Tag Archives: Womack Creek

How About These Raccoons?

It’s been three times now in 2018, we’ve spotted a family a racoons digging in the mud for food at Womack Creek, Tate’s Hell State Forest.

We have been monitoring this creek since 2012 and except for a pair of mating raccoons (in a tree!), they have been noticeably out of sight.

All three sightings have been in the morning under overcast skies and at low tide.

The first time around — over a month ago, the mother and three kits were first sighted.  Mom gave an alarm call and all three kits and mom got out of sight.  Second time around, mom seemed less alarmed and let the two kits be where they were, foraging in the mud.  She, herself, absented herself into the brush.  Today, the larger, possibly the mother,  ambled into the bush, leaving two kits to dig in the mud.  Of the two kits, one was less intimidated and continued digging as the kayak floated nearer to it.

Below freezing week before — green fly orchids still blooming!

The only tree orchid in north Florida, the green fly orchid, supposedly blooms in the spring and summer.  Not so on Womack Creek.  We’ve seen it blooming all year round.

This one survived the one week of freezing temperatures.  January 13, 2018.

How about them li’l raccoons?

 

Mother raccoon and her two kits were foraging in the mud, probably for crayfish or other small creatures.  Normally nocturnal feeders, they took advantage of unusually low water levels to feast on what lay below the mud.

Paddling upstream on January 13, Saturday, 2018 with temperatures at 37F and winds measured on our portable aeronometer at 10mph (windchill of 27), we saw  little stirring except the birds in the bush and overhead.  One large alligator took advantage of the sunny day to get a few hours of warmth.

These raccoons had the river bank to themselves.

Foggy, Drizzly morning on Womack Creek – January 11, 2018

 

 Yesterday, after a week of sub-freezing lows and cold days, we ventured out to a monitoring paddle on Womack Creek, Tate’s Hell.    Kayaks unloaded at the landing, we discovered we left our camera at home — 63 miles away.    Our reports are mainly photographs of changes on the creek — no camera, no report. We chose to return home to try again today.   The weather report predicted a slight chance of rain, but overcast skies.   This was OK.

Today,  we left home one hour later. Had we left at the same time as yesterday, we would have been driving in thick fog.  The fog lifted, we had sufficiently visibility, but, approaching the Franklin county line, the windshield showed droplets of light mist, which increased to minor drizzle.  The temperature was in the 60’s, not enough to cause hypothermia, but these drizzly rains can really soak into you on the creek, so we decided to check out two nearby campgrounds which we hadn’t seen for over a year instead of waiting out the rain.   Both are nice camping spots on the Crooked River.

When we returned to Womack Creek landing, this is what we saw.  It was still raining; we chose not to spend the next 3-4 hours up the creek and drove home again.

Potential campers and paddlers, however, may want to see  what Womack Creek Campground looks like.

This is the day use area with a covered picnic area and 2 grills and full service restrooms.  Water is not potable — bring your own.  

When camping, this very wide veranda in the restroom building is a great place to rock and enjoy the Ochlockonee River.  

It’ll be a  matter of time before the whole restroom building is going into the river.  Camp hosts have mentioned this situation to management, but little seems to have been done to correct the erosion.   It is now closing in up  to the dripline of the  roof.

Mark, the host, keeps the restrooms very fresh & clean and uses his own money to pay for soap, hanging plants and homey touches to the restroom.  This is the women’s restroom with 2 toilet stalls and one shower stall.

The freeze the week before left bronzed fern plants at the landing.

Silvering, a common shrub along the creek which blooms after the vining aster and at the same time as Simmon’s aster was very late in blooming this year.   Along Rock Landing Road in Tate’s Hell, they were not deterred by the freeze and were blooming — hedgelike rows of them.

No bees on them, which one would normally see, but in the grasses below — sheet spider webs.   

Spider webs were everywhere:  the customary orb shaped, the balled up confusion-shaped on branches of trees and these every-which-away sheet nests on the ground catch dew which, even in the light of a cloudy sky, calls attention to them.

Even on a overcast, drizzly day, the forest gives back visually.

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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Invasive species destruction team – February 6, 2017 – Womack Creek

Womack Creek, to our knowledge has only native species.   We have been given permission to destroy any invasive species on the creek.  We once dug up a taro plant in the upper swamps.  It was small enough that digging it up in the wet soil was easily done.

The Japanese climbing fern, however, requires more careful removal methods.  The underside of the fern are spores (seeds) which can easily be dislodged when ready to seed and spread through the water.  This is why it is preferable to dig them up at the times when the spores are no longer as active.  As an added protection, we were advised to cover the whole vine (where possible with a plastic bag, to the roots.  Cut the plant off at the roots and dig up the remaining root ball, taking up as much of the roots as visible.  Both the vines and the roots, opportunistically, take the path of least resistance and greatest sun and nutrients; uprooting even a single plant can take half an hour or more.

We left the put-in around 10:30 and didn’t return till around 3:40, with a short lunch break at Nick’s Road campsite — a 5 hour day.

It was gloomy and dark when we put-in on the river.

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Womack creek, looking upstream, is on the left.  The Ochlockonee River is on the right.

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But, as always, there is always something which makes one’s day.

These dew-drops on spider webs make for incredible patterns, even more if there is a bit of sun.  We had none then, but the sight was radiant.

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The target — the invasive Japanese Climbing Fern.  We were on a mission to destroy the plants we had located during our trips to the river the previous year.

Cover with bag to keep any spores from falling on soil or water, cut the roots at the base, dig up the roots, clean the soil around the rootbase to ensure all visible roots have been removed.

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Canoes would be better suited for this, but we had two bags and each was transported on our kayak decks.  We were told not to put these bags in a thrash bin, but rather to burn them.  We took them home and burned them in our backyard fire pit until they were totally consumed.

But, all was not work.  The river never fails to give back.

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That gloomy day turned out to be a beautiful.

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The hornbeam trees were budding.  As early as 2012 when we began to monitor the creek for our Florida Master Naturalist project  (www.womackcreek.wordpress.com) the gnarled, hard-sinewed, trunks of these trees intrigued us.  There was a small section of the river that had hornbeam trees on either side, forming a canopy which allowed sun to filter through.   I called it “Hornbeam Boulevard” because it reminded me of the urban boulevards which were so refreshing to walk under on a hot summer day.  Increasingly, these shoreline hornbeam trees are falling into the river and only a few hornbeam trees will remain.  Then,  “Hornbeam Boulevard” will only be memory.

It is hard for someone who respects the ebb and flow and changes of nature not to mourn their decline, but nature is ever changing; forever is never.  At the ebbing of our lives, it seems that the creek may be preparing us for the inevitable, not intentionally, but with a metaphor which may be kinder than the starkness of death.

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But starkness is something not concealed often from us.   This barred owl probably got caught in a fish hook hanging from a bush hooks hanging from a branch on a short tributary of the creek.  The owl may have gone for a fish caught by the hook and got ensnared.  The sounds of these owls at dusk, night and dawn, are part of the experience of camping at Womack Creek campground.  They become reassuring sounds and when in a tent, just before falling asleep, one listens to hear them — almost a lullaby of owl pairs calling to each other.

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We had time and the branches had water, so we explored some of them. All are currently dead-ends, so there is little chance of getting lost, unlike other areas on the Ochlockonee River further north where paddlers have gotten lost in the maze of swamps and branches like this.

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Juveniles of a species, even humans, are often less cautious, more curious.  These two were no exceptions.

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At paddle’s end, we had a glorious blue sky and calm water.