Tag Archives: Florida Paddling

For paddlers: Tate’s Hell State Forest, camp guide

It is possible, if one is not adverse to going upriver, to do a half circle from the Ochlockonee River to Crooked River to Carrabelle River and end up on one of the campsites on the New River (or the reverse), camping along the way. This will take you through the deciduous lowlands, estuary/swamps and upper pineland areas of the second largest Florida state forest. Except at Womack Creek campground, there are no showers available. At Rock Landing Day Use Area on the Crooked River and Gully Branch Day Use Area vault toilets are available. However, consider this primitive camping all the way and bring your own water. You may be able to filter water at Womack Creek Campground and Gully Branch Campground where water is available, but not potable. We recommend you bring your own water for drinking and cooking.

The best time to be paddling and camping in Tate’s Hell is from mid-October through mid-May. After May some areas will have yellow flies, which, unlike mosquitoes and other flying insects, will follow you on the water and even enter your cockpit. Yellow flies are particularly bad in the summer at Gully Branch Recreation Area and Log Cabin Campground.

Here is a list of the paddling venues in Tate’s Hell State Forest and the campsites which may be accessible to paddlers. For specific camp site information, search by Campsite number of name on this site.

Ochlockonee River

  • Log cabin Campground *: Campsite #23 has the easiest access and is used by paddlers on the Ochlockonee as an overnight or a rest/lunch stop. Campsite 24 has access to the river, but better when the river is high or the tide is incoming. Campsite 25 and 26 have no easy access to the Ochlockonee, use campsite 23 access.
  • Womack Creek Campground/Day Use Area, CS #29-CS #40 *: There is gravel landing used by motorized boats and paddlers. There are tent and 3 RV/tent campsites here with 3 sites with electricity. Womack Creek Campground is the only campground in Tate’s Hell with showers. Campers from other sites, can use the showers by paying $2 day use fee. Water not potable, sulphurous.

Crooked River is affected by tides from Ochlockonee Bay to the east and the Gulf of Mexico via Carrabelle to the west. It goes under the CR 67 bridge and, at high water periods, may require portage across CR 67. There are a few short branches of this river which can be explored.

  • CS 28, Loop road, easy access
  • Rock Landing Campground/Day Use Area, campsite 41-43*:
  • Rock Landing has a concrete boat ramp, vault toilet, covered picnic tables. You will have to carry your boats to the landing. There is a grassy area on either side of the concrete ramp.
  • Crooked River #44, has a gravel landing used also by motorized boats. There is a grassy parking area for trailer parking. CS#45 is accessible to the Crooked River, but there is a drop when the water is low (or the tide is outgoing).
  • Sunday Rollaway, #46, good sandy landing.
  • Oxbow #47 a sloping, sandy hill, but there is sufficient flat sandy area near the water to be able to take-out horizontal to the land.
  • Warren Bluff #48, good sandy landing.

New River: the upper stretch from CS #1 to CS #17 can be a challenging paddle due to treefalls, strainers, smilax and may not be entirely navigable from April through the early winter. Where access is available on the New River campsites, care should be taken when the river is low, there are deep drops and one could loose one’s initial footing with the downriver current and get in over one’s leg stretch.

  • Sumatra, CS 1, generally easy unless the river is low, sharp drop into river
  • New River West, CS 3, accessible, but steep drop when water is low
  • Gully Branch tent only, CS 4, use Gully Branch Day Use area (will have to carry your boat there), concrete-sectioned landing used by motorized boats also. Vault toilet.
  • Dew Drop, CS 5, no easy access to river.
  • Parker Place CS 8, good access, watch sharp drop when water is low or tide is out.
  • Pope Place CS 9, good access
  • New River East, CS 13, yes with caution when water is low
  • New River East, CS 14, yes with caution when water is low
  • New River East, CS 15, yes with caution when water is low
  • New River East, CS 16, yes, use creek to access north of campsite and carry-up boats to camp level (incoming tide will fill up creek; if boat left in creek, should be tied loosely to accommodate rise in water level.)
  • New River East, CS 17, yes. one of the best camping sites for 8 tents if paddling the upper New River since the shuttle from FR 22 will take longer than most shuttles and you may not be able to get into the river till about 2.5 hours after meet-up.

Borrow Pits: CS 6 is on one borrow pit and close to another, CS 7 is on a different borrow pit, both ponds are small and suitable for children and beginners, easy access. There are fish in the borrow pits.

  • Borrow Pit CS 6, very large site, grassy, great for families because of the flat space available for children (and adults) to play games like bocce, croquet, football, soccer, petanque, etc. Road around the borrow pit enables short walks. Good visibility for easier surveillance of children. However, it is off West River Road and may have some traffic on that road.
  • Borrow Pit CS 7, is more isolated and less trafficked, but has similar characteristics as Barrow Pit CS 6.

Cash Creek on the west side of Tate’s Hell SF is off SR 65 and has access to the estuaries which will take one to other creeks and the Apalachicola River. Cash Creek upriver has about 12 miles of paddling options.

  • Cash Creek Campground/Day Use Area: concrete landing with sandy section for kayaks and canoes. Vault toilet, covered picnic table. CS 55, 56, 57 (walk in), are small, open sites suitable for 1 RV/trailer or tent. This is a popular motorized boat landing to launch boats down into the estuaries and the Apalachicola river.
  • Pidcock Road, CS 49, very nice high campsite over Cash Creek, but may be difficult to access boats into water, with possibility when the tide is in. Can accommodate 8 small tents.

Whiskey George Creek is part of the estuarine creeks which empty eventually into the Apalachicola River or East Bay of the Apalachicola River.

  • Dry Bridge, CS 51, has an accessible, grass on mud landing which is slippery when wet.

Doyle Creek is part of the estuarine/swamp creeks which empty eventually into the Apalachicola River or East Bay of the Apalachicola River.

  • Doyle Creek, CS 52, difficult access to water, muddy.

Deep Creek joins Graham Creek downriver which joins East River (to river right) to the Apalachicola River. It is navigable to Graham only when the water is high. When the water is very high, the campsite dry area is severely diminished.

  • Deep Creek CS 53, very secluded, cozy campsite, which when the water is high may have a section of the site under water. Good access to water, upstream and downstream to Graham Creek.

Womack Creek is a 3.75 mile creek (with additional shorter branches) which connects Womack Creek Campground landing to Nick’s Road campsite. For us, it’s a gem of a creek with flowering shrubs and understory plants. We have a separate blog site just on this creek http://www.womackcreek.wordpress.com, A Paddler’s Guide to the Flowering Plants of Womack Creek.

  • Nick’s Road CS 27, is a secluded, large campsite with easy paddle access on Womack Creek. Upcreek there are branches to explore (a family of otters live there) and downcreek there are additional branches to explore. There is hardly any upriver current, but tides influence the level of the creek waters. It is 3.75 miles downriver to Womack Creek Campground.
  • Womack Creek Campground/Day Use Area, CS #29-CS#40. This Day Use Area has a covered pavilion with 2 grills for day use users. $2 per person day user fee. Flush toilets, hot showers. No potable water. This is a good place to put-in for a round-trip on Womack Creek of not quite 8 miles. See http://www.womackcreek.wordpress.com , Paddler’s Guide to the Blooming Plants of Womack Creek for information on living things on Womack creek.

*The maximum number of adults allowable per site is 8, but many of the sites are suitable for group camping/paddling. These are indicated with an asterisk. If you are organizing a group camp/paddle, consult with Bin Wan, Recreation Coordinator Talquin District, Florida Forestry. He may be able able to help with planning and site selection. When using sites with strictly primitive camping, you may wish to consider rental of a portable toilet or bring several portable toilets with disposable, biodegradable toilet sacks.

CS 11 – Gully Branch Primitive Camp Site, Tate’s Hell State Forest

Reserve this site at Reserve America, Tate’s Hell State Forest Pickett’s Bay Primitive Campsites. When you get to your campsite, find the closes point for cell connection. If you call 911 give as your address 2295 Gully Branch Road, Tate’s Hell State Forest, GPS 29.95868, -84.71945. First responders will not be able to find you by campsite only. Reserve America confirmation will not give you this information.

When you get to your camp site, check cell phone coverage or find closest cell connection point.

Campsite 11, Gully Branch, is a tent only primitive camp site just a short walk from the day use area on Gully Branch Road. You will have to carry your gear from the off road parking to the campsite which is not visible from the road.

There is a picnic table and a firepit (but no standup grill) at the riverside site.

Because this is in the day use area, a vault toilet is available for use and the covered picnic tables if it’s raining.

There are two such buildings on the south side of the Gully Branch Road. On the opposite side are a small covered picnic table and a large covered group picnic area.

The vault toilet lies behind the two picnic areas.

The landing at Gully Branch is used by motorized boats which usually go down river and paddlers.

A favorite trip with a short shuttle is to put in at CS 17 on East River Road and take-out here at Gully Branch: 6.5 miles of easy downriver paddle with enough of a winding course to make it interesting.

Below Gully Branch road, tides are more noticeable. As the river becomes slighter wider and less winding, winds also can add to the day’s workout.

During the summer months yellow flies at Gully Branch can be fierce.

We find, even when it’s hot, a fire in the firepit at dusk, keeps mosquitoes away.

The photos were taken when the tide was outgoing. Water levels will vary at this site depending on tides.

Campsite 9: Pope Place, Tate’s Hell State Forest

You can reserve CS 9 at Reserve America, Tate’s Hell State Forest New River (section).  When you get to your campsite, find the closest point where you can get cell connection.  If you call 911, your site street address is 1591 River Road, Tate’s Hell State Forest. GPS 29.89629,-84.73390.  First responders cannot find you with only a campsite number.   Reserve America’s confirmation documents will not include this address.

Pope Place Campsite, a very large RV and Tent primitive camp site on the New River.   This site, can easily accommodate up to 8 people and as many small single tents.

Privacy is insured not only by the distance between sites,  but also by the trees and vegetation around each campsite.

Entry is wide and can accommodate several parked cars, but there is more than ample space in the site itself.

This is a good site for paddlers since the landing is sandy.  This photo was taken at low tide.  There is a drop so, when taking out, be sure that your feet are on the exposed sand, if possible.  This site is below Gully Branch Road after which tidal currents can be felt. If one capsizes in a fast outgoing current, one could easily lose one’s craft.

The view from this site is spectacular.

Looking upriver.

And…

downriver.

Campers can put-in from upriver sites on the New River or paddle from this site.  Tidal current may be noticeable.   If the current is too strong for up and back or down and back and a shuttle is not possible, try Trout Creek.   Trout Creek is just south of this campsite on West River Road at the intersection with River Road, a little over a mile of this campsite.

The current is not that noticeable on Trout Creek, except where it meets the New River, but water levels will go up and down.  Paddlers need to consider the level of the water if going under limbos on this creek (if there are any), a higher level of water may narrow the opening on a return to take-out.   This is an excellent creek to paddle with children just learning to paddle or for adults who have reluctantly been urged to try paddling.

If you can shuttle, putting in at Gully Branch Road landing, will give you a nice downriver paddle to the campsite.

Adventurous paddlers, who like wilderness paddling with its uncertain challenges (or not),  put in at FR 22 east of Sumatra, camp over at campsite 17 on the New River (in Tate’s Hell SF Juniper section) and paddle to Pope Place for a next day take-out.  The total paddling mileage is about 23 miles: 9.5 miles the first day and 12.5 the next day.  There is a 9 miles upriver section in which no road access is available to the river, so only those capable of handling uncertain river conditions should attempt the top 9.5 miles.

Paddlers have access to the water through your site. Paddlers should park their cars in the entry driveway and not the campsite.

There is no water or toilet facilities.  The forest is heavily rooted and a trowel isn’t going to give you a deep enough pit.  Bring a portable toilet (with biodegradable, disposable bags).  Everything should be packed out.  There are bears in Tates’s Hell and food should be kept in cars, or hung away from sleeping areas.   A kayak hatch is not a good place to keep food or scented items such as shampoo, soap, etc. overnight.

The photos were taken at low water levels; tides affect the water level on this site. 

If you camp(ed) here please comment in the box provided at the end of this post.

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.

Cash Creek, Tate’s Hell State Forest – February paddling at its best!

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It was a beautiful day to be out on the marsh, the swamp and the forests — all these habitats in one creek system, including an old drainage ditch dug by a the previously plantation operators.

Contrails in the sky, patterns of marsh rushes at eye-level, and below in the tannic waters patterns in the sand and muck.

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When the marsh leads into the swamp, occasional pines change to cypresses.

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An osprey was about, the first two paddlers saw it catch a fish, but nothing was stirring in the nest.  Perhaps later….ospreys return to their nests every year.

 

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Before entering the swamp, in the reeds, a green frog, trying hard to remained camouflaged.

 

 

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The two paddlers in front saw an otter in two different parts of the creek — sleek, fat ones.

 

P1120298Migratory birds still have not found the yaupon or the dahoon berries, ripe and ready to eat.

But there was a kingfisher, a prothotonary warbler in the underbush and sounds of other birds in the marsh and the shrubs, not the noisy cocaphony of crows in the late fall.  A lone buzzard glided gracefully in the air drafts above the marsh and swamps.  Buzzards keep the land clean of rotting carcasses — we are thankful that they are around as housekeepers of the forest.

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This is bear food, the still green fruit of the laurel greenbrier and palmetto berries, still untouched.

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But spring is here — the Florida maples are like daffodils and crocuses in the north!

 

 

 

 

And wax myrtles — ready to bloom.

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And titi already blooming.  But the bees have not seen them, although the scent is already perceptible.

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Into the old tree plantation canal — obvious because it is straight — the bridge marks the end of navigability.

Back to the put-in at the Cash Creek Day Use and Picnic ground, off Highway 65.

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The play of contrails, ending a cool, but sunny day of paddling — 10 miles up three branches.

Only one other fishing kayak at take-out — he had gone downriver into the estuary.  We four kayakers had the whole creek to ourselves!

 

 

An October Saturday Paddle – Cash Creek, Tate’s Hell

Come paddle Tate’s Hell — the cosmos, Florida’s state flower, is in full bloom –from put-in, view  a panorama of cosmos gold between sedges and pines.  Also see climbing asters, goldenrod, salt marsh morning glory, swamp lily, cardinal flower,  ratttlesnakemaster, vanillaleaf, dahoon and yaupon holly red berries — wasps, bumblebees, alligators (big ones), lots of sedges, rushes, gnarled cypresses,  long leaf pine — estuary and pinelands.  Gulf fritillary and sulphur butterflies — an October estuary ecosystem vibrant and alive!

The cooler days of October through April temper the sun’s rays.

Put in at Cash Creek Day Use boat launch, off SR 65, head upstream.  The branches will end — you should not get lost.

The first fork:   to the left is High Bluff Creek, to the right is the continuation of Cash Creek.  High Bluff Creek, as does Cash Creek, ends in a narrow swamp creek.

If you take the fork to the right (Cash Creek) and come across the next fork, the fork to the left is an old canal probably cut through pineland by the logging plantation, previous owners of Tate’s Hell lands.   It is straight and narrows to less than the length of most kayaks. Last December, we saw a mother bear and her cub (the cub on a pine tree, learning its climbing skills).   The mother bear quickly alerted her cub when she saw the us.  The cub’s instinct was to climb up the tree.  A sharp rebuke from its mother brought the cub scurrying down the tree and quickly into the palmetto.  A wild bear will avoid human contact; a bear habitualized to humans, e.g. garbage can or campground scavengers, may not.  Feeding wildlife habitualizes them.

(We had just broken camp at Wright Creek in the Apalachicola National Forest and had paddled Owl, Fort Gadsden and Graham creeks,  tributaries of the Apalachicola.  The night before we arrived there,  a camper saw a black bear near his campsite.  The camper shouted — loud noises are usually sufficient to warn off wild bears. This bear ruffed back and went into the woods.  The camp host reports such incidents to the forest service and an effort is made to capture the bear and relocate it away from established campsites. )

On the extension of Cash Creek,  the branch to the right continues into woody swamps and dead ends.

Easy paddling: some tidal influence.

Two portable toilets at put-in.  Bring your own toilet paper.  Covered concrete picnic pavilion with 3 tables.

There is no day use fee in Tate’s Hell, except for Womack Creek Campground which has flush toilets and showers — $2 there.  (A good place to shower, if traveling through).

Photos taken on Saturday, October 25, 2014

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View from put-in. Between the sedges and pines is a huge field of cosmos. Reminded us of that shot in the movie Color Purple where the child is seen romping through pink and lavender cosmos.

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Golden Rod

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A small island of cosmos.

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Paddling in an area where estuary meets the swamp environment — it gives you two experiences.  We think Cash Creek would make for a beautiful full moon paddle, up to the first fork (a little over a mile from put-in). After that there are snags which might not be readily seen in the dark.

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Golden rod and cosmos growing from a spot of soil on a snag in the water.

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Gulf frittillary on cosmos with rattlesnake master cluster in foreground.

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Osprey nest. In the spring the pair of osprey will return to begin a new generation.

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Cardinal flower – attracts insects.

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Cosmos – Florida state flower

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Salt Marsh Morning glory

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Salt marsh morning glory seed pods.

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Swamp lily.

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Dahoon holly berries — feast for migrating birds.

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Vining aster – common fall flower in Tate’s Hell.

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Vanillaleaf

Paddling Womack Creek on Cinco de Mayo, May 5, 2014

Banded water snake, Nerodia fasciata fasciata. Adult size 24-42 inches. Non-venomous, but can bite. When confronted may exude a musky odor. Bears live young. In western panhandle interbreeds with yellow belly watersnake (Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster). Range: Florida northern peninsula through panhandle, South Alabama and along Atlantic coastal plain to Virginia. Eats fishes and frogs.

 

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Redbelly water snake, Nerodia erythrogaster eryghrogaster. Adult size 2-4 feet, non venomous, bears live young 11-30 about 9-11 1/2 inches long. Food: fishes & frogs. Habitat: rivers, lakes, swamps, marshes and cypress strands. In summer heat active mostly in early morning, late afternoon and night.

 

 

 

 

 

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With stunning colored head

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Young and old of banded water snake.

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Meanwhile, on any log they can find in the high water, the turtles are sunning, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blooming now on Womack Creek:

 

 

 

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Cowcreek Spider Lily, an endemic species only found in this area. Discovered by Prof Loran Anderson, emeritus, FSU, biology.

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Male Ogeche tupelo, providing the nectar for tupelo honey. Bees buzzing all over these blossoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Female Ogeche tupelo, it’s drupes are food for wildlife in the fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Narrowleaf evening primrose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Virginia sweetspire, a few still blooming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And most of the swamp dogwoods are going to seed, food for migratory songbirds in the fall.

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The last of the American wisteria. Unliked the invasive exotic Asian wisteria, the American wisteria has a thicker clump of blossoms and does not invade an area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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False indigo in the peak of bloom and favorite flower of bees and hornets

 

 

 

 

 

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Spatterdock just beginning to bloom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Swamp rose and clematis crispa

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Swamp rose, almost white. The roses perfume the air around them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lots of activity on the creek:

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Lady bug beetle on muscadine leaf, swamp titi buds just below.

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See what looks like the discarded shell of the bug (or larvae) on the swamp titi leaf just above the beetle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And dragonflies all over the creek.

Leaving the creek, still in Tate’s Hell State Forest, the honey harvest from titi blossoms which bloomed throughout the forest in April.

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A sweet ending to a warm and sunny day.