Friday, March 14, 2008

Cypress Swamp at Wheeler Refuge

Sandhill Crane
(What We Were Looking For - photographer unknown - got this from the Internet. This photo even looks like the place we visited)

The newspaper article said "Sandhill Cranes can be seen now at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge..." so naturally Carroll, my mom and I plan a road trip. Arriving at the refuge we were delighted to discover a nicely outfitted main building complete with examples of local wildlife to peruse. Large windows overlooked a grassy area filled with bird feeders, and there were comfy sofas where one could plop one's keister and watch them in comfort. The guide was glad to see us and gave us the "lay of the land."

Sadly, we learned that the Sandhill Cranes had left 2-3 weeks ago so no huge photo ops for us today. That's okay. He told us about the observatory through a grove of trees to the right, and about the cypress swamp boardwalk that's a short distance off to the left. We chose the observatory first and discovered a delightful one-way-glass two story building outfitted with high-powered binoculars for bird viewing. The building was situated where, in prime birding conditions, observers would be right smack dab in the middle of the hoard. Next year, we vow.
The Cypress Swamp Boardwalk
We take our leave and head for the cypress swamp boardwalk. Now this was cool. Way cool. Not a place I'd want to hang out in during the summer months as the mosquitoes would carry you away, but today it is perfect.

Cypress swamps are found in the South and are named such because of the Bald Cypress trees that prevail there. Bald Cypress can be found everywhere here, and I've even seen them used in landscaping, but primarily you find them in soggy places like swamps and lowlands.

Bald Cypress have "knees" that grow up through the water, coming from their root system. This helps the trees breathe since their root structure is submerged.

The bark of a Bald Cypress is rough and scaly for the most part. Lichens and mosses grow of them naturally, and the underlying color is a glorious rusty brown. Walking through this silent swamp we heard an unusual nose. Is that a bird of some sort, or a mammal? It was almost like a song, but a groaning song. The source came from two cypress trees that were rubbing together high up in the canopy. The wind, though gentle, was enough to cause the rubbing which created the song. I've heard trees rubbing together before and this was nothing like it. Instead, it was melodic and haunting and sounded almost like a upright bass or cello combination. This type of wood must be the reason, but that's just a guess. Whatever the reason, it was striking enough to still our footsteps and enjoy it for several minutes in silence. The Song of the Cypress followed us through our journey and remains with us.

Top of the knee

I've got it. The singing cypress trees reminded me of Coyote Oldman and Burning Sky, two Native American musician CDs I have. Wooden flutes, gentle rhythms of earth and sky. Undoubtedly, listening to these sort of sounds long ago influenced cultures to create music using wood, such as the hand-tooled wooden flutes used in their music. I'm no music major - this just occurred to me after I'd written this post and thought I'd share.

The guide had told us of a recent event within the swamp, and pointed it out to us before our journey down the boardwalk. Recently, a bolt of lightning struck one of the tallest Bald Cypress trees, which reach 100-150 ft. tall - and the tree exploded. Shards and planks and limbs from this explosion spread out over the swamp over 100 yards. We passed remnants of this tree in the parking lot before reaching the swamp. A jagged bit of stump was the only piece that remained in the swamp itself. Thankfully, this happened in the dead of night and not while folks were working in the main building.

So that was yesterday's road trip. Since the Sandhill Cranes had already left we decided to cease the search and seek sustenance instead. A girl's lunch ensued and we returned home satisfied with our adventure.


Lisa at Greenbow said...

I love the way a swamp area 'feels'. There is a cypress swamp remanent here in the county where I live. It is so sad that the farmers have drained all but a tiny patch of ground. It still hangs in there just waiting for the farmers to give up trying to grow crops all around it. The White river and the Wabash river converge at the SW edge of this area just waiting for the opportunity to fill the swamp again, permanently as they flood several times per year. I jsut don't see how it can be profitable for farmers to work this piece of land.

Daniel Spurgeon said...

Very nice- Sebastian and I definetly will be making a trip over there before too long! It reminds me of the boardwalks in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. One cool thing that we saw there last spring that you'll appreciate- we got a photo of a Palamedes Swallowtail- which are only found in the Southern Swamps. :)

Link to Palamedes Swallowtail photo:

Jon said...

Your lovely blog with its outstanding photos and writing really inspires me. This post about cypress trees really interested me. We have so many majestic ones here in Mississippi. Along with magnolias and live oaks, cypress trees are my favorites. Jon on 3-19-08 at

Anonymous said...

What a very interesting post Debi! It also sounds like a great field trip. Late last summer I had the great pleasure of coming across a pair of Sandhill Cranes after doing a photo shoot for a herding trial. I didn't have my 300 lens yet so my photos of them weren't as good as they could have been, but I did get a couple half decent ones of them in flight -- what a sight!


twilightgecko said...

my god, i do love cypress trees.. beautiful photos..


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