Old Acquaintances

October 31, 2015.  I don’t get out on the Weston Lake Loop Trail until midday, having done a guided walk in the morning for an environmental studies class from USC-Aiken. I am still in the assessment mode for evaluating flood damage. So far I’ve found little change on the Weston Lake Loop Trail. And, as anticipated, the mosquitoes are worse today than a week ago. The mosquito meter at the visitor’s center is reading 5.5, halfway between “ruthless” and “war zone.”

White-throated Sparrow by Ron Ahle

I see, flushing from cane patches and brushy areas along the trail, some old friends from the North, white-throated sparrows, that have returned south for the winter. They first arrived in the swamp about ten days ago. Later, I see other recent arrivals from the North, including hermit thrush, ruby-crowned kinglet, and winter wren. The latter I flush from one of its favorite habitats, the undersurface of the low boardwalk. I am disappointed, however, not to see any red-headed woodpeckers, which must be looking elsewhere this year for a winter’s supply of acorns. Other than the fair crop of cherrybark oak acorns, about the only other acorn producer I see this fall in the swamp is a number of swamp chestnut oaks with only a modest crop at best. For those trees that do have some acorns, the ground around them is well raked and partially cleared from the scratchings of various animal hoof prints and feet.

The pawpaw trees are starting to show a lot of fall yellows, providing a pleasing preview of more autumn to come. Many of the green ashes, however, have already shed their leaves, and their bare looks make them appear dead against a live canopy of other trees that are still mostly green.

I also see more and more mushrooms and fungi popping up on downed limbs, logs, and stumps after being submerged for nearly two weeks. One of these is a tight clump of small, light gray, bell-shaped mushrooms growing from a rotten stump. After consulting my field guides and the internet, I conclude they are Coprinellus disseminatus, commonly known as the “fairy inkcap,”  “fairy bonnet,” or “trooping inkcaps.”   Some of the fungi are just starting to emerge from the wood mulch of the stump, and look like tiny eggs or insect pupa. I have seen this dainty mushroom in the Congaree before but wasn’t sure of its name. Even though they are in the inkcap mushroom family, they do not produce the black, liquid secretions from which the family gets its name.

Fairy inkcap mushrooms.

Both the river and Cedar Creek have risen noticeably since my last visit, with the former getting to 12.5 on the gage before starting to recede, the latter 6.0 feet. From the Weston Lake Loop trail I watch the black waters of Cedar Creek merge with the brown muddy waters, coming from the river, at the mouth of Boggy Gut. It doesn’t take long for the brown water to overcome the black.