exports.  Indigo was economically important because blue dyes were so rare, and it represented a status of wealth. Civilizations were shaped by their choice and ability to produce indigo dye, and South Carolina was no exception.

Rhonda and Leanne started Daufuskie Blues after taking an Organic Indigo Vat workshop together.  “We spent the next two years on our front porch. We’ve had an indigo vat going almost consistently ever since we took that class two years ago,” explains Leanne.

The “Blues girls” create an indigo vat by combining organic indigo powder with a fructose source, such as bananas, honey, henna, or any non-acidic fruit. Indigo itself is non-soluble in water, so you must break it down in the reduction vat. Leanne compares the vat to a kiln, in which you need to remove oxygen for the process to occur.

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the indigo vat

Once the dye is prepared, you can simply dip a material in the vat and pull it out. Interestingly, the color starts off as a light green. Only when it oxidizes with the air does it change to the indigo blue color. “It’s magical. It’s just so magical,” says Leanne. By adding folds, twists, or stitching, the Blues girls create a variety of interesting patterns of color in their fabric. Lately Rhonda has been experimenting with nautical shapes, such as turtles or starfish.

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When applied to fabric, the indigo dye is initially a light-green color.

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Rhonda Davis uses stitching to create nautical shapes

Why do the Blues girls love working with indigo? “Indigo is so different from any other natural dye,” says Rhonda, “…The culture, the history, the mystique surrounding it, the amazing way it physically works, and the process of maintaining the vat of dye”. Indigo vats must be given attention; it needs stirred daily and requires to be fed fructose to keep the dye active. “I mean, it’s like you’re caring for a little living thing, you know?”

Leanne is also drawn to the unique qualities of indigo and appreciates the complicated process it takes to create the dye. “Other dyes are so easy to use. You either cut the plant, get the root or whatever the dye material is, cook it up, strain it, and that’s your dye product.” Not so the case for indigo! The traditional way to extract the indica (dye property of the plant) is to place the indigo in a large vat of water, beat the indigo many times to allow the sediment to come out, drain the water, and repeat the process over again. “And that’s the process that was used in South Carolina,” adds Rhonda.

As Rhonda mentions, mystique and lure surround the indigo vat. Many believe that the vat must be kept “happy”, which means keeping it away from certain people. This includes pregnant or menstruating women, people who are depressed or suffering, unpredictable children, etc.

While indigo is the Blues girls’ staple dye, they have been expanding and experimenting with other natural dyes.  Can you guess what creates this natural pink dye that the ladies use?

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The answer might surprise you: it’s a bug!  Cochineal is an insect native to South America, Mexico, and Arizona.  The insect is crushed and dehydrated into a powder, which the Blues girls then use to create the dye.

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Daufuskie Blues is currently located in the historic Maryfield School.   Future plans including growing their own indigo to harvest their own dye, and providing education to visitors about the dye extraction process.  Stop by to learn more!

Grey Fox Squirrels on Daufuskie

If you have ever taken a tour around Daufuskie Island, chances are that you have seen a very peculiar animal scurrying about.  Appearing to be an over-sized squirrel with grey and black coloration, these curious creatures stop tourists in their tracks.  They are Grey Fox Squirrels, and have been prevalent on Daufuskie Island for hundreds of years.

Daufuskie Island Fox Squirrel

Daufuskie Island Grey Fox Squirrel

Why do the Grey Fox Squirrels look so different from the rest of the squirrel family?  Scientists have come up with an interesting hypothesis, and it all comes down to the relationship between the squirrels and a tree.  Fox Squirrels love to eat the seeds from cones of the Longleaf Pine tree, which used to be very prevalent on Daufuskie.  Longleaf pine cones produce some of the largest cones in the Southeastern United States (see below).  It is thought that their large body size was advantageous for the Fox Squirrel when trying to manipulate the pine cones to extract the seeds, and over time larger body sizes were selected for.  Their black-and-grey coloration may have something to do with Longleaf Pine as well.  This pine tree is extremely fire-resistant and flourishes in areas that experience fire.  In historic times on Daufuskie, leaf litter would build up on the ground and lighting strikes would cause fires.  The smokey colors of the Fox Squirrels may have helped camouflage them in a charred forest.  Whatever reason for their funky appearance, they are certainly a special species on our island!

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Longleaf Pine cone size compared to other species (Louisiana State University – Plant ID)

 

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A close relative to the Grey Fox Squirrel is the Eastern Grey Squirrel, pictured here

 

Daufuskie Island Black Fox Squirrel

Daufuskie Island Fox Squirrel

 

 

Interested in finding out more about wildlife on Daufuskie Island?  Join TD’s Naturalist in a “Wild Daufuskie” Eco tour!

The Iron Fish: new venue

written by Renee Harding

The Iron Fish Gallery & Studio has drawn national attention to Daufuskie Island with Chase Allen’s rustic coastal sculptures since opening in 2001.  This past summer The Iron Fish debuted its new gallery venue just a stone’s throw away from the original location.

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Starting in 2001, Chase Allen’s Gullah-constructed home created a unique and welcoming backdrop for his art gallery.  The gallery showcased sculpted fish, mermaids, stingrays, blue crabs, turtles, and more directly on his own front porch.

The Iron Fish original gallery venue...

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The Iron Fish gallery originally nestled on Allen’s front porch

This year Chase has officially outgrew the porch and moved his art next door.  The new venue won’t be difficult for visitors to find – it is still on his home property.  Completed in summer 2016, the current venue presents The Iron Fish artwork on a double-sided covered walkway.  With clearly marked parking spaces and an obvious entrance, visitors no longer will question if they’re trespassing.  The open space helps to showcase the variations in artistic theme work in a more polished light.

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The new gallery, debuted Summer 2016

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As always, you’ll likely find the artist himself hard at work in The Iron Fish studio, which is directly behind the gallery.  What else is new at The Iron Fish?  Chase has just finished up a 125-bird suspended installation at Palmetto Bluff Outfitters.  In addition, if you haven’t stopped by The Iron Fish recently to check out the new “Put a Light Behind Me!” collection, it is certainly worth the trip.  These back-lit pieces of artwork are coming soon to the Iron Fish website.

 

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Chase Allen welding Iron Fish artwork

 

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