I live a short distance from the Phinizy Swamp Natural Area. I can hop in the car and get there in 15 minutes by driving on a back road behind a few factories. The entrance is next to the Augusta Municipal Airport. If I didn’t have to take care of my disabled wife, I would visit Phinizy Swamp at least once a week. But I don’t want to leave my wife in the car by herself that often, especially during summer when temperatures are uncomfortable. Last week, on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, I decided it was the right time to look for winter migrant ducks at the swamp. I left Anita in the car with her crochet, and my daughter and I hiked the trail that leads to an elevated boardwalk encircling a retention pond. A surprise awaited us.
We heard a loud splash about 3 feet from where my daughter was walking. I knew immediately that she had almost stepped on an alligator. Augusta, Georgia is close to the northern limit of the American alligator’s range, but I didn’t realize there were any in this nature park. We walked to the other side of the pond and heard the alligator bellow. I’ve seen alligators on many occasions, but this was the first time I’d ever heard one bellow. Alligators bellow during the mating season, and they also bellow to establish their territory. Perhaps this alligator was telling us this was his pond.
On this blog I often lament the passing of the Pleistocene megafauna, so I must report that hearing the bellow of an extant species of megafauna makes me feel better…even thrills me.
Here’s audio/video from youtube of an alligator bellowing in the Okefenokee Swamp. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGyId1LMTnY
The bellowing of an alligator didn’t thrill John Lawson, the first European naturalist to settle in southeastern North America (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/john-lawsons-voyage-to-carolina-1700-1711/ ) He inadvertently built his house (it was probably little more than a wilderness cabin) on top of an alligator den. I just love his account of his experience.
“I was pretty much frightened with one of these once; which happened thus: I had built a house about a half a mile from an Indian town, on the Fork of the Neus River, where I dwelt by myself, excepting a young Indian fellow, and a Bull-dog, that I had along with me. I had not then been so long a Sojourner in America, as to be throughly acquainted with this Creature. One of them had got his Nest directly under my House, which stood on high Land, and by a Creek-side, in whose banks his Entring-place was, his Den reaching the Ground directly on which my house stood, I was sitting alone by the Fire-side (about nine a Clock at Night, some time in March) the Indian fellow being gone to the Town, to see his Relations; so that there was no body in the House, but my self and my Dog; when all of a sudden, this ill-favoured Neighbor of mine, set up such a Roaring, that he made the House shake about my Ears, and so continued, like a Bittern, (but a hundred times louder, if possible) for four or five times. The Dog stared, as if he was frightened out of his Senses; nor indeed, could I imagine what it was , having never heard one of them before. Immediately again I had another Lesson; and so a third. Being at the time amongst none but Savages, I began to suspect, they were working some Piece of conjuration under my house, to get away my Goods; not but that, at another time, I have as little Faith in their, or any others working miracles, by diabolic means as any person living. At last my man came in, to whom when I had told the Story, he laugh’d at me, and presently undeceived me, by telling me what it was that made that Noise.”
I also saw the migrant ducks I hoped to encounter, though they made it difficult for me to visually identify them. Every time I stopped to take a photo with my new camera, they ran on top of the water and swam in the opposite direction, tantalizingly just far away that I couldn’t positively identify which species they were. My new camera has a telephoto lens, but I didn’t know exactly what I was doing the first time I used it. I’m fairly certain I saw black ducks, pintails, female common mergansers, and goldeneyes. Cinnamon teal may have been present…most of the ducks were brown. Wading birds included great egrets and an immature white ibis.
An immature white ibis.
I think these are pintail ducks. There were many species of migratory ducks here, but they wouldn’t cooperate and swam away when I tried to take a photo. This was the first time I used this camera and didn’t realize I could have zoomed in even more.