Late June in Congaree National Park

Two weeks ago some friends visited from North Carolina. We explored some of the trails in Congaree National Park. It was a warm day, with a high around 102 degrees F. Kermit was  really feeling the heat, with the recent move and everything associated with that, I hadn’t been taking him for the usual long walks. 

The National Park Service does prescribed burns to manage the upland pine forests. Beware of chiggers! 

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

Living in Louisiana, and now in South Carolina, I have really enjoyed seeing the green anole. It’s a beautiful little lizard with the ability to change its color. They move lightning-fast, and can jump surprisingly far. 
When I was a child, my family lived near Augusta Georgia. My twin brother and I use to spend hours trying to catch these little lizards. They’re tough to photograph because they can be rather shy and quick to flee. I photographed this lizard this morning in one of the shrubs in front of our house. The way the anole is peeking out of the leaves, looking at me, it reminds me of the “clever girl” velociraptor  scene in the movie Jurassic Park.

Congaree National Park (December 2016)

Congaree National Park is a beautiful forest and wetland complex. It is considered the largest intact old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. It is a relatively new park, having been designated as such in 2003, prior to that it was a National Monument.

Kermit and I visited Congaree during the last week in December. It was quite warm, once we got walking I was quite comfortable in a t-shirt (although everyone else was bundled up in winter coats!).

Congaree is a very biodiverse area, with some incredible cypress and tupelo stands.

Kermit does not have the best sitting posture   🙂

Much of Congaree was flooded during this visit

Crayfish holes

Cypress knees

Me and Kermit! Short sleeves in December! 

Shallow roots, another wetland indicator
A curious gray squirrel

Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Chimney Tops

In May of 2015, I spent some time with family visiting Smoky Mountain National Park. I’ve been negligent with this blog, for several reasons, not least of which is because last fall my wife and I moved from Louisiana to South Carolina. So there’s plenty to catch up on. 
While in TN, I had the chance to do some hiking, including up Chimney Tops, which is one of the many popular hikes in the Smoky Mountains. 

The hike up was beautifully lush, with many little verdant coves such as this one
I believe this is Flatbacked Millipede, Sigmoria trimaculata
Beautiful timber check steps

I’ve been many trails in the northeast, and the steps along this trail are some of he nicest I have ever seen. My brother builds trails like this for the National Park Service in Washington.

Beautiful stone check steps

The rock outcropping on Chimney Tops, offering a 360-degree panoramic view
I did not climb all the way to the top. The rock outcropping was still wet from rain earlier in the day. 

The southern Appalachians reminds me of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. The views are similar, with some overlap in plant species,  but the plant communities of the southern Appalachians are famously diverse.  Now that I live in SC, I look forward to exploring

Turkey Creek Lake

Two weeks ago I went paddling around the northern portion of Turkey Creek Lake, Louisiana. It’s a beautiful area, with some incredible cypress. There is an interesting Water-body Management Plan document publicly available from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries website, here. It covers some of the management issues they deal with, such as invasive aquatic species, both plants (water hyacinth) and animals (asian carp). 

Bald cypress leaves

It was tough trying to get a photo of this water spider, without leaning too far over in the canoe.

While paddling on the lake, I saw my first alligator gar, it surfaced a couple of feet from the canoe. I was able to get a decent glimpse of its long row of teeth and speckled scales.

Despite the fact that I went in the morning, it was still too hot to take Kermit, and have him sitting in a hot aluminum canoe in the sun. The humidity was essentially 100% and it was already close to 90 degrees F by the time I was in the water, with a heat index of at least 100 F. 

Africa Lake- Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge

I took Kermit out paddling on Africa Lake in the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge. Africa Lake is an old oxbow lake of the Tensas River. The lake is smack in the middle of a large expanse of bottom land hardwood forest. This forest, the refuge, was the actually the location of the last confirmed sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker in the 1940s. 

It was a hot and humid day, but Kermit enjoyed being out on the water

I saw many alligators, I stopped counting after a dozen. The lake is very narrow, with very steep banks all around. I was the only person out on the lake, and I didn’t see anyone else on the refuge until I was driving out. Paddling down the lake among alligators, with great blue herons, anhingas, and egrets flying overhead I could almost imagine myself having gone back in time. In my imagination, I’ve also thought these great water birds resemble pterodactyls, and alligators are essentially dinosaurs. 

A great pamphlet, which includes info on Africa Lake and many other areas to paddle can be found here. 

The shore has many large and beautiful bald cypress trees along it.

This inlet leads to the “Cypress Cathedral,” and when the water is high to the second portion of Africa Lake.I intend to navigate through it sometime soon, and explore the rest of the lake. 

As I was driving out of the Refuge, I saw a green strip on the gravel road, I suspected it might be a snake so I stopped to check it out and found a beautiful little rough green snake (Opheodrys aestivus).

“Winter” on the bayou

Today, on December 14, in Louisiana, it was 70 degrees F outside! I was in shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals as I paddled through Black Bayou NWR with Kermit. This weather is the complete opposite of what I typically experienced this time of year, growing up in New Hampshire.

Below is a photo taken yesterday just down the road from where I grew up in Springfield New Hampshire. (It was taken with a cell phone and texted to me–thanks Mom!).

In contrast, below is Black Bayou Lake NWR today. 

The cypress trees have dropped their leaves, but before they did, they were a vibrant orange-red color. Despite the sometimes dreary-look of leafless trees, the wetland was alive with waterfowl, especially ducks, they were everywhere, and quite noisy!

Additionally, alligators were out on this warm December day, basking in the sun.

This was the bigger of the two I photographed. I saw four total. 

The smaller of the two, this guy was basking about 50 feet from the first one pictured.

Ducks flying overhead

Sometimes Kermit seems to get bored when I stop for too long to enjoy the scenery or compose photos. 

The idea of trying to get a photo of the ducks running/flapping across the water was a last second thought. I did not give myself any time to adequately consider or frame the shot, and I am not really happy with how these two photos came out, but hopefully they give you some idea of how impressive it is to see the ducks fly and run across water.

As much as I love REAL winters, and I truly do, I appreciate the interesting and mild (this time of year) climate of Louisiana, where I am able to paddle around instead of snow shoe or ice skate. 

Back to Black Bayou Lake NWR with Kermit

(As always, you can click on any image to view them larger, in a gallery)

I recently spent half a day paddling through Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge with Kermit. This time we went much further out, and explored some new areas. It was a beautiful day, with many alligators out basking. I was told by a naturalist at the Visitor Center, that there are roughly 7,000 alligators at that site.

I found some great information on alligators at the Savannah River Ecology Lab website, which is an old and well-respected lab in the field of ecology. Apparently a common, and effective method for conducting population surveys on alligators is at night, shining flashlights, which reflect especially brightly off their unique eyes. As part of my Master’s research at the University of Illinois, I conducted anuran call surveys at night. I am generally very comfortable out in the woods, day or night, but wading through wetlands at night (alone) to perform call surveys was sometimes disconcerting. Given that, I cannot imagine what it would be like to venture out at night to conduct nocturnal surveys of alligator populations. 
When I look at alligators, I can’t help but feel like I am staring at a living dinosaur. They just look so ancient. Accordingly, alligators are the “…last living reptiles that were closely related to dinosaurs, and their closest modern kin are birds (SREL).” Also, there is only one other species of alligator besides the american alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), which is found in China. 

I have only seen alligators a couple of times in my life. When I was a young child I visited Gator Land in Florida with my grandparents. More recently, when I was in Charleston South Carolina  (almost two years ago) for a wedding, I saw many alligators while visiting a wetland on a former plantation (I took many photos during that trip, but they ended up getting deleted by accident).

But I found it to be a much different experience, for me, to be paddling in the same water that alligators are swimming in. A couple swam ~20 or 30″ from my canoe, it was breathtaking and startling. It’s humbling to be in an environment with such a large predator. It is especially important to respect such wildlife, and maintain a safe distance and awareness.

When I worked in Sequoia National Forest, I remember sometimes feeling disconcerted by the mountain lions (of which I was fortunate to see 3), another large predator that can be dangerous to people, especially if you are not being careful.

Paddling through a forest! Incredible!

Happy Kermit!

An Anhinga anhinga! Beautiful bird!
I suspect this is a species of Bidens. From what I have seen. this is prolific throughout the state.  

Any idea what species of snake this is? There are 54 species of snakes in Louisiana (7 of which are poisonous) .

I suspect this might be a species of Argiope, but I am not sure! So if someone out there can identify this for me, please leave a comment below! I did not take this with my macro lens, next time I definitely will. I only took a short walk through the woods before heading out. This spider was large, about the size of my palm.
I only had a quick few of this beautiful little turtle before it slid into the water, so if anyone can identify this for me, please leave a comment below!

Black Lake Bayou National Wildlife Refuge

Kermit seemed to enjoy watching the various species of heron, egret, anhingas, and other water birds. 
My wife and I moved to Louisiana about a week and a half ago, after I accepted a position with the USDA. So far, I have found Louisiana to be a very beautiful state, and we are both excited to explore a different part of the country! While I absolutely love winter , I find myself appreciating the warm autumn weather here. It’s almost November, and I am still in a t-shirt and shorts!
Yesterday, I took Kermit paddling at Black Lake Bayou National Wildlife Refuge, in Monroe. The Black Lake Bayou NWR consists of forested trails, a lake, and baldcypress/tupelo wetlands. Last night I started reading the book, Bayou-Diversity, by Kelby Ouchley, since I have a great deal to learn about the natural history in the area. The book was recommended to me by a member of the Friends of Black Bayou nonprofit organization, who I spoke with at the beautiful visitor center found on site. 
I had the opportunity to see two alligators, which were swimming about 20-30 feet from the canoe. As I floated along, parallel to one, it stealthily sunk into the water, without leaving any ripples, and just a few bubbles to indicate where it had been. It was incredible! 
The flora and fauna down here is unlike anything I’ve experienced before, it’s exciting and fascinating! 

Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), is a deciduous conifer that has a limited range throughout the southeastern United States, and up along the Mississippi River to the southern tip of Illinois. 

Such an amazing ecosystem! I have wanted to explore a bayou for years, it’s exciting to now live near so many unique and beautiful areas. 

Just along for the ride!