Sunday, March 25, 2007

Stalking the Wild Azalea

I hiked around the Sopchoppy section of the Florida Trail today looking for wild azaleas. I was first introduced to them a year ago and fell in love with them.I started out trying to follow a spur trail to Monkey Creek but the trail was not blazed at all and soon any sign of a footpath disappeared. Do you see a path or a blue blaze anywhere? Maybe on the other side of that log,.... I did have a map and compass with me and forged ahead for a while. There were no wild azaleas in this area, but a lot of these little yellow flowers. I have searched for them in my wildflower book, so until I can make a positive identification they will remain nameless.
I probably should have turned around sooner, but I thought that surely I would see a sign or the trail if I just kept slogging on. I didn't. I did learn a valuable lesson, though: never wear shorts in the woods, no matter how hot it is. My legs are striped and bloody from the vines and needle palm stalks. Very attractive. I finally turned around and headed back to the car, using my compass and also some information that I learned in one of my classes: a white band painted around the trunk of a longleaf pine tree means that the tree is the home of a red cockaded woodpecker (or RCW, as they are called by the Pecker-ati), and RCWs nest on the southwest side of the tree (the theory is that it sun hits the SW side for the longest period of the day which draws out the pine sap to keep snakes from slithering into the hole.) So, if you are lost in the woods in north Florida and don't have a compass, look for a tree with a white band around it, find the woodpecker hole, and you know which direction is southwest. Pretty neat, huh?

I found another access spot which was much better marked and set off on my quest.
I knew I was close to water, and that the wild azaleas grow close to water, so I was hopeful and was soon rewarded. They are so subtle and beautiful. I also like that they are elusive; it makes seeing them all the more thrilling.
The picture above shows how low the Sopchoppy is. The highwater mark is about 2/3 from the top of the photograph. I doubt you can paddle much of it until we get a whole lot of rain. Below is a photo of the trail that I took from the ground so you can see that it is barely trodden at all. I felt very lucky to be able to traipse around all afternoon and never see or hear another person.
That was my day. It was great.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Okefenokee, March 9-10

This time the trip was just one night, from Suwannee Canal to Round Top (11.4 miles), with most of it on the Suwannee Canal (9 miles). I went with Chuck and Carrie (he's an ornithologist who works for the Forest Service, so he knows a lot about birds and trees, and I think Carrie is new to birding, but she is learning a lot about recognizing birds) and Alice and Tom (both biologists who know a lot about plants and birds.) I, of course, know nothing but the way to the shelter and that was a little spotty since I arrived late and forgot to bring the map. I did have my gps, but it wasn't very helpful until I remembered to load the Okefenokee map at lunchtime. It was odd to be camping with people I don't know and be such a ditz. They might actually think I am a ditz.

Here are Chuck and Carrie on the Canal Run.

There were alligators everywhere -- on the banks, swimming across the canal -- everywhere. Sometimes you just saw eyes and then they would go down like a submarine. Sometimes you could get pretty close and then they would thrash around and dive. This guy was guarding a pool full of gators. Way behind him you can see a slimy beach were dozens of them had been lounging before I came by. I saw them all lunge in the pool, and then watched them submerge one by one. I was getting a little freaked out after two days of it.
See what I mean? It's like they're always watching you.
Here's a gator.
Now look to her left.Isn't he cute?
Of course, there were also lots of turtles.
They like to dance.
When we finally got out of the canal and into the prairie, the others understood why I am not keen on the canal. This is just so much better. There were lots of birds -- Chuck and Alice id'd a juvenile golden eagle that was swooping overhead. I think that's an ibis in the top of the tree. There were more sandhill cranes than I have ever seen, or heard, in the swamp. They have a very distinctive call and they get up really early in the morning. Really early. I would like to say this is a sandhill crane, but I think it may be a great blue heron flying off. I really need a better camera! I learned to recognize a catbird call and saw a couple of kingfishers and a pileated. Here's where we camped -- Round Top shelter has been renovated since I was here last in November 2005. It was so windy when we arrived that if Chuck hadn't supplied chicken wire staples to hold down our tents I'm sure at least one of them would have blown over. As it was, the only things that went over were a pot (retrieved by me), a water bottle (retrieved by me), and me. The wind died down during the night so that we could hear the frogs serenading. Also the cranes whooping. It was quite a night. We got up around 6:30, had a nice breakfast (coffee cake baked in my new outback oven), and were packed and on the water by 8:30. I was in the lead and was the only one to see the otters. By the time I got my camera out, there was only one who hadn't slinked into the brush. Here are Tom and Alice. He knows a lot about carniverous plants, among other things.
Tom showed me how the pitcher plant catches insects and then uses the nitrogen from their dead bodies. In addition to some insect carcasses, there were larvae in there from some bug that uses the space as a home. Here are some pitcher plants in action. A lily seems like a good way to end.