Sunday, May 26, 2013

24 Hours in the Swamp

The Sentinel after a spring rain - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone

I know I go on and on about how important our swamps and wetlands are for the hydrology of our southern states, but they're also one of the best places for wildlife and adventure in what's left of our lowcountry wilderness.  This month I took two friends, Darrin Hamlin and Van Whitehead from the mountains and brought them into the heart of old growth swamp within the Francis Beidler Forest to slog and explore. We met up with Audubon naturalist Rickey Covey on the second day and I promised Darrin, a dedicated waterfall seeker, that before the trip was over he'd understand why these habitats are my bread and butter. The swamp did not disappoint.

Here's what we discovered in just 24 hours:

From left to right, Van Whitehead, Mac Stone, and Darrin Hamlin around the "Sentinel" 

My first goal was to find the "Sentinel" which is one of the Beidler Forest's largest cypress trees. Scientists estimate this tree to be around 1200-1400 years old. You might recognize the tree from our Swamp Stomp video a few years ago. Since the interior is hollow, it's impossible to get an accurate age. Still, the way this tree dominates the forest lets you know it's been anchored here for a very long time.

Nurse log - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone
 The spring is my favorite time to explore Beidler Forest. The greens are electric, the canopy is full of sound from songbirds and owls, and the water flows, leaving little room for mosquitoes to breed.


Emerging dragonfly - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone

Tupelo - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone
On this trip I used my 50mm f/1.4 for several landscapes to help isolate certain subjects. Normally, this would make the small ripples in the water to actually add extra noise to the image, but I added 9 stops of neutral density to get the slow speeds while maintaining shallow depth.

Tupelo and Cypress Island - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone

  


Darrin Hamlin slogs through one of the main sloughs - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone

Cypress sapling and Cypress Knee Window - Photo © Mac Stone

Brown Water Snake - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone

Brown Water Snake - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone




After the first night we looked at our maps and decided to head back further into the old growth swamp, getting into the deeper sloughs and exploring some of the more remote sections of Beidler Forest. We left at first light and got into some gorgeous sections of the swamp. While walking through one of the upland islands, we came across this mysterious feature.

Hog bed - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone
I have never seen one of these before, but as soon as we approached the woven bed of palmettos, 6 piglets scurried across the ground. I had no idea that their parents put this much effort into their babies.

Piglets - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone
Finally, the much anticipated rains let loose and the swamp came alive. Everything became more saturated and I hurried along with my camera like a kid in a candy shop. There is nothing more magical than photographing in an old growth swamp beneath a spring rain.

The Rains - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone
Cypress Knee - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone 

Greenish Rat Snake - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone
Whitetail Deer Fawn - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone


Old Growth - Francis Beidler Forest - Photo © Mac Stone
Only 24 hours and we experienced all this beauty and wilderness. To think, most people associate swamps with a slew of negative adjectives. The highlight of the trip for me was after stumbling upon the whitetail deer fawn and Darrin turns to me and says, "Mac, I've seen more wildlife in the two days I've been here with you than I have in 10 years in the mountains."

Long live the swamp.

4 comments:

  1. Wow, those are the best pictures of the swamp I've ever seen. Come do some of the Pee Dee!
    -Ashley Scott
    Pee Dee Land Trust

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  2. Hmm Ashley are you related to Agnes Scott? The name sake of the college in Georgia? Darrin must I remind you the mountains are flush with tourists and hikers and "Development"/commerce i.e. skiers, whitewater rafters, rock climbers, spelunkers, Green Day Farms etc. Having said that, a bear was spotted in the back yard of a Kirkwood neighborhood in Gainesville fl Bear Alert I say Bear Alert.

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  3. Forest photography can look cluttered or lack focus. You have capture amazing shots , I really like your work .
    Stock Photos

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