Monthly Archives: April 2018

Yellow-crowned night heron – Womack Creek 4-24-2018

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After perching long enough for several shots, this yellow-crowned night heron flew upstream as we paddled upstream.  Much like kingfishers like to do, it stayed within visual distance, perching on a tree branch then flying away as we got too close.

Late spring flowers starting to bloom – Womack Creek, April 24, 2018

Within a week and for about a week after, expect the heavy scent of blooming sweet bay.   They will overpower the lighter, cinnamon scent of the swamp roses which are now blooming on bushes throughout the creek.

Finally, the clematis crispa vines are bearing buds and flowers.  This black swallowtail butterfly was taking its fill of nectar from a bloom.   With the pinxster azaleas going to seed, the clematis blossoms may keep these butterflies on the creek.

Blue flag iris and pickerel weed add bright blue color to the landscape, but they are usually in sunny pockets behind the shrubs and trees at water’s edge.

The cow creek spider lilies are blooming and should continue its bloom for about two weeks.

And within two weeks, masses of false dragonhead blossoms will be seen along the creek.

 

Did you know that ogeche tupelo trees are either male or female?

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One will bear fruit, the other will not.

The ogeche tupelo is one of the last blooming trees on Womack creek.  By the end of April, the buzz of honey bees will be heard around the trees.

Apiary owners station their bee hives in certain locations throughout Tate’s Hell State Forest.  One such station is on Jeff Sanders Road east of county road 67 near the Womack Creek Campground.

Low voltage wires are strung around the clutch of hives to deter black bears.  Bears lead by their noses (their sense of smell is exceedingly keen) and one experience with electrical shock is sufficient to keep them away.

Only April 11, 2018 on Womack Creek,  we saw only 1 honeybee and it was on a Virginia sweetspire flower.

Recent flowering plants on Womack Creek – April 11, 2018

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These are flowers which were in bloom on April 11, 2018 on Womack Creek.   The American wisteria has a much thicker cluster of blooms and it does not invade the forests as do the exotic Japanese wisteria.   There are three locations with wisteria vines, but only one of these were seen blooming.  The bloom period is short-lived when the temperatures are in the high 70’s and low 80’s.

Blue flag iris plants can be seen throughout the creek, but are not prolific bloomers, unlike the Crooked River, which connects the Ochlockonee River on the east and the Carrabelle River on the west in Tate’s Hell State Forest.  Whole stands of them bloom along the Crooked River.

One of the most eye-catching flowers are on the narrowleaf primrose plant.  Here shown with Virginia sweetspire.

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Cowcreek spider lilies will be in full bloom within two weeks.  The frame on the right shows a mass of buds and one flowering spider lily.

On Womack Creek landing you will see star grass and the pineland pimpernell, both are small flowered plants and may escape your notice, but look down and you will see them.

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One bush of swamp roses on the upper left branch leading to Nick’s Road campsite are beginning to bloom and spreads its fragrance before you see the roses.

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In the water, spatterdock buds are opening up.

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In about two weeks expect to see swamp titi, southern arrow wood, ogeche tupelos and muscadine flowers.  By early May, perseus bay and sweet bay will add a heavy fragrance to the creek.

At its peak now are swamp dogwood, swamp sweetbells, Virginia sweetspire, False indigo, candy root (at both landings) and butterweed.

The rusty haw, pinxster azaleas and fringe tree blossoms will not last in high 70 temperatures.  The cross vines may be at their end of bloom, also.

There are no exotic plants on Womack creek, unusual in Florida waterways.

Apple snail eggs: can apple snails and limpkins follow?

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In the last two years we have seen apple snail eggs on an indiscriminate number of woody or leafy or stemlike objects in the creek.  These are the eggs of the native apple snails, a major food of the limpkin.

We have seen only one apple snail case on the creek, but no live snails.  The native snails are much smaller than the exotic snails which have taken over Lake Jackson in Tallahassee.

This was the first sighting of the year, although last year and the year before we saw them throughout the creek.  We expect to see more through the season.

 

 

Perhaps…a New Pair of Barred Owls on the Lower Womack Creek?

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Over a year ago, we photographed a dead barred owl, tangled up in a bait line not far from where the owl above was perched.  Soon after that incident we camped at Womack Creek campground and did not hear the sounds of barred owls calling.

On April 11, 2018,  paddling upstream we saw this barred owl, well camouflaged.  Later we either saw the same owl or another.

Hopefully, campers will hear the sounds of a pair of barred owls calling across the creek.

Why primitive camp with kids? Why primitive camp?

Several years ago, two mothers asked if we could recommend a good camping spot for them and their four kids. It would have to include paddling.  No other conditions.  And would we join them?

We recommended Nick’s Road campsite off Womack Creek: a very large individual campsite in Tate’s Hell State Forest, 3.75 miles upstream from the Womack Creek Campground landing.   It is very secluded and Womack creek above that site  narrows and then forms two options which can lead to all sorts of adventures for active kids.

They could scream their heads off and no one would hear them (except us).  That campsite has a raised grill, a picnic table and a fire pit. No other amenities.

Fire pits are very important with kids.  Ask most camp savvy kids what words would come to their mind when you say “firepit”.  In most cases you will get  “graham crackers, marshmallows and milk chocolate” or just “some more’s”.   That’s why fire pits are important.  It also conjures up stories: ghost stories for the older kids, just stories for the littler ones.

It was to be a two night camp, but heavy rains were forecast the first night, so we delayed camping till the next night.  However, the kids made the most of it.   The river was high which meant that the upper reaches of the creek beyond the campsite were open for a longer explorations by boat.

One canoe, one stand up paddle board, two sit on top kayaks and four sit-inside kayaks.  Going down the river we were a motley crew: no one was going straight and mid-way there was an exchange of boats: SUP to canoe, to sit on top and variations — every child in a different boat they started out in.

There was enough wood to have both an evening and a morning fire.  Stories were told, some more’s were eaten and no one was concerned about bedtime.  The night was clear and the stars were out — perfect.

As it was, the kids got up earlier than the adults and had already explored the upper reaches of Womack creek.  They were waiting for us to get up so they could announce how many snakes they had seen.  And other wild things.  There was much to see, much to do and, yes, they were starving for breakfast.

It was a great two days of camping and we had that section of Tate’s Hell all to ourselves and the barred owls, the snakes and all the critters seen and unseen.

Just this week we took two grandchildren camping at Wright Lake Campground in the Apalachicola National Forest.   It’s gotten much more traffic since the forest adopted a Recreation.gov reservation system.  We like that people have found this great campground, but wish that they would appreciate the natural light of day and night.

A camper turned on the large camp light over the absent host’s site even before it got dark.  We’ve camped at that campground many times and the host would usually ask us if we preferred it off or on and we would always say off.  This is the first time we have camped where that light was on.  Even though our usual campsites were far away from the host’s site, we preferred the light of nature — that’s why we were camping.   The restrooms were very well lit and we wore headlamps.

This time, however, the light was almost over us.  When dusk turned to night, our fire lit and going,  it seemed we were on a stage — with floodlights on us.  We could barely make out the stars.  So one of us turned the light off.  Within fifteen minutes a troupe of three returned to turn the light on.  The older grand daughter who has a droll sense of humor asked how many people does it take to turn on one switch.

Hard to feel that sense of wonderment of the night sky with its sparkling lights coming from eons of light years away when artificial light masks it all.   We were unable to give our grand kids that sense.  And, the 8 year old wants to be an astronaut.

It reminded me of the camping trip in Tate’s Hell.  Except for our fire and our headlamps which were turned off most of the time, there was night all around us.  The night creatures could continue to hunt in the dark; the stars were oh, so, visible. And, by contrast, the fire looked and felt so great compared to beyond the perimeter when it’s light no longer cast shadows.  We humans are drawn to light and fire, but that does not mean that we should extend artificial lighting beyond our immediate need for safety.  It gave them experience of the night in the woods and the kids loved it.

Next year, we’re camping instead at Tate’s Hell State Forest.  Either on the New River to paddle and camp, or Womack Creek and camp at Nick’s Road campsite. On the New, if the river is at moderate height,  there are lots of sand bars to explore; if the river is low, there are even more exposed sandbars and wading areas.  Of course, regardless, there will be paddling.  Fishing is another option on the waterways of Tate’s Hell SF.

The other good site with kids is Loop Landing on the Crooked River — there is a family of river otters which has a burrow under one of the tree roots near the landing.  There is a family of river otters past Nick’s road campsite, also, but one has to paddle quietly to find them.  In both sites one can hear the barred owls call at night.   For extended stays, $2 day use fee will allow you to use the showers at the Womack Creek campground.

After this week, I am so thankful for the primitive sites in Tate’s Hell State Forest which can still give campers a sense of day and night, of night creatures and day creatures and the sense of wonder which our ancestors many hundreds of years ago must have felt when all they had was a small fire to give light at night, warmth when cold and heat to cook, but which night sky produced a glory of possibilities, including direction to other areas not yet discovered.

The lights at Wright Lake campground did produce something which caught our eyes for a long time:  the light attracted insects; bats flitted around having a feast.  It was good to know that there was an active colony of bats nearby and that they were having dinner at our expense.

More Than Meets the Eye in Blackwater River State Forest

by Beverly Hill

As a local who appreciates the outdoors, natural areas such as Blackwater River State Forest are a welcome diversion from modern life.  A peaceful hike along a trail or a laid back float trip down one of the rivers that run through it settles the mind into a quiet state of reflection.  As the human experience slows, the mind opens to notice more:  a green lynx spider with a bee in its web, a white-tailed deer track, an endangered pitcher plant.

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Even with a natural eye, on a field trip to Blackwater River State Forest with the Florida Master Naturalist program, I was able to come to appreciate even more about what we have right here in the Florida panhandle.  As we walked through the thigh-high wiregrass surrounded by pine trees and sparkleberry bushes, our group came to stop under a tall pine speciman and learned that it was a long  leaf pine, a species of pine that inhabits less than 6% of its original range due to exploitation by the logging industry in the early 1900’s and from attacks by the southern pine beetle.  It is the key tree species in a complex of fire dependent ecosystems in the southeastern United States and plays a vital role in the survival of numerous species of wildlife, such as the endangered red cockaded woodpecker.

The red cockaded woodpecker only makes its cavity nest in old-growth long leaf pines that are at least 80-100 years old.  Our guide, who works extensively with the red cockaded woodpecker, set up a long pole with a video camera on the end and guided it up the tree to a small, nearly imperceptible hole.   Our group crowded around to get a glimpse of the woodpeckers, but instead got to see a southern flying squirrel who had taken up residence in the cavity, proving once again that a seemingly simple thing like a tree can help many things.

We moved on from the tree and carefully explored a small pitcher plant bog at the bottom of the slope where I was able to spot a small collection of white-top and parrot pitcher plants, as well as several small sundews.  The pitcher plant population in the United States is less than 3% of its original size due to habitat loss, a fact that wasn’t lost on me as I watched an impossibly tiny frog hop beneath a blade of grass in search of food.  The more we looked, the more interesting things we found:  wildflowers, dragon flies, archaeological remnants from the turpentine era.

 

We loaded back into the vehicles and headed to an ephemeral pond which is an area that has both wet and dry periods throughout the year and is important for breeding amphibians.  Although dry at the time of our visit, we were once again treated to the sight of unique plants and flowers that grow only in these temporary wetlands.  Almost as temporary as our afternoon outing that was winding down.

Although not my first visit to Blackwater River State Forest, it was one that provided greater insights about the importance of protecting our natural areas, both for ourselves and our environment.  Now, whenever I return, I will walk the trails and float the rivers with hopes of seeing even more hidden treasures.

Beverly Hill’s website: http://www.northwestfloridaoutdooradventure.com  gives photos and information of other Northwest Florida outdoor venues.

 

Everything is blooming on Womack Creek – Easter, 4-1-2018

See it before the pastels shades of green, pinkish green, bronze, yellow-green of spring turn into the heavier colors of summer.

Not just the leaves of the Florida maple and the Ogeche tupelo which leaves are beginning to appear.

The view of the creek is dotted with clumps of light pink, pinxster azaleas at their peak bloom.

False indigo blossoms,  It’s dominant purple bloom stalk encircles by lavender stamen.

The creek’s white flowers are at their peak bloom or beginning to bloom:  swamp sweet bells, swamp dogwood, Virginia Sweetspire, Fringe Tree, Blackberry blossoms, Yaupon, Rusty Haw and an yet to be identified flowering ground cover.

Yellow flowers, not to be missed are butterweed, located in large patches behind the immediate shoreline, candy root and a yet to be identified flower both at Nick’s Road campsite and just beginning to open, spatterdocks.

The first swamp rose is blooming — hard to say yet whether this will be a good year for these roses. There were just a few blooms on the many rose bushes throughout the creek.

But this year is definitely the year of the pinxster azaleas and the orange cross vines.  These vines are blooming profusely throughout the 3.75 mile stretch from the Womack Creek campground landing to Nick’s Road campsite.

And, if you can see those shiny purple balls of sweet-tart berries — blueberries are beginning to ripen.  A few now, but more to come.

A feast for your eyes, a tidbit for your stomach.