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.