October 15, 2015. I have never seen the swamp stay flooded for this long, now going on for eleven days. The water at the South Cedar Creek foot bridge is about three feet lower than when I was last here a week ago. I’m paddling Cedar Creek this morning and go as far as Tupelo Gut, then turn into Big Snake Slough. Some high ground is starting to poke up through the flood waters along the south bank of Cedar Creek and some of the ridges bordering the sloughs.
Big Snake Slough is as quiet as a church on Friday night. About the only sounds I hear are occasional, brief squeals of wood ducks, a few tree crickets chirping, and the ker-plop of falling tupelo drupes. Sometimes the ker-plops turn into loud volleys when several of the large fruits hit the water at almost the same time, as if someone was shaking the tree. A look up reveals the cause to be hungry squirrels feeding in the canopy on the olive-sized, purple drupes. The tree rats have had to scrounge for food entirely in the tree tops for nearly two weeks since their ground caches have been under water.
I suspect the flooding has also made it more difficult for the otters to find food since the fish and crayfish that they prefer to dine on are now so widely scattered across the floodplain. The good news for the otters, however, is that after the high water has receded enough, the remaining pools and sloughs holding water should be full of fish and crayfish. It’s the old feast and famine syndrome at work, a widespread condition in the natural world that used to include us humans.
The paddle through the large slough is peaceful and serene. Evidence of the flood from a week- and-a-half ago is everywhere in the form of a “debris line” of dead leaves, twigs, and other woody material caught up in branches and foliage seven feet above the present water level.
I see a little commotion coming from near the top of a tall water tupelo, and find two flickers and a male pileated woodpecker fighting over a tree cavity. One flicker soon leaves, shortly joined by the pileated, while the other flicker remains in the cavity, hunkered down out of view. The newly-arrived “yellow hammers,” as some folks call flickers, have wasted no time laying claim to their winter quarters. I can’t imagine in a Congaree forest with perhaps the densest number of woodpecker holes and cavities of any park in the country, that there would be much need for conflict over such housing.
On the way back to the landing, made all the more difficult by paddling against a strong current, I pull over on the left (north) bank, which has high ground in places, and get out to stretch my legs. I find a big fallen pine to lean on, and shortly after getting comfortable, spot movement to my right about a hundred feet away. I’m startled to see the movement has so much white on it, and quickly scope it with my binoculars. First impressions are someone’s Dalmatian dog running loose. There are several large trees between me and the movement, but I get another quick glimpse – too big to be a dog – maybe a small cow? I can see clearly now small, black blotches on an otherwise pure white body before it disappears behind more trees. Then it very briefly comes into full view before disappearing for good. I see the complete outline of a doe deer and realize it’s one of those rare piebalds, sometimes called “calico” or “pinto” deer. I’ve never seen one in the wild, but my serious deer-hunting friends normally see a few over a long, deer-hunting career. The piebald coloration, caused by a rare combination of recessive genes, is found in less than one percent of the deer population. It’s somewhat akin to albinism, which is even rarer. Physical deficiencies, such as skeletal and internal organ problems, are sometimes associated with the piebald condition. This is certainly one of the more unusual wildlife sightings I have ever had.
As I get back to the take-out at South Cedar Creek Bridge, I find a large, black, dead pig floating in the creek and wedged against a log. It wasn’t there when I departed this morning and is no doubt one of many that didn’t survive the Great Flood.