Borrego Springs, CA

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Anchors Aweigh!

After driving the 75 miles over to the west entrance of Okefenokee NWR in 30 something degree temperatures, we rented a small motorboat at the Stephen Foster State Park to start our adventure in the swamp this morning.  After explaining that we were all volunteers for the refuge on the east side (yes, Jack qualifies after helping with the canoe trail maintenance last week), I was charged a price for a two hour rental even though I said we might be out for six hours.  Sweet!!  I would have been willing to pay the full price for this outing, but I’m not one to pass up a bargain either.


It wasn’t long before we were all bundled up and made our way out onto Billy’s Lake.  The west entrance is really my favorite as that area has the big cypress trees draped in Spanish moss.  That’s what a southern swamp means to me.


I had invited intern Kathy to go with us as she enjoys getting out into the swamp as much as I do.  Between the cold temps and the hat that Jack was wearing, I felt like I was a voyageur working for the Hudson’s Bay Company plying the waters looking for beaver back in the day. Who me?

IMG_1824Our first destination after making it through Billy’s Lake was to arrive at Billy’s Island.  There’s a nice docking area there, and I wanted to do a little exploring since I’d never been there before.

71 Okefenokee NWR 2012-1350

Back in the early 1900’s, there was a town with 800 inhabitants on this third largest island in the swamp.  They were all there to harvest the old growth cypress trees.  After harvesting just about all of the old trees, they had to leave once the area became a National Wildlife Refuge in 1937.  Some old rusty machine things remain along with the Lee Family Cemetery.  The Lee’s were early homesteaders on the island.  Mother Nature has done a good job reclaiming this area.  Most of the island is off limits to visitors except for the half mile trail.

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Before we reached Billy’s Island, we were in for a few great sightings.  Because of the cold temperatures, all of the tree swallows in the area were flying low in massive formations.  You’ll have to enlarge the above pics, but on the left there are at least 15 tree swallows in that one frame coursing over the lily pads.  The pic on the right shows just a little snapshot of them resting in the short trees and hunting over the water.  I’ve never seen so many of these swallows in such masses.  There were literally thousands of them wheeling around.  Their iridescent blue bodies were just glistening in the cold rays of the sun.


Then, we were able to get pretty close up and personal with a little blue heron.  I like that little ‘pony tail’ it develops for the breeding season.  I sure wish I could have shown this side of the swamp to my brother, Nurse Ratchet (Kurt), while he was here in January.

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After Billy’s Island, we began to make our way deeper into the cypress swamp towards Minnie Lake.  I’ll post about that tomorrow, but I wanted to point out that the boat driving was more challenging down this trail.  Sometimes you really have to weave the boat slowly through closely spaced cypress trees.  This is where Jack proved to be a Navy man at heart.  He guided our little boat through a particularly tricky maneuver through the closely growing cypress.  I was impressed, and told him so.  Then, in a rather wide open area, he whacked us into a cypress tree.  What’s up with that?  Hmm… I wonder what rank he reached in the Navy?  Confused smile

IMG_2187                                                                                 THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy


  1. As usual your blog is a delight to read and the photos are spectacular.

  2. Jack may have attained a high rank in the Navy, but when he whacked into things, I'm sure his rise went the other way.

    Glad you had a great boat ride, too bad you had to bundle up so much. With all those clothes you would have gone straight to the bottom if you fell out of the boat.

    PS: Cool pony tail! :c)

    1. Paul, I spent more time shoveling coal than anything else. And Judy didn't see the tree move.
      Off the main water course, the wind was calm and warmer.
      The water we were in averaged 4' deep.
      Mae West were right at my feet.

  3. I love the reflection of the sky and trees on the next to the last pic near Billy's Island. Beautiful!! I feel somewhat intimidated by the swamp land as it is nothing like anything I have ever seen before. I certainly hope I find a great tour guide to show me the area some day!!

  4. Dang it! Everytime I try using google account and then check preview my message disappears! Grrr!
    Anyway, great pictures. Loved the little blue heron.
    We will be heading east after next week, working our way to the Florida Keys. Hope to see some of the NWRs on the way.
    Escapee hugs,

  5. The tree swallow photos are really nice. It doesn't sound like cold weather was an issue.

  6. I felt like I was in the boat with you the pictures were wonderful. I think its funny the way Jack jumps in and replys to funny comments made by others. Makes me laugh.

  7. I think I want your camera! And your knowledge re: taking beautiful photos!

  8. So much beauty. the blue of the birds is brillant
    thanks you

  9. Just way too cold. But that at least keeps the mosquitoes away - doesn't it? The blue on those birds is such a gorgeous color. But that pony tail is the best.

  10. My favorite photo was that of the cypress tree right in the middle of the swamp... there's something about the reflection on the water that makes it just right! I don't like the cold, but I'd have gone along on the trip in a heartbeat!

  11. Thanks for letting us know you are nearby. We have somethings lined up for a few days here, but we may be over to Okenfenokee NWR again. We were there yesterday! Sorry we missed you. We saw some folks head out for a tour of the swamp with a ranger in the tour boat and thought - yikes! it is really cold… Our blood is so thinned out after warm temps in Florida, when it dips down below 65 degrees, we freeze! Maybe we'll get over being such wimps and just bundle up a little more. We really enjoyed Chesser Homestead.

  12. Glad you are enjoying the swamp. It is a magical place.

  13. HAHAHA...so now we are to believe the tree moved, John?

    I love looking at the blue heron photo. The neck looks purple. I have never seen one of these close up.

    Another wonderful day of making memories.

  14. Love those little blue herons. The colors of the Florida birds here are very deep and rich right now...Guess that's mating plumage? Another wonderful day for you!

  15. Wonderful tour....waiting for more..I never knew that little ponytail was due to a mating ritual..Those men like to "fluff up" to attract the females...not unlike Jack's hat, I might add...;-)

  16. The pictures were beautiful as usual. I think that was the island we went to when we were there. At that time there was a little fox living there.

  17. Beautiful photo of the Blue Heron. That swamp is quite the place alright.

  18. sorry, trying to reply without the name/URL option.... wow, those swallows are so beautiful, with their blue feathers reflecting the sun! And that heron picture... simply amazing. Thanks for the post... One day I want to visit the swamps as well, I always liked pictures of the Cypress trees with the moss, it's very spooky but beautiful!

  19. I sure think the blues from the heron and the greens from the lily pads are magnificent. Had no idea about the " ponytail". I sure learn alot from your posts......and so enjoy your photography.