Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Who Pulled the Plug on Lake Moultrie?

If you've been paying attention to the news, you may have heard that the Southeast is experiencing a drought. There have been plenty of images showing low water levels in the Upstate and around Atlanta, Georgia. We had heard that Lake Moultrie's water was low, but there have been no water restrictions, voluntary or otherwise, in Summerville, which draws its water from Lake Moultrie. As we had the day off yesterday, we decided to take a look for ourselves.

Wow! With the fog still lifting over a field of stumps, the first image shows the lake in the Hatchery Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Panning west, the second image appears more like an ocean shoreline than a tremendous reservoir. The trees in the distance are almost a mile from the normal shoreline. The ATV tracks demonstrate that the drivers are illiterate or have chosen to ignore the numerous signs regarding the ban on motor vehicles and hunting for archeological items below the high-water mark.

Moving west towards Cross, the third image shows an osprey nest in a bald cypress tree with Santee Cooper's Cross power plant in the background. We're not sure why the cypress trees in the lake appear stunted when compared to the trees here at the Francis Beidler Forest. The few trees that grow where they would normally be in water will soon have new neighbors. As noted in a the December 18th entry, drought conditions help cypress trees get a start and the lake's shoreline is several feet thick with 3-foot youngsters.

In many areas, the lake smelled like wet dog...not overpowering, but distracting nonetheless. A portion of the odor likely came from the acres of mollusks frying in the sun. Almost all had been opened, mechanically or by the sun, and cleaned out by the appreciative predators. There were raccoon tracks, but it appeared that birds were the main beneficiaries of the largest-ever mollusk roast. Although not interested in the mollusk morsels, there were numerous fresh tracks showing that alligators had taken advantage of the warming weather to move across the divide between their den sites and the water.

The final oddity of the Lake Moultrie trip appears in the last image. Spider webbing appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, on binoculars and the brims of hats. Webbing covered the entire lake bed and collected on the exposed stumps. Looking at birds through binoculars (because that's what we do), the thin, threads of silk could be seen streaming through the bright sky like an unlimited supply of Silly String launched during a birthday party battle. Spiderlings will ride a thread of silk when they strike out for new territory, but no spiders were seen riding these threads. We had ample opportunity to observe the threads collecting on our sunglasses, hats, and binoculars.

As naturalists, it's always interesting to see something new. However, whoever pulled the plug on Lake Moultrie can now put it back.

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