Archive for the ‘Natural History Expeditions’ Category

The Alcovy Conservation Center Revisited

August 31, 2019

I wrote about the Alcovy Conservation Center about 2 months ago.  (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2019/06/22/the-alcovy-conservation-center-part-i/ )  I didn’t realize that if I would’ve continued my walk for just a few more minutes, I would’ve reached 1 of the features of the preserve–a cypress/tupelo swamp.  This type of natural environment is common in the coastal plain of Georgia but rare in the piedmont.  On my 2nd visit I followed the trail to the swamp and found it was more like 1 tupelo tree next to a creek, rather than a swamp.  However there are other trails in the preserve, including 1 with a boardwalk that goes through a swamp.  I’ll have to check these out at a later date.

1 tupelo tree does not equal a swamp.

I was also hoping to find ripe pawpaws.  This is the only site in Georgia where I have ever seen wild pawpaw trees, not counting the trees I’m growing in my yard.  Pawpaws usually ripen during mid-September.  The pawpaws here weren’t quite ripe yet, but I picked some anyway, hoping to ripen them at home.

These pawpaws didn’t look quite ripe yet, but I picked them anyway.

I did find ripe muscadine grapes.  They were the best tasting wild muscadines I ever ate.

These muscadines were blackish purple and very good to eat.

I came at the wrong time of day again to see wildlife–another sultry afternoon.  I did see 5 species of butterfly, but they flittered around so I couldn’t take a photo or identify 2 of them.  I did recognize a black swallowtail, a great sulphur, and a common sulphur.

 

The Alcovy Conservation Center (part I)

June 22, 2019

We took my daughter to Atlanta for her birthday, so she could see a Braves game with her aunt and a friend.  I stayed in an air-conditioned hotel room with my wife and mother-in-law and watched the game on television.  The best way to attend a Braves game is to rent an hotel room in Battery Park and walk to the stadium because the traffic  and parking are a nightmare.  My wife is disabled and a sports stadium is just no place for a person in a wheelchair (think bathroom logistics).  That’s why we didn’t go ourselves.  We were hoping to have dinner with my daughter next to the stadium before the game, but the traffic was so bad we got separated (we were in 2 different cars) before I had a chance to give my daughter my camera.  Otherwise, this blog entry would have photos from inside Sun Trust Park. She did take photos with her phone but hasn’t figured out how to upload them to the computer yet.  I got stuck in Atlanta traffic.  Getting stuck in Atlanta traffic makes me feel like committing suicide.  This was vacation 2019 for us.  Actually, my idea of an ideal vacation is to get drunk and listen to music, then watch internet porn the following day to forget how shitty my hangover makes me feel.  Oh wait…that sounds like every Thursday night.

The original plan for the following day was to visit Fernbank Forest, but I learned online those bastards charge $18 to walk in their woods.  When I visited Fernbank Museum a few years ago their forest was closed for repairs and I couldn’t see it even after I paid their damn fee.  (Why does a natural forest need to be repaired?)  I guess I will never see it.  As an alternative, I chose to visit the Alcovy Conservation Center in Covington, Georgia.  It is maintained by the Georgia Wildlife Federation and it is free.  It’s mostly used for school field trips.  Visitors are supposed to check in but there was no one there, not even other visitors.  (The Fernbank Forest is notoriously crowded.)

Kiosk at Alcovy Conservation Center.  The land includes 115 acres of woodland, meadow, and wetland.

Big black oak.  There were a number of really big black oaks in this park.

Open woodland.

This is an old fencerow in an old pasture.  Birds and squirrels planted these trees.

I enjoyed my visit to the Alcovy Conservation Center.  I had time to see just half of it.  I didn’t even see what it is most famous for–a tupelo swamp.  This type of natural community is common in the coastal plain but uncommon in the piedmont where the conservation center is located.  There are just 4 other sites in the piedmont region with tupelo swamps.  I also didn’t see the canebrake and marsh.

I did see some enormous black oaks.  Other common plants I encountered were water oak, willow oak, river birch, sweetgum, shortleaf pine, loblolly pine, hickory, pawpaw, dogwood, muscadine grape vine, and trumpet creeper.  This is the only site in Georgia where I have seen pawpaw growing in the wild.

Pawpaw tree.  I wonder if the pawpaws will be ripe when I visit again in late August.

I didn’t come at a good time to see wildlife–it was late morning and sultry.  There were many small drab birds, probably sparrows, but they wouldn’t stay still for identification.  I saw dark phase tiger swallowtail butterflies.  I didn’t know tiger swallowtails came in a dark phase until I searched my field guide for identification.  It too wouldn’t cooperate for my camera.  Charles Wharton, the late author of The Natural Communities of Georgia, wrote white tail deer grew larger along the Alcovy river bottoms than anywhere else in Georgia.  They were sensibly resting in the shade, while we slogged through the heat, and we didn’t see them.  The squirrels were also resting in the shade.  I walked on a path known as fox squirrel trail but saw no squirrels of any kind.  This site hosts a disjunct population of the bird-voiced tree frog, but it is probably past mating season for them.  However, on the plus side, I didn’t see a single fly or mosquito.

The Georgia Wildlife Federation encourages wildlife here.  There is a chimney swift tower, many bluebird boxes, and they even have at least 1 bat box.  I’ll be back to see the parts I missed.

Chimney swift tower.  Chimney swifts with their nestlings live in my home chimney.  I notice some people put caps on their chimneys to prevent birds from nesting there.  If you put a cap on your chimney to block chimney swifts, you can’t be my friend.

Sweetwater Wetlands Park in Gainesville, Florida

March 3, 2019

A few months ago, I went to Payne’s Prairie State Park and saw about 6 species of birds in over 2 hours, but last week when I went to Sweetwater Wetlands Park I saw 15 species of birds plus a large alligator in less than 30 minutes.  The preserve was established to replace parts of Payne’s Prairie that had been drained and to restore water flow into the prairie.  It is manmade.  The list of species I saw included coots, common gallinules, a mallard duck, turkey vultures, great egrets, a snowy egret, a cattle egret, great blue herons, green herons, a white ibis, a glossy ibis, cormorants, anhingas, an unidentified species of sparrow, boat-tailed grackles, and red-winged blackbirds.   On this trip to Florida I saw 2 species of birds I had never seen before–glossy ibis and ground doves.  I was unable to get a photo of the former.  For the first time I was also able to take some nice photos of sandhill cranes.  I have seen them before, but I was driving on the road and couldn’t stop to take a photo.

Green heron

Boat-tailed grackle.

Common gallinule.

Flock of coots.

Snowy egret and common gallinule.

I estimate this is an 8 foot long alligator.

Outside my mom’s nursing home in Bradenton, Florida we ran into a pair of sandhill cranes.  They were not afraid of us at all.

I think these are common ground doves and not mourning doves (which I also saw) perched on a roof in Bradenton, Florida.  This species does not range north of Florida, south Texas, and southern California.  It’s common in Mexico.

Paynes Prairie State Park in Florida

November 26, 2018

My visit to Paynes Prairie State Park was a colossal disappointment.  Paynes Prairie is an area where the Florida aquifer (a gigantic underground river) comes close to the surface.  During periods of heavy rain it fills with water and becomes marshy, but during droughts the water level recedes and parts of it host grassy environments.  The fluctuating water levels prevent trees from becoming established, and it contributes to the open nature of the landscape.  A forest dominated by live oak, slash pine, palm, and red maple with an undergrowth of saw palmetto surrounds the prairie.  Supposedly, bison, cracker cattle, and Spanish horses roam the park; and guides claim it is 1 of the best bird-watching sites in the U.S.  I didn’t see any of the megafauna and only saw a paltry 4 species of birds–an egret, a turkey vulture, a red-shouldered hawk, and a small gray bird with a white tail that I have frustratingly been trying to identify for years.  I’ve seen this bird in Augusta, Georgia too, and it always seems to be hanging around water, but it doesn’t resemble any the pictures in my field guides.  I also heard chickadees and an eastern phoebe.

This egret was the only wading bird I saw in the park.

Fluctuating water levels create an open landscape at Paynes Prairie.  I took this photo from a watchtower that swayed in the wind.

I didn’t see the bison, cracker cattle, or horses.  I did find deer hoof prints.

Some of the live oaks were 6 feet thick in diameter.

I saw more wildlife in Florida outside the park than I did inside it.

Next to my hotel in an urban area of Bradenton, Florida I saw a flock of 13 white ibis.

I got an even better photo of an egret next to my hotel than I did in the park.

The Pinhotti Trail in North Georgia and Alabama

August 28, 2018

The Pinhotti Trail connects with the more famous Appalachian Trail and is 335 miles long.  I hiked the first half mile from the Georgia side a few days ago.  This section of the trail goes up a rocky steep mountain side, and the forest is dominated by mountain chestnut oak, hickory, and Virginia pine with an undergrowth of maple saplings, dogwood, and muscadine grape vines.  I also saw silver maple, red maple, black oak, and overcup oak.  It is excellent habitat for chipmunks, though I didn’t see any.  Chipmunks like to tunnel in the crevices under boulders, and the oak and hickory trees provide plenty of acorns and nuts for them.  Perhaps I didn’t see any chipmunks because they were hiding from a weasel or skunk.  The distinct odor of a mustelid was present near the entrance of an hollow log.  Weasels kill prey in bunches–far more than they usually consume–so maybe the local chipmunks had been recently decimated.  A camera trap could probably produce video of a weasel going in and out of the hollow log.  I didn’t see any birds, but I was only on the trail for about 25 minutes.  I did hear a chickadee and the partial call of a woodpecker, and this time of year there is the ever present mating sound of cicadas.

Image result for Pinhotti trail map

Map of Pinhotti Trail.

The forest here is dominated by mountain chestnut oak, hickory, and Virginia pine.

Mountain chestnut oak leaves.

Can anyone identify this species of mushroom?  I can’t find it in my field guide or on the internet.

Chipmunks like to tunnel in crevices under boulders like this.  This part of the trail is excellent habitat for chipmunks.

Boulder field.

I could smell the odor of a skunk or weasel near the entrance of this hollow log.

 

Manatee State Park and Bradenton, Florida

May 20, 2018

I visited southwestern Florida last week to see my Mom for Mother’s Day.  We spent some time at Manatee State Park as well, and I saw lots of wildlife on my trip through the state.  There are no manatees in Manatee State Park.  Manatee Lake is a manmade reservoir, created when the Manatee River was dammed.  Manatees live in the river but they can’t get past the dam.  Manatee State Park is about 500 acres and hosts a mostly scrub environment of saw palmettos, grape vines, stunted live oaks, and Florida sand pine.  Supposedly, fox squirrels occur in the park, but I just saw gray squirrels.

I saw interesting wildlife on my trip while driving from Augusta, Georgia to Bradenton, Florida; but unfortunately I couldn’t take photos while traveling 70 mph down the highway.  I was lucky enough to spot an extremely rare whooping crane standing by I-75 south of the Tampa exit.  There are only about 100 whooping cranes in Florida.  I expected to see sandhill cranes (which I also saw), but was shocked to see a whooping crane. I saw swallowtail kites 5 times but couldn’t take photos of the birds because they wouldn’t stop moving.  My sister lives on a golf course that recently was a cattle ranch, and the wildlife hasn’t left yet, despite the development.  I did get a decent photo of a bobcat, though it was walking fast.

The list of species I saw in Florida included whooping crane, sandhill crane, swallowtail kite, Mississippi kite, osprey, king rail (I think), cattle egret, great egret, green heron, great blue heron, Canadian goose, turkey, turkey vulture, black vulture, white ibis, mourning dove, mockingbird, rufous sided towhee, blue jay, laughing gull, brown pelican, cormorant, crow, red-winged blackbird, boat-tailed grackle, chimney swift, cardinal, black bellied whistling duck (I think), house sparrows, gray squirrels, and bobcat.  I saw road-killed opossum, armadillo, raccoon, and white tail deer.  I heard barred owl, chuck will’s widow, and tufted titmouse.  In south Georgia species I saw that I didn’t also see in Florida were loggerhead shrike, red-shouldered hawk, feral chicken, and starling.

I remember riding through central Florida in the late 1970s when citrus orchards could be found on both sides of the highway for long stretches.  I didn’t see a single orchard.  Instead, the orchards have been replaced by beautiful cattle ranches with pasture surrounding groves of live oaks.  Big flocks of cattle egrets follow the grazing cows.  It is excellent habitat for black bears and cougars.  Black bears do occur in central Florida, and cougars may eventually establish a permanent population there, but currently breeding females are mostly restricted west of Lake Okeechobee.

Click on the photos below to enlarge them.

Despite the sign, my daughter and I swam in Lake Manatee.  A couple of British tourists were astonished that we dared swim in the lake..  Actually, riding in a car is much more dangerous than swimming with alligators.

Lake Manatee supplies drinking water for 2 counties.

Stunted live oaks at Manatee State Park.  Gray squirrels foraged for acorns here but I didn’t see fox squirrels.

Saw palmetto dominates Manatee State Park.

Love bugs (Plecia nearctia) were mating and were everywhere.  Dead love bugs covered my front fender.

I saw this cormorant drying its wings from my sister’s back porch.  (At least I think it is a cormorant and not an anhinga.  It’s difficult to tell from the back.)

I took a blurry photo of a bobcat on the golf course behind my sister’s house.  It was walking fast and wouldn’t let me take a clearer photo.  It was headed toward an area inhabited by wild pigs.  We heard a squeal shortly after I took this photo.  Maybe the cat grabbed a piglet.

I think this is a black bellied whistling duck.  Initially, there were 3 of them on my sister’s roof.  The fulvous whistling duck also lives in Florida.  Both of these Central and South American species are expanding their range north.  All the houses in my sister’s neighborhood were built with these hurricane-proof roofs.

 

The Chesser Island Boardwalk in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

May 16, 2018

Miles of open pine savannahs formerly surrounded the Okefenokee Swamp, but that land has been almost entirely converted into enormous pine tree farms with much less floral and faunal diversity.  100 years ago, developers tried to ruin the swamp itself as well.  They felled cypress forests and attempted to drain the swamp with canals.  Thankfully, they were bankrupted because the swamp was too resilient and impossible to develop, so the government designated it a wildlife refuge.  There is a nice boardwalk at the end of Chesser Island Road that leads to an observation tower.  I walked to the tower last Saturday with my wife and daughter and took the following photos.

The entrance road leads through a slash pine savannah with an undergrowth of saw palmetto, ferns, and wiregrass.

2 big alligators were hanging around a lily-covered roadside ditch.

Ferns are abundant in fire-adapted landscapes, like the Okefenokee.  Ferns were the first plants to sprout following the K-T impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Fire creates the open landscape of the Okefenokee.  Without fire it would become a closed canopy cypress forest.

Barred owl.  They are common in the swamp.

The fire of 2013 killed lots of cypress trees.  Note the charred trunks.

The boardwalk is 3/4 of a mile.  I was able to easily push my wife’s wheel chair all the way to the observation tower.

I heard pig frogs and cricket frogs at this pond, and an eastern kingbird was hunting insects over the water.

Open Okefenokee marshes are called “prairies.”

Spanish moss.  Strange as it may seem, Spanish moss is related to pineapple.

Soft shelled turtle.

The list of animal species I saw on this excursion in less than 90 minutes included alligator, soft shelled turtle, rabbit, pileated woodpecker, barred owl, black vulture, red-winged blackbird, boat-tailed grackle, mourning dove, mockingbird, eastern kingbird, yellowthroat warbler, laughing gull, great egret, black swallowtail butterfly, and at least 4 species of dragonflies.  I heard chimney swifts, pig frogs, and cricket frogs, and raccoon scat littered the boardwalk.  I was surprised I saw just 1 wading bird.  On a previous trip to the Okefenokee I saw none.  I saw the laughing gulls near the county landfill just outside the refuge. I couldn’t determine if the rabbit was a cottontail or marsh rabbit.  It slipped into the palmetto before I could take a photo of it.

The Tumbling Waters Trail in the Coosawattee Wildlife Management Area

April 9, 2018

I spent part of spring break at a Bird’s Eye View Cabin in Ellijay, Georgia.  The cabin is on an overbuilt ridge overlooking a valley.  All the species of animals I observed were the same species that are commonly found near my house in Augusta, Georgia.  I saw a turkey vulture eating a road-killed opossum, a raccoon, gray squirrels, bluebirds, an house finch, a robin, a tufted titmouse, and I heard rufous-sided towhees, cardinals, mourning doves, pileated woodpeckers, chickadees, and an hawk.

View of the valley from the Bird’s Eye View Cabin.

We went on an excursion to the Tumbling Waters Trail next to Carter’s Lake, named after that anti-Semite, Jimmy Carter.  I didn’t see any wildlife here, aside from a few dusky wing and tiger swallowtail butterflies.  The trail goes through a forest of oak and hemlock with an undergrowth of rhododendron and ferns, but most of the hemlock trees are dead.  Ice Age forests in north Georgia were dominated by spruce with some oak.  When climate shifted to warmer stages spruce trees started dying, creating more space for oaks, and the environment may have been somewhat similar in appearance, though with older trees. This time of the year about the only greenery in this region are the food plots planted to maximize populations of deer and turkey.  The Coosawattee Wildlife Management Area is 9 square miles of high ridges alternating with narrow stream valleys.  I found oak, hickory, beech, white pine, and Virginia pine.

The trail is between a steep hill and Carter’s Lake.

Carter’s Lake.

Dead hemlock tree in the center of the photo and fallen dead hemlocks in the background.

This is a wildlife management food plot.  It consisted of wheat and peas, I think.

Carters Lake: cross a towering suspension bridge to hike to two waterfalls on the Tumbling Waters Nature Trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t have time to finish the trail, so I ripped off a photo of Tumbling Waters from the internet.  This is where the Coosawattee River empties into Carter’s Lake.  The reservoir probably inundated many beautiful shoals like this.

Cades Cove

June 19, 2017

Most of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is heavily wooded, and wildlife usually stays hidden in thick vegetation.  Cades Cove is 1 of the few areas in the park where tourists can reliably see wildlife because it is an open beautiful valley of fields and thin fingers of forest, resembling what many southeastern landscapes looked like until the mid-19th century.  Indians set fire to the valley annually to improve habitat for game animals, and white settlers maintained the open nature of the valley by using it as pasture and by planting row crops.  The valley remained open when the National Park Service took over the site 90 years ago.  Today, a 1-way loop road encircles the valley, making for the best accessible wildlife watching in the park.  I rode my car on the Cades Cove loop road last Saturday evening with my wife and daughter.  We saw >50 horses, 20 deer, 2 black bears, 1 squirrel, 1 turkey, and lots of crows and chimney swifts.

The herd of tame horses is located near the beginning of the loop road.  Many different breeds are represented including spotted palominos, Clydesdales, and solid black and brown horses.  I saw cowbirds foraging between the horses.  Fossil evidence shows horses did inhabit this region during the Pleistocene.  I would like to see the park service allow horses to go wild here.  Wild horses belong in North America.

Image may contain: sky, tree, grass, cloud, outdoor and nature

There’s an herd of over 50 horses near the entrance to the Cades Cove loop road.

Black bear sightings caused several traffic jams on the loop road.  There are hundreds of signs telling tourists to pull over when they want to stop and see the wildlife, and other signs constantly warn to stay at least 50 yards away from bears and deer.  Most tourists ignore these signs.  They stop their cars in the middle of the road, rush toward the bear, and get as close as they can to photograph the bruin.  We were stuck in 1 traffic jam for 20 minutes.  At least I did get to see wild black bears for the first time in my life.  I’d rather live in a world where bears outnumber people.  It has been thousands of years since bears outnumbered the entire population of Homo sapiens on earth but before the development of agriculture they did.

Image may contain: tree, grass, outdoor and nature

We saw 20 deer.  This buck snuck behind me.

Image may contain: bird, grass, outdoor and nature

This was the only turkey I saw in Cades Cove.  I expected to see more.  While driving through the park the following day I saw an hen with 2 chicks cross the road.  Why did the turkey cross the road? 

Image may contain: grass, sky, tree, plant, outdoor and nature

There are 4 deer in this photo.  2 are laying down but their antlers are visible.

Image may contain: tree, plant, bird, outdoor and nature

This was the only live squirrel I saw in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I was surprised I didn’t see more.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and outdoor

We saw 2 black bears on the Cades Cove loop road.  Look at how close these 2 stupid asses got to the bear.  They are underestimating how dangerous this situation is.  There must be at least 100 signs telling people to stay at least 50 yards away from the bears and deer.  Instead, people rush in and try to get as close as possible to take a photo.  That bear could be mauling them in about 2 seconds.

Image may contain: shoes and food

These are the rare and extirpated species that used to live in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Spotted skunks are rare, Indiana bats are endangered, northern flying squirrels are probably extirpated here, fox squirrels haven’t been seen for decades in the park, and northern water shrews are uncommon.

I was surprised I didn’t see more turkeys or squirrels.  The latter probably stay in the tree tops for much of the day.  I also expected to see woodchucks, rabbits, and maybe wild boars.  Woodchucks are more active in the morning, and I did see 4 of them while driving through the North Carolina mountains on the way home the following day.  I can’t explain the absence of rabbits because there is plenty of excellent habitat for them in Cades Cove.  Perhaps they were hidden in the tall grass.  Ironically, I saw a road-killed wild pig 5 miles from my house on the drive home the next day as if the wildlife watching Gods wanted to reward me with a kind of epilogue to my trip.  Despite how common wild pigs are supposed to be, this was the first road-killed specimen I’ve seen in the Augusta, Georgia area.

The National Park Service should introduce bison, elk, and cougars to Cades Cove.  I know the addition of cougars would be controversial, but the park service should be inspired to come as close to possible to establishing a complete ecosystem here.  More open areas should be created as well so that wildlife populations could increase.

Image may contain: cloud, sky, mountain, grass, tree, plant, outdoor and nature

The National Park Service should introduce bison and elk to this side of the park to fill up this empty space.

Bird watching at Cades Cove was not as good as in Townsend, Tennessee where our hotel was located.  I saw 5 species of birds in Cades Cove compared to 11 species in town.  However, I did encounter 1 unexpected species outside of Cades Cove but inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I saw a raven while driving in the higher elevations, then saw another raven on the way to Cades Cove at a lower elevation.  This was the first time I’d ever seen live ravens in the wild.  I mistakenly thought ravens were rare here because there is only 1 raven nesting site in the entire state of Georgia.  But according to the National Park Service, the raven is a fairly common year round resident in the park.  Ravens look like humongous crows.  The birds I saw were far too large to be crows.  They were about the size of a red-shouldered hawk.  Crows are more common here, however. In addition to the 5 species of birds I saw at Cades Cove, I heard the constant song of the field sparrow.  Eastern meadowlarks are also supposed to be common here, but I didn’t see any.  I have never seen an eastern meadowlark.

Night fell by the time we left the Cades Cove loop road.  I was surprised at the abundance of lightning bugs.  Special tour buses take tourists through the park at night to see the amazing light show displayed by the synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) during late May and early June.  We probably saw some of the other 18 species of lightning bugs found in the park because it was too late in the season for P. carolinus. Lightning bugs are not bugs, nor are they flies.  They are beetles.  Their larva prey upon snails, slugs, and insects for a year or 2 before they transform into flying adults for the final few weeks of their lives.  Different species flash at different intervals and that is how males and females of the same species recognize each other.  Lightning bugs are only seen occasionally in Augusta, Georgia.  They are abundant in the Great Smoky Mountains because the moist forests support a large population of their favorite food–escargot.

Video from you tube of the synchronous fireflies.

Fort Pulaski National Monument Near Savannah, Georgia

February 24, 2017

Casimir Pulaski saved George Washington’s life during the Battle of Brandywine.  The Americans were losing this battle against the British when Pulaski, an experienced cavalry officer, discovered the British were attempting to cut off retreat and capture Washington’s entire army and command.  Pulaski took 30 of Washington’s personal guard on a reconnaissance mission, and they found an escape route.  Washington used this avenue to lead his soldiers in an organized retreat, so they could live to fight another day.  Just imagine how different American history would be, if George Washington would have been killed or captured in this battle.  Without his military leadership America might have lost the Revolutionary War.  Or if Americans won anyway, a different first president might have established the executive branch as a kind of dictatorship.

Pulaski was appointed general in charge of the American cavalry following his heroic valor during the Battle of Brandywine.  There were only a few hundred men in the American cavalry then.  He participated in many battles before he was killed by cannon fire during a cavalry charge on British-held Savannah, Georgia.

The U.S. began building coastal fortifications after the War of 1812 because during this debacle the British had captured American ports with impunity.  Construction of a coastal fort in Savannah began in 1829 and it was completed in 1842.  The fort was named in honor of Casimir Pulaski. However, there was little danger of a foreign invasion after the fort was built, and it was manned by just 2 men at a time.  Confederate traitors seized the fort at the beginning of the Civil War.  In 1862 Union naval forces bombarded the fort, forcing its surrender in less than 2 days.  Ironically, the only battle that took place at Fort Pulaski demonstrated coastal fortifications were obsolete against naval ships with newly developed, accurate, rifled artillery.  Union forces held the fort, bottling up the port of Savannah for the duration of the war–a critical strategic advantage for the north.

Image may contain: text

The U.S. named a coastal fort in Savannah, Georgia after Casimir Pulaski.

Image may contain: sky, tree, grass, outdoor, nature and water

The fort is surrounded by a saltwater moat.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, mountain, tree, outdoor and nature

A Civil War battle, the only battle that took place at this fort, proved that coastal defenses were obsolete.  Union naval forces made the fort surrender after 30 hours of bombardmentIncidentally, there are no guardrails on the inside here.

Image may contain: outdoor

The jailhouse at the fort held Confederate prisoners during the war and political prisoners after.

My wife and I visited Fort Pulaski last week on our 23rd wedding anniversary.  There is some interesting nature at Fort Pulaski National Monument.  The endangered diamond backed terrapin finds refuge here, but they live in the surrounding salt marsh, and I didn’t see any.  I did see big flocks of robins and chimney swifts.  They stop and roost here on their way north during spring and probably fall migration.  On a nature trail I saw rufus-sided towhees, Carolina wrens, and sparrows, and there were black vultures, turkey vultures, common crows, and ring-billed gulls flying over the fort.  I think I saw an osprey landing on a light post, and fish crows perched on telephone wire while I was driving on Island Expressway, the road that leads to the fort.  Fish crows are smaller than common crows, but small individuals of the latter may overlap in size.  Fish crows have a distinct call.  I didn’t have an opportunity to hear them and make a definitive identification.  Raccoons crap on the sidewalks here.  They are feeding upon palmetto berries this time of year.

Image may contain: plant, outdoor and food

There is a lot of raccoon scat on the sidewalks at Fort Pulaski.  They are eating palmetto berries.  The park service should introduce Burmese pythons to reduce the raccoon population here.

Last fall’s Hurricane Matthew, a Category 5, left a big impact on the local forest.  Many trees were uprooted, and crews were still cleaning up the mess.  A storm surge killed several acres of live oaks and red cedar, though some Carolina palmetto survived.  The salt water that flooded and killed the trees is still standing in some places.  The storm surge created a kind of ghost forest, and it will be interesting to see what it looks like in 10 years.

Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor and nature

Saltwater storm surge from Hurricane Matthew created a kind of ghost forest with acres of standing dead trees.  Note the standing salt water over 4 months after the storm.

Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor and nature

Hurricane Matthew uprooted many trees here. Tiger mosquitoes attacked me while I was on this trail, and it is just February.

Image may contain: sky, tree, plant, grass, outdoor and nature

Although this fig tree located inside the confines of the fort looks sickly white from storm surge, it survived the hurricane.  I saw green buds.