Monday, December 11, 2017

Remember Pogo and Albert? Day 2

Chesser Island Homestead, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Saturday April 8, 2017  More sun and mild temperatures.

All three of us made our way back to the Refuge in the morning. We decided to explore the Chesser Island Homestead, an interpreted 600 acre farm on a dry island in the Okefenokee where the Chesser family eked out a living in the late 1800s, through raising livestock, harvesting the sap of the Slash Pines (turpentine), raising sugar cane, hunting and smoking meat/fish, and working in the Refuge after it was created in the latter part of the Great Depression (1937). Tom Chesser stayed until 1958 with the blessing of the Refuge, only leaving to follow wife Iva to Folkston, where she found the proximity to services somewhat more amenable.

Local history is the subject of several websites, including some Wikipedia entries.  If interested, read on after luxuriating in this blog!:

You may also read about the industrial history of the "swamp", including the Suwannee Canal (used today as the origin of the eastern-side boat tours, such as the one I featured in the previous blog edition), and the attempted draining of the area in the 1890's, as well as the great fire of 2011, which burned over 75% of the Refuge:

Arriving at the Homestead, we were fortunate to find volunteer Gordon Saager, who provided us with a very informative tour.  Gordon knows the Chessers, some of whom also volunteer at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge(NWR).  Our tour gave us his personal insights, and we shared a lot of our farming knowledge. We learned much more about southern farming from Gordon,  for example, the process for tapping the Slash Pines reminded me very much of our Sugar Maple tapping for maple syrup. Above is a photo of Gordon, Jan and Winston in front of the Chesser home.  Below,  is a full house photo with the same three posing!  Note the white sandy soil.  Growing anything on this sandy substrate was a challenge.

Thanks Gordon, for this photo of your three guests.  Below as the sign says, you see the water well technology....a hollow log.
We then toured the out buildings, amidst Spanish Moss festooned oaks.  Note that the local lumber trade focused on Cypress and Pines. Cypress has many of the same qualities of our local White Cedar (Arbor Vitae) in Eastern Ontario, except that Cypress trees are giants compared to Cedars.

It being early April, a lizard's heart turns to romance. The Homestead was humming with wildlife romance, including the beautiful male Fence Lizard (in the following the two photos) showing off for a nearby female.

 Fence Lizard , Sceloporus undulates (male) above and below

 Fence Lizard (female)-note the "ladder" pattern on her back.

We left the Homestead and took a trail back into the wetlands, where we spotted this lovely turtle:
Florida Red-bellied Cooter, Pseudemys nelsoni, which obviously ranges into the Okefenokee in Georgia. Notwithstanding the name, I had never seen this turtle in Florida.

Thanks to the staff at Okefenokee NWR for putting me into contact with Gordon.

We left the Okefenokee,  and memories of Pogo and Albert,  and ventured into Tennessee for the next chapter of our adventurous route home.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Remember Pogo and Albert? Day 1

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Folkston, Georgia, April 7, 2017, 4 PM and still gorgeous out!

Arriving in the late afternoon from our winter haunt in Dunnellon, Florida, we were up for a boating jaunt into the wilds of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.  I had already explored the early April beauty of this 350,000-acre wetland, which lies just north of the Florida-Georgia state line.  Jan was looking forward to her first visit.  Winston, as seen below, was right into it, so to speak.  The rainfall sourced bog and swamp supplies water to the St. Mary's and the Suwannee Rivers.

The tour boats do not allow dogs, so, even though Winston isn't much of a dog, we had to find alternative arrangements for him. Thank goodness he is cute.  The staff in the office were happy to keep him for the duration of our exploration tour. Most of the alligators (there are 20,000 estimated in the Okefenokee), were also quite pleased to dog sit; however we thought that might not be the best approach.

You can see the broad smile on this largish 'gator indicating a Winston welcome. We found the 'gators to be very interested in our presence

As we passed the tall "Spanish Moss" festooned trees along the canal, we enjoyed the clear cool April air, and plentiful wildlife.  More large smilin' 'gators greeted us every few yards, as the sunned amidst the native wetland flora, with birds singing from every corner of the swamp.  The boat makes no noise, and leaves no wake, thereby enhancing the  full sensory experience. In fact, as we wended our way, one large bull alligator let out a hiss and a roar, which caused Steve to say "'guess we were a tad close to that one!". This gave us quite a chuckle.

This time of the day, everyone is quite peaceful and liable to rest and bask, including this Great Blue Heron.....
...notwithstanding another large alligator not far away. The alligators are temperature regulating, not smiling, with their mouths open. However, I still like to think that they are smiling.

Then we left the Canal and entered the bog.  Okefenokee (a word in the local Muskogee or Creek family of Native American languages, the same language group spoken by the Native Americans in the Dunnellon Florida area) means "trembling earth" and refers to the Spaghnum Moss layered "ground" in the bog, which trembles when one walks upon it.

Just like here in Eastern Ontario, where I live during acceptable weather, bogs are typified by a community of plants that can adapt to the nutrient poor wet environment, like this Pitcher plant (bloom below).
Another stunning wetland plant that doesn't quite reach our area is the Orontium aquaticum-Golden Club (below) which I also featured in this blog on my last visit to the Okefenokee.

Steve, our guide (the one here sporting the classic hat, shades and a long white beard) was so very knowledgeable about the history, natural history and ecology of the Okefenokee, as we meandered from the Suwannee Canal into the bog portion of the Refuge. As you can see, only one other person joined us on this "last tour of the day".  This provided us with the opportunity to ask Steve about local biology/ecology.

As we curved and rounded our way along the Suwannee Canal and back to the dock, Steve told us about the early history of the land and its people, who eked out a living in this difficult environment, leaving behind their homesteads when the Government of the USA created the Refuge in 1937. One of those homesteads has been preserved by the Refuge, and interpretation of the history of this land is available. You will be able to learn a little about this aspect of the Refuge in my next blog instalment.
Meanwhile, with the moon rising, it was time to collect Winston from the caring folks at the office and return to our temporary digs at Kingsland,  Georgia.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Muir's “go to” Place, More history, Human and Natural

March 10, 2017 Another sunny and warm day in Florida

 As with the visit to Fort Cooper, we start with a Green Heron posing for the camera. From Dunnellon, we go north and a little west up highway 19 for 90 minutes

Rosewood, Pencils and Muir

Passing by the former town of Rosewood,

Rosewood, Florida history

 site of one of the most horrific racial incidents in US history, we reach Cedar Key, one of  the few places developed in mid 19th century Florida. 

John Muir knew about this island in the sun, so he set out from Indiana on foot, arriving in Cedar Key in October 1867 after a stroll of 1000 miles. I have copied the State historic plaque for you to read a snippet of this man's monumental contribution to North American conservation.

Typical museum piece and plaque- the fire reel above (1929), is resting at the State Park museum. The hard-to-read plaque is below. Any photo may be "right-clicked". Choose "open in new tab" in the drop down menu. You will then have a larger (and in this case, readable) version of the photo.

 Cedar Key State Museum is a Florida State Park.  The museum displays items (see part of very comprehensive shell collection above) collected by Saint Clair Whitman, a local resident who established the first museum in his home. The St. Clair Whitman family home is shown below.

Excellent pictorial history of Cedar Key...that is until the last few years when cats (ugh) are prominent.
 The name of the island, Cedar Key, derives from a once prominent local tree, which you have seen elsewhere on this blog: the Southern Red Cedar,Juniperus silicicola, which like our Northern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana, isn't a cedar, but, as the Latin suggests, a Juniper.  Note: many botanists do not differentiate the two junipers, listing both as "virginiana". 

The Red Cedars were very prominent in the mid 19th century, when the Faber Pencil Factory harvested them for their pencils.  I recall using Faber pencils back in grade school, and, indeed, they did have the characteristic juniper wood scent, though not from Cedar Key, since the supply ran out in the 19th century.  You can see some nice scattered trees today.
 Walking around the neighbourhood, we came across this Eagle's nest. The two young Bald Eagles, or Eaglets,  were just about to fledge.  The one on the right was exercising its wings.  Typically, Eagles in Florida lay eggs in January. So mid-March fledging is not unusual.

Then....The Suwannee...finally, after a year of planning to get there.....

 The Suwannee River runs into the Gulf of Mexico just north of Cedar Key. Thankfully, this part of the river is protected as a National Wildlife Refuge. Here is what is looks like:

We walked along the Suwannee River Trail, resplendent with March flowers, and came out upon the river.

The Butterweed, Packera glabella, above, and Horrible Thistle (it's HUGE!), Cirsium horridulum,   below, are both well-named flowering plants of the Suwannee Valley.

Winston, below, enjoys (?) a Suwannee River view.

Later, we would go to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Folkston, Georgia.

Smokin' Hot Trails

Inverness, Florida March 21, 2017

Having just visited Fort Cooper State Park (see separate blog entry on Fort Cooper in March 2017), Jan and I decided to visit the much larger (50,000 acres, about one third of the Withlacoochee State forest) Citrus Wildlife Management Area (CWMA). It is host to some unique habitat (sand hills and caves) and species, red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises and indigo snakes.

There are many trails in this huge tract, and we chose one that had some interesting sightings on Ebird.  CWMA is the 8th best birding spot in Citrus County in terms of number of species. Another species of interest to me is Bachman's Sparrow, which was seen in the tract as late as June of this year. My interest in species named after Bachman was piqued when I visited the Magnolia Estate in Charleston, SC in December. Rev. Bachman hung out here and hosted J.J. Audubon on several occasions and he worked closely for decades with Maria Martin, Bachman's sister in law.

The sparrow and the short-tailed hawk are birds that have eluded me in Florida, so I intend to return to this tract to find these two species and others. Whooping Cranes regularly visit the lakes just to the east of CWMA. The Inverness lakes host a variety of water-loving birds.
Before setting out,  we took a short walk near our cabin where the Dragonflies and Damselflies were plentiful.  Among those we saw were:

 Male Pond Hawk Dragonfly
 Rubyspot Damselfly (same group as Jewelwings), possibly Smoky Rubyspot, Hetaerina titia .
 Rubyspot Damselfly, possibly  American, Hetaerina americana.

My luck, that the Rubyspots I observed had none of the ruby colouring which characterizes this  genus.  Identification is very difficult without these markings. We had also been seeing many large and colourful Swallowtail Butterflies, including:

 Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor

We then drove to the CWMA, parked close to the trail we had chosen and started to walk.  This Sand Pine, a Pinus clausa small pine of very sandy areas. The local subspecies is known as Ocala Sand Pine. It needs fire to reproduce and to maintain populations, which, coincidentally, the Florida State conservation staff decided to show us in person.....

So we trekked onto the trail, observing the various trees spread out, savannah style, and then we came upon a very recent controlled burn.....

so recent that is was still smokingin some places,

making life difficult for this Prickly Pear Cactus, above.

As you can see, pine cones not only survive the fire, but the seeds inside needs fire for germination. Of course, Winston, below, was both unimpressed with the heat and lack of shade (the pink tongue searched longingly for water_.

Some of the stumps of unwanted trees were still burning (above and below)

I read online a paper that declared the very noxious invader originally from South America, below, as having an uncertain "fire status". It was thought that the Tropical Soda Apple, Solanum viarum, would only be "top killed" by fire, since the roots survive. The photo may indicate that even the above-ground portion may survive fire OR the plant quickly regenerates and blooms! I have featured this plant in a previous blog, where you can see the fruit. The observant reader may notice the genus name Solanum, as belonging to the same group as the Nightshades, Tomatoes and Potatoes (Solanacaea).

We did have a great walk, found a few birds, like the Eastern Towhee,
Pipilo erythrophthalmus, already occupying the fire-resistant shrubs. We all survived the sunny warm day, enhanced by the burn.