Devil Fish

Field Work and a Feral Horse
by Emma Kelley -- March 2nd, 2015

A week ago, a rare warm Sunday in the streak of cold weather we’ve had in Beaufort, I spent some time in the field working on my independent study project.

the marsh

Salt marsh in Carrot Island. Photo Credit: Emma Kelley

I selected Carrot Island, right across from the Duke Marine Lab, as my study site.  This is the island you see staring out the windows of the Repass Lecture Hall, where most of my classes have been.  Katie, a fellow CEM, joined me for some much needed time outside of the computer lab and out in the field.  We put our kayaks in on Front Street and paddled across Taylor’s Creek to the shore of Carrot Island.  During a ghost tour of Beaufort last Halloween, my friends and I learned that Carrot Island was originally named Cart Island; however, due to strong southern accents and some miscommunication, it became known as Carrot Island.  We made our way up along the shore and turned into a tidal creek, which lead to a beautiful marsh with plenty of mudflat and Spartina habitat for me to explore. As we pulled our canoes up on the flats, we spotted a lone feral horse grazing nearby.


Kayaking with Katie down Taylor’s Creek. Photo by Emma Kelley

horse and marsh

A feral horse grazing in the marsh. Photo by Emma Kelley

The first time exploring a new field site and trying out a new methodology is both slow and interesting. I had to identify the exact spots were I wanted to make my field observations and adjust my methodology for anything I hadn’t considered. After walking around quite a bit, I settled on my first zone: mudflats near a oyster reef.  Before I could get down to business, the feral horse decided to check out our kayaks. Fortunately, they weren’t terribly interesting and the horse wandered away after a few quick sniffs.  The feral horses on the small coastal islands near Beaufort are beautiful and a fun attraction for visiting relatives, but they are still wild animals, and I’m always sure to keep some distance.

study site

My mudflat study site. Photo by Emma Kelley

horse and kayak 2

The feral horse coming by to check out our kayaks. Photo by Emma Kelley

horse kayak 1

It turns out kayaks aren’t very interesting to feral horses. Photo by Emma Kelley

I put my quadrant down on the mudflat, identifying snails and counting hermit crabs – a much more time-consuming endeavor than I had originally considered.  Each individual is usually covered in a layer of mud, making identification difficult.  Is this a live mud snail?  Or is it just an empty shell full of mud?  Katie came to my rescue and recorded my counts while I got my hands (and shirt) dirty making my identifications.  In each quadrant there were up to 200 mud snails, with a few hermit crabs and periwinkles. Unfortunately, even with Katie’s help, counting took up far more time than I had estimated and the sun was starting to set after I finished my mudflat zone observations. I’ll be heading out again soon to explore the Spartina habitats, so stay tuned!


My first quadrant of the day. What do you see? Photo by Emma Kelley


The most hermit crabs from one quadrant. Photo by Emma Kelley

approaching horse 1

Til the next warm day! Photo by Emma Kelley


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