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|
|Me and Kermit! Short sleeves in December!|
|Shallow roots, another wetland indicator|
|A curious gray squirrel|
|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
|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.
|It was a hot and humid day, but Kermit enjoyed being out on the water|
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).
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!).
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 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.
|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!|
|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!|
|Kermit seemed to enjoy watching the various species of heron, egret, anhingas, and other water birds.|
|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!|