The nice thing about working in Okefenokee’s back yard is that I can take a trip along Swamp Island Drive after work. I had heard about the baby gators in a pond from one of the refuge volunteers, but I had not been able to see them. Until yesterday. I counted six babies – all under a foot long. Although they look like this year’s hatch, I’ve been assured by gator experts that these are about nine months old, and they don’t grow much the first winter.
This young mother gator was very protective. If I was near one of her babies hiding along shore, it would “quack” and she floated toward me in a silent warning. Alligators and crocodiles are the only North American reptiles that actually protect their eggs and babies, and these will be guarded until next year when she is ready to breed again.
It helps to have polarized sunglasses or a polarizing filter on your camera to see through the water reflections. The babies are well camouflaged with their orange stripes.
See how much that helped eliminate reflections?
To see a video of the babies, click here.
There were two types of frogs visible in the pond as well. Both are commonly hunted for their tasty froglegs.
Driving along Swamp Island Drive I found the beautiful grass pink orchids. The shoulders had just been mowed, but these escaped the blade.
Dragonflies were flitting about as well.
There are hundreds of species of dragonflies and damselflies. It can be a challenge to identify them, as the females are often differently colored, and immature males don’t match the descriptions either. The male blue dasher is known for its green eyes, but immature males (those recently emerged from the underwater nymph stage) may have brown eyes.
Also the stance helps figure which type of dragonfly it is. These blue dashers tend to like perching up high, and their wings will be held in a forward droop.
These metallic blue “sunglasses” are a characteristic of the female blue dasher.
The eastern pondhawk is one of the most common dragonflies. Males are blue, and they tend to like perching on the ground and on low vegetation.
The southern fence lizard was on a burned stump, and may be a female as there was a male with a blue throat and belly on the stump as well, looking interested.
I was surprised to see a pair of wood storks along the drive. I had just seen hundreds of them nesting at Harris Neck NWR near Savannah, GA the day before. Dozens also nest in the town of St Marys on the site of an old paper mill. These birds are endangered because of habitat loss. They are amazingly graceful in flight.
They break off greenery from trees near the nesting site to add soft materials for the chicks. They are not known to nest in the Okefenokee Swamp, however, but they often fly far from their nesting sites for food.
It was a nice way to dilly-dally after work. Wonder what awaits next time?
Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
Feel free to reblog
I’m the kind of person people don’t like to hike with, because I’m a dilly-dallier. I stop for bugs, birds, flowers, snakes, whatever. Of course, I photograph them. It takes time to make good photographs. Most people have no patience for that, and I don’t like to hike with impatient people.
The same for paddling. Since coming to Okefenokee country, I have developed a love for kayaking. Although I’ve had some nice trips with others, I’ve had to tell folks “just go on ahead – I’ll catch up”. I also like to be out all day – sunrise to sunset, and when with others I have had to leave early because the other party needed to be somewhere. Because of this, I prefer hiking and paddling solo.
I’ve perfected the fine art of dilly-dallying. I was on the water 9-1/2 hours yesterday, paddled 15 miles, and had plenty of dilly-dally adventures (plus sore arms and pink skin). The trip was to Okefenokee’s Bluff Lake. I had intended to make it to the shelter 8 miles from Kingfisher Landing, but by 2 pm I told myself I would turn back (less than a mile shy of my goal) to be sure I was off the water by sunset. Pee breaks are hard in the “land of the trembling earth” as there are few patches of solid ground, and everything is overgrown with hoorah bush and blaspheme vine (hoorah I’m out of this mess, and *#&@)(_*& thorns.) But I managed.
Here’s what I did for the first five hours. Photographed my first golden trumpet pitcher plant – and they are in bloom! And the red-flowered parrot pitcher plant! And a few hooded pitcher plants that are in flower. Now, try to position yourself in the perfect spot free of grasses or branches to photograph something from a canoe or kayak. Not easy. I had to reposition many times. Darned boats want to float away.
Took closeups of the fragrant white water lily flower – had to find one without bug bites in the petals. Once there, I aimed the lens at the lilypad forktail damselflies. Darned telephoto won’t focus close. Reposition lens numerous times. Autofocus has a mind of its own. Many frames later, I’m satisfied.
Two Oke experts I know float up in a canoe. Don shows me the bonnet worm in the spatterdock (yellow water lily). It is the larvae of a moth that bores a hole in the petiole of the leaf, then eats its way into the stem. Like those horrid raspberry borers I had in Maine. Slice open the stem with your fingernail and a fat juicy worm is inside. Toss it onto the water and it swims in “S” fashion like a snake before a fish gobbles it up. They make excellent fishing bait. I found one leaf that had eggs inside, and no worm. Spatterdocks are locally known as bonnet lily, maybe because the flower resembles a bonnet? I dunno.
Spatterdocks are most common on the swamp’s west side; fragrant white water lily reigns on the east. Here the two meet – with both common and intermingled.
I see nobody else the whole day. I am in Wilderness. Most of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is designated wilderness, meaning Congress has given it protections against most activities that show the hand of man. However, there are special provisions in Oke’s wilderness designation that allow motorboats into certain areas (generally not allowed in wilderness) and motorized trail-cutters to keep the canoe trails open. The refuge has also built overnight platforms and day shelters in the swamp, too, since there is very little dry and stable land readily accessible.
When I hear loud hikers or paddlers, I tend to want to get far away from them. I don’t like to encounter people when I’m in nature. That’s the whole point. To be with nature, not people. Unless, of course, they are my friends or family, in which case us being loud doesn’t bother me. (Insert smiley face here.) Wilderness implies solitude, “where man is a visitor who does not remain.” I had plenty of it yesterday in this less-traveled part of the swamp.
Despite multi-slatherings of SPF 15 sun block, my previously un-tanned skin turned a little pink. I’m trying to get my various tan lines to disappear – the river boot marks from a January paddle. The shoulder strap marks from the tank top. The neckline from the binoculars strap. Just one nice even brown hue is what I’m after. Nevermind the doctor’s warnings – I believe the best sun defense is a good tan.
The wind came up later in the afternoon, making the paddle harder and slower. But I was back at the landing by 6:30. Home by 7:30, dinner grilled cheese and cream of mushroom soup while watching “McLeod’s Daughters” on Hulu. Tylenol for the ache, and happy thoughts for bedtime. It was a good day.
One thing we crazy birders love is when a rare species shows up. This Snowy Owl is a couple thousand miles south of its usual haunt in snow country. It is a common bird of the arctic in summer, and migrates to northern and midwestern US in winter.
It has been reported on the Georgia Birders Online listserve for about two months, appearing first on Sea Island then St. Simon’s Island, then moving northward to St. Catherine’s Island, and now on Tybee Island. It tends to prefer the roof of 1701 Strand, but has been seen atop several of the condos facing the beach, and is often best viewed from the beach or pier.
I don’t usually travel 140 miles just to see a single species, but the weather was nice, it was my day off, and I didn’t want to miss this striking bird. While I would have preferred to see a snowy owl in the snow, I might not have another chance no matter where it is. There is a Northern Lapwing in Statesboro, but I decided to skip that one and head back home, stopping at another birding site enroute.
I liked the composition on this – reminiscent of the pueblos in the Southwest
One nice thing about hunting rare birds is that you generally encounter other birders – some from quite a distance – to add it to their life list. I found out that there’s a biologist at Fort Jackson, SC (where I was in the first Charlie Company of WACs to take basic training there in 1974) that monitors the red-cockaded woodpeckers. You learn all kinds of stuff talking to other birders.
Juxtaposition of palm trees and an arctic bird
It would be interesting to examine the pellets to see what it has been eating. It is apparently well-fed.
I’m surprised nobody has publicly referred to this guy as “Hedwig” – Harry Potter’s mail owl. Its scientific name, Bubo scandiacus, could give it a good nickname – Bubo (or Bubba, considering….) And yes, it is likely an immature male. Mature males are almost completely white, and mature females have heavier barring.
See the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for more info about the Snowy Owl.
Photos taken Feb. 20, 2013, Tybee Island, GA with Canon SX-40
Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre 2013. Feel free to reblog, with credit.
I took a sunset boat ride into the Okefenokee Swamp two days ago.
It was magical.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is the Christmas Bird Count Lite – anybody can spend 15 minutes during the GBBC and count the species of birds in your backyard. Or go hog wild and spend as much time as you want on all four days. For info go to http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc and participate in this Citizen Science venture.
In the meantime, I will post photos of some of the birds in my backyard here in southeastern Georgia.
When I lived in Maine, I had numerous bird feeders, but the Great Recession meant I couldn’t afford bird seed for a few years. ( I remember years ago buying a bag of seed for a bird friend who claimed poverty even though I wasn’t rolling in dough; she never returned the favor, alas.)
Then I embarked on a gypsy life working for the National Park Service, and now the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and until now couldn’t afford seed or wasn’t allowed to feed birds within park boundaries where I lived.
But now, I have a big yard, and I salvaged a few of my bird feeders when I sold my home last summer. So I’m back to my delightful old habits.
I noticed my neighbor now has a bunch of feeders out. Stealing my birds! Well, actually, I can watch birds on his nickle now!
There have been reports in various towns in Georgia of hummingbirds that are rarely seen here (wayward migrants) so I’ve had my feeder out for a month – no takers though. I’m sure they will be here soon.
I have had four types of woodpeckers in my yard (no photos of the red-bellied yet, and I’m waiting for a pileated to show up). And three types of doves.
Since I help plan the interpretive programs at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, I scheduled three bird programs in honor of the Great Backyard Bird Count.
One is The Special Bird of the Okefenokee – a hike to learn about the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, which needs longleaf pine forests to survive.
Another is a program I’ve adapted from another park to fit Okefenokee: Why Birds are Cool and Why Okefenokee is a Cool Place for Birds. This is an audio-visual look at the humorous side of birds (and birders) and the serious issues birds face.
And last is Attracting Birds to Your Backyard – about how to select seed, create habitat, and get them to nest in your yard. So come on out Saturday Feb. 16 to the east entrance, seven miles south of Folkston, GA. See the Okefenokee NWR website for more info.
I can’t ignore another denizen of the backyard – the crafty, sometimes annoying, often entertaining gray squirrel.
All text and images are copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre. Feel free to reblog or share, but don’t forget the credit line.
If I can do it, anyone can. Seriously. Gators notwithstanding.
The hardest part of kayaking is getting in and out of the peapod-shaped craft, especially at one of the backcountry shelters in the Okefenokee Swamp. But once you’re tucked inside, water bottle between your legs and pack stowed at your feet, you are now part of the current. It takes a little practice to slice the oars so they don’t slap-slap the water. Even more importantly, how to raise them so water doesn’t slide down the paddle onto your legs. But if I can do it, so can you.
Okefenokee Adventures, the concessionaire at the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area (East Entrance of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Folkston, Georgia) rents kayaks for $30 a day, and they supply a PFD (Personal Flotation Device, otherwise known as a life jacket.) You get in, adjust the foot rests and seat, and then get pushed off into the Suwannee Canal. Woo hoo!
The Canal is a wide, clear route dug in 1891 by those who wanted to drain the land for cotton, sugar cane, and rice plantations, and when that failed, to exploit the swamp’s cypress forests. After eleven miles were dug, the company went bankrupt. It now serves as the entrance to other parts of the Refuge – primarily the wetland prairies, islands, and lakes of the backcountry. And it’s full of alligators!
Lots and lots of gators. Okay, so nobody’s been eaten yet in the Okefenokee, right? I mean, these ancient reptiles look like deceptively docile sculptures on land, but water is their element. This is where they hunt. Where they eat turtles, snakes, and herons, and any other critter they can catch.
Deep breath. There’s one ahead. It’s little, though. The next five or six are little, too – not more than four or five feet long. Then I pass a water trail created by gators from the abutting prairie, and two big ones hear my paddle splashing. They are swimming out to see if this means a helpless meal floundering in the water. They are coming toward me! There are TWO of them. And they are BIG. I keep paddling. I don’t dare turn around to see if they are following, because I might tip the kayak.
There are other big gators, too. They float unmoving in the canal, then slowly submerge like Death Star submarines as I approach. Not knowing just where they are is unnerving. Are they under the kayak? Will my paddle hit one? Don’t they know they could very well upturn the boat and have me for a meal? Deep breath. I keep paddling.
Allowing an hour to paddle two miles assures a comfortable ride with time to stop and watch birds or wildlife. The first mile-and-a-half of this trip shows the ravages of the 2011-2012 Honey Prairie fire which burned 483 square miles of the refuge and surrounding lands over a 12-month period. Yet the resilient cypress trees are in full bloom, with their rusty catkins spreading a film of pollen on the water.
Here and there, splotches of cardinal-red dahoon holly berries shock the winter-sere landscape. Scolding notes of a wren, a flash of yellow on the butterbutts (yellow-rumped warblers), and the bobbing tails of fly-catching phoebes compete with the rattling chrrrrrrrr of a kingfisher, or the distant staccato of the sandhill cranes. The only other sound is that of your paddle sliding out of the water. It was so beautiful I almost cried.
As if it were planned that way, and not created by the fire, as soon as you pass the sign that says “Entering National Wilderness Area” the landscape changes. The fire didn’t touch the mossy gray beards on this stretch of the canal, and you get a sense of the primordial cypress forest that was all but removed during the logging era.
You will undoubtedly encounter the Okefenokee Adventures motorized tour boat, which takes visitors on a 90-minute ride ($18.50 age 12+ and $11.25 for kids age 5-11.) down the canal into Chesser Prairie. Just pull over and wave to the visitors. In about two miles, you can turn right to Cedar Hammock on Mizell Prairie, or continue a little further to Chesser Prairie on the left.
On the spur of the moment, I decided to go to Cedar Hammock. This wetland prairie is more intimate than Chesser – for one, the narrow canoe trail doesn’t need to accommodate the tour boat. For another, it is less used, and the peat blowups slow you down a little. Peat blowups are part of the peat swamp bottom that have detached and float to the surface. They become colonized by grasses, plants, and small shrubs, but you can push them out of the way or row over them.
I was able to get good photographs of the white ibis and families of adult and juvenile little blue herons. The sandhill cranes kept their distance, though, and I spooked a nice flock of them just as I rounded the corner to the Cedar Hammock shelter. I also heard a pair of barred owls echoing in the distant pines “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for youuuuu?” It pays to just stop paddling and listen.
Taking photographs from a kayak wasn’t quite as easy as I expected. For one, you have to lay the paddle across the opening so it doesn’t fall out, or so you can grab it quickly if it starts to. And for another, you keep moving, either with the current, the wind, or your momentum, so it can be hard to line up the right angle. I discovered that parking myself in a peat blowup keeps the kayak in place.
Thankfully, before I had shoved off, I noticed there was no rope to tie off the kayak to a platform where the outhouses are. So I asked for one. I had to figure out, however, how to both park the boat so I could get out, and how to keep it from floating away before I could tie it off, seeing as how the rope was on the bow and I couldn’t reach it from inside. I tucked the kayak in a narrow area between the ramp and the platform, bordered by plants, held onto the boat while I climbed out, then tied it off.
Getting back in was harder. I first had to untie the kayak, then used the rope as a stabilizer around the post while I got in. Unfortunately, I tipped it in the process, getting my pack and myself wet, but not dunking completely. I will definitely need some tips on these procedures, if anybody cares to offer any.
On the way back, a big gator I had passed sunning itself was now in the middle of the narrow channel. I took a deep breath and it submerged. I rowed over the spot it had just been. I kept paddling, faster this time. For some reason, I wasn’t too keen to photograph gators at close range and at nearly eye level.
I still had plenty of time to visit Chesser Prairie, which had more big gators. Perhaps it was the time of day, but I saw fewer birds, and the sandhill cranes were shy – unlike two weeks earlier during a motor boat trip for the 2012 Christmas Bird Count. I turned west at the Cooter Lake/Tater Rake intersection and nearly bumped into the biggest gator yet as I photographed a phoebe. He was sunning on a grassy patch and didn’t look like he wanted to move. I respectfully backpaddled and started for home.
If the map is right, I paddled 10 miles in six hours. My arms and chest were sore, but I did not feel exhausted. This is a great workout for strengthening stomach muscles, and my lower back felt better when the trip was done than when I had started! I marveled at the ease at which one could skim over the water with just muscles for power, without the intrusion of motors or diesel odors. This is something I want to do again. And again and again.
If I can do it, anybody can!
p.s. I counted fifteen gators in all. And those were only the ones I could see!
Tips for newbies:
*Insist on a tie-off rope or bring your own.
*Try to get a paddle with two drip guards.
*Bring more drinking water than you think you need, unless you want to do like Okefenokee Joe and drink tannic water straight from the swamp. (Not recommended.)
*Wear sunscreen, even in January. (I did get a little red, to my surprise.)
*Never hurts to bring bug dope, even in winter.
*Bring a waterproof dry bag big enough for your pack, just in case.
*It’s windy at the prairie shelters – keep stuff from blowing away.
*Bring biker’s gloves to avoid blisters, and vary your hand placement on the paddle to keep from rubbing the same tender places.
*Wear quick-drying clothing, especially if it’s cold. Cotton stays wet.
*Bring toilet paper
*You will ALWAYS think you see more gators than are there – many logs look JUST like them!
All photographs and text are copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre
Although my recent trip to Texas was to visit relatives, I could not pass by one of my favorite birding spots without stopping for my bird fix. Anahuac NWR suffered during Hurricane Rita in 2005, but was really devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008. There are fewer trees now, and while Spring seems to have the best variety of birds, November was pretty decent for a windy day.
So without much further ado, here are the results.
When my son and his fiance’ visited me several weeks ago, he wanted to see some of the hotels designed by John C. Portman, Jr. So when Hurricane Sandy was wreaking havoc in the Northeast and her back winds were blowing hard and cold in Atlanta, we walked downtown. We saw four of the buildings he designed, and the others will be featured in subsequent posts.
These were part of the 14-block Peachtree Center designed in the 1960s to help revitalize Atlanta’s downtown which was being whittled away by the flight to the suburbs.
The Marriott Marquis was built two decades after his first, Atlanta’s Hyatt Regency. This 1985 design flows like water around rocks and down a waterfall – a much different impression than the blocky but better-lit Hyatt atrium.
Evidently Portman, who grew up in Atlanta, pioneered the idea of a large interior atrium in hotels. Instead of it being wasted square footage, the atrium became a sculptural work of art. The 52-story Marriott Marquis’ skylight is too high to give more than a dim aid to the artificial lights on the lower floors. But the curves and colors of the balconies and walls provide a visual banquet for those who appreciate architectural beauty.
Writing in Architect magazine, Lindsey Roberts says, “Soaring atriums, lit columns, glass elevators, water fountains—such features have become synonymous with hotels and convention centers. But they are only ubiquitous since architect-developer John Portman, FAIA, almost single-handedly changed the hospitality typology from blah boxes into spectacular spaces.”
If it weren’t for my son’s interest, sparked by a film he had seen on the architect, I would have had no idea of the beauty hidden within these hotels.
My website: www.CindyMcIntyre.com
While going through photographs that needed editing, I discovered some great images of burrowing owls I had done several years ago in Florida. These birds are unique among North American owls in that they actually live underground. They are also active during the day as well as at night, hunting small mammals and insects, but will catch lizards and other little critters if the opportunity presents itself. These long-legged owls are only 8 to 10 inches tall, but are often visible perched near their burrows, or on fences nearby.
As with many of Nature’s citizens, their populations are decreasing due to habitat loss. Burrowing owls need open land with short grass on ground they can dig into, but more often use abandoned cavities dug by prairie dogs, ground squirrels, skunks, gopher tortoises and armadillos. There is a more wide-ranging population in the western U.S. (Athene cunicularia hypugaea), but the Florida subspecies (A. c. floridana) is what is pictured here.
The Latin genus name Athene is from Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and just warfare. (When I was in the Women’s Army Corps, our insignia was the Pallas Athene). The owl was the symbol on her shield. Many representations of her show her holding a pet owl. That is how owls came to be associated with wisdom, but also because they are raptors, the warfare aspect seems relevant as well.
Burrowing owls often nest in small colonies, and in Florida one of the most notable populations is in Cape Coral, where over 2,500 burrows can be found in parks, fields, and in peoples’ backyards. Many folks feel protective of “their” owls, and I wonder how many of them have been named after Harry Potter’s snowy owl “Hedwig.” Often their burrows will be marked by wooden stakes, but the owls themselves frequently decorate the cavity openings with whatever little “treasures” they can find – shiny objects, cigarette butts, scraps of paper, etc. Their burrows are lined with palm fronds, grass, and even cow pies or other mammal dung when they are ready to nest. The manure attracts insects such as dung beetles, which is kind of like having room service!
Local birders also told me about a few nests in a grassy field in a Boynton Beach, Florida subdivision where I was staying with a friend. Clearly these little guys benefit from development as well, although when push comes to shove, it is usually the owl that loses. The usual predators – foxes, hawks, and pet kitty cats kill many of these small owls, but cars often hit them, especially fledglings learning to fly.
I was not fortunate enough to see nestlings, but I have seen images from other photographers and I can tell you a family of burrowing owls is one of the cutest scenes ever. Young owls begin appearing at the burrow when they are two weeks old, and can forage on their own and fly at about six weeks of age.
Because burrowing owls seem so tame, it is tempting to get too close to them. When they start bobbing their heads, they are nervous and may be afraid to leave the nest to hunt if they feel their family is threatened. Cape Coral is very proud of what it calls “the largest population of the Florida burrowing owl of any place in the world,” and the city posts several maps online where people can view them. Nesting season is February through July, and I took these photographs in late February 2008.
For more information:
One of the things I like about living in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward is the street art. Much of it is from the Living Walls project, now in its third year. But it comes from a variety of sources, and some of it is even impromptu – not created as art, but as a method of communication. However, I am attracted to the objet truve’ types of “found art” – the scuzzy, torn, dilapidated, mutilated, and discombobulated (I just had to use that word) stuff that you find in cities.
This one by Mexico City artist Heif Neuzz (aka Miguel Mejía) is one of my favorites, and it’s just down the street.
Here is Olive47′s website. I love her stuff. This year’s Living Walls featured only women muralists.
I don’t think the Koi are part of the Living Walls project, but they are cool. Check out Brandon Sadler’s site.
This was at the Studioplex on Auburn Avenue – a former cotton packing plant converted into studios and lofts.
Ralph Helmick’s sculpture is of John Wesley Dobbs, an influential black leader who coined the term “Sweet Auburn” for the comfortable middle-class neighborhood and business district known as the richest black street in the world in the 1950s.
The “Behold” sculpture by Patrick Morelli is on the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site on Auburn Avenue.
And last, but least, are the impromptu pieces along Edgewood and Auburn Avenues.