Getting in touch with nature is the goal of many Brays Island residents and visitors. With 5,500 acres of pristine Lowcountry landscape to explore, there’s no shortage of opportunity here for outdoorsy types. A paradise for birders, aquaphiles and seekers of grand vistas, our pastoral plantation piles on the fresh air potential.
One of the best places to start is the Nature Center. This destination offers a fascinating glimpse into the development of the plantation. The rooms are filled with artifacts and pictures that help reveal the rich and diverse history of Brays Island. There are numerous wildlife specimens — both preserved and live exhibits — comprised of some of the many species that call the plantation home. Our Nature Center is open seven days a week for owners to visit, learn and enjoy!
Custom private nature programs are readily available for our owners. These programs can be tailored to the participant’s specific needs and ages and can run from one to four hours as needed. Our on-site naturalist, Bruce Lampright, hosts outings ranging from owl prowls and birding trips to crabbing and kayaking excursions. Whether experienced on your own or as part of a group of fellow nature-lovers, the following activities will surely delight.
1. Butterfly Garden
There are a wide variety of butterflies fluttering in the skies around Brays Island Plantation. In an effort to attract and maintain as many as possible, a beautiful butterfly garden was planted just behind the Nature Center.
Bruce Lampright and Brenda Fontenot worked together to design the garden to include just the right kinds of plants and flowers that aid butterflies by providing both food and habitat. One of the primary goals is to make sure that there are appropriate areas for the butterflies to lay eggs. Milkweed, for example, attracts monarch butterflies.
2. Nature Walks
Bruce periodically hosts nature walks through different parts of the plantation. While out, owners will learn a great deal about the flora and fauna that also call Brays Island home. These walks are fairly intimate affairs, which gives everyone the chance to enjoy a very hands-on experience. As the plantation’s on-site naturalist, Bruce is simply there to teach and answer questions.
This is also a great place to learn more about the various subsections of the property. With 5,500 acres to share, this an effective way of exploring with someone who already knows the lay of the land.
Bruce is also available for private walks, which is a great way to entertain friends and family.
Bruce leads a large group of explorers on a nature walk hosted on the plantation. These nature walks are a great way to learn more about the property and the plants and animals that call Brays home.
3. Honey Bees
Do you like honey? Maybe drizzle a little on your biscuit or add a teaspoon or two to your coffee every morning as a substitute for processed sugar? If so, drop by the Nature Center and speak with Bruce about when the next batch of honey will be harvested from the plantation’s hives. There are five hives in total, but the amount of honey extracted from the hives varies from one harvest to the next. In very good years, we will harvest several hundred pounds of this natural treat. And it is delicious.
All of the work on the hives is handled by Bruce along with some help from several volunteers. If interested, come by and lend a hand and learn all about these fascinating creatures.
4. Harvesting Chanterelles
There are quite a few varieties of edible mushrooms found in the state of South Carolina, but one of the best known and most highly prized is the chanterelle.
Distinctively colored, this orange or yellow mushroom is meaty and funnel-shaped, very different from the common cap-shaped mushroom. Underneath the smooth cap, the chanterelle has gill-like ridges that run almost all the way down its stipe, which tapers down seamlessly from the cap. It emits a fruity aroma, reminiscent of apricots, has a mildly peppery taste and is widely considered an excellent edible mushroom.
This is a great choice for people who don’t have a lot of experience harvesting wild mushrooms. It is very distinctive, and there are really no dangerous mushrooms that grow in the area that can be confused with the chanterelle.
5. Mushroom Garden
Behind the Nature Center, you’ll also find a growing population of shiitake mushrooms.
After a bit of consulting and some research, Bruce determined that shiitake mushrooms are easy to grow. Although typically found on oak logs, they can thrive in many hardwoods and even sweetgum, he said, adding that an abundant supply of sweetgum, red oak and a few other species on Brays provided the perfect environment for this experiment.
“On a cold December day, we went out there, and the guys were drilling holes in logs that were about an inch and a half deep, and the ladies were tapping these plugs in,” Bruce recalled. “We started with 1,000 plugs, I believe. Then we had another group of ladies who were sealing over those plugs by painting them with melted soy wax.”
Then came the hard part. Waiting.
These delectable mushrooms take between nine months and a year to fruit.
“About mid-September, boom, we started seeing them popping out, and boy did they come out,” Bruce said. “Some of the mushrooms were probably four to five inches in diameter. They looked like big hamburger buns, so that was a nice surprise.
“Since September, we have probably had four fruitings, and we just recently delivered 11 pounds of shiitake mushrooms to our chefs. We have also been able to share some of the mushrooms with the owners who helped.”
Adults aren’t the only ones who are enjoying the harvest. During a recent Kids’ Camp, children learned about these mushrooms and helped harvest and deliver the bounty to the chefs at the Inn and Plantation Grill.
“There is plenty of room, so we’ll just keep expanding as we want,” Bruce said.
6. Kayaking Tours
A maze of tidal creeks surrounding Brays Island forms a kayaker’s paradise. Kayaking is a great way to introduce owners to the natural beauty that surrounds the plantation. The ebb and flow of the tides reveal the varied layers that make our saltwater environment so special. Falling tides expose everything from vast swaths of spartina grass, which transform from chartreuse green in the spring to golden orange in the fall, to fertile oyster beds that sustain a maritime food chain.
Herons and other predatory birds feed on the exposed crabs as the tides change, while dolphins corral and tear into schools of bait fish on mud banks exposed by these ever-changing tides.
The ACE Basin, a 350,000-acre wildlife sanctuary on our doorstep, offers kayakers a multitude of pristine locations to explore year round in the Lowcountry’s temperate climate. Kayaks are readily available for single or tandem trips.
The digital revolution has made photography less expensive, and there is no longer any wait time to find out if you captured the image. We live in an age of instant gratification. What hasn’t changed, however, is the need to find quality subjects.
Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “A photograph is neither taken or seized by force. It offers itself up. It is the photo that takes you. One must not take photos.” There are few places where more photographs offer themselves up than on Brays Island.
“Brays is a photographer’s paradise,” said owner Dottie Tison. “It doesn’t matter if I am using my cell phone camera or long lens, a unique photo is always waiting to be captured.”
8. Owl Prowl
Owl Prowl Enjoy the wonders of nature under the cover of darkness with Bruce as he attempts to call in members of the resident owl population. These fantastic events, known as owl prowls, start out with a brief presentation at the Nature Center prior to moving outdoors in search of these interesting denizens of the night. Bruce hosts several owl prowls beginning in October each year, offering a unique way to discover the birds in their natural setting.
He uses recorded calls, hoot flutes and sometimes even his own mouth to call to the raptors. The hope is that one or more of the birds will call back and maybe even do a fly-by for the prowlers to see.
According to Bruce, the owl population on Brays is very healthy and includes three main species: the great horned owl, the barred owl and the eastern screech owl.
9. Shark Tooth and Fossil Hunting
Beneath the surface of the tidal rivers surrounding us at Brays and in much of Beaufort County lie remarkable treasures in the form of fossils dating back tens of millions of years. Back then, the ocean reached as far inland as Columbia, S.C., and giant predators swam where we currently walk.
Most sought after are the teeth of the megalodon shark — the most fearsome predator ever to have lived. Measuring up to 60 feet in length and weighing in excess of 100,000 pounds, the megalodon would have had to devour the equivalent of a 2,000-pound great white shark daily in order to survive. Fossilized whale bones with serrated gash marks are grim reminders of the ferocity of the megalodon attack.
Other fossils ranging from woolly mammoth tusks to giant sloth claws can also be found by those intrepid enough to dive for them. At Brays, our naturalist and fishing guides are available to help our owners find shark teeth from many species that once called this region home.
Artifacts and fossils from the local inhabitants of a bygone era can be found on and around Brays Island. Our guides are generous in sharing local knowledge when it comes to searching for these treasures.
Endless Opportunities in Nature
Brays Island offers a dynamic, ever-changing natural experience to Owners and guests throughout the year. There’s the long-blooming camellia garden providing a soft pink spectacle in peak season and the winter birds that migrate south when temperatures cool. With every season and every weather pattern, we’re delighted by new and exciting facets of nature. There’s never a dull moment for nature-lovers at Brays!