My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Yes, I'm Working.... Check out my shirt.

If I have an assignment to rove or lead a tour , I have a hard time remembering to stop working. Mostly, I feel like I'm playing and gathering up new friends as I move around, or as I get involved in  interesting conversations. And  before and after my scheduled work hours, or on my days off, I'm doing the same thing.  So the only way to tell if I'm working, is to check my shirt. If I'm in my official shirt, I must have had to work eight hours during that day.

The red maple seeds look especially beautiful against the Spanish moss

These plants have been blooming a few weeks
Right now the refuge is changing each day.  New trees are leafing out, and new wildflowers and blooming shrubs are appearing.   I need to find all this new vegetation and then help visitors find it. Winter avian visitors are leaving while migrants are stopping by.  Gotta keep tabs. Resident birds are nesting or raising young. I even saw a pair of fledgling owls on my last boat tour. (It is also part of my duty to take frequent boat tours so I can advise visitors of what they will see by boat - and I can't wear my shirt, so you'll have to take my word for it - It's WORK.)

One of the palm warblers that were still here early this week

On one of the tour boats reaching Chesser's prairie

I worked hard to get this sunset from the sunset tour boat

This past week, I went out with another volunteer to rove.  We assigned ourselves the task of finding every blooming species of plant, picking the best sites for each species and then learning the location so we can describe both the flower, and the area in which to find it.

Willow blooms - pollinators love them

Volunteer Barb and I found several Osceola's Plume, Zigadenus dengus

Osceola's Plume Close Up

Orange milkwort, Polygala lutea - one local name is Swamp cheetos

Barb found these newly emerged Pink Sundew, Drosera capillaris, but now I can locate them too

On another work day, as I was getting ready to count birds on the Cane Pole Trail,  I met a visitor I've met a few times before - she and her husband are wintering her and come by often.  She was interested in both birds and plants.  We started off by counting all the bird species we could find on the Cane Pole Trail. She was able to get some gorgeous pictures of a Prairie Warbler.  That just may be the most cooperative warbler we have.  It forages low and slow so you get lots of clear looks at it. We didn't find a Palm warblers but I had found them while "working" a day or so earlier.

Palm warblers are heading north

Mary was kind enough to send me a picture of the prairie warbler we found.  Thanks Mary

After that we went on down the auto tour, stopping to look at all the flowers I'd discovered and also looking for the just-up sundews.  We ended up spending about three hours together and found six parrot pitcher plants trying to regrow, two with flower buds on them. Then we had her husband take our picture on both our cameras.

 Me with my new friend, Mary, after finding six parrot pitcher plants,  Note the shirt, and the truck - a sure sign I'm working.

I also had to wander around the boardwalk by myself, between visitors, but got to enjoy our blonde raccoon that forages near the beginning of the boardwalk.  It is being seen often enough that we tell early and late visitors to watch for it.  On one day, I spent about ten minutes taking pictures of it.

Blonde racoon foraging

I also find lots of puzzling things.  One of them appeared to be a bundle of male longleaf pine cones.   If you know what this is all about, please share.

Mysterious bundle

Friday I grabbed my clothes out of the dryer in the community trailer during my lunch break and then noticed some big greenish-white blooms nearby. They were pawpaw blooms. So I went around looking for more as part of my afternoon job.

Pawpaw plants among the saw palmetto

They just get prettier, the closer you get to them

Intricate blooms start off green and then turn white

Saturday I was supposed to lead a boardwalk tour but no one showed up.  I just roved down the  boardwalk,  and was able to share alligators, turtles, birds and the first magnolia bloom with visitors, including a German couple.  Earlier, I also found a red-shouldered hawk nest that is just past the canoe launch site. The nest is mostly invisible but I watched the male red-tailed hawk come screaming in with a large lizard.  Then I heard the female talking to the babies.

One of the pig frogs I help visitors find and identify

Another way I can tell if I'm working or not is by the sunset.  If I'm looking at one, I'm NOT working because the refuge closes before sunset and I have no work to do.  (At least that's true unless I'm on the sunset tour boat.)

Relaxing after yet another hard days work

 On the personal front, I'm down to just two more adventures and 8 days of work before I'll be packing and leaving April 15.  Tomorrow I'm off to paddle the Altamaha River for two days with Julie DeVore who was my guest blogger recently. This will be our first real meeting but I feel I know her well after lots of chats via e-mail and phone.  Next weekend, I'm going to visit another new friend that I met while WORKING here. We'll be paddling and birding ..... stay tuned for the details. Probably lots of hard play will be involved.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Those Animal-Eating Vegetables Part I

I love the idea of carnivorous plants.  These are plants that have adapted to highly acid soils, in which decay is very slow, leaving little organic material in the soil. So, to get their protein, several kinds of plants have developed special strategies for trapping and ingesting insects and other invertebrates. 

Hooded pitcher plants are common everywhere in the refuge, especially in the marshes. They are the only pitcher plants to be found along the auto tour.  They are just now reappearing, after a few weeks absence, after being mowed down to the dismay of people coming to find our unusual plants.  But now, if one looks closely, one can find individual stems growing back. 

Dead but colorful pitcher plant leaves

New pitcher leaf along the auto tour

New leaf among the old growing near the Purple trail. 

 While on my semi-lost trip on the green trail, I found a patch of newly erupted parrot pitcher plants. If you would like the details of how they catch bugs, click here. Great pictures there also. And they have a moth that lives inside them without getting caught. 

Parrot pitcher plants

Recently, as I was driving down the auto tour road, I saw hundreds of yellow plants blooming in a bar ditch. I had to stop and take their picture and then researched what they were. They were clearly floating on in the water and had leaves radiating out from the wire-thin stem.  A root mass could be seen growing under the water.  These are swollen bladderworts, Utricularia inflata.

Thick stand of  swollen bladderworts

Closeup of one swollen bladderwort, showing its wheel of leaves. 

Beautiful water patterns formed  by the bladderwort leaves early in the morning

They have tiny bladders on their leaves that have tiny trap doors.  When a invertebrate swims too close, the door opens and the water and animal flows in. The door shuts and the invertebrate gets digested. There are five species of bladderworts in the swamp, but I haven't discovered them yet. 

A little later, I noticed a group of yellow plants blooming in spaces between the saw palmettos. They looked a little like composites but had very strange leaves. The leaves looked like multi-armed stars stacked up in layers two deep. The leaves look a little like they were succulents and the edges curved up.  The leaves were also a very light, bright yellowish green. Each stem ends in a single yellow flower. 

Yellow butterworts

These plants are yellow butterworts, Pinguicula lutea, cousins of the bladderworts, that catch little bugs by secreting droplets of a syrupy substance that both attracts  and traps insects.  Then they are digested. 

Closeup of yellow butterwort flower

Leaf detail of butterwort flower - not too many bugs here to trap yet 

And just a few days ago, we started seeing purple flowers that are very similar in size and shape to the yellow butterworts. They are purple butterworts, Pinguicula caerulea. They both grow in sandy soils, but the purple butterworts may like soils that are a bit wetter. They have the same strategy for catching bugs and their basal leaves look the same.        

Purple butterwort

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Blessed by the St. Mary

(Warning ---- Long Post)

This is continuing report of five days of paddling.  These report is of the two days we were on the St. Mary's river, which drains 10% of  Okefenokee swamp.

Pat and I got up early, ate a huge breakfast and finished loading everything to go pick up our shuttle driver. Before he joined us, we had plenty of time to put in a waypoint for out take-out and look it over. It was going to be impossible to pass it up, so one worry was behind us as we prepared to go down a river that was out of its banks in places and for which we could find little information.

View at put-in near Hwy 94 Bridge. St. George, GA

Russell, out driver, was able to give us more information.  But later we found that even he wasn't able to tell us all we would have liked to have known about the river and the places to camp that would keep us away from civilization.

Almost ready to leave
But soon we were at our put in - almost under the  Hwy. 94  bridge in St. George, GA. The day was getting more and more beautiful and I wished I could have started the trip at dawn.

First view - after bridge and before we wove through trees for two miles

Both Pat and I were somewhat worried about big current and strainers, since we knew we might have them in the first two miles. The river was MUCH wider  and  the current was much slower then we had expected, and then we  found out why - the river was out of its banks and filling up side swamps. We never had a scary place, but once we went into the swamp to avoid a fallen tree. Another time we accidentally went into a swamp and had to spend some time figuring how to get back out. A third time, we followed strong current  back into a shallow channel that again went into a swamp. We had to get out and drag out canoe back into the river, because the current was strong and the water too shallow to be able to dig in with our paddles.

Spring on the river

We also had lots more places to dodge trees than in the first two miles.  This may be due to the water height, and the trees may have been on sandbars.  Certainly we could see drowned sandbars by the half submerged river birches. ( I didn't take pictures  of these stretches - too busy making sure we didn't crash)

No worries here
We found lots of private camps and even stopped at one that had a porta potty WITH paper. We stopped again for lunch but were soon working our way down a now open river into a north head wind.  (We really had a lovely weather mix over our five days - warm, clear, cloudy, rainy, cold, windy, frosty.  Our highest temperatures were about 80 degrees while our morning on the river was close to freezing and we had frost on our canoe.) Fortunately for us, the river winds east and west as it heads north so we got some respite from the winds and managed to paddle about 3.8 mph.

Flooded camp we used for a paddling break

We  started hearing sounds of civilization about 3:30 P.M. and Pat looked at his GPS map and saw lots of  roads nearby.  We had just found a bit of sandbar still above water, but with easy access. And it was on the Georgia side, which we knew was the better side to camp if we had to camp on private land. We knew the river was falling, or this might have been a really bad place to camp, since we were only about a foot above the river.

Campsite, cook, and photographer

The first thing we did was to push a stick into the sand at  the river's edge so we could see how far it fell during the night.  Then we proceeded to set up our tents.  While I was deciding where to set up, I found a really beautiful bower of Carolina jasmine that was scenting the surrounding air, so I set up on flat ground just past it.  We soon had our tents  and  our cooking area set up. This night's menu was lentil sausage stew and crackers. We also had a bottle of Merlot.  The day had been chilly to just warm and we both had on long underwear.  At first we were too hot and had to partially unzip our pants legs to ventilate.  We were soon adding our hats and jackets. We had to close up our pants again.

But we had no mosquitoes since, I expect, the flood had washed them all downstream. And the pile driver, and car sounds faded away, leaving only a barking dog to tell us that civilization was close by. We were too tired to wait for all the stars to come out before going to bed.  There was a little water music made by the river running past the drowned birches and I was lulled into the best and longest sleep of the trip.

End of a wonderful day

We woke to a beautiful  day, with mist rising off the river and frost on our canoe. We made coffee and had Girl Scout thin mints, breakfast bars, and nuts - with a bagel for Pat - before packing up our soaking wet gear and heading out to do the last almost ten miles.

A new day has begun

The frost on Pat's canoe seat was all we could find

Had to spend many minutes taking pictures
While the responsible one made our coffee

Another show-stopper beyond my tent

The river was noticeably faster - in some places running up to more than four miles per hour. And there was no wind, so we easily paddled the last miles in about two and a half hours, including one break on a sandbar on the Florida side.The views only got prettier in the undeveloped areas and I took lots more pictures.

Another curve, another view

Even the turkey vultures were prettier here

We found a sandbar on the Florida side that demanded a stop to explore it for a few minutes.

View downstream from the Florida sandbar

The best of two wild azalea bushes we saw 

All too soon we were seeing private camps on the Georgia side, and then the boat launch at Trader's Hill. We got our gear unloaded, then packed into the car,  washed the canoe and loaded it, then headed back to return the canoe and a paddle before going home.  We dumped out our wet stuff and started drying it, then I made a curried egg salad for lunch.  The rest of the day was spent cleaning up resting, and editing pictures.

The end  :(

A wonderful trip.  But I'd love to see the St. Mary when it is displaying it's purportedly beautiful sandbars which gleam white against the tannic waters.

Trip Statistics:
Water level at  Mcclenny guage  - March 13 - 1300 cubic feet per second
Water level at Mcclenny guage - March 14 - 1200 cubic feet per second
Miles paddled: 29.5 total
   March 13 - about 20 miles

March 14 - about 10 miles
Put-in -  .N 30" 31.425'
Take-out - Trader's Hill (has camp sites also)- N 30" 46.965' W 082" 01.450'
Camp spot:  N 30"  41.776' W 082" 02.531'
(Note:  Stay above this spot to have a totally wilderness experience without even the sounds of civilization) Also the Georgia side has fewer homesites and most of the land is owned by timber companies who probably won't bother you if you have to camp above the flood line. But usually there are plenty of sandbars.)

The detailed story is on Flickr with titles and captions.