After driving the 75 miles over to the west entrance of Okefenokee NWR in 30 something degree temperatures, we rented a small motorboat at the Stephen Foster State Park to start our adventure in the swamp this morning. After explaining that we were all volunteers for the refuge on the east side (yes, Jack qualifies after helping with the canoe trail maintenance last week), I was charged a price for a two hour rental even though I said we might be out for six hours. Sweet!! I would have been willing to pay the full price for this outing, but I’m not one to pass up a bargain either.
It wasn’t long before we were all bundled up and made our way out onto Billy’s Lake. The west entrance is really my favorite as that area has the big cypress trees draped in Spanish moss. That’s what a southern swamp means to me.
I had invited intern Kathy to go with us as she enjoys getting out into the swamp as much as I do. Between the cold temps and the hat that Jack was wearing, I felt like I was a voyageur working for the Hudson’s Bay Company plying the waters looking for beaver back in the day.
Back in the early 1900’s, there was a town with 800 inhabitants on this third largest island in the swamp. They were all there to harvest the old growth cypress trees. After harvesting just about all of the old trees, they had to leave once the area became a National Wildlife Refuge in 1937. Some old rusty machine things remain along with the Lee Family Cemetery. The Lee’s were early homesteaders on the island. Mother Nature has done a good job reclaiming this area. Most of the island is off limits to visitors except for the half mile trail.
Before we reached Billy’s Island, we were in for a few great sightings. Because of the cold temperatures, all of the tree swallows in the area were flying low in massive formations. You’ll have to enlarge the above pics, but on the left there are at least 15 tree swallows in that one frame coursing over the lily pads. The pic on the right shows just a little snapshot of them resting in the short trees and hunting over the water. I’ve never seen so many of these swallows in such masses. There were literally thousands of them wheeling around. Their iridescent blue bodies were just glistening in the cold rays of the sun.
Then, we were able to get pretty close up and personal with a little blue heron. I like that little ‘pony tail’ it develops for the breeding season. I sure wish I could have shown this side of the swamp to my brother, Nurse Ratchet (Kurt), while he was here in January.
After Billy’s Island, we began to make our way deeper into the cypress swamp towards Minnie Lake. I’ll post about that tomorrow, but I wanted to point out that the boat driving was more challenging down this trail. Sometimes you really have to weave the boat slowly through closely spaced cypress trees. This is where Jack proved to be a Navy man at heart. He guided our little boat through a particularly tricky maneuver through the closely growing cypress. I was impressed, and told him so. Then, in a rather wide open area, he whacked us into a cypress tree. What’s up with that? Hmm… I wonder what rank he reached in the Navy?
Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later, Judy