Swamp Sojourn

Header Image: Pine Flatwoods Dawn

“And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!”

(From The Creation by James Weldon Johnson.)

We often visit the swamp. Florida has quite a few areas which meet the definition of a swamp. One of the shortest informative descriptions I’ve run across says a swamp is a “forested wetland”. Marshes, on the other hand, are distinguished by the main vegetation being grasses rather than trees.

Our “local” destination is central Florida’s Green Swamp. Over 560,000 acres (227,000 hectares) of river swamp, longleaf pine sandhills, hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods and cypress ponds located between Tampa and Orlando. It sounds odd, but the Green Swamp is actually on a “plateau” surrounded by sand ridges. A vast underground aquifer rises near the surface in this area and as rain falls it trickles through the soil to replenish what is the state’s main source of drinking water. Annual rains here also form the headwaters of four major rivers: the Withlacoochee, the Ocklawaha, the Hillsborough and the Peace.

Light fog filtered early rays of the rising sun through the dense pine forest. Clearings were thick with lush ferns, saw palmetto and wildflowers. The most prominent bloom was Pale Meadowbeauty, providing a pink welcome mat into the depths of the swamp. Gossamer nets woven by industrious spiders covered the open glades forming bowls in the grass as well as stretched between tree trunks and tall plants. Woodpeckers and Brown-headed Nuthatches scolded from high above. The scream of a Red-shouldered Hawk alerted all in the area of our intrusion into their world.

Logging roads crisscross the area we were exploring. Care must be taken as rains and fallen trees can make some of the roads hazardous to navigate. A combination of driving slowly and hiking an interesting-looking trail reveals an incredible diversity of life. Today should we be birders, budding botanists, promising herpetologists, intrepid dragon hunters or just visitors who love the aroma of fresh pine and the beauty of a simple flower? All of the above.

We seldom encounter many humans in this area. The solitude enriches our souls. As we turn onto the paved road and head to the house, we sigh in unison and instinctively know each other’s thoughts about the morning: “That’s good!“.

A few images may illustrate why we love our swamp.

Open meadows adjacent to the pine forest are common and always seem to offer something different each time we visit.

The likely engineer of this intricate bowl-shaped web is one of the Orchard Orbweavers (Leucauge species).

Carolina Redroot (Lachnanthes caroliana) is plentiful throughout the swamp and is loved by a host of nectar-loving insects, such as this Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus).

Pink is the color of the day at this time of year in the pine woods. Virtually every open spot we passed was filled with Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana). We didn’t mind one bit.

Some early fall foliage was provided by a native Red Maple (Acer rubrum) inviting us to explore a creek through the forest.

Horsetail or Scouringrush (Equisetum hyemale), is a reed-like plant which loves wet areas. It reminds us of asparagus. (No, we didn’t taste it on this trip.)

As we look around at birds and flowers, we are likely to miss some colorful jewels right at our feet. Small but beautiful, a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) looks like a little flying stained-glass window.

There are a few physical differences between a Pig Frog (Rana grylio) and an American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), but if you’re able to hear them call you will have no doubt.

Pig Frog https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EsYi_NbGJE

Bullfrog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtAdhpTKmgg

Pig Frog

More Pale Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana) and lower in the vegetation is Yellow Milkwort (Polygala rugelii), a species endemic to Florida.

Adding another dimension to our already colorful experience is a male Golden-winged Skimmer (Libellula auripennis).

A sprinkling of white decorated the edge of a section of forest as we left the area. Standing nearly three feet tall, the Flattened Pipewort or Hatpins (Eriocaulon compressum) added a delicate touch to the landscape.

Away from the noise of human endeavor, amid the calls of Blue Jays and Pig Frogs, Gini and I recharged our internal batteries. We indulged our appetite for nature’s beauty at one of her bountiful banquet tables. We will repeat the process again. Often.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

25 Comments on “Swamp Sojourn

  1. Once again, names offer occasion for surprise, pondering, and a bit of (resolved) confusion. When I read ‘swamp,’ the first thing that came to mind was the cypress swamps of Louisiana. But when I looked at your photos, I was seeing plant life that I associate with the Big Thicket of east Texas. The pines, the Rhexia mariana (which I learned to call Maryland Meadow Beauty), the Red Maple, the Horsetail, and the Pipewort (which often are called bog buttons in these parts) all are familiar from that region, but I’ve never heard the area called a swamp.

    Of course, I’ve hardly roamed the Big Thicket as a whole, so I went looking to see what others say about it. Behold: “Renowned as the biological crossroads of North America, Big Thicket in east Texas is a remarkable mix of southeastern swamps, eastern deciduous forest, central plains, pine savannas and dry sandhills.”

    How about that? Now, I’m feeling an almost uncontrollable urge to head into east Texas. I can smell that unmistakable scent from your post!

    Like

  2. It’s definitely a different experience to get out in the swamp and marshes! We love to hear those big old frogs but they can make you jump out of your skin if you’re leaning close to the water trying to see one. I love the little Crescent butterfly and saw one yesterday in the forest. We’ve had so many pop up showers this summer that the wildflowers and blooming like crazy! Love this post so much. So many people think swamps are ugly, dreary places but they are oh so beautiful! Enjoy your day!

    Like

    • Thank you, Diane.
      It’s hard to think about anything in nature being ugly but beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder!

      Loving all the flowers lately.

      Now if I could just guess which weather report is going to be right …

      Like

  3. Trouble accessinf your blog. Also the link to the pig frog did not work.
    Wonderful description of the “swamp.” Our home here in Connecticut is
    surrounded by deep dark forest. The birds show up in our yard in harsh
    full sunlight aginst the darknes. No time to compensate. Great setup for
    over-exposures!

    Like

    • Sorry you had access and link problems, Ken.
      Trying to troubleshoot.

      I relate to that issue of no time to compensate for that light! And trying to fix it in post-processing usually doesn’t look right.

      Hope all is well as you head into an actual Autumn.

      Like

  4. That’s a real moody header image, Wally.

    Thank you for the frog links, which leave absolutely no doubt at to why the Pig Frog was so named. What a pretty creature!

    I just love the face in the second image of the Golden-winged Skimmer, and your butterflies are enviably gorgeous.

    Thank you – you’ve managed to recharge my batteries too!

    Best wishes to you and Gini – – – Richard

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    • Thank you, Richard!

      Who would of thought frogs could be pretty? Those who love nature, that’s who.

      Sometimes, those odes seem to be smiling at us. We’re having a fallout of butterflies lately. They’re everywhere, which is okay with us.

      Happy to help charge batteries any time!

      All the best to you both.

      Like

  5. You Swampies set a high standard in the things that you see, enjoy, love and ultimately photograph. Despite your accomplished description, and almost certainly because we Brits have nothing quite like it, I find it difficult to comprehend your Green Swamp. But I just knew that in there somewhere would be “danger”. Of course that could be a ploy to keep others away?

    “Seldom encounter many humans”, now I understand.

    I think I too would love your swamp. Sign me up please.

    But for now an early night beckons so that we can be awake and dressed for the 2 am taxi to take us to the Great Metropolis that is Manchester. The sooner we are in Greece the better. Kalinikta.

    Like

    • I need to include a few images of the swamp which show the total picture of that environment. Hopefully, I’ll remember on the next trip, but this memory thing appears to be more unreliable each day.

      Consider yourself signed up.

      We’re looking forward to the pictures of dragonflies on vases. Or did I misunderstand “Odes on a Grecian urn”?

      We’ll settle for vacation snapshots of any sort. We are easily entertained.

      Kaló taksídi!

      Like

  6. Swamps have gotten a bad rap over the years and, to our detriment, many have been filled or otherwise destroyed by poor information. Your wetland wander gives us a lot of reasons to protect them for all the wonderful life that abounds there.
    As you might imagine, your little piggie got a big smile from me. Nice job capturing the Hatpins. Little details like that in the larger landscape are often lost but they shine here.

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    • My Dad loved freshwater fishing and I grew up spending a lot of time in a small boat among giant cypress trees pulling fish from tea-colored water. I reckon those early experiences influenced the way I feel about our swamps, lakes and natural resources.

      It is still a challenge for me to spot the forest among all the trees sometimes! Age has helped me slow down which has been one of those disguised blessings. As you say, so many little details are easily lost.

      Have a wonderful week, Steve.

      Like

    • Any time, EC!

      Sorry we couldn’t send you images without the humidity, but it comes with the territory.

      No worries. Our Autumn is on the way and I’m sure we’ll be in coats and gloves any day now. 🙂

      Like

  7. So much to love in this post – the Hatpins, the morning humidity that is almost fog, the slanting sunlight thru butterfly wings – all are celebrations. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. After reading your elegant words, looking at your lovely images of flora, fauna, and flying stained-glass windows, and listening to the sounds of birds, butterflies, and frogs, my internal batteries are recharged as well. Thank you! 🙏

    Like

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