Bomb Island

Last Saturday I joined the Palmetto Paddlers for an evening trip out to Bomb Island on Lake Murray. This island, also known as Lunch Island or Doolittle Island, is summer home to many thousands of purple martins. The island got its name because it was a practice target for World War II pilots.

Flying Machine
I missed the cookout at one of our member’s houses on Lake Murray, but made it in time for the paddle. It had been a very hot August day, and it was still in the mid 90s (~35°C) when we took to the water at 6:30pm. We had a large crowd made up of 17 kayaks and canoes. We paddled out of the shady cove and into the hot sun, floating on a lake as warm as bathwater. The big lake was stirred up like a bathtub too, with powerboat wakes mixing to create unpredictable seas.

We kept out of the way of the boat traffic as best we could. We paddled to a nearby island and into a shallow gap. From there we could see Bomb Island across a large patch of open water. There was still plenty of daylight so it was an easy crossing.

A few powerboats lingered in the vicinity of Bomb Island, many being used as swimming platforms to beat the heat. We circled counterclockwise around. A few boaters had stopped for a picnic on the western side, which isn’t closed off. We eventually ended up just off the eastern end. Signs on this side of the island proclaimed the roost and asked people to keep out. The water here was shallow enough to get out of the kayaks, and many of us jumped in to swim and cool off.

Purple Martins
The sun was low in the sky and the purple martins began their performance. Swarms of the birds arrived from all directions, circling the island, climbing and diving. Some rested atop the trees and soft squawks of thousands of birds combined to an impressive cacophony. The waves came and went, usually absent when I fished my camera from its waterproof bag, returning when I put it away. But it was pleasant to bob in the water, cool off, and watch the birds.

As the sky grew darker, we got back into our paddle-craft and circled to the north shore of the island. This side was loaded with a flotilla of powerboats, and it really offered a better view of the birds than the eastern end. Here you could see hundreds of birds at the water’s edge, getting a drink or playing in the mud of the sharply eroded shoreline.

We floated here and watched the sunset. Two unusual lines rose from the horizon near the sun and crossed nearly the whole sky. Perhaps crepuscular rays? We sat for a while and debated the best time to make the crossing back to the landing. Start before the powerboats or wait for them to leave? We ended up waiting for many of them to leave.

The members of our group had a diverse group of kayak/canoe lighting methods. A few others and myself had headlamps, others had elaborate marine lighting attached with suction cups, and others had blinking red LEDs. As we paddled back, it became apparent that the more lights, the better, as several powerboaters crisscrossed the lake, churning up the water. One idiot in a noisy “muscle” boat doubled his speed after he noticed our group.

We probably should have kept our paddle group tighter as we returned, but we fortunately all made it back without incident, with stories to tell about the birds of Bomb Island.

Update 2005-09-01: The club trip report.