Monday, September 13, 2010

Heart of the Swamp - Photo Hunt

Tara Bailey, seasonal naturalist at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, had the following printed in the Summerville Journal Scene.

Published Thursday, September 09, 2010 1:31 PM
Summerville Journal Scene ®

The photographer was looking for snakes, specifically. He had photographed warblers, damselflies, spiders, and two deer, but the legless reptiles of Biblical notoriety had so far proven evasive.

It was frustrating, because the Audubon Center at Beidler Forest in Harleyville is a home to snakes, mostly water snakes, though it’s always a treat to spot the very top of the food chain - the cottonmouth. The photographer left the boardwalk with his camera card full of wildlife, though void of snakes, but soon another man appeared and reported that he’d had great success in finding both a brown water snake and a cottonmouth.

He told the photographer the specifics of their locations, so the two of us went back onto the boardwalk – he, to photograph; me to guide him to the snakes. We kept our eyes focused on sunny spots within stumps and on logs, in wild, viney growths, and wherever else a snake might enjoy absorbing heat. No luck.


There’s no such thing as an eventless walk through a swamp. It would be like a dry ocean or a quiet Christmas. If you keep your peripheral vision on guard, slate-tinted immature ibises come into focus while stalking minnows in the tannin water. Branches fall to the ground, and somewhere in the tree is the source of the timbering. Bubbles suddenly appear on the water’s surface, and an unidentified sound is coming from, you think, the left.

Who knows what spies you from above the leaves, below the mud, or within the hollows of ancient cypress and tupelo trees…

What life you discover is but a mere sampling of what exists within the Beidler Forest’s 16, 000 acres, 1,763 of which is virgin growth – one of two primary growth forests that remain in the state. And what you can’t see, you almost certainly can hear. The photographer was also on the lookout for pileated woodpeckers, which were teasing him with their calls, yet remaining concealed within the forest. The moment the photographer drove away, the large, red-crested bird flew overhead and crossed to another stand of 1,000-year-old trees. Not the photographer’s lucky day.

At least, not for finding snakes and woodpeckers. But the photographer didn’t leave disappointed. He’d driven hours to get here and promised to return, calling it one of his “hotspots.” For no matter what one encounters out here, there is always life in the heart of the swamp.

Image by Mark Musselman

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