The Land of Trembling Earth

Okefenokee – “the Land of Trembling Earth”

What better way to begin our winter southern adventure than a stop in one of our favorite state parks, Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Much of the swamp is covered with thick peat deposits. The early Native Americans named the area Okefenokee which means “land of trembling earth” because  they felt the movement of the peat beneath their feet as they walked.

There were deer in the campground every day. One day we took a walk on the boardwalk nature trail near the marina and watched an egret searching for food.

The Okefenokee Swamp is one of North America’s most unspoiled natural wilderness areas. According to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge web page, “the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has 353,981 acres of National Wilderness Area within the refuge boundaries.

We always enjoy going out in a boat to explore the swamp. On our last visit we enjoyed our ranger guided boat tour so much we decided to go on another tour. While waiting for the tour to begin we wandered around the boat ramp and discovered Mama gator Sophie lounging by the ramp with some of her babies hanging out nearby.

As we rode through the man made canal into the swamp we spied more young gators on the bank enjoying the warm day.

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Young alligators on the bank

A large gator checked us out as we exited the canal into the swamp.

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Alligator in the Okefenokee

After a few days of cloudy skies and chilly days the sun was starting to warm things up. The warmer weather brought out plenty of  wildlife.

The water winds through ancient cypress trees and water lilies.

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Beautiful day in the Okefenokee
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Cypress Trees in the Okefenokee

 

 

Nesting Birds at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Wood storks, egrets, and herons build their nests every spring in the trees of Woody Pond at the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Located in Georgia just a few miles from I 95 in between Savannah and Brunswick, it is a great day trip from our home.

Woody Pond at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge
Woody Pond at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

Wood storks were placed on the Endangered Species list in 1984. After almost 30 years of conservation efforts to increase the wood stork population, their status was upgraded to Threatened in June, 2014.

A path along the dike beside Woody Pond provides a great place to view the birds. The wood storks and egrets shared the trees.

Wood Storks and Great Egrets
Wood Storks and Great Egrets
Nesting Wood Storks and Great Egrets at Woody Pond
Nesting Wood Storks and Great Egrets at Woody Pond

Many of the wood storks were working on their nests. None of their eggs had hatched yet.

Wood Storks building a nest
Wood Storks building a nest
Wood Stork on nest
Wood Stork on nest

As I took photos, Henry used the spotting scope and pointed out a mother egret with chicks that I would have never seen. The nests were a long way from where we were so the picture isn’t the best but it gives you an idea of the size of the baby egret.

Great Egret with chicks
Great Egret with chicks

In the shallow water at the edge of the pond a tri-colored heron entertained us as he searched for food.

After leaving the refuge we stopped at the Smallest Church in America to take a look and do a little geocaching.

Smallest Church in America
Smallest Church in America

An arsonist burned this church in November, 2015. The church is being rebuilt through the efforts of volunteers and the work is almost complete.

After finding the geocache hidden near the church we headed for home.

Into the Okefenokee Swamp

Big Cypress trees in the Okefenokee
Cypress trees in the Okefenokee
Cypress trees in the Okefenokee

We enjoyed walking around the marina and going on the nature trail at Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge but we wanted to be in a boat to really experience the swamp. On one of our visits a few years ago we rented a canoe to paddle into the swamp and another time we rented a boat to venture even farther into the swamp. On our most recent trip in early spring we decided to take a ranger guided boat tour.

As we glided through the man made canal our guide pointed out the baby alligators and their mother Sophie who was keeping a close watch on her babies. Her mate Zeke was no where to be found.

Sophie the Mama Gator
” Sophie the Mama Gator

As the boat exited the canal we entered the big water of Billy’s Lake where we were about six miles from the headwaters of the Suwanee River. The water here gets up to six feet deep, much deeper than the average depth of two feet.

It was a beautiful day to be on the water and we saw a few other people out on the water.

It was a beautiful day for kayaking
It was a beautiful day for kayaking
A kayaker goes around the bend deeper into the swamp
A kayaker goes around the bend deeper into the swamp
Which way do we go?
Which way do we go?

Our guide took us through the narrow waterway toward Minnie’s Lake. In some places the water was barely wide enough for the 24 foot Carolina Skiff. As we ventured farther into the swamp it was as if we had stepped back in time to a prehistoric age. We were miles from civilization in this incredibly wild place.

Boats had to navigate around this cypress tree
Boats had to navigate around this cypress tree

It is estimated that the alligator population in the swamp is about 20,000. We saw quite a few as we went along. It was mating season and I wondered if this gator was trying to attract a mate.

Huge alligator showing us his teeth
Huge alligator showing us his teeth

Another gator was behind a huge cypress tree.

Do you see the alligator behind the Cypress tree?
Do you see the alligator behind the Cypress tree?

And there were young ones sunning on a log.

Young gators enjoying the sunshine

There are many species of wildlife besides alligators. While we didn’t see any raccoons, opossums, turtles, or bears, we did see a few birds out searching for food.

Egret in the Okefenokee
Egret in the Okefenokee
Snowy Egret in the Okefenokee
Snowy Egret in the Okefenokee

After our incredible few days in the Okefenokee it was time to return back to civilization and the real world.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Big gator beside the canal next to the road

On St. Patrick’s Day we left Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center in White Springs, Florida and drove about 50 miles to another park named after the famous composer. At the end of the road 17 miles from the nearest highway, Stephen C. Foster State Park in Fargo, Georgia is located in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge .

This is one of our favorite Georgia state parks and one we have returned to over and over through the years. There is just something I love about being surrounded by nature miles away from civilization.

The Okefenokee Swamp is one of North America’s most unspoiled natural wilderness areas. According to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge web page, “the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has 353,981 acres of National Wilderness Area within the refuge boundaries.  In addition, the refuge is a Wetland of International Importance (RAMSAR Convention – 1971) because it is one of the world’s largest intact freshwater ecosystems.”

Indians who once lived in the area called it Okefenokee which roughly translated means “Land of Trembling Water.” The headwaters of the Suwanee River is located in the Okefenokee Swamp.

Going out in a boat is a great way to see the swamp but there is also plenty to see from land. All the photos in this post were taken as we walked around the campground, marina and on the Trembling Earth Nature Trail which starts at the marina. One section of the trail is a boardwalk through the swamp. This huge gator was sunning on a log beside the boardwalk.

Giant gator beside the boardwalk trail
Giant gator beside the boardwalk trail

The only man made waterway in the park is this canal which leads to the open water of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Canal leading into the Okefenokee Swamp
Canal leading into the Okefenokee Swamp

The canal runs beside the road and alligators are frequently seen sunning themselves on the bank or chilling in the water.

Alligator among the lily pads
Alligator among the lily pads

One of the other campers told me about baby alligators beside the road so off we went in search of baby gators.

Baby gator in the canal beside the road. Do you see the one in the water?
Baby gator in the canal beside the road. Do you see the one in the water?
Baby Gator on Lilly Pad
Baby Gator on Lilly Pad

Besides alligators, many other animals make their home in the Okefenokee.

White Tail Deer at dusk
White Tail Deer at dusk
Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey
Ibis in the swamp
Ibis in the swamp
Egret in the swamp
Egret in the swamp
Butterfly beside the trail
Butterfly beside the trail
Turtle swimming in the marina
Turtle swimming in the marina

Coming up in my next post – a ranger guided boat tour into the Okefenokee.