Posts Tagged ‘Phinizy Swamp’

An Alligator Bellowing at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, Augusta, Georgia

December 28, 2015

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.

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Cormorant.

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An immature white ibis.

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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.

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The Geological and Ecological History of the Okefenokee Swamp (part three)

December 3, 2010

Common and Interesting Plants Found in the Okefenokee Swamp

Most of the aquatic  plants that dominate the present day landscape of the Okefenokee Swamp were restricted to small scale marshes alongside the reduced number of rivers and streams that still incised the Okefenokee basin during the arid milleniums of the Ice Age when the water table fell and the swamp dried up between 36,000 BP and 7,000 BP.  The rest of the basin during this time period probably consisted of grassy pine savannah and scrub oak.  Nevertheless, these relic aquatic remnants provided the nucleus of the population that eventually re-established itself as the primary vegetation of the region.  Here are some interesting floral components of this environment.

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)–Eight-hundred year old giants still stand in a few coastal swamps near Georgia’s coast.  One-hundred years ago, when loggers decimated much of these ancient bottomland forests, they skipped over the biggest cypress trees because they were too large and hollow, and therefore too much trouble to economically harvest.  One of these gigantic cypress trees is located in the Townsend Wildlife Management Area in McIntosh County.  It’s 44 feet in circumference.  Imagine 7 men, all at least 6 feet tall, laying end-to-end in a circle around the tree and they still wouldn’t completely encircle it.  It’s understandable but not generally known that cypress trees are relatives of the famous Californian redwoods.  They sure have great size and long life in common.

For more about Georgia’s big cypress trees see this following link  http://savannahnow.com/news/2010-08-30/700-year-old-cypress-tell-story-survival

I took this photo of a cypress tree in autumn foilage at Phinizy Swamp in Augusta, Georgia.  Unlike most coniferous trees, cypress trees lose their foilage in the winter, like deciduous broad-leafed trees.

Unlike most coniferous trees, cypress trees are not evergreen, and they shed their needles in the winter.  They usually live in flooded swamps. They have mysterious knees–wooden knobs that grow above water.  Scientists are uncertain whether these aid in respiration or simply balance the trees in the watery muck where they grow.

Water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica)–Cypress trees hollow out and provide roosting habitat for bats and homes for other animals, but tupelo trees become hollow more frequently.  Matt Clement, a grad student at UGA, found 97 roosts of Rafinesque’s bats along the Altamaha River, and most of them were in hollow tupelo trees.

Water shield or dollar pad (Brasenia schreberi), Floating Heart (Nymphoides sp.), and White Water Lilly (Nymphaea odorata)–These are three completely unrelated plants, but their leaves look similar.  In fact, I can’t really tell their leaves apart.  It’s an example of convergent evolution when different species evolve similar structures to solve the same ecological problems.  All three are what people think of as the lilly pads so commonly seen floating on the surface of the open water habitats in the Okefenokee Swamp that are often confusingly referred to as prairie because they’re treeless.  All three species have round floating leaves attached via long stems to underwater roots.

Panic grass (Panicum sp.) Saber-tooths and jaguars lurked hidden in patches of this tall cane-like grass, stalking the long-horned bison and horses that fed upon it during the Pleistocene.  The large fauna are gone but the flora remains.

Photo of some panic grass also known as maiden cane that I took at Phinzy Swamp, Augusta, Georgia.  There was another patch on the other side of the path that was 12 feet tall.  I wish I would’ve taken a photo of that.

Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides)–Oddly enough, Spanish Moss is related to pineapple–both are Bromeliads or air plants.  Wind and birds spread seeds and fragments.  The seeds and fragments of the Spanish Moss lodge in other tree branches.  The Spanish Moss then grows (both from seed and vegetatively).  The plant survives by extracting nutrients from air and rain water, not from the trees upon which they land, thus they’re considered epiphytes, not parasites.  Birds, bats, spiders, and snakes live in and about the moss.

Spanish Moss hanging from either a water or laurel oak at Phinizy Swamp, Augusta, Georgia.  Spanish Moss is quite common in the lowlands of the Augusta area, but I’ve never seen any in hilly sections.

Bladderwort (Utricularia sp.)–Like strange creatures from a low budget horror film, carnivorous plants thrive in the Okefenokee Swamp.  Bladderwort is an underwater plant with no roots.  The bladder-shaped structure on the plant works like a trap door, a suction-on-contact action captures fish fry, mosquito larvae, tadpoles, and protozoa.

Pitcher plants (Sarracenia flava, Sarracenia mino, Sarracenia psittacaea)–There are three species of pitcher plants found in the Okefenokee–the hooded, the parrot, and the golden.  A sweet rotten odor emanating from the plants attracts insects which get trapped in tubular stems.  Backward hairs block insects from being able to escape, and eventually, they tire and fall into the toxic water at the bottom of the tube.  Bacteria in the water digests the insects, releasing nitrogen that the pitcher plant is able to absorb.

Round-leafed Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)–The sticky hairs on this plant work just like flypaper, trapping hapless insects.

Burreed (Sparanium sp.)–Fossil mastodon dung discovered in the Aucilla River, Florida contains many types of aquatic plants, including most discussed here.  Cypress was the most common item in their diet, but the beasts ate nympoides, nymphaea, and this one–burreed.  Burreed is an important plant in the second stage of forest succession that occurs when islands develop within the swamp.

The five stages of forest succession in the Okefenokee Swamp

1.  Sphagnum moss floats to the surface of open water and soil begins to accumulate on it forming an island.  Beakrush takes root.

2. Burreed, panic grass, and redroot are the second stage of plants to colonize the island.

3. Sedges take over.

4. Bushes and saplings colonize the island.

5. Trees such as cypress, tupelo, water oak, and pond pine form the final components of island forest succession in the Okefenokee Swamp.