Cast & Blast

Out on the water, the creatures of the Lowcountry are getting the urge to move on

A butterfly pauses at the columnist plant that grew from Mexican sunflower seeds.
A butterfly pauses at the columnist plant that grew from Mexican sunflower seeds. Submitted photo

How do they know and we humans don’t have a clue?

I’m talking about any one of the many species that migrates.

And what got me thinking about this amazing ability? It was a fluke. I planted a few Mexican sunflower seeds in early June. Thinking that those seeds would produce a regular sunflower, I was floored when they grew a plant that rivaled Jack and the Bean Stalk proportions. When it reached about nine feet tall, it finally began flowering and out popped dozens upon dozens of these smaller orangish-red flowers with a yellow center.

But the biggest surprise of all was still to come — butterflies of every size, color and type. It has proved to be the most amazing butterfly attractor I have ever seen. At any given time of day, there are so many butterflies on those flowers that it looks like the plant is squirming.

So for all you who appreciate gardening as much as I do, order some Mexican sunflower seeds for next year. Not only is it a beautiful plant, it flowers like there is no tomorrow. And if that isn’t enough, it draws butterflies like no plant I have ever seen.

But butterflies aren’t the only things that have begun their migration.

Just a short while back, as I was heading offshore, I noticed that massive pods of baitfish were everywhere.

If you have never seen this phenomenon, it is truly amazing. Picture an expanse of crystal clear, green water that is only broken up by large black spots. Those spots are in reality tightly packed schools of baitfish. Then, without warning, one of the spots turns white as equally large schools of bonito — members of the tuna family — drives the baitfish balls to the surface in a foaming mass.

Talk about a free-for-all. Its pure bedlam. Bonito slash through the baitfish, sending sheets of them flying through the air. Even larger predators bust through it all, going after the bonito. It really is a remarkable sight.

Don’t ask me where all these fish are heading, but obviously some force within is driving them to new grounds that be could hundreds, even thousands of miles away.

There’s also the migration of other fish species that you don’t see because they never come to the surface. It’s like a rush-hour traffic jam down there.

Fish that have gone offshore to hang in the cool depths to avoid the heat of summer are now heading back toward land while fish that relish the hot water closer to shore are beginning to sense that is time to head back south before the water temperature drops to uncomfortable levels.

The question again is how do they know?

Trying to put myself in their place, I haven’t really noticed much of a change in the weather. To me its still as hot as it was three weeks ago.

So what is it that triggers these mass migrations?

These sorts of things have captured my imagination for as long as I can remember. I am most definitely a “watcher” instead of one of those who just accepts things at face value.

I can only imagine that I must have been one of those kids who drove their parents crazy by asking too many questions. You know the type:

“Mom, where do babies come from?”

“The stork, honey.”

“Which kind of stork mom?” “

The baby stork, Collins!”

“Where does it roost mom?”

Collins, for pity’s sake, please shut up!”

Inshore there’s even a bigger traffic snarl up going on.

All those little shrimp, fish and crabs that have been hiding way back in the marshes for the last few months are now getting that sensation that is telling them its time to go. Think of them like your teenager who just graduated from high school and is getting ready to fly the coup and head to college. These fish are all grown up now and its time to meet the real world, except the real world they are facing has a lot more teeth than our human world. For them it is safety through numbers.

I’ll leave you with this tidbit: if ever there was a time to get out on the water, from now through the end of October is that time as the migration goes into over drive.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch the butterflies on my Mexican sunflower plant before they head to Mexico.