This post really belongs to Ted, who documented our experience in photos and posted the original comments on Facebook. For Ted, this was the highlight of our adventures this year in South Carolina. Brookgreen Gardens would be a close second.
We discovered the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Centre while searching the web for South Carolina State Parks and conservation areas, wanting to make the best use of the SC Park Pass that the owner of our Surfside Beach condo had left for us to use. The TYWC is close to both Hobcaw Barony and Huntington State Park, which we also visited, but offers a completely different experience. Guided tours are offered twice weekly, free of charge but requiring advance reservations. Folks cannot simply walk around the 24,000 acre managed lands. They are accessible only by pontoon boat crossing the Intracoastal Waterway to Cat Island, and are far too large – and filled with potential dangers from gators, venomous snakes, and treacherous footing – to explore unaccompanied.
When we arrived in Surfside in March, I quickly booked the first available tour for April 10th, and we feel really fortunate to have snagged a spot before our scheduled return to Canada on Easter weekend.
This was scheduled to be a 4 hour bus tour of some of the property. Our tour guide, Jim, stretched it out to 5.5 hours. We didn’t mind it a bit, as it is truly an extremely fascinating place. Jim combined 37 years worth of knowledge of the property and its natural inhabitants with a wealth of information about the life and vision Tom Yawkey (long time owner of the Boston Red Sox) and the Yawkey Foundation which completely funds the property. Supplementing the natural glories were 3 stops concerned with history: the visitor centre with maps of the wetlands showing how the landscape has changed over the past 100 years; the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) church that was part of the largely Black town that existed on the property after emancipation and during the time that Tom Yawkey was beginning to manage the lands; and a small lodge containing Yawkey furnishings and memorabilia. At each stop, Jim had fascinating stories to share.
But back to the wildlife itself.
The first thing we saw was a yellow-bellied slider turtle laying eggs.
We saw lots of alligators of varying sizes, including babies.
…and birds! So many different kinds of birds. Unfortunately, this was an educational experience, not a birding experience. So, not a lot of opportunity to get decent pictures. Nonetheless, Ted took what I think are some pretty amazing ones through the bus window.
They do offer tours specifically for birding and photo opportunities, but only in January and February. The opportunity is very limited as they only do them for a few days, and the tour bus will only accommodate 14 people. The 14 people who manage to book these, are very, very lucky.
Overall, it was a FANTASTIC day, and reinforced just how important these managed wildlife centres are to conserving existing resources and educating the public about our environment.