Popular wading bird pond to lose last wax myrtles

A Charleston County Public Works crew clears built-up silt from a stormwater pond that had become a popular wading bird rookery at the county services complex off Leeds Avenue.

No wading birds were wandering a once-thriving rookery pond off Leeds Avenue on Monday, not as the huge excavator shovel dug up its bottom. The maintenance work might be the final blow for the throng of birds that made people stop to gape.

A Charleston County Public Works crew has drained the pond between the road and the county services complex to clear away silt that has built up. Officials say they will slope and terrace the shoreline with native plants, such as pickerel weed, to create a model “demonstration pond” for homeowners associations and others.

But the remaining wedge of wax myrtles overhanging the south bank will be removed. Only a few live oak will hang over the water.

“That’s not going to do the wading birds that need that pond any good. Wading birds need overhanging trees, period, and there’s fewer and fewer of them in the Charleston area. Anything else (county crews) do is just lip service baloney,” said Nathan Dias of Cape Romain Bird Observatory.

Egrets, herons and ibises were roosting by the hundreds at the two-acre pond when a protester four years ago stood between a crew’s chainsaws and the wax myrtles that overhung much of the shoreline. County officials, who said the work was to improve the view, stopped it and said no more wax myrtles would be removed.

But since that day, crews have returned intermittently, taking a few more of the trees at a time.

The Bridgeview Drive pond became one of thousands of little “make or break” points for wildlife in the developing Lowcountry.

Native wading birds are said to be declining in the Southeast, partly because of habitat lost to clearing and development. They’re showing up in numbers at smaller, impromptu roosts, such as the trees around stormwater drainage ponds in developed spots.

Wherever the birds alight, people flock to watch. At the Bridgeview Drive pond, the flocks swooped in at twilight to perch in throngs in the wax myrtles, then flew out at dawn. For county workers coming to and from work, they had become one of those “ah” moments that can take some of the stress out of a day.

The county, though, is in a tough spot. The ponds must be cleared out periodically. Their purpose is to temporarily hold stormwater, to help with flood control and to keep pollutants from draining into the nearby Ashley River. The wax myrtles aren’t enough to do that, much less stop the bank from eroding.

The native plantings to replace the trees are recommended by the Clemson Extension Service. The service is working with the county on the replanting.

“By using native plants you’re encouraging a healthier ecosystem, food and habitat for all sorts of wildlife,” said Guinn Wallover, service water resources manager.

The $20,000 to $25,000 county project is being handled mostly in-house as part of regular maintenance work, said Matthew Fountain, public works engineering manager. An additional $3,500 to $4,500 for the terracing and replanting will be handled the same way, with a Clemson Extension Service master pond manager class working hands-on and bringing their own supplies.

Just no native wax myrtles.

“It’s a shame they can’t replant more of the trees,” Dias said. “What’s it to them? I can’t get my head around that.”

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