Just 15 miles north of Charleston near the fishing village of Awendaw, a small barrier island marks the beginning of the longest contiguous stretch of protected coastline on the Eastern seaboard.
Capers Island is a stunning example of the unique ecosystem that defines the Lowcountry landscape. On this three-mile spit of land perched at the edge of the Atlantic, one can experience a South Carolina beach in its natural state, walk through a maritime forest and witness the dramatic change the ebb and flow of tides brings to the salt marsh.
One of the best ways to explore this dynamic environment is on a guided kayak tour. Coastal Expeditions offers trips to Capers Island, led by naturalists who can tell you about the area's history and the wildlife that call it home.
To make it easier on participants, the guided tours are planned to take advantage of the current created by the incoming and outgoing tides. Launching from the Gadsdenville Boat Landing, you'll wind your way along a narrow tidal creek through a vast estuary teaming with fish and birds.
Riding the tide, it's an easy two-and-a-half-mile paddle to the beachhead on the southwestern point of the island. From here to Debordieu Island, this 50-mile stretch of protected coastline is undeveloped and wild.
On an early summer morning, it's not unusual to have schools of shrimp and Atlantic menhaden jumping out of the nutrient-rich waters around your boat. With the receding tide, huge fields of oyster beds begin to appear as you get out into the wider channels of the estuary.
Once there, you can walk the beach while your guide points out any island inhabitants you encounter along the way. On a recent visit, kayakers saw Carolina anoles scurrying across the sand, a blue crab in a tide pool, several beached moon jellyfish and sandbar sharks swimming along the shore.
The island's diversity of habitats supports an array of four-footed wildlife, from alligators to white-tailed deer. A trail provides access through the maritime uplands where many of the animals live.
A state heritage preserve, Capers also is an outstanding birding site, boasting more than 294 species of migratory birds. At one brackish water impoundment, the collection of avian visitors included the unusual roseate spoonbill.
The exposed banks draw egrets and herons, scavenging the shores for crustaceans, insects and small fish. Low tide is also a likely time to see bottlenose dolphins in the marsh. If you're lucky, you may catch them strand feeding, an unusual foraging behavior where they corral a school of fish on a sandbar or beach and then launch themselves onto the sand to feed.
The nursery of the sea, the estuary is also prime hunting grounds for osprey, red-tailed hawks, wood storks and eagles, often seen soaring overhead in search of a meal. Other regulars to the marsh include black skimmers, oystercatchers and ibis.
A visit to Capers will include a walk along boneyard beach, where years of erosion has left behind a "graveyard" of dead trees, bleached by the sun and beaten by the surf. The decaying trunks attract acorn barnacles, mussels and an assortment of insects.
For those who prefer not to paddle, Coastal Expeditions offers boat charters to the island, as well as a variety of other ecotours to the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge just north of Capers.
You can find more information on any of the outfitter's kayak, stand-up paddleboard or Lowcountry boat tours at their website or by calling 843.884.7684.