Tag Archives: Tate’s Hell State Forest

Holiday season on Womack Creek, Tate’s Hell

 

 

Womack Creek, a tributary of the Ochlockonee River, on the west side of Tate’s Hell State Forest, has only native plants and trees.  There are three varieties of native hollies on that creek: Yaupon, Dahoon and American holly.  The American holly is what is what folks usually associate with holly, with its prickly scalloped leaves (above).

As in most natural habitats (as compared to managed landscapes) every year is a mix of blooms and seeds.  Some years the white flowers of one or the other holly is more pronounced.  But that doesn’t guarantee that that particular species will have more red berries  — between March to December anything can happen.

This year there were more red berries on the American holly than we have ever seen since 2012. 

Usually, the dahoon holly is the dominant and heavy bearers on the creek.  The bushes are not as full of berries as in previous years.

Yaupon holly, part of the pharmocopeia of native Americans, with its smaller leaves, tiny flowers and smaller berries, is less showy.

To the careful observer,  the red berries of the parsley haw tree can be seen.  That tree is increasing in numbers as the hornbeam trees are losing their grip on the land and landing in the water.

 

Swamp rose blooms were sparse this year, but a few matured to add reds to the creek’s palate of colors.

 

 

 

 

Ever season has its dominant colors; every year that mix changes.

 

Cash Creek – Beautiful November Paddle

 

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Cash Creek on the west side of Tate’s Hell empties into the Apalachicola River.  The road to the day use area is off the east side of State Road 65, just south of the Apalachicola National Forest and on the northern edge of Tate’s Hell State Forest.  There is a covered picnic shelter with picnic tables, fishing dock and boat launch, with sand on one side for easier canoe and kayak access.   For paddlers, this creek offers your-choice-of-length paddling.  One can go left from the landing to the Apalachicola River through an estuary dominated by reeds or turn right upriver through a reedy estuary then woody swampland.  The current is more marked by tides and wind than down or up-river flow.  All of the paddling to the Apalachicola  has no shade.  Upriver, one paddles anywhere from one mile to one and one half mile, depending on which branch one takes, in estuary before reaching deciduous and slash pine shade.   Beyond that one can go as far as the water level and creek depth and blockages allow.  Normally, that would be around 9.5 miles if one took all the options.  The kiosk at the landing has a large map of the creek and forest area. 

The nearly half mile sandy road to Cash Creek Day Use Area is lined with slash pines and an occasional long leaf pine and opens into the parking area and boat launch and day use pavilion.  We had not paddled there for a year and were anticipating a good paddle with clear sky, 72F temperature and a slight breeze.  The tide was going out.

Big surprise — a new vault toilet structure had been built in our absence.  Very clean, not smelly and a tremendous improvement over the portable toilets which were never maintained by the septic service.   And in the fenced in day use area, bear proof trash containers, firmly imbedded in concrete.   Another improvement over the easy to tip over by animals and kicked over by humans garbage cans.   Thanks to Marti Miller, Talquin District Recreation Coordinator, for having these constructed and installed — the previous accommodations were gross because of negligence by the contractor.

The tide was against us and the slight breeze was from the north, north-east, against us as well.  On a Wednesday, we were the only users of that facility.  The mullet were jumping and other fish (bream?) surfaced — the fishermen would have had a field day today.  Randy, the former host at Womack Creek Campground in Tate’s Hell, assured us that one could catch mullet with a hook. Netting is the usual way they are caught.  The splash in the photo below is of a mullet landing in the water after a magnificent jump.

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There are two major branches and usually we take both.  Today we decided to try the one on the left first and were surprised that a section which was always too low or too debris-filled for us to continue was open and we paddled another .8 mile beyond where we usually were stopped.  There are two option on the left branch — we try to paddle both.  One can’t get lost, these branches dead-end and require retracing one’s way back.

The fall flowers are gone —  last aster flowers peek out from the reeds.   Leaves and red berries are what add color to the landscape.  Florida maples are turning and are the dominant red-orange combinations on the creek.   Unlike Womack Creek on the east side of Tate’s Hell, and which empties into the Ochlockonee River, the tupelo trees on Cash creek are not yet turning and if they are do not have the red-yellows of Womack’s ogechee tupelos.   A single stem of swamp lily was seen in an opening in the reeds.13-P1060298.JPG

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The ferns, also, add to color.

Birds, migratory and resident, were present.  Buzzards, crows, hawks, a single wood duck which we surprised into flight, and flocks of small birds which we have not yet identified. Kingfishers, usually seen in Tate’s Hell’s creeks and rivers, were noticeably absent.   Only a single Gulf frittilary butterfly, two sulphur butterflies and a few dragonflies were seen.  We did see flies alighting on the Silvering blossoms — the first time we have seen flies on these blooms.

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Silvering is a late fall bloomer, after the asters.  On Womack Creek they were still in bud about 2 weeks ago.   There were only a few of these plants on Cash Creek.  For those who suffer from hay fever, this is a plant you want to avoid.

The estuary creek turns narrower and narrower and increasingly tree and shrub-lined.

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Then, the trip ends:  one’s way is blocked, either by too shallow water or tree-falls or debris dams.  The trick is to be able to turn around in the narrow spaces when this usually occurs, particularly when paddling 14′ and 15′ kayaks.

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Along one branch is a beautifully gnarled cypress tree.

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Late fall, when the leaves are gone, is a good time to see bird nests.  The one below was nestled in laurel greenbrier vines, its berries gave the nest a festive look; the other was securely constructed in a small shrub.

Off Pidcock Road is a very large campsite.  This tipi looking tent with 2 chairs at the picnic table was a colorful addition to the landscape. Downriver from the campsite, a row of pilings which once supported a bridge is still in the water.  At very high water,  these pilings obscured by the tannin tinged water.  One can easily find oneself caught on one of these logs.  Today all but a few were visible, but one submerged piling held one of our kayaks in place until it was dislodged (without capsizing).

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One doesn’t see many large deciduous trees along the creek, but this is an ogeechee tupelo tree with Florida maple growing between its trunks.

One of the paddling options is a straight canal, either a former road bed or a drainage canal dug to drain water from what used to be a pine plantation before the state acquired the land for restoration and conservation.   The forests (Apalachicola and Tate’s Hell) are part of the Apalachicola river watershed.  The North Florida Water Management District has been given the task to restore Tate’s Hell’s forest back to what is used to be before it was developed for tree farming.   Roads  no longer needed are being left to return to nature and gravel has replaced culverts, creating natural drainage systems even on roads which are still used.   After heavy rains, some of these roads may not be passable. It as it should be, to allow for natural passage of water through the land, the reason for restoration of  an important river watershed.

The canal above is where we saw a mother bear and her cub (on a tree) several years ago.  When the mother bear saw us, she made a sound.  The cub climbed further up the tree; the mother bear quickly gave another sound, the cub went sliding down the tree and quickly was hidden in the shrubbery below.  I thought about that cub when the Florida Wildlife Conservation Council allowed for the first bear hunting in Florida.  The subsequent year, bear hunting was not resumed.

We rarely make it past the bridge on Pidcock Rd., but today, we were able to paddle under the bridge.  To the right the creek was blocked by a small tree which had fallen over the creek.  We could have scooted over it had we needed to, but immediately beyond that was a debris dam.  We decided to turn back, but the creek looked navigable beyond that.

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We chose not to explore the last branch and headed back to the put-in.

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Driving to the creek in the morning, we could smell and see the smoke of a managed burn in the Apalachicola National Forest to our east.

Returning to the put-in, the easterly winds had driven the smoke to the west.  In the waning light of the end of the day, the sun caught the clouds and the smoke to create a delicate palate of pastels, which unfortunately was not adequately captured in the photo below.

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Cash Creek rarely disappoints us.  This was a glorious day and the temperature only got to 76F, perfect for paddling an open estuary.   Our paddle today was 10.8 miles.

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We were told that a campground with a few sites is planned near the put-in.  This would enable paddlers to camp there and paddle several other creeks:  Whiskey George and Doyle Creek in Tate’s Hell State Forest and Graham Creek and Fort Gadsden Creek in the Apalachicola National Forest.  We look forward to having those campsites.

 

 

Warm enough for snakes – Womack Creek – March 26, 2017

We are always looking for snakes on the shrubs overhanging the river.  Camp hosts have told us of water mocassins near the landing, but we have never seen them.

On warm days, we look for these snakes, on branches, out for a good day in the sun.  Usually seen after late April, here it was in March — a beautiful banded water snake.

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Spring on Womack Creek – March 15, 2017

A low spring tide exposes the shoreline and prevents paddling up branches.

But, it attracts shoreline birds — like this little blue heron.

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It was cold that day.

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The the spring colors were promising of warmer days to come.

Spring flowers affirmed that.

With the creek beginning to bloom, we will visiting at  least twice a month. A warm or a cold spell can change the array of blooms within days.

 

Early Spring Flowers – February 25, 2017 – Womack Creek

Observing the creek every month or more frequently during the blooming season, change seems the one constant.  While one can generally classify bloom times by season, within each season, there seems to be no certainty.  Certain flowering plants bloom gloriously in one year, only to be hard to find in another.  As we have noted, every paddle on the creek is a new experience.

The morning started without event, but the spring colors were soon noticeable on the creek.

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In north Florida one would not consider late February as the beginning of spring.  But here is a gallery of flowers which were blooming on February 25, 2017.

In order (from top left, clock-wise):  swamp buttercup, Walter’s viburnum, blackberry, pinxter azalea, fringe tree, spatterdock and to left of spatterdock, candy root, yellow star grass, golden club, primrose leaf violet, swap dogwood and to left of dogwood, wax myrtle, and swamp jessamine.

Alligators are more commonly seen now on that creek.

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Tree fungus deserve to be examined more closely.

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Up close – a gallery of forms.

A symbol of renewal — the resurrection fern which lies brown and dormant on overhanging branches and revives in the spring.

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Womack Creek – a place for all seasons – January and early February, 2017

Womack creek has become our sanity place — away from the discordant sounds of a society ripping itself apart.

January on the creek, with its bare trees, often gloomy days, can be spiritually invigorating.

Witness these sights, taken on January 12 and February 4, 2017.  There is always a serendipitous moment, nature’s surprises, on the creek.  Depending one one’s take on life, these can be elevating or depressing.   Like all before us, nature serves as a metaphor for life itself.  We prefer the more hopeful interpretations, even as we see our species destroy the source of the metaphors.

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To start the year — a gator and a cooter: predator and prey both sunning on a January day.

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And on that same day, a surprising stem of green fly orchids.  My mother used to grow orchids of all types in Honolulu and I grew up taking orchids for granted.  We’re finding them blooming all year round, not just here, but on many creeks and rivers we paddle in North Florida (and even on the Ocklawaha River in central Florida).

They’re liking looking for violets in a lawn, concealed well, but upon discovery, what a thrill!  They’re the only native tree orchids in North Florida.

In February, one begins to see in the marshy, dark brown muck along the creek, little shoots of gold — Golden clubs.  The velvety leaves in varying hues of green are also beautiful.

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A crisp February day, blue sky, slow moving river greeted us on February 4, 2017.

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The entrance to Womack creek (going upstream) is to the left, the Ochlockonee River on the right.  Increasingly that intervening land is being cut off from the rest of the peninsula and a small island will result.  The soil taken from that cut is being deposited in front of that section and spatterdocks now are growing, where it once was too deep for these plants to take root and thrive.

Even in February, some flowers are beginning to show, some ahead of the usual flowering, others on schedule.

These are (from top left going clockwise) Walter’s viburnum, usually seen as early as late December; clematis crispa, usually seen blooming in March through the summer and early fall; Florida maple, Pinxter azaleas, some early blooms seen in late February, the peak usually being April; and under it blueberry blossoms, usually starting in January with fruits as early as mid-May, and the buds of the pumpkin ash tree.

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And camouflaged, a small sparrow.

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Anticipating warmer temperatures, an early spatterdock bud.  These do not appear till March, usually, but the creek has many different micro-climates and sheltered areas which affect the blooming periods of the plants.