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.