Tear Pond

June 1, 2014.  Although the official start of summer is still three weeks away, for me summer always starts on the first day of June. That’s when we used to get out of school, and the hot and humid weather the Deep South is famous for is getting cranked up. The weather today is more like early spring, however, than early summer. The temps are still in the 70s at midday; there is an easterly breeze, and the humidity is low.

The skeets are noticeable today with the mosquito meter reading “3” (“moderate”). My unofficial internal “deer fly meter” is reading about “2” (“mild”). There are just enough about to make their presence known. Fortunately I’ve never seen the deer flies really bad at Congaree (meaning they chase you back to your vehicle), not when compared to some the state’s coastal marshes and swamps like the Santee Delta, where they can drive a body mad. But it only takes a couple of flies buzzing incessantly around your head to get your attention. And there are always a few that dispense with the preliminaries and, like kamikaze pilots, go straight for the kill – a bite on the nose, ear, and most painful of all, the lips.

I’m hiking part of the Kingsnake Trail today, going as far as Tear Pond. There is a huge cherrybark oak growing right by the trail at Tear Pond, perhaps the second largest in the park, being 22.5 feet in circumference, three feet shy of the state champion off the River Trail. However, this tree may actually have more volume as it does not taper as much above the buttress as the champ does. It has nine major buttress flukes.

Tear Pond cherrybark oak, Quercus pagoda

I spot a female Northern parula warbler foraging near the ground in some short cane stalks twenty inches tall. She has grabbed some morsel, but I can’t make it out; then flits over to a small pawpaw where she snatches up a big lime-green caterpillar. Could it have been a zebra swallowtail caterpillar? I have yet to see one myself, despite looking over hundreds of pawpaw plants, which is the caterpillar’s only food source.

I see only two wildflowers on the trail today, both blue. One is Sisyrinchium, blue-eyed grass, the other, Carolina wild petunia, Ruellia. Wildflowers in general are scarce in Congaree, due to periodic flooding which covers the ground floor and makes it tough for most species to grow there.

Carolina wild petunia, Ruellia caroliniensis