A loud call breaks the warm, still afternoon air. “Are there monkeys in the Okefenokee Swamp?”, my young daughter asks. “No. That’s a bird”, I tell her. “Watch over there.” In a moment, a flaming red crest appears from behind the trunk of the tree, peering in our direction as it searches another soft spot in the bark to hunt for an insect meal.
“The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent. It’s nearly the size of a crow, black with bold white stripes down the neck and a flaming-red crest” says Cornell’s wonderful website.
I’ve come across several Pileated Woodpeckers in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia; more often hearing them than seeing them. But a few in particular have given me the privilege of a swamp photo session!
After miles of seemingly endless, boring driving through pine flat-woods, one hopes for a sign from heaven that the swamp is nearing. And that first “sign” is literally a large, wooden sign marking the entrance to the refuge! The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 as a “refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife”. The Swamp survived an attempt at draining in the late 1800’s and was logged extensively in the early 1900’s before becoming a refuge in 1937 by declaration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. It encompasses 401,880 acres (628 square miles), roughly 35 miles north to south and 25 miles east to west. Read more
Sharing a great post and wonderful photos from another Okefenokee adventurer, Wandering Dawgs. Enjoy!
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 […]
The beautiful Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. What is it? It is colorful Neverwet flowers lining the canoe trail; it is Parulas and Peepers providing a background chorus; it is towering cypress and waving curtains of Spanish Moss; it is dark gators swimming in blackwater swamp; it is raccoons cautiously exploring for their next meal. It is beauty… it is mystery… it is majestic! That’s the beautiful Okefenokee Swamp.
The dreaded and formidable rattlesnake is yet too common, and a variety of other serpents abound, particularly that admirable creature, the glass-snake: I saw a very large and beautiful on, a little distance from our camp. The alligator, a species of crocodile, abounds in the rivers and swamps, near the sea coast… On the recollection of so many and great favours and blessings, I now, with a high sense of gratitude, presume to offer up my sincere thanks to the Almighty, the Creator and Preserver.
William Bartram (1729-1823), Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida
Psalm 148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:
With only an occasional, gentle stroke, our canoe glides easily across the surface of Billy’s Lake in the Okefenokee Swamp. The morning air is still, the water smooth, the entire scene quiet and meditative. From a bit further up the lake, echoing across the water, comes a deep rumble. A second time, the rumble breaks the still air, this time followed by another on our left bank. We stiffen in an attentive hush. Hearing the rumble again, I whisper to my daughter, “The bull gators are bellowing.” What a sound! You hear it, not only with your ears, but with your entire body. Never will you forget those intense, guttural moanings. The dragons of the deep were roaring. This is swamp!
I kissed my wife goodbye and headed south with my daughter for 217 miles on Interstate 75. The further south we drove, the higher the temperature readout displayed. Hour after hour, and mile after mile of semi-trucks, exits, and billboards until finally, just 16 miles shy of the Florida line, we turn due east at Valdosta, Georgia.
Another sixty-one miles of long, flat, boring roads through the pine flat-woods of South Georgia on GA-94. Besides the occasional barns and homesteads, the landscape is devoid of memorable landmarks. If the roads weren’t so perfectly straight, one might feel as if he were going in circles. In his Florida Sketch Book, Bradford Torrey writes…
“…the traveler rides hour after hour through seemingly endless pine barrens, otherwise known as low pine-woods and flat-woods, till he wearies of the sight.”
Bradford Torrey, Florida Sketch Book, 1894
The pine flat-woods in South Georgia are much different than the pine forests of the Piedmont. The southern pines seem taller and less foliated; they are more mindful of each others’ personal space than their crowded Loblolly cousins in the north. With only patches of Saw Palmetto and Broomsedge, the pines stretch beyond and behind, and on either side; like fields of telephone poles ever receding as one approaches. Other than passing shadows cast by the soaring vultures, there is little shade or retreat from the overhead sun.
We will soon be entering the Okefenokee, the Land of Trembling Earth…