Category Archives: Womack Creek

Our December Pinxster Azalea

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Around a particular bend in Womack Creek, always, a pinxster azalea bush sets out its blooms — in December.

Other pinxsters on that creek start blooming in March through early May.  This one is either early or very late.

It never fully opens like the ones which bloom at the customary time.  Some years it shows heavy frost bites, but it struggles to bloom.  So far this is a good year.

Some like to make examples of what we see in nature.  This shrub can certain suggest metaphors.

We, however, always look forward to seeing it bloom, sometimes struggling, sometimes not.

If I could learn brevity — it probably deserve a haiku.

Bugs and more bugs — biological controls.

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We’ve been given permission remove invasives on Womack Creek by Tate’s Hell State Forest providing we do it the proper way.  We have kept that creek clear of taro which infests Lake Talquin and the Ochlockonee river of which Womack Creek is a tributary.  Whenever we see a taro plant we dig it up then or soon after.

With Japanese climbing fern, however, the situation is different.  It requires more care to remove since the spores can fall into the water and be carried off to points downriver to sprout into some one else’s problem.  We GPS each new sighting during the year and in the dormant month set up a day to do exclusively that:  dig up the ferns.  It’s no easy thing what with that being a vine which goes every which-away trying to find light and where the roots get entangled with other roots of other plants trying to get maximum footing on the creek bank.   And we have to cover the plants up before rattling around the stems with our digging spade (a trowel won’t do it).

So when we saw in May this year a patch of alligator weed, just before we were leaving for cooler places for the summer, we noted that we’d have to clean that little patch out when we returned.  It didn’t matter that a little alligator had selected it as a private hiding place.  It was invasive and therefore had to go.

Imagine our dismay when we returned in October, after H. Michael,  to find that the whole creek had patches of that noxious weed.

We are in kayaks.  Kayaks are OK for carrying at least 2 bags of relatively light climbing fern or the occasional taro plant.  Kayaks are not OK for the alligator weed which mats in a thick cover, so thick no sunlight can get below it.  It is water sodden and heavy.

Our last  invasive weed pull was Coral Ardesia on Goat Island in Lake Talquin.  We had a crew of 8 paddlers but used a boat to ferry us with tools to handle that task.  And we were given permission to burn the invasives right there on the island — the numbers of bags we had to cart back and ensure it was deposited where it would be totally destroyed  was too daunting for the invasive species coordinator.  We  spent the whole day cutting, digging and burning and didn’t get the job finished.  We anticipated having to do the same for the alligator weed, a group effort.

When we returned last week, imagine our surprise.   Between late October  and early December, recent rainfalls had overflowed the banks and only one stand of alligator weed was there.  It happens to be the one which the now juvenile alligator likes.  With the air in the low 50’s, the juvenile alligator had enough sense to stay where it was warmer that day.

The leaves on that stand were non-existent.  Just like the alligator weed on Lake Talquin.   Alligator weed, water hyacinths and other invasives are choking the areas around the mouth of the upper Ochlockonee.  But in October on that lake we also spotted devastation of plant leaves by two bio-control agents, introduced to the USA in the 1960’s to control alligator weed.

Here in Womack, a tributary of the lower Ochlockonee, we saw the same depredation occurring.

We parked on the thick mat and starting opening up the stalks and few leaves which remained which were held together at the top by silken threads.   In several of  the stalks we found millipedes, in one stalk we found an adult alligatorweed flea beatle, on a cluster of leaves we found a pupa of the alligatorweed stem borer and on another the whitish thick larvae of that moth.  On one of the few intact spray of leaves we found a hungry alligatorweed flea beetle larvae eating its way up a leaf.

Photo 1 above is the designer designed alligatorweed flea beetle.   Photo 2 is a stem with a hole, either created by the beetle or the moth larvae we have yet to ascertain and above that section the spent stem section which interior had been eaten from the inside and vacated to dry up and die while the stem borer continued down the stalk, eating and vacating.  The last photo is of a pupa of the alligatorweed leaf borer.  We found the larvae of that species, too, but the photographs were too blurred to post.

We determined not to remove that patch in order to observe it over time to see how well the bio-control agents do their work.  And to understand better the life cycle of these two insects. Education over destruction.

On stands of alligator weed with these two agents in other waters, we have found small spiders and we have seen these spiders coming out out a larval case with a shrunken larvae within, like the nutrients and juices have been sucked up by the spider.  We have yet to get an ID for that spider.  We did not see any on that small patch of alligator weed.

The photo above is of a millipede — on a patch of alligator weeds, submerged in water.  Millipedes enjoy floating as much as we do.

In Hawaii, biocontrol agents did the job and then proceeded to become invasives themselves by expanding their appetites to native species, like native birds.  One would have  had to have slept through sciences classes from K through high school there not to have the dangers of insufficiently tested bio-control agents being  drummed into one’s subliminal zones.

We now don’t have to worry about logistics of removing the alligator weed.  We have a floating lab there.   Hopefully that alligator will find a better spot to bask as it gets larger.  We hate to have to scare it off to check on insects.

 

Those bloomin’ green fly orchids!

 

These little lovelies, the only tree orchids which grow in north Florida, are supposed to bloom in the early spring through summer.

We have yet to record a month when these are not blooming on Womack Creek.

We’ve seen increasing number of these orchids in other north Florida watery venues, so perhaps, something about the weather and growing conditions is encouraging their growth.  These orchids seem to be able to withstand hard frost.  But most live where water may moderate the temperature.

Still, nowhere else, have we seen them bloom constantly.

 

Womack Creek – over one month after Michael – November 18, 2018

It was one of the fabulous days:  going upstream with an incoming tide, returning downstream with an outgoing tide, no wind, the river was as still as one rarely sees.  The temperature was cool, but soon warmed up to 60, the sky cloudless, and there were always new things to see and experience on Womack Creek.

The Ochlockonee River is on the right, Womack Creek on the left as seen from put-in, the Womack Creek campground landing.

It was warm enough for the river cooters and the alligators.   The little juvenile who likes to hide in the alligator weed was there again.  The larger juvenile who is probably an adult by now has grown — will this creek be able to support it?  There’s always the Ochlockonee to Crooked River to the tributaries to move to.

At high water, we didn’t have to skirt around the trees which fell into the creek.  The forests in the creek were spared the tornadic destruction we saw in some areas along SR 65, less on SR 67.  But the cyclonic pattern of force was shown in the sweet bay tree below.

There were lots of birds in the area:  a flock of grackles which foraged loudly through the forest on forest floor and in the understory and, later, a flock of robins who chose to stay at understory height, also noisy.   A small flock of ducks have come early, always very skittish.  A pair of great egrets, a great blue heron, two hawks, a number of smaller birds, and the ever present kingfisher.  We were only able to photograph the grackle.

A sulphur butterfly and a skipper found slim sipping — only a few flowers were blooming:  clematis crispa, vining asper, Symmond’s aster and swamp sweetbells being the major blooms throughout the creek.  However, in one area, every year, a pinxster azalea bush puts out its blooms — the petals do not fully open, but it blooms.  And, it seems every month we visit the creek, we see at least one stem of green fly orchids in bloom.

The dahoon, yaupon holly berries are red; the American holly berries will be by Christmas.

It was a paddling day — no wind, the current with us, the right temperature and full sun.

How lucky can we in North Florida be?  To have such great places to paddle and be restored.

Womack Creek – H. Michael’s impact – October 27, 2018

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Checking out the first branch on river right (left as we paddled upstream from Womack Creek Campground landing), two trees blocked further access (except by portage) beyond.  This is a branch of the Ochlockonee which one will pass to get to Womack Creek, but when the tide is in, it’s a good place to explore and wait the rest of the crew if paddling with a group.  Be alert for submerged snags:  it’s shallow and muddy and in early spring has a early blooming patches of golden clubs and later, in the same area, lizard’s tail plants.

Fortunately, this section of Tate’s Hell State Forest was spared from downed trees preventing passage, except for a leaning tree which when it falls will block further upstream through paddling.  Currently none of the downed trees  will block through passage to Nick’s Road campsite, 3.75 miles from put-in at Womack Creek campground.

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At Nick’s campground, Tate’s Hell forestry staff have cut and cleared off fallen trees, leaving only the debris which the hosts will clean up.  The debris, when dried, should make very good fire-pit starters.

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Noticeably absent this year are masses of vining asters and narrow leaf sunflowers which attract butterflies and other insects to the creek.   Only a few of these were blooming.

A new plant appeared, purple sneeze weed, on a log which like many partially immersed logs when it catches mud and debris from upstream become growing medium for plants.

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A few clematis crispa flowers (and their seed pods) can be seen.   The green fly orchid constantly surprises us by blooming continuously all year round.

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North Florida’s answer to maples and oaks turning color in the fall, sweet gum and Florida maples are beginning to turn.

And setting the holiday stage are three varieties of native hollies:  yaupon, dahoon and American holly.

 

Other seeds, like swamp titi (below), Walter’s viburnum, arrow wood, muscadine, palmetto provide food for birds and other creatures of that creek.

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Two small alligators, the larger juvenile in alligator weed, are too young to be afraid of paddlers.  Alligator weed, an invasive species which appeared earlier this year, will have to be cleared out.  To our knowledge there are no invasives on Womack Creek, or invasives which are not cleared out when sighted.

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A small flock of ducks have returned, a great blue heron, the ubiquitous kingfisher which is impossible to photograph because it won’t sit still.

Womack Creek is open for paddling.