May 7, 2015. I’m off this morning to Frenchman’s Pond, off the Oak Ridge Trail. I remember first hearing the name of this attractive cypress-tupelo pond from former hunt club members years ago, and my imagination assumed there was an interesting tale or two to go with it. But as I far as I can determine, the “Frenchman” turned out to be a German named John Frentz, who received one of the first Congaree land grants of 200 acres in 1758. We don’t know much about Mr. Frentz (but see Mark Kinzer’s Nature’s Return, An Environmental History of Congaree National Park for some interesting tidbits about him). He apparently attempted no “improvements” to his swampland, and owned it just long enough to have a large water feature on it named for a corruption of his last name, a name still in use more than two centuries later.
From the low boardwalk this morning I watch a pileated woodpecker feeding at ground level in the muck swamp on fallen dead limbs and pieces of limbs. It’s interesting to see such a large woodpecker spend so much time foraging at ground level in the Congaree, something I believe most ornithologists aren’t aware of because they’re used to seeing the bird in younger, second-growth forests which have little dead material on the ground. It’s not unusual to find Congaree pileateds feeding on the ground on rotten twigs no more than an inch or two in diameter.
I continue walking east on the low boardwalk towards Weston Lake. At the bridge over the little slough (“Tupelo Alley”) that feeds into the lake I look down for cottonmouths. This time of year it’s not uncommon to see one curled up on the debris piles in the water, taking advantage of the morning sun. I actually see one, a three-footer (my first of the spring), stretched out in a hunting mode in the dark water, slowly moving with the current. The pit viper swims under the bridge, heading downstream, then disappears into a small debris pile in the water, searching for a victim. It soon appears on the other side, and shortly I lose sight of it as it continues its leisurely pace towards Weston Lake.
Green ash seeds are liberally sprinkling the ground floor along sections of the trail. I have never understood why this tree sheds so many of its undeveloped seeds in May since they don’t ripen until the fall.
At 11:15 I hear a turkey gobbling. The spring nesting season has wound down for the year, and many turkey nests have already hatched, but you can’t blame a guy for trying.