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.

 

Cash Creek – Four Weeks After H. Michael – November 10, 2018

Hurricane Michael hit Franklin and Bay counties on October 10, 2018.  Tidal surges and/or winds extended into other coastal areas, farther inland than had been expected creating tornado-like devastation in Jackson, Liberty, Gadsden and Wakulla counties.

At home, we did not escape the tree downfalls, branches, debris, and damage, though only incidentally to outbuildings.  To get a reprieve from the work of restoration, we paddled   Womack Creek, Lake Talquin’s Joe Budd area near the mouth of the Upper Ochlockonee, Ocheesee Pond in Jackson county and yesterday Cash Creek.

There is a sardonic side to nature:  after a tooth and claw show of what she can do, she can also produce a smiley-faced day as she did yesterday.

The weather had a touch of fall with temperatures in the low 50’s and wind chill even lower because of wind.  It was overcast and cold when we launched the kayaks, but the warmth which comes from paddling soon overcame the chill.  Within half an hour the morning ceiling opened to full sun, with some clouds.  It did not get over mid-60’s yesterday.  We had an outgoing tide going upstream and an incoming tide returning with winds against us, but it was an ideal paddling day.

Over a month after H. Michael,  SR 65 south of Hosford had sections of tree-falls and fractured trunks, not consistent, but in patches, and debris along the road with trees leaning, ready to fall with the next strong wind.

At the Cash Creek Day Use area and launch site, it seems that the surge extended into the area.  Fortunately, the vault toilet was set up on a thick concrete slab which elevated it from the water level created in the surge.  One large pine had to be cut down, the trunks neatly piled for campers and day users to use as firewood.

Paddling tree-less marshes, for us, is a late fall to early spring activity.  It gets too hot for us in open estuaries when temperatures go over the high 70’s, particularly with high humidity.

Of Michael’s impact on the creek,  there is only one small pine tree which has fallen almost completely covering the creek.  Unless  paddling in low tide, that should not impede your progress upstream — you can make your way among the topmost branches.   Some pine trees in that area of sparsely growing pines and cedars may have been damaged or uprooted, but at water level we could not see over the marsh rushes.

Cash Creek, however, has submerged trees and pilings, remnants of swamp road bridges, a reminder that Tate’s Hell was  once a pine plantation.  The dark tannin-colored water obscures these obstructions.

From experience on similar pilings on other North Florida creeks and rivers, if one gets caught on one, gentle back paddling may be more effective than hard forward paddling, depending on the water current.  Hard forward paddling in some situations will fasten the boat even more securely on the pilings.  The tops of these pilings have been unevenly cut by the waters, so one could find oneself in a precarious balance.  Gentle paddling rather than power strokes should first be tried unless one has extraordinary balance control of one’s craft and body.   Sometimes, if one cannot get another paddler to help, one may have to capsize.

One caveat:  there are huge alligators on that creek.  They, do not seem to be as habituated to humans as in other creeks where fishermen throw their live bait and unwanted fish into the waters before leaving the water.  In the summer, children play and swim at the Cash Creek landing.

The creek branches over a mile upstream from the put-in at the Cash Creek Day use area.  The one on the right will extend the marsh paddling with occasional pine and cypress trees on dry land.  An older fallen tree over the bank can be limboed under, but further upstream additional smaller barriers, some crossable in high water, will be present as the creek narrows into swampland (with more trees).

The above photo was taken in an outgoing tide (shallow), so at higher water levels one would have to flatten out more or do what I call the turtle scrunch, which is more suitable for those of us with short legs: get as much of your body into the kayak with only the top of your head and hands visible (you’ve got to be able to see and you’ve got to hold on to your paddle).  Canoers can more easily go under narrow openings.

Barriers such as this probably are good turn around places:  it’s not like you don’t have other options for paddling on the other branches or branches of branches on that creek.  And, unless you have a gift of getting lost no matter where you are, it’s almost impossible to get lost upstream from the landing.   If water levels and barriers can be overcome and if you paddle all the options and back to the landing, it will probably be about a 12.5 mile paddle.

Going upstream, at the first choice of turns, the branch on the left will lead you to Pidcock Road campsite, which, at low tide is more easily accessed by boat than at high tide.  It is a beautiful, very large, secluded primitive campsite accessible from Pidcock Road.  This branch will take you into swamps with shrubs and small trees (shade) with two additional branches to explore.

When entering narrowing creeks, check to see if you will be able to turn around in your boat or you may be paddling backwards all the way until you can.

Downstream, turning left at the landing, is  a different paddling situation.  You will need a GPS so you don’t keep paddling in circles and loops, one patch of rushes looks like any other patch of rushes and you can’t see above them.  Turning left at the landing will get you, if you manage to get out of the labyrinth of marsh , into East Bayou to East Bay and then the Gulf.  There were two boat trailers and two additional boats on trailers getting ready to go downstream when we arrived at the landing.

More convenient to the highway and to the landing, three new primitive camp sites, more typical of state park sites (just enough to accommodate an RV or one or two tents, picnic table, firepit and grill), have been opened right at the Cash Creek Day Use area and landing.  What it gives in convenience, it lacks in privacy, however.  Witnessed by the thrash of glass beer bottles, six pack holders and other thrash, day users in that area consistently don’t pick up.  A newly built vault toilet on concrete slab already is less than clean, not the problem of the staff at Tate’s Hell SF, but day users.  If camping there, bring sanitizer spray to clean the toilet seats.   There is a sanitizer dispenser, but I don’t expect the dispenser will last long or will have anything to dispense.  Bring your own hand sanitizer.

Primitive camping means: no water, no electricity, and generally no toilet facilities.  (Interestingly Rock Landing campground on Crooked River (connecting the Ochlockonee and New Rivers) has three (much larger) campsites and a vault toilet, day use facility with pavilion and tables  and a boat launch.  The toilet there is usually very clean and well maintained by users.)

Reservations for campsites in Tate’s Hell can be made through Reserve America.  Call the Carrabelle Tate’s Hell State Forest office (850 697-0010) if you can’t make sense of the way Tate’s Hell Campsites are posted on that site and for confirmation that the site you have selected is what you want.

Not many birds sighted this time, but we saw two species of woodpeckers, one of which may have been a red cockaded.  The area we saw it has mainly slash pines, but David Morse, retired (summer 2018) chief forester told us that he has seen red cockaded woodpeckers nesting in slash pine cavities.  Also a small flock of small sparrow like birds, which we could not identify.  And the ubiquitous buzzards.  And one lone coot which lay low and tried to conceal itself in the marsh grass.  Usually there are lots of birds in the late fall and winter.  This is the first coot (which usually travel in flocks) we have seen on this creek.

 

Massed blooms: lavender and white on Womack Creek – May 11, 2018

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This is a great year for swamp dragon head.   They are now blooming everywhere there is sunshine:  on dead tree falls with soil, in the back swamps beyond the trees, in sunny patches along the creek.

In huge masses, they diminish the swamp roses.   But those more demure blooms have a greater over reach  — you can smell their cinnamon-sweet smell before you see them. Here, surrounded by narrow leaf primrose.

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Butterflies and bees are attracted to the nectar of the swamp dragon head.

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Soon, the arrow head blossoms will be in full bloom — they are heavily in bud throughout the creek.

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In other areas, with its strong sweet scent, the sweet bays are blooming.

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It’s summer and the critters are moving, May 11, 2018 …

Juveniles — teenagers — have a lot to learn.  They are more curious than cautious, but in that, for humans, is hope — perhaps a new way to see things around us.  For critters, however, without an overarching adult watching, growing to adulthood is risky.  Alligator, raccoons, cooters and now, this yellow crowned night heron.

Whatever it was doing when Ed came upon it, it diverted its attention to what was more interesting — us.  As it went from muddy shoreline to a short step up a branch to a flight up to a higher branch, it’s eyes were upon us.  But it did not fly away.

It’s attention span was longer than our over 15 minutes.  We paddled away as it continued to watch from its perch.

Meanwhile on the shore, a juvenile raccoon we had seen in January with its mother and siblings was foraging for a late breakfast,  a little after 10am.   Then, the mother had given her brood a sharp warning sound, which none of them heeded.   She herself headed into the brush, they stayed foraging in the mud for crayfish and other goodies.  Now, this one is on it’s own.

Again…our interest span was shorter that this raccoon. It continued to forage;  we paddled upstream. 

The non-venomous water snakes on the creek seem to be a lethargic group — they take their positions and stay there.  Adults or juvenile, it doesn’t seem to matter.  But this juvenile, after extending its forebody a bit, didn’t move.

And then the caterpillars.  Of what species I don’t know.  They were too busy eating the leaves of both the cow creek spider lily and the swamp dragon’s head to take heed of anything.

It’s a busy time on the creek and the young ones are doing what they need to be doing to continue their species.

Now blooming on Womack Creek, Tate’s Hell SF – May 4, 2018

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Cow creek spiderlily, an endemic species found only in Liberty, Franklin and Wakulla counties, Florida, is at peak bloom.  Next week, it will be in seed.

But continuing its bloom and its fragrance are swamp roses, throughout the creek.

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Little purple bells, hanging from vines throughout the creek, swamp leatherflower, Clematis crispa, are now in full bloom.  Buds indicate that they will be blooming for several more weeks, at a minimum.

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Late spring, early summer colors are bolder:  golden-yellows, blues and purples — narrow-leaf primrose, spatterdock, blue flag iris, pickerel weed. candy root.

And, already in massed blooming, but greater density promised next week, false dragonhead blossoms.

Soon also to be blooming in large masses, lizard tail.

False indigo continues its long bloom period.

Very early in the season, climbing aster are already blooming at the mouth of the river.  These flowers, in large masses throughout the river and also along Crooked River and upper Ochlockonee, will continue blooming till late fall.

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Green fly orchids, one of our favorite flowers, continue to bloom and new bud stems are appearing which promises flowering for another few more weeks.

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The next masses of white blossoms will be arrow head, heavily budded shrubs throughout the creek.

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