Monday, May 15, 2017

Day in the Swamp

As the land manager at Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest, no two days are the same. This is an account for a recent day of boundary line painting.

With over 110 miles of exterior boundary and another 31 miles of interior boundary, there is always plenty of boundary to paint in any year. Some lines are easy to paint as they run parallel to a road or fire break, but some lines run through the swamp. The majority of the in-swamp lines are painted most easily when the water level is lower.  Therefore, before the last bout of rain, a long-neglected in-swamp line was attacked with bright orange paint.

Work in the swamp is a tough sell for most individuals. There are mosquitoes, snakes, alligators, ticks, chiggers, poison ivy, thorny vines, mud, it is hot and humid, one is required to carry all food and water (never enough), restroom options are limited, and there are only lat/long coordinates to give the 911 operator (if there is cell service) should the need arise. Oh, and then EMS needs to find their way to the spot in the swamp (see obstacles and hazards above), which is seldom near an address their system will recognize. For example, the address for lunch in the image below was N33.29782, W80.49187.
Lunch in the swamp - Image by Mark Musselman
Just prior to lunch, one of the swamp's residents moved away from the paint bucket. Wearing safety orange paint would run counter to its attempts to remain camouflaged.

Eastern Cottonmouth - Image by Mark Musselman
Farther east down the boundary line, a large, unseen gator dramatically thrashed the water in annoyance less than fifteen feet from the tree being painted. The alligator, in aptly named Alligator Lake, had obviously heard the less-than-stealthy painting patrol and had slipped quietly into the deeper water to watch. As it became clear that the man with the orange paint was preparing to cross directly atop it, the alligator made its move to the depths (less than three feet) and swam upstream. Approaching the deeper water, the question, "Do I try to wade across deep water to continue painting the line?" was asked aloud. The beast beneath the surface helped make the decision to find a detour crossing downstream

While walking the water's edge to find the downstream crossing, the basking site of the big alligator was encountered.
Alligator tail impression in mud - Image by Mark Musselman
Alligator skin impression in mud - Image by Mark Musselman
Alligator skin impression in mud - Image by Mark Musselman
Alligator foot impression in mud - Image by Mark Musselman
Downstream detour, good choice...not a bad band name either.

Not all encounters in the swamp have the potential to be painful or dangerous to painters, but they can be equally upsetting and do pose a threat to wildlife. Balloons, like the one found below, are an all-to-common discovery in the swamp. As @BalloonsBlow states, "Balloons blow, don't let them go!"

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