Archive for the ‘Natural History Expeditions’ Category

Vacation 2022 Part 2–The Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

May 25, 2022

During World War II the U.S. government bought the land that currently makes up The Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Before the Civil War most of this land belonged to a single wealthy plantation-owner, but in 1865 he deeded the land to one of his slaves. The land was later sold in parcels to white and black families who primarily worked in the seafood industry. An airfield was built on one of the parcels of this land during 1929 to serve as an emergency landing strip for flights between Jacksonville, Florida and Richmond, Virginia. The U.S. Army Air Force decided to purchase the airfield and all of the surrounding land during 1942, so the airfield could be used for aircraft that hunted for German submarines lurking off the coast. The U.S. government paid white landowners $37.21 per acre, while black owners were paid $26.90 per acre. I’m against reparations for slavery because it is too late. The time for slavery reparations was 100 years ago, but the victims of slavery and their immediate descendants are long gone. It also seems ridiculous to make modern taxpayers pay for the sins of some people’s great-great-great-great-grandfathers. However, I am in favor of reparations for African Americans who suffered discrimination by the federal government since the World War II era. The above-mentioned land purchase is one example. Many WWII era black veterans were denied GI benefits given to their white counterparts. The Agriculture Department routinely would not give loans to black farmers. Families that can show the federal government discriminated against them since the WWII era should be eligible for reparations. Many of these families and their immediate descendants are still alive.

Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge is located near Brunswick, Georgia, a coastal industrial town. I saw 14 species of birds here in less than an hour. (We didn’t stay long because the burning sun punished us, while biting horse flies dive-bombed our heads.) As soon as I parked my car, I spotted rare male and female painted buntings feeding at a bird feeder placed near the entrance. This alone made this side trip on the way home from Jekyll Island worth the time. I almost took a perfect photo of the colorful male, but it flew away as soon as my camera focused. I didn’t want to keep harassing the shy bird and left satisfied with my partially obscured photo.

Spanish moss-draped live oaks dominate the drier areas of The Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge.
I saw these rare painted buntings as soon as I pulled into the parking lot. The male is the more colorful one. I almost took a photo of its entire body, but it flew away as soon as I had it in focus. I didn’t want to continuously harass it.

We walked to a couple of ponds, past the “don’t feed the alligator” signs, and saw great egrets, snowy egrets, cormorants, anhinga, and endangered wood storks. Who is stupid enough to feed an alligator?

I think this is an anhinga and not a cormorant because of the neck coloration.
This is a double-crested cormorant.
Endangered wood stork in flight.
Endangered wood storks.

This refuge is a mecca for ducks, geese, and bald eagles during winter, and during summer it serves as a rookery for egrets, herons, and storks. I was excited to realize when I got home that I’d taken a photo of a black-crowned night heron. I took the photo from a distance into the shade and wrongly assumed it was just another great blue heron. I have taken many photos of great blue herons. I can now add this species along with the painted bunting to my lifetime bird checklist. I had never seen either species before. In addition I saw red-headed woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, mourning dove, cardinal, tufted titmouse, black vulture, and a catbird.

Black-crowned night heron. This was the first time I had ever seen this species, and I didn’t realize I had gotten it on camera. I took this shot from a distance and assumed it was just another great blue heron.

Vacation 2022 Part 1–Jekyll Island

May 20, 2022

We were pleased with our room in the Days Inn at Jekyll Island. Many hotels claim to be handicapped friendly, but it seems as if they pay perfunctory attention to the needs of disabled people. However, this hotel really had excellent handicapped facilities, making my wife happy, thus reducing my stress, so I could enjoy the beach.

Driftwood Beach

An interesting active geological action is currently taking place on Jekyll Island. Engineers dredge the river outlet north of the island, and along with natural currents, this is causing the north end of the island to rapidly erode. The ocean is inundating a maritime forest here, killing the live oaks and cedar trees where they stand. This landscape is beautiful and different. Jekyll Island is not shrinking away. Longshore currents carry the eroded sediment from the north end of the island to the south end, and this end of the island is expanding in the form of large sand dunes.

The ocean is inundating the northern end of Jekyll Island, killing the maritime forest that stood here for centuries.
One can see how extensive a live oak’s root system is.
Bye bye forest, hello ocean.
Sediment from the north end of the island is carried by longshore currents to the south end of the island where it forms large sand dunes.

Sharktooth Beach

I’d rename this broken shell beach. Although I’m sure people find shark teeth here, they are greatly outnumbered by broken seashells. The beach appears to be composed of modern shells mixed with black-colored fossil specimens. It took us about 15-20 minutes to walk from the road to this beach located on Jekyll Creek between the island and the mainland. Many cedar trees covered in grapevines grew alongside the trail, and a salt marsh was also adjacent.

Sharktooth beach. We didn’t find any definitive shark’s teeth here.
Oyster shell, sea drill, and some other broken shells I found on Sharktooth Beach. The darker ones may be fossils.

The Sea Turtle Center

Veterinarians treat injured sea turtles here. Most are injured by human activities. It is worth the visit, but I felt sad the only opportunity to see these poor creatures is when they get hurt.

Loggerhead sea turtle being cared for at the Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island.
Juvenile loggerhead sea turtle.
Sinkey Boone, a shrimp trawler captain, invented the sea turtle excluder which are now required equipment on all shrimp trawlers. They let in shrimp but prevent turtles from getting caught in the nets and drowned. Sinkey seems like a bad name for a boat captain.
Diamondback terrapin juveniles. The Sea Turtle Center also cares for this species and injured box turtles as well.

Birds on Jekyll Island

I saw 19 species of birds on Jekyll Island plus gray squirrels, and the tracks of rabbit, deer, and raccoon on the beach.

Female boat-tailed grackle. This species is by far the most common songbird on the island. Males are larger and pure black.
Piping plover. This species spends summers in high northern latitudes. It still has a long way to go.
I think these are semi-palmated sandpipers.
I cannot identify what species of sandpiper this is. Closest match I can find is a sanderling. Somebody help.
This was part of a huge flock of brown pelicans.
Even Bugs Bunny likes to go to the beach. These are rabbit tracks.

My bird checklist for Jekyll Island includes boat-tailed grackle, red-winged blackbird, mourning dove, bluebird, cardinal, tufted titmouse, green heron, snowy egret, laughing gull, ringed gull, piping plover, semi-palmated sandpiper (I think), sanderling (I think), immature white ibis, common crow, fish crow, black vulture, black skimmer, and brown pelican. I also saw gray squirrels, a road-killed black racer, and the tracks of rabbit, raccoon, and deer.

The Greeneway Trail in North Augusta, South Carolina

October 22, 2021

My fantasy of living in a primeval wilderness is not realistic, but many suburban communities are taking action to preserve green space that would otherwise be transmogrified into cement and asphalt. The Greeneway Trail is an example of protected green space that improves the quality of life for local residents. The trail follows an abandoned railroad right of way and leads to a series of ponds created from pits dug for clay used in the nearby manufacture of brick. The trail is shaded by tall trees, and in some places it bisects steep hills. During construction of the rail line, probably shortly before or after the Civil War, railroad workers dug through the hills to make the rail line flat. This makes for a nice flat trail enjoyed by hikers and bikers. The trail is paved, and I was able to push my wife’s wheelchair on it with little effort. The brick factories closed during the Great Depression, and the area became abandoned until the 1990’s when Mayor Tom Greene led the repurposing of the railroad right of way and abandoned brick factories into a green space everybody could enjoy. State funds were used to pay for construction and maintenance of the trail.

The Greeneway Trail in North Augusta, South Carolina is named after the mayor behind the development of this really nice park.
The paved tree-shaded lanes follow what used to be railroad right of ways.
The trail is completely flat because the construction crews building the railways dug through hills to make the track flat for trains. Some parts of the road have steep hills on both sides, making it even shadier. Here are the exposed roots of an old water oak.
Species of trees found along the Greeneway Trail are typical of river bottomland forests. Another common environment on the original river bottomlands were pure stands of bamboo cane known as canebrakes. They formerly were found in pure stands that covered hundreds of square miles. I found a small stand of bamboo cane along the trail.
Brick pond. Until the Great Depression there were brick factories in North Augusta. Workers dug pits for the clay which they used to make bricks. The pits filled with water and became ponds.
A yellow bellied cooter on Brick Pond.

The common species of trees along the Greeneway Trail are those typically found in river bottom land forests including sweetgum, sycamore, water oak, red maple, basswood, river birch, shortleaf pine, and non-native evergreen Carolina cherry (a species native to the coast). Cypress and weeping willow were planted as ornamentals. There are small stands of bamboo cane, and grape vines are abundant on the trees. Pickerel weed grows in the ponds. This area was abandoned during the 1930’s, and most of the mature trees are probably about 90 years old.

The Trail runs parallel to the Savannah River, and during certain times of they year birdwatching must be productive. I saw 6 species in an hour–crows, blue jays, bluebirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, and an unidentified species of warbler. I thought I’d gotten a photo of the warbler, but it was not in the picture when I examined the image on my computer. Small birds don’t cooperate with photographers. On a log in the pond I saw a yellow bellied slider. Reportedly, alligators occur in the ponds. Photos of deer on the Greeneway Trail have been posted on the Friends of the Greeneway Trail Facebook Page.

While we were at Brick Pond, a worker was using a leaf blower to clear the leaves from a picnic area, ruining the quiet natural atmosphere. Leafblowers are 1 of the dumbest contraptions ever invented by mankind. They perform the same function as a rake or broom, but leaf blowers are more expensive, horribly noisy, and belch noxious fumes. Shmucks who use them are polluting the air with noise and poisonous exhaust. Moreover, small engines often break down, so the jerks who use them waste money on the dumb machine itself, fuel, and repairs…all because they are too lazy to use a rake. Rakes never break down. I’m sure my rant against leaf blowers will fall on deaf ears because the assholes that use them must be deaf from the noise they endured from the stupid machines.

Riverview Park is part of the Greeneway, and it is a really nice facility. The park offers a gym, beach volleyball, frisbee golf, real golf, tennis, and a dog park in addition to the trail for hikers and bikers. A boat ramp accesses the Savannah River. The Greeneway is also within walking distance of Antonio’s (a classic Italian restaurant on a corner), a traditional British style pub, Gary’s Hamburgers, and a Waffle House. I’d enjoy living in a neighborhood near the Greeneway.

Beach volleyball anyone?

Vacation 2021–Dahlonega, Georgia

July 30, 2021

We chose a close destination for this year’s vacation–Dahlonega, Georgia located in the north central part of the state. My wife and I don’t like to travel and it was just a 3 hour drive. My daughter and I looked forward to nearby hiking trails, and I hoped to find some local wines to bring home with me.

Woody Gap Trail

Woody Gap Trail is part of the Appalachian Trail system. It hasn’t been logged for over a century and is in the process of becoming an old growth forest. Oaks were the most common kind of tree. I was surprised at how common black oaks were because I never thought of that species as a tree that occurs on mountains, but I was not surprised to see the rock chestnut, northern red, and white oaks. Tulip, maple, hickory, and elm were also abundant. Some of the tulip trees were quite large with diameters over 3 feet thick. In virgin forests they can get even get bigger, and I’m sure some of these will eventually grow to be enormous, unless a storm knocks them down. Ferns and tree saplings covered the forest floor. It wasn’t a good time of year to see wildlife. By midmorning, it was already so sultry, the animals were inactive and resting under cover. I saw a gray squirrel, a robin, and a crow, and I heard a bird call I didn’t recognize. It was from a species that doesn’t live in my neighborhood. I searched the internet for calls of bird species that live in deep forests such as wood thrush, white breasted nuthatch, and warblers, but none of their calls matched what I heard, so I suppose it will be a mystery bird. While we were walking on the trail, an 8 year old girl who was hiking with her family loudly imitated the sound of a monkey for 20 minutes non stop. We didn’t have to worry about stumbling upon a mother bear and her cubs. The air smelled good, except for a small area of the trail where a skunk must have passed earlier that morning.

The forest floor alongside Woody Gap Trail is covered in ferns and saplings.
Some of the tulip trees here get quite big–the trunks are over 3 feet in diameter.
Preacher’s Rock. Looks like it would make a good bear’s den, if it wasn’t next to the trail.

The Dahlonega Gold Belt

Dahlonega is located in an interesting geological region known as the Dahlonega gold belt. 500 million years ago, this area of the globe consisted of volcanic islands. Hot magma flowing into deep ocean dissolved gold from the sea water. The gold became concentrated in cracks of quartzite rock that resulted from faulting. Gold is a basic element that doesn’t erode and can be found among rocks that do erode. The discovery of gold here during 1829 caused a gold rush and further contributed to the desire among Europeans to remove Native Americans from the region. Crisson is an active gold mine in Dahlonega where people can pay to pan for gold. This sounded tedious to me, but I did find some interesting artifacts in their gift shop. They sell Jasper arrowheads. Native Americans made this type of arrowhead during the Archaic Age which lasted from about 6000 years BP to 1500 years BP. If I did pan for gold, I’d be more interested in fossils and human-made artifacts.

Jasper arrowheads. They are of Archaic Indian Age. They sell these for $1.50 at the Crisson Gold Mine.

Vineyards and Mead

There are 15 vineyards in the Dahlonega region. Grapes thrive here because of the climate and the sloping hilly land. Most of the vineyards have wineries where people can pay to taste wine, pretend they like it, and buy bottles. The wineries are only open for a few hours, a few days a week, and none were open at a convenient time for us. We did find a place that makes and sells its own mead. Mead is wine made by fermenting honey. My late great-grandfather was a beekeeper who made his living by turning his honey into mead. He would drive to bars in his horse and buggy and sell his mead. He was also a famous poet in Europe, and the Emperor Franz Josef of the Austro-Hungarian Empire invited him to recite his poetry. After the Nazis invaded Poland during World War II, they arrested him and his wife for being Jewish and he died in a concentration camp.

I bought mead at a meadery in Dahlonega. There are also 15 vineyards in the area, but their winerys are open just a few hours a day, just a few days a week.

The Sawnee Mountain Preserve in Forsythe County, Georgia

On the way home we stopped by the Sawnee Mountain Preserve, an area protected by Forsythe County, a suburb of Atlanta. We walked on the Fairy Tale Trail. Girl Scouts decorate the trail with little wooden houses where fairies can live. I was more impressed with the trees. White oak, swamp chestnut oak, southern red oak, hickory, and tulip were the most common trees I noticed. There were a few shortleaf pine but not many. This tract is also in the process of becoming an old growth forest. I heard cicadas and a tree frog, but again it is just not the right time of year for wildlife watching. They did have gold fish and red-eared sliders in a manmade pool.

Aerial photograph of the view from Sawnee Mountain in Forsythe County, Georgia in 1924 (top) and today. There was more agricultural land 100 years ago, but today there are more houses and trees.
3-pronged southern red oak at Sawnee Mountain Preserve.
Grapevines and saplings cover the forest floor alongside the Fairy Tale Trail in Sawnee Mountain Preserve.
There are a multitude of impressive white oaks in the Sawnee Mountain Preserve.

Vacation in a Shady Forest

August 6, 2020

I let my daughter choose our vacation destination this year, and she picked the mountains of southwestern North Carolina.  My wife and I readily agreed to this choice as an escape from the horrible heat of Augusta, Georgia.  On the way we stopped at the Georgia Guide Stones just outside Elberton, Georgia.  40 years ago, a mysterious organization paid to have these monuments erected.  Each stone is inscribed with 10 rules that society should live by.  The rules are written in 9 different languages including English, Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Russian, and Swahili.  Among my favorite rules are a suggestion that earth’s population should be limited to 500 million people, and more room should be left for nature.  The Guide Stones are located in the middle of a cow pasture not far from soybean and sorghum fields.

The Georgia Guide Stones.

Before we checked into our hotel we visited Whitewater Falls.  It is wheelchair accessible, but I had to push my wife up a steep half-mile incline for her to get a view of the falls.  Bystanders were impressed with my feat of strength.  The woods around the falls consists of maple, tulip, locust, rock chestnut oak, rhododendron, hemlock, and white pine.  Bear foot, a yellow flower with unusually large leaves, was in bloom.

Bear foot also known as leaf cup (Polynmia uvedula)

Whitewater Falls.

We stayed at the Mt. Toxoway Hotel, a mom and pop operation with 8 rooms and maybe half a dozen cottages.  They still use old-fashioned room keys.  Toxoway is the Cherokee Indian word for red bird which in this region could mean either cardinal or tanager.  The air smelled sweet here–the hotel is located in the middle of the woods, though busy route 64 is 30 feet from the rooms.  The traffic does die down between 11 pm and 7 am.  I heard several species of crickets, frogs, tufted titmice (or cardinals imitating tufted titmice), and rufous-sided towhees.

That night we ate at a golf course pub, about the only place open on Sunday in the area.  They serve $14 hamburgers and $6 beers.  We sat on a deck with a nice view of the golf course and nearby mountains.  The view likely explains the inflated prices.  After we finished eating I was ready to pay our bill, and I went looking for the waitress because we were in a hurry to get back to the hotel to watch the season finale of Naked and Afraid XL.  Our waitress wore a mask when she served us, and I saw a woman who might’ve been her, but she was standing behind the bar and not wearing a mask.  I wasn’t sure it was her.  I decided to go behind her to see if I could recognize her ass, but luckily she saw me and took the money, and I didn’t have to resort to that awkward method.

The next morning we visited Gorges State Park.  The trail goes through a shady maple-dominated forest with some shortleaf pine, hickory, and rhododendron.  Maple is a shade-tolerant tree, but oak is not, and I think I saw just 1 oak tree.  Some areas of the forest are really dark, even during the middle of the day.  I could smell a skunk that walked along the trail, probably a few hours earlier, but I saw no wildlife, other than an horsefly that kept biting me whenever I stopped to take a photo.  There were lots of people on the trail.  We walked for an hour but didn’t quite make it to Rainbow Falls before we experienced a lightning storm.  It rained all afternoon, and I stayed in the hotel room and read a fictional biography of Sherlock Holmes.

Patch of Ferns in Gorges State Park.

View of the Gorge in Gorges State Park.

Moss-covered boulder.

We went to eat supper at a pub with more reasonable prices than the establishment we patronized the previous night.  The pub is named the Ugly Dog Cafe` in honor of their signature chili dog topped with cheese and jalapenos.  I ate a gyro, my daughter had a salmon BLT, and my wife enjoyed a portobello mushroom sandwich.  We slept good that night because it was nice and cool.  The temperature dropped to below 60–20 degrees cooler than Augusta mornings during summer.

On the way back home we stopped to take a stroll through part of Clemson Experimental Forest.  The University purchased worn out farmland decades ago, and the woods have grown back.  The trail we followed went through an open woods of shortleaf pine.  Somebody planted pawpaw trees by the sides of the trail, and 1 specimen was 20 feet tall, but none bore fruit.  A powerline right of way was a welcome respite from the shady forest we hiked through the day before.  I saw a couple deer here.  I prefer rural piedmont fields and woods over shady mountain forests.  They host a greater variety of landscapes and hold more wildlife too.  On the road we passed farms where bison, longhorn cattle, Brahma bulls, horses, and goats were pastured.  Seeing a beautiful black bison in South Carolina was the biggest surprise of the trip.

Trail in Clemson Experimental Forest.

Look how red the soil is at Clemson Experimental Forest.  Farming eroded all of the top soil at this site decades ago.

Butterfly Pea. Legumes grow well on poor soils.

Power line right of way at Clemson Experimental Forest.  I prefer the mix of fields and woods in the piedmont over shady mountain forests.


My 4th Visit to Phinizy Swamp

May 28, 2020

Phinizy Swamp is a protected wetland located in Augusta, Georgia about a 20 minute drive from my house, and if I could, I would visit it more often than I do.  We strolled through the swamp 2 weeks ago for the first time since my daughter almost stepped on an alligator’s head here.  I wasn’t expecting to see as much bird life during late spring because wintering ducks have already migrated north.  However, I did see big flocks of spotted sandpipers (Actitis macularious) and chimney swifts flying over the water, and I also saw a couple of lesser yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes).  The spotted sandpipers and lesser yellowlegs winter south of Augusta and spend their summers farther north.  Both are migratory transient species for this area.  The lesser yellowlegs breeds in Alaska, so these particular individuals were lagging far behind.  Spotted sandpipers breed through much of the Midwest.

2 spotted sandpipers and a lesser yellowlegs.

8 spotted sandpipers, 1 lesser yellowlegs, and a yellow-bellied cooter.

This was the biggest yellow-bellied cooter I’d ever seen.

We encountered a classroom with a professor and students who were studying the macroinvertebrates and water quality of the swamp.  Some of the macroinvertebrates they may have collected were backswimmers, a bug in the Notonectidae family.  These true bugs (Hemiptera) should not be confused with water boatmen of the Corixidae family.  Backswimmers swim on their backs, while water boatmen swim right side up.  Backswimmers are predators that feed upon insects, tadpoles, and minnows; water boatmen feed upon algae.  Surprisingly, both can fly and find isolated puddles where they won’t be eaten by fish. There is a dragonfly in the below photo as well.  Dragonflies are beneficial predators that eat mosquito larva.

Blue dragonfly perched over backswimmers.

The forest around the swamp consists mainly of water oak, loblolly pine, red maple, sweet gum, and cypress.  My favorite trees here, though, are the beech–otherwise rare in Augusta.

A week after I visited the swamp a man posted a photo on facebook of a bald eagle in Phinizy Swamp.  I hope I get to see a bald eagle here on my next visit.


Spirit Creek State Forest and Wildlife Management Area in Richmond County, Georgia

April 9, 2020

The fascist germaphobes closed all the parks in my area, but we were able to find a nice place for a nature walk anyway.  The Spirit Creek State Forest and Wildlife Management Area covers about a square mile in south Richmond County, Georgia.  It’s the former site of farmland used to produce food for Gracewood State Hospital and School.  The former opened in 1921 when many people still relied on their own food production.  Later, it was leased as pasture to cattle farmers before state foresters converted it to a state forest and wildlife management area where hunters can shoot deer, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, and waterfowl.  Some areas are designated for archers, and turkey can only be killed with bows or shotguns.  Oddly enough, hunting for feral hogs and coyotes is not allowed here.

Map of Spirit Creek State Forest and WMA.

Spirit Creek, a tributary of the Savannah River, flows through this protected area.  Marcum Branch and Middle Fork Creek originate near the Columbia County/ Richmond County line, and they join to form Spirit Creek, and the tributary is dammed upstream from Spirit Creek Forest to form Gordon Lake–a golf course water trap.  On our nature walk we journeyed down a gravel road and butterflies led the way.  Seemingly, the same butterfly, a dark phase of a tiger swallowtail butterfly, flitted ahead the entire way, as if it wanted to show us a beautiful scene that made the trip worthwhile.  I saw several species of butterflies including a black swallowtail and a small brown skipper that wouldn’t stay still for identification.  I also observed the regular phase of tiger swallowtails.  I heard cardinals, a tufted titmouse, Carolina wrens, and mockingbirds; but I heard and saw more species of birds in my backyard earlier that morning. I spotted a gray squirrel and deer prints were a common sight on the gravel road.

The forest is species poor.  Originally, this location was likely a rich bottomland forest along the creek and a typical piedmont oak-hickory-pine forest on the hills.  Now, it consists mostly of planted loblolly and shortleaf pines.  Supposedly, longleaf pine grows here, but I didn’t find any.  The only oaks were some overcup oak saplings.  Black cherry and sweetgum are common here.  Birds distribute cherry pits in their droppings, and cherry trees thrive in the open conditions.  I did encounter 2 interesting plants–a sourwood tree and a tobacco plant.  Sourwood normally grows in rich hardwood forests and this specimen stood out in the otherwise monotonous woods.  The poisonous nicotine in tobacco deters most animals from eating it.  Nevertheless, the larva of 17 species of butterflies and moths feed upon it, making them in turn toxic or bad tasting for birds.  Tobacco is native to North America and was cultivated by Native Americans, though I wonder if this particular plant occurs here naturally or descends from a tobacco patch planted a long time ago. Spirit Creek Forest is regularly logged, and evidence of logging is all around.  I took a photo of a logged over section, but it’s so ugly I’m not even going to show it here.

Here’s an unexpected plant–tobacco (Nicotiana sp.).

Spirit Creek State Forest used to be a cow pasture..

Dark phase of a tiger swallowtail butterfly. It seemed like this butterfly led us down a half mile of the trail to show us the waterfall.

At the end of the trail we found what I imagine the butterfly was showing us–a beautiful little waterfall.  It was only 18 inches high, and I suppose a naysayer could call it a rapid but I prefer to have a more enthusiastic attitude.  Our nature walk was a welcome diversion from being quarantined.  We had the whole forest to ourselves.

Surprise.  I wasn’t expecting the waterfall.  Maybe less than 24 inches tall, but I’m calling it a waterfall.

View up Spirit Creek.

There are more rapids up Spirit Creek.

The picnic tables next to the waterfall need repair.  I found an empty beer bottle and an abandoned college textbook here.

The Carolina Bay Nature Reserve in Aiken, South Carolina

March 26, 2020

I finally visited a Carolina Bay.  I’ve written several articles about these curious geological features (See: ), but this was the first time I ever had an opportunity to see 1 in person.  Carolina Bays were formed during Ice Ages when local environments were much more arid than those of the present day.  Wind blew out sand and sediment leaving oval pits behind.  During subsequent wetter climate cycles, these pits filled with water, and wind-pushed water continued to erode the pits into elliptical shapes.  Carolina Bays actually migrated across the land, gradually pushed by wind, leaving behind visible scars.  There are thousands of these Carolina Bays across southeastern North America, and they provide important wetland habitat, especially for amphibians.  Most Carolina Bays have been drained for agriculture, but the 1 I visited in Aiken, South Carolina is used as a retention pond to prevent flooding in the local subdivisions and shopping center parking lots.


Carolina Bay in Aiken, S.C.


Another view.  Note the willow and cypress trees growing in the water.

I talked to a man who caught a green sunfish while I was there.  He says this Carolina Bay dries out during summer.  Many Carolina Bays hold water just seasonally.  He said all the fish die out during summer droughts, so  the fish here are young and small.  The pipes draining into the Carolina Bay must be connected to nearby streams where the new population comes from every winter and spring.  Before the Bay was used as a retention pond, it was probably fish-less.  The absence of large predatory fish allows amphibian populations to flourish here.  I saw many green frogs (Rana clamitans).


I saw this green sunfish being reeled in.


Green frog.  Extremely abundant here.


Mr. Snapping Turtle.

A single solitary goose floated on the pond.  I saw a pair of hawks that may have been ospreys, but I didn’t get a good enough look at them for a positive identification.  I also saw a robin and heard cardinals, Carolina wrens, and a cuckoo.


Canada goose.

The Bay is surrounded by a forest of loblolly pine, slash pine, water oak, red maple, sycamore, sweet gum, and holly.  Cypress, willow, and ferns grow directly in the Bay.  I saw a gray squirrel and a muskrat lodge.

Reed Creek, Columbia County, Georgia; a 20,000 Year Natural History Timeline

January 3, 2020

The U.S. Army stationed my nephew at Fort Gordon, a short drive from where I reside.  As a consequence, we didn’t have to go out of town to visit relatives for the holidays.  He is renting an house in an hilly wooded neighborhood with nice 2 story houses, and on Christmas day I took a stroll around the vicinity.  I came across Reed Creek, a minor tributary of the Savannah River.  The name of this stream intrigues me.  Common reed ( Phragamites sp. ) is not native to North America, and whoever named this creek was likely  referring to bamboo cane ( Arundinerea gigantea ), a species that used to occur in pure stands for miles along piedmont rivers and streams.  (See: ) I did find a very small patch of short cane near the creek, but this plant’s distribution is nowhere near as extensive as it was 200 years ago.  Most of the houses in this neighborhood are no more than 40 years old.  As I walked I began to imagine the natural history of this Reed Creek vicinity before houses were built on it.

From the map it looks like Reed Creek is impeded by 8 manmade dams and flows under 7 major roads and through a sewage treatment plant before emptying into the Savannah River.

Rocky shoal in Reed Creek.  Note the sewage pipe.

This boulder alongside Reed Creek existed 20,000 years ago, but there was likely no flowing stream next to it, and it may have been more exposed and surrounded by scarce vegetation, maybe some pine trees and grass. There was no ravine either and the land where the creek is now was level to it.  Maybe a saber-tooth cat rested in the shade of it once in a while on an hot afternoon.

Reed Creek likely did not exist as a flowing stream 20,000 years ago during the Last Glacial Maximum because the water table was lower then.  Less precipitation fell and the ocean was farther east than it is today.  Instead, along the route of the present day stream, there were disconnected isolated springs that emerged above the ground.  These wetland habitats were surrounded by centuries old cottonwood, sycamore, water oak, and white oak trees.  Cottonwood is often found today growing next to rivers that flow through prairies.  The water holes attracted mastodon, mammoth, bison, horse, llama, peccary, and deer.  Wolves and big cats waited in ambush along the megafauna game trails leading to these water holes.  Condors and ravens perched in the trees, looking for dead meat.  The surrounding hills were covered in widely spaced shortleaf pine and post oak with an understory of grass, flowers, and bare dirt.  Scrub vegetation grew on the top of the hills.

15,000 years ago, glaciers to the north melted, releasing an increase in precipitation.  Between 15,000 years BP and 8,000 years BP, water began to flow between these isolated springs until they joined the Savannah River.  Formerly, the river was braided and clogged with sandbars, but now it began to meander and a period of supermeanders following huge storms caused its banks to overflow, flooding and killing trees.  Bamboo cane, up until that time a minor local component of the flora, thrived in the sunny environments where leafless dead trees did not block out the sun light.  Herds of bison, horses, and mammoths increased at first because the bamboo provided a rich new source of food.  But man, newly arrived in the area, ambushed the herds, wiping out all the megafauna in the region, except for deer and bear that learned to avoid men.  The surrounding hills became more thickly wooded in the wetter climate with greatly reduced large mammal populations, though turkey and smaller animals still abounded.

For thousands of years Indians continued setting fire to the  woods to improve habitat for game.  The thermal pruning created an open environment where scattered ancient old oaks, hickories, and pines grew far apart in beautiful grass and flower-covered meadows. The frequent fires burned all the way to the edges of Reed Creek, further improving habitat for bamboo cane.  During the 17th century diseases introduced by Europeans decimated Indian populations and the corn fields they abandoned near the creek also gave way to bamboo cane.  When the first Europeans settled in this district 100 years later they saw an extensive impenetrable stand of bamboo here, and they called it Reed Creek.

Europeans drove away the remaining Indians, killed all the deer, bear, and turkey; and stopped the annual practice of setting the woods afire.  Trees shaded out some bamboo groves, farmer’s livestock fed on others until they were gone, and planters converted the rest of the creek bottomlands to cotton fields.  Soon, the surrounding hills were clear-cut, and the vicinity looked bare and ugly.  The boll weevil infestation bankrupted the farmers during the depression, and they left, and the trees grew back.  The deer returned.  40-50 years ago, real estate developers took ownership of the land, and now the surrounding hills have houses filled with human beings inside who shit into pipes that lead to the sewage plant where it is treated and released into Reed Creek.

Adding a Loggerhead Shrike to my Bird Photo Checklist

November 30, 2019

I’ve made several unsuccessful excursions to look for loggerhead shrikes because they are an uncommon species.  They prefer cow pastures with plenty of short trees–a landscape that is being replaced by expanding suburban development.  My sister and her husband recently moved to a gated community in south Florida that was formerly a cattle ranch but has been converted to an housing development built around a golf course.  Abundant wildlife still occurs in the neighborhood, and on my first visit I was able to get a nice photograph of a large bobcat.  I visited my sister on Thanksgiving and was able to get several photographs of a loggerhead shrike–a species I had only seen 3 times prior to this occasion.  I never thought I would get a good look at this bird, let alone get a photo of it.

Loggerhead shrike in Bradenton, Florida.  Click to enlarge.

I’ve written a blog entry about shrikes previously.  See:

I took a walk around the golf course on Thanksgiving.  It is a maritime forest consisting of live oak, loblolly pine, saw palmetto, Carolina palmetto, red maple, grape vine,  a non-native flower related to evening primrose, and sedge.  The water traps host anhingas, herons, cormorants, coots, and many other birds.  I saw red dragonflies and azure butterflies.

This is a non-native plant related to evening primrose.  It is very common in this woodlot.

At the hotel I saw the same species of birds as I did last Thanksgiving.  A flock of white ibis must live there year round.

The same flock of white ibis I saw last year along with a great egret.