Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Congaree National Park

I've covered a lot of turf in the past few days. First it was off to historic Leesburg, Virginia, where I had the privilege of speaking at the Loudoun County Master Gardener's 4th annual plant symposium. That was a great, well organized event, and it was nice to see some friends from that part of the world, and meet some new ones.
Being that South Carolina and its wonderful swamps were only seven hours or so to the south, it was off in the car immediately after the symposium. I had long wanted to get myself into prime Bachman's Warbler habitat at peak time (or what used to be peak season) for this now (probably) extinct warbler. And that I did. More on the warbler in a later post, or at the least, a soon to come book.
A tight time frame only allowed for forays into three of the great southern swamplands: I'on Swamp, Beidler Forest, and the above, Congaree National Park. The Congaree is the best and largest remaining bottomland forest in the U.S. This 2.5 mile boardwalk makes access easy, but it leads to miles of less developed trails.

Your narrator leans against a tree, and what a tree! This is the largest known Loblolly Pine, Pinus taeda, and it made me feel like a pygmy. The Congaree harbors many national champion trees - the largest of their kind, anywhere. Towering Loblollies and Bald Cypress create a spectacular canopy as one traverses the swamp.

I spent some quality time just laying on the forest floor and gazing into the crown of the giant Loblolly Pine, which extended about 167 feet over my head. Such a tree would have sprouted centuries ago, and its boughs have seen a lot since.

Interesting reptiles and amphibians abound in the Congaree, and this gargantuan Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina, was a treat. Like the aforementioned tree, she's been around for a good long time, and was massive. I was respectful of her space, with good reason, but was able to sidle up close enough to make this image with my macro lens. She was cool about the whole deal, and never hissed or snapped. Note the stegosaurus-like armor plating on her foreleg.

It's hard to spend any time in a South Carolina swamp and not hear the raucous hooting and caterwauling of Barred Owls. This fellow perched obliging right off the trail, and was so sleepy it would hardly open its eyes to take in its admirers.

More cool swamp stuff to come...



Gaia Gardener: said...

Love the photos of the towering trees, the headshot of the snapping turtle, and the gorgeous barred owl who posed so obligingly.

Lori Sorth said...

Jim, you've got a really REALLY tough job......:-)

Jack and Brenda said...

Nice photos from the park. We stopped in there a few years ago in July, and it was a bit hot, muggy and buggy! Still, we enjoyed the bald cypress, and abundance of spiders. Didn't see much in the way of wildlife that time of year.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I hit Congaree on the same trip my friends and I hit Carolina Sandhills several years ago in May. We only dreamed of Bachman's Warbler in the canebrakes, but did see Creole Pearly-eye. I like to tell people about Congaree that; if you like a place where Prothonotary Warbler and Pileated Woodpecker are literally the two most common birds, you would love Congaree.
We only spent a couple hours there, and I've wanted to go back sometime. You just don't see forest like that anywhere.

jaredmizanin said...

Brings back some fond memories! I saw a host of lifer herps out at Congaree during my visit in '08. Indeed, a spectacular forest and I wish it were five miles down the road instead of 700!

pat b said...

We have made this a stop on our way south for our winter birding trips in Jan or Feb. Next time I will have venture off the boardwalk. I especially like the "knees" of the bald cypress.