Heron Rookery

March 18, 2014, continued. Terri and I soon arrive at the heron rookery and find the great blues already setting up house and perched by their stick nests, all located at the tops of the tallest cypress or tupelo. As far as heron rookeries go, this is not a large one, and we count no more than a dozen nests.

Singleton Creek has several beaver dams on its lower reaches, and the dams have backed up enough water to keep the rookery slough flooded for most of the year. This is important because herons and egrets will abandon a nesting site that dries up during the breeding season. Nesting over water reduces nest predation by raccoons, rat snakes, and other predators. One predator that isn’t deterred by water is the American alligator, but I consider them more of an opportunistic or incidental predator. They wait on the sidelines for hapless young herons to lose their balance and fall in the water. To see a large 400-500 pound gator leap halfway out of the water and pull down a young heron is an awesome, and frightening, sight. And heron rookeries attract some very large alligators. Overall though, gators probably benefit a rookery by dining on raccoons and other predators foolish enough to swim after the eggs and heron chicks.

We leave the rookery and continue our paddle west through the beautiful, picturesque slough. It gets shallow at the western end, but water levels are high enough today (the USGS gauge at Trezevant’s Landing is reading nearly 80 feet) to make things easy. There is an old rock ford, basically a low dam, at the mouth of Big Lake that served the previous owners as a logging road for access to the south side of Running Lake, but it is a foot under water  and easy to cross with our kayaks. We paddle as far as the back side of Little Lake before turning around and heading back. There is one great blue heron nest at the top of a tall cypress on the northern edge of Little Lake.

 

A Paddle in the East End

March 18, 2014.  Since the swamp has been flooded for most of month, I decide to take Terri Hogan, the park’s resource manager, for a kayak paddle up Singleton Creek and Running Slough that feeds into Bates Old River at the park’s “East End”. I wanted to check out a great blue heron rookery in Running Slough I found several years ago, then continue upstream to beautiful Big Lake and Little Lake. Both lakes are part of a joint boundary with the Kingville Hunt Club and part of the park’s recent acquisition of the Riverstone property in 2009.

We put in at the dirt landing on the north side of Bates Old River next to 601. It is chilly today, made more so by the high humidity and overcast skies. Hopefully paddling will warm us up.

Singleton Creek, like so many others, has undergone several name changes since the 1740s, when the “Fork” as Lower Richland County was known back then, first started filling up with settlers. It started out as First Creek because it was the first creek west of Joyner’s (later McCord’s) Ferry. By 1785 it was referred to as Little Creek, and by the twentieth century, topographic maps called it Singleton Creek, probably because one of John Singleton’s (1754-1820) plantations was located on its headwaters near Eastover.

The lower part of Singleton Creek, before it spills into the upper reaches of Bates Old River, could just as well be called “Haw Creek” because of the large hawthorns, Crataegus viridis (green hawthorn), that grow on it banks. This beautiful native understory tree, a member of the apple family, produces attractive, white blooms in early spring which later turn into small, showy red-orange fruits that cling to the tree for most of the winter. The tree itself has a pleasing growth form with interesting, scaly bark and despite its name, produces few thorns. It has “four-season appeal” as the landscapers like to say, but unfortunately, like many of our wonderful native plants, is almost impossible to find in nurseries.

Like most of the sloughs in Congaree, Running Slough is full of tupelo and cypress trees and stays flooded most of the year.  And speaking of sloughs, inquiring minds may wish to know what exactly is a slough? No doubt there are lots of definitions out there but for me a slough  (pronounced “slew’) is a swampy backwater with little or no current and filled with trees, mostly  bald cypress and water tupelo. Most Congaree sloughs represent ancient lakes, ponds, and former river channels that have partially filled in over the millennia. Simply put, they are flooded forests (although many will dry out during droughts and dry spells). Sloughs are quite scenic and for much of the year provide outstanding kayaking opportunities.

kayak photo: K. Lynn Berry

orange-red fruit of green hawthorn

Essay: Big Tree Park, part 2

Because we are built close to the ground, relative to a tree, our attention is drawn to the tree’s girth. The tree’s height is hard to visualize, especially in a closed-in forest where it’s hard to get a complete view of the tree when standing back from it. This makes it harder for us to appreciate the most striking fact of Congaree’s big trees – their height. When Jim Elder and I first started exploring the swamp, searching for big trees, we needed tree height, along with circumference and crown spread, to submit the tree as a potential record. Without having any equipment to measure tallness, we had to resort to the “Boy Scout method.” One of us would hold an outstretched arm at a 45º angle, verified by the second person standing to the side, and step back until the arm pointed to the top of the tree. This now meant, according to trigonomic law, that the distance paced off to the base of the tree was the same as its height. Admittedly crude, some of the heights we came up with were so far off the charts that we knew they had to be too high. Imagine our surprise, however, when foresters later came behind us with clinometers and other height-measuring devices and found some of our heights to be under-reported!

Forest ecologist Dr. Robert Jones was one of the first to report on the remarkable heights of Congaree’s hardwoods. In a 1990s cooperative research report with the National Park Service, Jones indicated that Congaree had “perhaps the world’s greatest concentration of super-tall, temperate deciduous trees.” More than a third of his measured large trees, for example, were over 130 feet tall. They included a water hickory 148 feet high; a persimmon more than 130 feet tall; a green ash 140 feet high; and the tallest hardwoods he measured were a sweetgum and a cherrybark oak nearly 160 feet high.

The Native Tree Society (NTS) is a dedicated group of tall tree enthusiasts that come from all walks of life. Some are professional foresters and forest scientists, arborists, botanists and biologists; others run the gamut from business to teaching. They all have a passion for locating and studying the tallest trees in America. Their dedication extends to determining the precise height of trees, down to tenths of a foot, and they use sophisticated measuring devices, including laser rangefinders, to do this. If there is any doubt or question, they will actually climb the tree and determine its height with a tape measure.

Over the years NTS President Will Blozan, an arborist from Asheville, North Carolina, and his colleagues have made several trips to Congaree. They have recorded some impressive tree heights: a 58.8-foot tall pawpaw, a sycamore nearly 154 feet high, a Shumard oak more than 157 feet tall, and an American holly nearly 100 feet tall. Of all of Congaree’s hardwoods, the tallest they’ve found was a 160-foot cherrybark oak, now dead. This was also the tallest oak tree ever measured in North America. In fact, of the seven species of oaks that occur regularly in the Congaree floodplain, five are the tallest recorded for their species: cherrybark oak (160.1 ft.), Shumard oak (157.6 ft.), overcup oak (142.4 ft.), swamp chestnut oak (140.3 ft.), and swamp laurel oak (130.1 ft.).

In 2001 the father and son team of Doug and Jess Riddle, both avid tall tree hunters, discovered and measured Congaree’s well-known national champion loblolly pine growing on the banks of Big Tupelo Gut. This tree was first measured to be 167 feet tall. Since then it has been climbed at least twice by Blozan and NTS members to get a precise measurement using a tape drop. The latest measurement, in 2010, puts it at 171.2 feet.

Earlier, in 2000, Jess Riddle had actually found a Congaree loblolly pine, now dead, that was even taller than the champion – 172.3 feet. But the pine was a couple of feet smaller in circumference and didn’t have enough points to be a champion. This was the tallest tree ever measured in South Carolina until a few years ago when the NTS folks found a yellow poplar in Oconee County that was 177 feet.

Experience has led us to a pretty good idea about the maximum sizes attainable for the circumferences of Congaree’s big trees — but not so much for their maximum heights. The canopy of the national champion loblolly pine, for example, has not flattened out yet, as many conifers do in old age, and is still growing upward. Will it make it to 175 feet? Or even 180? The fact that we are even having a discussion of a tree that rarely exceeds heights of 100-120 feet anywhere else is remarkable testimony to some of the most remarkable trees anywhere on the planet.

Image by Robert Askins

Essay: Big Tree Park, part 1

In 2013 the park initiated a big tree survey to find potential state and national champion trees, as well as to relocate and appraise the status of current champions. The principal investigator is University of South Carolina geography professor Dr. John Kupfer. The last official big tree survey at Congaree was done nearly twenty years ago by Dr. Robert Jones, then a professor at Virginia Tech. There is a high turnover rate of big trees at Congaree, and the champion tree picture can change significantly in a twenty-year period.

The National Big Tree Program was first started in 1940 by the non-profit tree advocacy organization American Forests. It has maintained a register of big trees ever since, with the latest 2015 list having 781 national champion tree species, the biggest of their kind. It should be noted that many of these champion trees are not big in the sense of a redwood or sequoia, since a lot of trees are understory species that never attain large size. At Congaree a good example is the pawpaw, one of the park’s most abundant understory trees. Any pawpaw taller than 40 feet with a diameter of six inches or greater would be considered a big tree. The current state champion pawpaw, located at Congaree, is 5.5 inches in diameter and 42 feet tall. The biggest pawpaw I’ve ever seen was a former state champion at the park, almost 9 inches in diameter and 52 feet tall. This is an impressive size for an understory tree whose diameters typically run 1-3 inches with heights of 8-18 feet, and is just as remarkable as a five-foot diameter oak or sweetgum .

Most states have big tree programs, modeled after American Forests, and a big tree state coordinator, often a forestry professor housed at the state forestry school. For South Carolina, Dr. Vic Shelburne of Clemson maintains a website and data base of more than 125 state champion trees at www.clemson.edu/public/champtree/.

The Congaree is well known as a big tree park. Few areas of equivalent size in North America can boast of the number of state and national champion trees. The number of Congaree champions waxes and wanes over the years. In the late 1970s the park had as many as nine national champion trees; at other times as few as three. More recently six national champion trees were recognized at the park – loblolly pine, sweetgum, water hickory, swamp tupelo, laurel oak, and deciduous holly – along with twenty-five state champions.

The way champion trees are scored puts many Congaree trees at a competitive disadvantage. More emphasis is put on the girth of the tree – one point per inch of circumference – than tallness, which gets one point per foot of height (the third measurement is average crown spread which receives only one point per four feet of spread). In a dense, tightly-spaced forest like Congaree, most tree growth goes into height since trees need as much sunlight as possible for photosynthesis. Trees growing in open, less-crowded places like fields, yards, and hedgerows don’t have to compete for sunlight and put much of their growth into expanding outward through circumference and crown development. To illustrate with a couple of examples: for some years Congaree had the national champion persimmon tree, growing near the banks of Cedar Creek just off the Kingsnake Trail. This wonderful tree, measuring more than seven feet in circumference and 130 feet tall, is still there, but got “dethroned” by another persimmon in Ohio that is six feet bigger in circumference but more than forty feet shorter than the Congaree tree! And not surprisingly, the national champion persimmon is growing in a cemetery, with no other trees around it. I am not trying to take away anything from the national champ – a thirteen-foot circumference persimmon is an impressive tree in anybody’s book, but then so is a persimmon that’s thirteen stories high.

American holly is another example of scoring bias against tallness. There are currently several national holly co-champions, all running about twelve to thirteen feet in circumference with heights of sixty to sixty-five feet (and again, mostly growing in open locations free of competition). The former national champion American holly at Congaree (now dead) was nearly a hundred feet tall but with a circumference of “only” eight feet.

Image:  Congaree’s former national champion American holly

Slime Molds ?

February 27, 2014Today’s weather is almost a repeat from three days ago, and again I stay out in it for most of the day. I’m back at the Weston Lake Boot area to resume my tree measuring. The largest sweetgum I find today is 15.2 feet in girth and 120 feet high (the uppermost canopy limbs appear to be replacements). I also measure a green ash that comes in at 13.3 x 117 feet. A fourteen-foot circumference ash is considered big for this species, and I don’t think I have ever measured one greater than fifteen feet.

February at Congaree brings to mind any number of seasonal events and sightings – ripening red maple seeds, courting (and noisy) red-shouldered hawks, the sonorous calls of leopard frogs, fish crows returning from their coastal winter quarters, and slime molds. Slime molds you say? You know, those bright orange globs of protoplasm that stand out like orange flagging in otherwise somber winter woods. Today I see my first one for this year about 150 feet through the trees. It’s only about two inches in length and as usual, oozing from sapsucker holes in a grape vine. February is slime mold month at Congaree, but this has been such a cold winter that they are getting a late start. I check on this mold colony twenty-five days later and find only a few, clear fresh drippings (they make a rather brief appearance and disappear by early spring).

Slime molds are neither plant nor animal. They used to be considered fungi but are now placed in their own kingdom, the Protista. They form large blobs of multi-cellular organisms called plasmodiums and feed on decayed organic matter. It has recently come to my attention, however, that my orange blob may not actually be a true slime mold but rather a tree slime fungus known as Fusicolla merismoides. Unlike slime molds that feed on bacteria and other micro-organisms associated with decaying organic material, the orange blob is nearly always found on live grape vines (I’ve never found one anywhere else) where it apparently lives off of the sugary sap that starts flowing in late winter, typically from drilled holes created by yellow-bellied sapsuckers. It is also speculated by some mycologists (those that study fungi and mushrooms) that the orange blob may actually consist of several different species of fungi.

The orange blob has an extraterrestrial appearance at close range (they also move, albeit slowly, as well as grow) and remind me Hollywood horror flicks from the 1950s. Whatever it is, I will probably still continue calling the orange blobs slime molds and look forward each February to seeing their bright orange coloration brightening up Congaree’s winter woods.

Muck Swamp Cypress

February 24, 2014This is a beautifully crisp, blue day with late winter temperatures. I end up spending most of the day in it, measuring trees while they are still bare. I start out determining the heights, using a laser rangefinder, of some of the tall, slim bald cypress in the muck swamp near the low boardwalk. The heights of eight trees are between 94-120 feet, with an average of 115 feet. Bald cypress at Congaree don’t get as tall as the loblollies and some of the hardwoods – 130 feet is a tall one.

I have always been puzzled by the sizes, and ages, of the muck swamp cypress. I’m pretty confident this area was never logged – there are no stumps or other evidence of cutting – yet the cypress here appear to be relatively young. None have the battered, flattened crowns of virgin cypress that have withstood centuries of hurricanes and wind storms (except for the big one at boardwalk stop #3), so I assume these muck swamp cypress are relatively young, perhaps no more than 150 years. Yet the water and swamp tupelo in this part of the muck swamp are clearly old growth, probably hundreds of years old, as indicated by their large buttresses, the shapes of their canopies and the fact that many are hollow, another indicator of old age. So what’s going on? We know that bald cypress get a head start on life if they receive lots of sunlight. Perhaps the muck swamp was at one time a pure stand of tupelo until some strong wind event destroyed and damaged enough of the tupelo canopy (even the strongest hurricane cannot blow down a tupelo, or cypress) to allow sufficient sunlight for cypress regeneration. It’s another one of those swamp mysteries that make the Congaree such a fascinating place.

While measuring the cypress I am serenaded, if that’s the right word, by a flock of a hundred plus grackles giving their rusty gate-hinge calls from the cypress canopy. The noisy blackbirds don’t stay long and move off with a synchronous swoosh of what sounds like the wing beat of one giant grackle. I sometimes see them during the fall in laurel oaks where they feed on the small acorns that have not yet fallen to the ground.

I return to the part of the Weston Lake Boot sector between the east and west legs of Weston Lake Loop Trail, and measure four sweetgum with circumferences of 12-14.5 feet heights of 121-123 feet. The largest circumference gum I find today is 14.7 feet, but its height is only 97 feet due to the fact that the canopy has a broken top, a not uncommon occurrence for the large specimens of this species. Probably the most interesting tree I measure today is an ironwood with a circumference of three feet but with a height of 73 feet! Not bad for a “lowly” understory species.

I notice today that many of the “tardily deciduous” laurel oak leaves have finally turned yellow and started falling to the ground. They go through a brief period of bareness in late winter, about a month to six weeks, before leafing out again in early April.

Salamanders

February 22, continued.  On the way back to the visitor’s center I turn some nice large logs, short and manageable, and hit pay dirt with the marbled salamanders. Just about every log has at least one salamander under it, but one log has two and another, four!

Hiding under another log is a small, slender salamander appropriately called the dwarf salamander, Eurycea quadridigitata. The giveaway clue to its identity is the four toes on its rear feet rather than five as in most salamanders. This character is also reflected in its specific scientific name.

The dwarf salamander has special meaning for me. In 1969, my senior year at Clemson, I signed up for a herpetology and ichthyology class taught by a new professor from Auburn, George Folkerts. At the time most of my biology professors at Clemson were grandfatherly types with white hair or no hair, wore white shirts and black ties to class, and were in the twilight of their careers. Dr. Folkerts was a generation younger and wore open-necked, plaid sports shirts (I found out later that one of his conditions for coming to Clemson was that he would not be required to wear a tie to lecture). He was one of the best professors I ever had, and his enthusiasm for field biology quickly rubbed off on his students. He was one of the few people I knew back then that could walk across South Carolina and give the scientific name of just about every plant and animal he ran across. Although most of his training and experience was in zoology, he told me that he did his master’s thesis on slime molds just because he wanted to learn more about them.

A big part of our classwork was a collection of fish, reptiles, and amphibians that we found scouring the countryside with seines, dip nets, minnow traps, potato rakes for turning logs, and other hardware of the field collector. Quite a few samples we found for our collections were ordinary road kills – D.O.R.s we called them – Dead On the Road. Driving back-country roads on warm spring nights after a rain was an especially productive method of finding herpetological specimens.

One early spring I spent the weekend at my grandparents’ farm in Powdersville in eastern Anderson County. While there I searched for specimens for my collection, and had some luck finding several small salamanders under moist leaf litter in a seepage spring that fed into granddaddy’s farm pond. I think I identified them correctly as dwarf salamanders, but didn’t realize their significance until later in the week when Dr. Folkerts came by the lab to see how our collections were progressing. I will never forget the look on his face when he saw those dwarf salamanders – his eyes became as big as saucer plates, and he blurted out “where did you get those?” And he really became excited when I told him less than twenty miles from Clemson on my grandparents’ farm. It turns out that dwarf salamanders are a common coastal plain species, but are not supposed to occur in the upper piedmont a hundred miles away.

Dr. Folkerts later published this record along with other significant findings made by his students. And I was proud as punch when the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia was published in 1980 (and later the Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians) to find on the range map of the dwarf salamander an isolated dot in northwestern South Carolina that represented my grandparents’ farm in Powdersville.

Things have changed quite a bit in the world of herpetological taxonomy since 1969. These changes, primarily as a result of DNA examinations, have mostly affected salamanders. For example when I took herpetology there was only one species of the wide-ranging slimy salamander; now there are ten, including the South Carolina slimy salamander, Plethodon variolatus (maybe a candidate to replace our current state amphibian, the spotted salamander?) What makes this new taxonomy complicated is the fact that all of the ten species of slimy salamanders look similar, and it would take a DNA test to tell them apart.

The dwarf salamander has also been affected by the DNA revolution. It was noted that some populations have a yellow belly whereas others have gray ones. The late College of Charleston biology professor Julian Harrison described those with a yellow belly as a separate species in 2003, naming them Chamberlain’s dwarf salamander, E. chamberlaini, in honor of prominent Charleston naturalist Edward Burnham Chamberlain.  The dwarf salamander I find today in the swamp has a very yellow belly, and so is a Chamberlain’s dwarf salamander.

Big Tree Hunt

February 22, 2014.  It’s predicted to be another nice day in the swamp. At home it is 40º at 7:00 AM, with a high expected of 70º. There are lots of cars in the parking lot when I arrive at 9:00. Today I began a champion tree search in one of my assigned compartments, “Weston Lake Boot.” I’m starting in the area between the east and west sloughs that feed into, and drain, Weston Lake. It is an interesting mix of “ridge and swale topography.” The swales between the ridges are full of water, which I have to walk through to stay on my east-west transects. In some places the water comes up to my knees. For most of the year the swales are dry or have only a few inches of standing water in them. They illustrate how important topography is in this “flat” landscape. Only a foot or less can mean the difference between a swale with bald cypress, overcup oak and red maple, and a ridge of sweetgum, swamp chestnut oak, and American holly.

I measure some trees along the eastern leg of the Weston Lake Loop trail. One large loblolly pine comes in at 14.6 feet in circumference and 135 feet tall. A loblolly of this size would be special anywhere outside of the Congaree. I also measure a red maple near the trail at 10 feet in circumference and 103 feet tall, and a large cherrybark oak near the junction of Weston Lake Loop and Kingsnake Trail with a circumference of 17.1 feet and a height of 134 feet. Other notable trees I measure this morning include a sweetgum at 14.6 x 135 feet; a swamp chestnut oak at 14.1 x 120 feet; another chestnut oak at 16.8 x 132 feet; a former national co-champion overcup oak at 17.4 x 127 feet, and the largest tree of the day, a cherrybark oak at 19.0 x 121 feet. I am now using the latest gadget for measuring tree height, a laser range finder. It’s more accurate than a clinometer but unfortunately is difficult to use during the “leaf-on” season (which for Congaree is eight months) since a clear, unobstructed view of the base and top of the tree is needed to shoot the laser beam.

The robin population has thinned out considerably, and things have quieted down by late afternoon except for an occasional crow call, red-shouldered hawk cry, and even a barred owl hoot or two. It is not unusual to hear a few barred owls calling briefly in the late afternoon. Female owls are probably sitting on eggs by now, and the young should be leaving their nest cavity in late March or early April. They will be well fed this year as there is plenty of water in the swamp, which means lots crayfish, their favorite food.

Something else that will benefit from lots of late winter water is the frog and toad population (also owl food). Leopard frogs have been calling intermittently in the swales for most of the afternoon, and when I leave at 4:30, the chorus really starts to pick up. And what a sound they make – an amazing repertoire of grunts and snores!

Rusty Blackbirds

February 18, 2014, continued.  After admiring the persimmon, I spot movement back in the partially-flooded oak flats behind the tree and see a flock of 150 plus rusty blackbirds feeding in the leaf litter. Unlike some other leaf tossers – robins and hermit thrushes – rusties don’t mind getting wet and will wade almost to their bellies poking at debris and turning leaves in the water. They are successful too, at least the ones I watch, which are gobbling up food morsels that appear to be some sort of invertebrate.

Rusties are a little different from your average blackbird. They are winter visitors in South Carolina, breeding far to the north in wet boreal forest and muskeg country. Unlike most of their blackbird kin, the rusty diet leans more to the animal side. Rather than feeding on waste grain in upland fields, rusties take to the swamps and bottomlands in winter. For whatever reason rusty blackbird populations have declined precipitously since the 1960s, down eighty to ninety percent according to some accounts, and biologists are scrambling to figure out why.

At Congaree the number of rusties on the Christmas Bird Count has been relatively low for the most part, with only twelve of the past twenty- one counts reporting any of the blackbirds at all, and most of the number counted was less than two dozen. However, there were two good consecutive years, in 2012 and 2013, when birds in the low hundreds were reported.

As the early afternoon continues to warm up, I hear frog sounds coming from the flooded oak flats. They belong to male upland chorus frogs getting an early start on attracting lady chorus frogs so they can perpetuate the species. The call is a perfect rendition of a thumb running down the teeth of a pocket comb. Frog taxonomy has changed a lot since I took herpetology forty-five years ago. Back then the upland chorus frog’s scientific name was Pseudacris triseriata; now it is P. feriatum. The specific epithet triseriata is now used to describe a closely-related group of chorus frogs found throughout the South, at least two of which may be separate species.

Big Persimmons

February 18, 2014.  This day promises to be one of the first warm winter days we’ve had in a long time; it’s 44º at 8:30 AM with an expected high of 70º.  I’m still shocked at all of the tree damage from the ice storm. Walking down the Sims Trail, which has lots of tree falls and downed limbs, I hear woodpecker drumming and cardinals and Carolina wrens singing. A red-shouldered hawk is calling at Weston’s Lake.

I head down the Weston Lake Loop with the idea of checking out part of the Kingsnake Trail. Doing a little bit of log turning along the way, I find a few active pill bugs, some small slugs, and some very inactive millipedes. I also see a long, dark tail and part of a rear leg of a salamander, but it gets away from me before I can ID it.

The Kingsnake Trail is in rough shape with a good number of downed trees, limbs, and brush. I’m sad to see a large, three-foot-diameter shagbark hickory, one of the largest in the swamp, across the trail. They are not common trees here, and I always enjoyed seeing the fall color from this one. I’m sure the squirrels will miss the sweet nuts.

I pass next to the trail a small group of young pines about forty feet high. These pines originated from a wildlife food plot created by the Cedar Creek Hunt Club in the mid-1970s before the Congaree became a park. The plot was small, about half an acre if memory serves, and was planted in beans or clover to attract deer. After the park was established in 1976, the plot was abandoned and seeded in naturally with sweetgums, red maples, and loblolly pines. The pines are now almost forty years old and about ten inches in diameter.

I sit down at the base of an oak tree on the edge of Cedar Creek for lunch. The creek is running high, with the gauge reading 6.5 feet. A cold bologna sandwich with cheese, mustard, and dill pickles is almost as good as a can of sardines. Cedar Creek has a number of downed trees and limbs from the ice storm – more work for the dedicated crew that will be clearing the channel this summer. I am impressed to see a group of canoeists coming down the creek, knowing they have been going over and around many fallen limbs and trees this morning.

The former national champion persimmon tree is a short distance away from my lunch break. Measuring 7.6 feet in circumference and 130 feet high, this remarkable tree stands out in winter with its jet-black bark. Like so many other former Congaree champions, the persimmon was “de-throned” by a tree of larger girth, probably located in a field or hedgerow, which is five feet bigger in circumference but nearly forty feet shorter. I’ve never seen fruits on any of the large persimmons in the swamp, and it doesn’t seem possible that they could all be male trees.