Monday, September 26, 2022

Phinizy Swamp Nature Park in Augusta GA

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Our next stop was at Diamond Lakes Regional Park Campground in  Hephzibah, Georgia just outside of Augusta. This park site was originally part of the former Augusta International Speedway which was purchased by the City of Augusta and later became the South Augusta Sports Complex. It is a huge park!

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As many of you know Augusta is home to the Master’s Golf Tournament. While I used to play quite a bit of golf I rarely play anymore and I was never a fan of watching golf. However, since we were here we were hoping to go see the course. Well as some of you may know Augusta National is a private club accessible only to club members and their guests, neither of which included us. So no tour of the course for us! I can’t imagine how much money they lose by not opening at least the pro shop to the public.

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The next day we found another swamp hike at the Phinizy Swamp Nature Park. When we arrived we thought it must be a very popular park however, the lot was full because scores of volunteers were at the park repairing the boardwalks. As a result the first 100 yards or so it was quite noisy with hammers banging nails and saws whining while cutting boards.

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The Phinizy Swamp Nature Park is a 1,100-acre nature park close to Augusta, Georgia. The park is mostly wetlands and woodlands. It has a campus for water research and environmental education complete with a visitor center. Once we walked past the initial boardwalk and the campus we found it rather difficult to find the rest of the trail.

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Persistence paid off and soon we were walking atop the berms of the retention ponds which made up much of the park. Alongside the berms were lots of  bald cypresses draped in Spanish moss along with forests of loblolly pine and various oaks. The signs posted along the trail warned to watch out for Alligators as well. After a mile or so we spotted a six footer swimming in the open water.

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While it was still too early for the migratory waterfowl to be here it was still a pleasant walk of several miles around the swamp. We had planned a loop trail, that is, until a 6-7 foot Alligator laying across our trail changed our minds. As we reversed our course back the way we came we saw a female Black-bellied Whistling duck with several babies in tow, a somewhat rare sighting for this area.

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While visiting the Augusta area we did enjoy our brief stay. We certainly didn’t have the time to properly explore its offerings..

Friday, September 23, 2022

Congaree National Park in South Carolina

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Along the Congaree River in Georgia lies the little known Congaree National Park. Comprising over 27,000 acres and located in central South Carolina near the state’s capitol of Columbia Congaree National Park is the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. It has only been a national park since 2003

Home to an incredible biodiversity of flora and fauna there are some 25 miles of trail including 2,5 miles of boardwalks. The vegetation is predominantly comprised of loblolly pines, oaks, maples, bald cypress, tupelo and holly trees.

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We chose to hike the 2.3 mile loop trail as it was very popular for birding and walking, This trail is raised about 6 feet above the forest floor. The trail is mostly on boardwalk and winds through an old-growth forest. Also trail guide brochure suggested we would likely not encounter too many people while hiking this trail, which we didn’t..

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There wasn’t a lot of water in the swampy areas since it is late summer but we did take a spur hike on a boardwalk over to the Weston Lake overlook. The lake is an old channel of the Congaree River. At the Weston Lake overlook we saw several mud slider turtles and sunfish.

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We also saw some huge loblolly pine, beech trees and bald cypress trees. The boardwalk trail took us through an impressive cypress-tupelo swamp with their fluted bases and hundreds of cypress “knees” emerging from the grounds below.

We heard a screeching Red-shouldered Hawk while walking the trail and later we spotted one and wondered if it was the same one we heard earlier. We stopped to enjoy viewing it through our binoculars and snapped a few photos as well.

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We heard many other bird species including the various woodpeckers, Carolina Wrens and Summer Tanagers. We spotted a few deer as well as many skinks, anoles, and spiders. Thankfully, according to Sharon, we saw no snakes.

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While the park appears to be a swamp; it is better categorized as an old-growth bottomland hardwood forest which can be often flooded by groundwater or surface water. As we walked along the Boardwalk Trail we could tell when the soils were less boggy by the changes in understory vegetation and the different tree species. We were both very glad we walked the trail as it was such a scenic, peaceful stroll.