The eastern US is under another freezing front. Here, it was in the low 50’s, the wind was blowing around 10mph, creating a few whitecaps on the Ochlockonee, but the sky was a cloudless blue. What else to do but go paddling.
Properly attired with layers under our PFDs, we paddled up the creek. The first unusual sight were blobs of white on trees in Womack Creek at the confluence. Getting closer we saw 8 large great egrets, sheltered on the lee side of the wind.
These were the birds which were hunted to near extinction in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Their plumage was much sought after for hats and other personal adornment. A conservation movement to stop the killing of birds for their feathers was started in reaction, the National Audubon Society was formed. Their symbol remains to this day the great egret (also called great white egret, American egret.)
When the wind ruffled their feathers, these birds in early breeding plummage — it was easy to see why their feathers were coveted. We had never seen a colony of these birds on Womack Creek; it made our day.
We were hoping to see more pinxter azaleas in bloom, and there are one or two more bushes in bloom. This year, however, will not rival 2011. The big rains and high waters of the last two years have taken the large stands of pinxter azaleas which were on the riverbanks. There were so many then, that the fragrance of the flowers was perceptible in the air.
Walter’s viburnum, however, are now fully blooming throughout the creek — large stands both creekside and in the interior.
Demure yellow buttercups are still blooming on the forest floor.
The creek side trees are greening. Sweet gum and hornbeam, their young leaves a delicate shade of green, a contrast with the forever dark leaves of the bays.
The turtles will catch any sunshine they can, regardless of ambient temperature. This little one, not more than 4 inches long, reminded us of the Little Engine Who Could.
And, skulking (as that juvenile probably thought he was doing) the egrets was this little alligator, not quite 4 feet long, but totally unafraid of paddlers nearby.
Also taking advantage of the exposed shore was a little green heron, probably the same one we saw last week on Womack Creek. Although not quick to flight as some birds, it was camouflaged so well in the greenery that it was hard to get a good shot of this bird. An osprey was also flying near the confluence of the Ocklockonee. And a robin and the sounds of any number of unidentified birds in the bush.
The river was so low we were able to see barnacles on the trunks which are normally under water.
On the way out, on Rock Landing road we stopped to take a photo of a blooming thistle and found several ti-ti bushes in bloom and willows with catkins. Ti-ti is blooming all over Tate’s Hell as are Carolina jessamine. Spring is here.