Okefenokee Minnies Lake Worth the Paddle

Okefenokee kayak canoe trail sign for Minnie`s Lake. Cypress trees, Spanish Moss, lily pads. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.

“Dad, can we go back to Minnie’s Lake today,” my daughter asked. She always loves paddling through the scenic, narrow channel of the Red Trail looking for baby alligators along the way. And then when nearing Minnie’s Lake, the scene opens up as the trees retreat the shrubs back off. There are typically gators galore… and don’t forget the rest dock and latrine!

Minnie’s Lake is under 4 miles from the Stephen C Foster boat launch. If you’re an experienced paddler, this is no big deal at all. But even if a 7.5 mile round-trip paddle seems like a daunting task, it is well worth the toil. Because of the current on the Suwannee River, the trip up to Minnie’s lake is a bit harder. If you stop paddling, you may drift downstream. But push through and you’ll have a chance to rest at the platform. The paddle home is always leisurely, allowing more opportunity to enjoy the Swamp scenes.

Young American Alligator basking on a log in Minnies Lake; Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia. March 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.

There is always a mixture of sizes of alligators on Minnie’s Lake. The edges of the lake are lined with Spatterdock lily pads and floating masses of “gator taters” which provide perfect basking spots for even the larger alligators. They seem quite accustomed to visitors on Minnie’s Lake and will often hold their positions allowing for some great photography.

iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/42307343

Making of an Okefenokee Alligator Close Up Photo

Medium sized American Alligator basking on floating peat mat in Billy’s Lake; Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge; Stephen C Foster Georgia State Park. March 13, 2019. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.

My daughter has always been the captain of our canoe. She sits in the stern and controls the trolling motor while I photograph all the critters. But last Christmas she got a GoPro camera, and it came with us to the swamp. Over the course of this four day trip, she collected some great footage and made a video of her own. I really enjoyed seeing some of the clips that she produced and wove some together with my still photos. Here is one of the gator we encountered on our 2019 paddling trip. It was a medium-sized gator basking on a floating peat mat on Billy’s Lake, just up from the Stephen C. Foster State Park canal.

iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/21513920

Sharing an Okefenokee post from Anne Ledbetter Photography

Kayak Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

Here is a great nature journal with some incredible photography from Anne Ledbetter Photography! Follow the link to her blog for some beautiful black-and-whites, pitcher plant close-ups, and reflection photos (a few of my favorites in the collection). – William

These images come from one of our many trips to the Okefenokee. This trip was in April 2018 and was our first visit in the spring as we usually go in the middle of the winter. We were really curious to see what the swamp would be like in Spring. We were also excited about […]

via Okefenokee in the Spring — Anne Ledbetter

Okefenokee Alligator Ate My GoPro!

There she lay; just ten feet from the edge of the dock. How could I resist? A big alligator right there within reach of my action camera. I hit record and lay upon my belly, stretching my arm to full length, the camera is only inches from her snout. No doubt this would be some great, close-up gator footage! Then it happened. SNAP!!! Either she was really ticked off, or thought my camera was a free handout of food. No more camera.

Video of American Alligator with a GoPro Hero5 action camera on a selfie stick in Stephen C Foster State Park, Georgia. Okfenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. This gator lives in the boat launch canoe area near the campground. Her name is Sophie. March 16, 2019. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.

Seems like a stupid idea to harass an alligator? Yes, it is. Perhaps my story is a bit of dramatization and the camera wasn’t actually eaten. But what if it were true? That was an expensive bite! Or what if it were your hand, rather than your camera that gets chomped by a big gator? But how many photographers push the limits trying to get that photo or video that will go viral? It does well to keep a clear mind and some common sense when in the field.

Wild animals are wild! Even if they seem to be laying nearby just begging for a photograph, wild animalsare not tame pets. Just search the internet for tourist deaths on safari and you’ll see nobody is exempt: a billionaire trampled by an elephant… a grandmother killed by a hippopotamus… These “accidents” don’t only take place with “dumb tourists.” A few years ago, a professional graphic effects creator filming a documentary in South Africa was killed as she rolled down her windows to capture close-up footage of a lioness… a bit too close up!

As photographers, we can become totally absorbed in our craft and forget about our own safety. Or, we might compromise our own safety to push the limits to get that viral footage. But in the end it isn’t worth it if you lose your life or lose a limb. So keep your mind focused on your surroundings and use some common sense!

iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/30719132

Okefenokee Swamp Melanistic Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker, Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. March 5, 2017. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.

Going through some older Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge posts, I found this unique observation from April 12, 2010 by iNaturalist member Marv Elliott: a melanistic Pileated Woodpecker (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/538467).

Melanistic Pileated Woodpecker in the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge by Marv Elliott on April 12, 2010. Used by permission.

Contacting Marv about his observation, he replied: “My wife (Susan) and I are birders and Naturalists. We were driving the main road, saw the pileated and knew it looked different. We parked, looked through binoculars and knew we needed a picture. I kept trying to get a good view and the bird kept moving. I followed for a while being a bit uncomfortable walking through grassy habitat favored by poisonous creatures (we are from the north) and finally got the picture. It then flew way off so that is my best effort. This is why we like INat. We do what we love and it gives us a purpose. We can share our sightings. Marv Elliiott”

Marv also posted an interesting link to a 1965 Wilson Bulletin about a melanistic Pileated Woodpecker at Okefenokee in 1917:

A melanistic Pileated Woodpecker specimen from Georgia. — While arranging specimens of Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) in the U.S. National Museum, I found an almost entirely black female… This specimen (USNM No. 268901) was collected 2 November 1917 in the Okefinokee Swamp of Georgia by Harrison Lee… The specimens’ underparts lack any indication of the white feather edges often noted in Pileated Woodpeckers. The white wing patches, characteristic of that species, are entirely lacking, and white is visible only on the underside of the wings… The head and neck lack the striking white marks so characteristic of the Pileated Woodpecker.”

Thanks to Marv for posting this great observation and for being a lover of the Okefenokee!

iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/33726445

eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S45165527

Okefenokee Alligator Pike Pole

Alligator stretched out on a long. Middle Fork Suwannee River, red canoe trail. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 2020. Stephen C Foster Georgia State Park. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.

Excerpt from the 1926 History of the Okefenokee by Hamp Mizell and AS McQueen:

“When the Swamp was first penetrated by the pioneer white settlers of this section, and that was not so very long ago, so many alligators were encountered, and they were so large and vicious, that a boatman hardly ever entered the interior without a ‘pike-pole’ for protection. And this was especially true if a dog was carried along, for a large alligator dearly loves dog meat, and they will run the risk of being killed by attacking a boat in order to try to pull out a hound dog.”

iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/42309500

Sharing an Okefenokee post from Roadkill Crossing

Kayak Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia
Sharing a great Okefenokee travel blog from fellow photographer Bruce Stambaugh. Like Bruce, I made some “social distancing” trips to the Okefenokee. It doesn’t get much more “distant” than that, out there in the beautiful Okefenokee! Be sure to follow the link and read his great journal and photos. William 

My wife and I were social distancing before we knew there was such a thing. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., I made an all-day social distancing trip to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It was a mere hour’s drive from our winter hideout on Amelia Island, Florida. I invited my lovely wife to accompany […]

Social distancing before it was required — Roadkill Crossing

Okefenokee Friends

March 2020 Okefenokee Journal – Last minute packing, under-inflated trailer tires, construction on the interstate, slow drivers… just all the typical things that take place in this hectic world. We arrived in the Okefenokee later than I had desired. But once upon the waters of the swamp, all that was left behind. No cellular signal, no traffic noise, no way to even log on and work from home! Finally, our annual trip to spend some quality time with my alligator friends had arrived!

Juvenile American Alligator swimming in blackwater swamp grass near Stephen C Foster State Park boat ramp. Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 9, 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.

This year’s trip was special. My daughter brought along a friend this time… her first trip to the swamp; her first time being face-to-face with an alligator. We pushed off from the Stephen C Foster State Park boat dock for an hour paddle around Billy’s Lake. Thankfully, the gators did not disappoint. Being around 75 degrees, there were many large alligators out of the cold water and laid out on the logs and mound to soak up the last solar rays warming their reptilian bodies.

Okefenokee Swamp Friends

We got a couple of medium-sized gators to make a splash and spectacle for Gabrielle as they dove to the water to avoid our close approach. But she said it was more eerie when they slowly slunk off their stumps, crawled toward us into the blackwaters, and disappeared under the lily pads. She feared they were coming under our canoe to dump us in!

iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/42155282

Okefenokeology Video Series, Episode 12

American Alligator swimming at dusk in Stephen C Foster State Park; Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge,, Georgia. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com

The Okefenokee Swamp Park is broadcasting Professor Don Berryhill’s video series, Okefenokeology! Subscribe to their YouTube channel to receive updates. Watch this episode of Professor Don Berryhill’s Okefenokeology Program. In this episode, the predator and prey relationship that makes up the Okefenokee’s unique ecosystem is discussed.

Okefenokee Golden Club

Golden Club, Orontium aquaticum, is a flowering spike of color that blooms above the tannin black water of the Okefenokee Swamp. A pink and white stem with gold flower spikes, like “golden clubs”, and dark green leaves that are waxy and water repellent, giving it the name Never-wet. It is a floating arum endemic to the eastern United States. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.

In my earlier days, I never was much of a plant enthusiast. In fact, I primarily overlooked vegetation, or looked through it to spot snakes and birds! But as one paddles the black waters of the Okefenokee Swamp you can’t ignore the colorful spikes of gold, white and pink that rise above the lily pads on the Middle Fork of the Suwannee River (Red Trail), and other canals throughout the swamp.

Golden Club (Orontium aquaticum) is a flowering spike of color that blooms above the tannin black water of the Okefenokee Swamp. A pink and white stem with gold flower spikes, like golden clubs, and dark green leaves that are waxy and water repellent, giving it the name Never-wet. It is a floating arum endemic to the eastern United States.

At times, they bloom in small patches here and there. But there is nothing more beautiful that a wide patch of colorful Never-wet in the darker areas of the swamp. Vibrant colors that capture the attention of the traveler.

iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/40953863