Swamped

“Hey Hudson, what’s good to see in South Carolina?”

We knew we were going to the Carolinas to visit family.  You’ve seen some results of that already for North Carolina, with our excursions out of Charlotte, and our day trip to the Biltmore Estate.

But I was interested in locations from a photographers point of view, and I remembered the instructor for a photo workshop I attended in the general Portland area had done workshops in South Carolina, in the Charleston area.  So I hit him up.

He made general recommendations but had one main must see.

Beidler Forest.

Beidler is a rare old growth Cypress swamp, maintained in its natural state by the Audubon Society. The only concession to tourists is a 1.75 mile boardwalk, with checkpoints that give information about particular aspects.  Audubon’s web pages for the location suggested a forest swamped in several feet of water, with plenty of critter opportunities if you kept your eyes and ears open.

Between my photographer friend’s recommendation, Beidler’s website, and just the idea that Audubon runs it, it sounded wonderful.  I figured it could be the highlight of the trip and was excited to see it. And I didn’t even have to get my feet wet.

Sigh…

When we checked in to pay admission, the staffer told us that due to a very dry summer, the swamp was almost dry. We’d get nearly to the end of the boardwalk by the “lake” before we’d see water.  Not good.

But we were there, and it was off the beaten path just getting there, so we did it anyway. Here’s what we found.

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Nice enough, I suppose.  It was still a quiet walk through a forest. Maybe a little too quiet.  As much as I kept my eyes peeled and my ears cocked, critter sightings were few and far between.

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As for my visions of cypresses, knee deep in water, reflecting the overhead canopy, with the occasional ripple from a bird, snake, croc, or even frog?

Like the mirage of an oasis, once I got close to the “swamp” that vision dissolved away.

But the cypresses did have knees.

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What looks like a bunch of pointy little stumps is really part of the trees.  They don’t know for sure what the function of a cypress knee is, except that it’s related to the presence and depth of water.  The deeper the water, the taller the knee. Maybe they’re like snorkels or something.

And if they were tall and eroded enough to support a hive, you could have a tree’s bee’s knees.

Nearly all the walk looked much like the shot above; dry muddy looking forest floor, cypress and gum trees throughout, and enough knobby knees poking out to populate a junior high school prom.  But eventually, we saw a little water here and there.

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You’d think, despite the overall lack of water, we’d still be seeing and hearing birds.  It is, after all, an Audubon site.  But apart from hearing the occasional call high in the treetops, we didn’t see a single bird.  It was a warm, muggy afternoon.  Perhaps they were hunkered down on their respective bird porches, doing the occasional wing wave to generate a breeze, and sipping tweet tea.

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Eventually, we arrived at the observation platform at the end of the boardwalk.  There was water here, presumably the “lake” we were told about.  It gave a sense of what I was expecting to see for the bulk of the excursion.

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Except for the lack of wading birds, stealthy crocodiles, and chorus of bird song of course.

And as for the lake?  More like a river, methinks.

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At least we weren’t completely skunked when it came to critters.  Small fish bobbed up for air or perhaps a bug, and reptilian tanks cruised in to inspect us and each other.

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While it was a letdown from expectations, it wasn’t a total bust.  I’m sure that if we were to return at a different time of year, or maybe even a different time of day that we’d see and hear more.  That dark, slowly flowing water and its dark reflections would abound. That the mysteries of a southern swamp would reveal just enough to make us go, “what was that!” and entice us to come back, once again, for more.

And could you imagine this place in fog?

49 thoughts on “Swamped

  1. Hi Dave, I recall some of your posts and beautiful photography you shared from your photo workshop in the Portland area. “Critter opportunities” already piqued my interest. “Cypresses did have knees.” I see it. Exceptional photos! Not a total bust at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Despite the lack of significant water the photos sure are pretty. Cypress swamps are so mysterious. I visited Big Cypress near Miami a few years ago. I seem to recall it was quite dry, too.

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    1. Yeah, the swamps I’m familiar with are more conducive to mosquitoes and wet feet than dark reflections. I only wish there was more to work with, than just a little at the end of the walk.

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  3. Too bad about the lack of water. I can absolutely envision the place draped in fog. That would make it the perfect backdrop for a horror movie or murder mystery. Hope you get to go back there some (wetter) day!

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  4. You did good, Dave, considering what you had to work with. I’ve been down a few of those dry paths through the swamps, myself. Like you, I prefer my swamps full of alligators and tropical birds. There is nothing that says swamp better than a water moccasin slithering through the water toward you, however!:) –Curt

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      1. I think if I were in the water I’d be freaking out. On the other hand, when seeing sea snakes in the ocean I’m generally cool with it, at least as much as I am with things like barracuda, eels, or other toothy fish. But sea snakes have smaller mouths than water moccasins…

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  5. I visited a similar swamp, near Columbia, SC, I think, when I was a kid. I don’t remember seeing a single creature, other than a few anoles. But we wandering around on the boardwalks and trails, a Carolina cypress woods is like a Celtic Festival in New York, lots of knobby knees.

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  6. Your photos of the Biedler Forest remind me of my days living in the swamplands of Louisiana. Murky water, Cypress knees, Spanish moss, and the occasional reptile.

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    1. Yep, that would be it. Perhaps I’m romanticising it too much; expecting more wildlife, more water, more spooky reflections than a normal cypress swamp provides.

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    1. I guess the trick is to go there at the end of the rainy season, and before those long, very hot summers kick in. We probably picked the driest time without realising it. It wasn’t the primary reason for the trip.

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  7. You got me with “rare old growth Cypress swamp”, and for a gal who spent most of her life in a desert, it looks pretty cool. Though I can appreciate your disappointment.
    Were there many bugs?

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    1. I suppose relative to a desert, even the dry part looks lush, wet, and green. It seems like that would make all the lakes of Minnesota even more startling.
      No, there weren’t many bugs, even at the wet end. You’d think swamp = mosquitoes…

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  8. We have passed through S.C. many times but I was unaware of Beidler Forest. It is very similar to Congaree National Park, just south of Columbia. https://ralietravels.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/congaree-national-park/
    There was more water when we visited, but we didn’t see any birds and little wildlife. However, it was in my early days of blogging and perhaps I wasn’t as observant. I primarily remember it as the place where guerrilla fighter Marion, the “Swamp Fox” hung out during the American Revolution.

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    1. The family we were visiting lives in the Columbia area, and the nephew was trying to dissuade me from going to Beidler. Maybe he had experience at Congaree that time of year. Of course, he was also trying to convince us to spend that time checking out the aircraft carrier in Charleston, so he may have had an ulterior motive.

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  9. I really enjoyed this post, partly because I enjoy watching the rise and fall of water around here, too. I just visited a spot that looked much like this one, in the sense that the boardwalks were happily passing over dry ground. In time, rains will come, the rivers will rise, and the boardwalks will be useful as can be.

    I did smile at the cypress knees. I don’t live in a swamp, but there are bald cypress trees all around here, and part of my ‘front lawn’ can’t be mowed because of their knees. The squirrels love to sit on top of them while eating their peanuts. It amazes me that they live both in swamps and dry areas, but I love them for their russet colored leaves in autumn. They actually shed those leaves in winter — the reason they’re called “bald.”

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    1. Sounds like you have a bunch of interesting places around there to visit. And here I always figured Texas was a few cities surrounded by miles of empty.

      I’m not all that familiar with Cypress, but I do know about dodging roots while mowing, mostly due to Western Hemlock and Douglas Firs. They don’t quite provide mini-stumps, but they do mound up enough for the blade to whack if you’re not careful.

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  10. Things like this make we wish we drove (also so we can go on a joyride as we’re locked up in quarantine). I LOVE pics of swamp country, they are so beautiful. I know you were a bit disappointed but it looks like a lovely outing.

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    1. Well, we drive, but the only joyrides we’ve taken for months are to the grocery stores. The trails and beaches have been closed so there’s not so many places to go, and driving just for the sake of driving hasn’t never been high on my list. I’m glad there was some wet swamp at the end of the boardwalk, I just wanted a lot more of it.

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      1. I’d go on a food joy ride! Very food motivated. Could also check on my relatives too. My mom wants to visit us but I keep telling her no. Don’t want her getting in a cab or the train and where she lives it’s denser. She goes out a lot and that kinda worries me. There’s also been an uptick in anti Asian sentiment. By me it’s fine but I had a couple incidents in Manhattan right before the shut down. I worry about her because they have more of those issues and she doesn’t live in the best area. We sent her supplies so she doesn’t have to run around all the time (but I think she likes running around). We barely go out. We’re due for a grocery trip.

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  11. Having been ‘skunked” by the weather on a few occasions after a long trip I “feel your pain” but seeing a new place even under less than ideal conditions is most usually a worthy experience. Your experience in the swamp reminds me of mine when I hope to find cascades in July only to find a river of rocks. But now you have a destination for wetter times and with family nearby there will be more opportunities.

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  12. Pingback: Southern Comfort – Plying Through Life

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