Monday, April 14, 2014

Oconee Station Historic Site and Station Cove Falls


April 2nd, 2014. We made a short trip over to Devil’s Fork State Park, South Carolina in search of Shortia galacifolia (Oconee Bells, Southern Shortia) and Monotropsis odorata (Pygmy Pipes, Appalachian Pygmy Pipes, Sweet Pinesap). While we were there we made a side trip to Oconee Station Historic Site and the Station Cove Falls. 


Map of the trails from the Oconee Station Historic Site to the falls. 

We parked at the historic site and walked down to the pond. The main trail stays on the highway side of the pond and follows the creek up to the highway. Although the map shows a trail around the pond, it is quite primitive. It was late in the day so we decided to hike to the falls the following morning. 

We parked on the highway where the trail crosses the road. The main trail connects the historic site to Oconee State Park which is about 3-1/2 miles from the highway. 

The trail is intended for hiking and mountain biking. It’s wide and easy hiking. Logs have been embedded in some short sections to stabilize the trail where puddles would form after rain. The trail initially descends from the highway and then follows a contour along the hillside until it crosses the valley along the creek, periodically crossing tributaries to the creek.

The trail.

An overlook of a swampy section of Station Creek. Many American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) were calling.

The trail passes through a deciduous forest which was very open in early April; it will be much more shaded when the trees leaf out.

Yellow ‘I’s mark the trail connecting the historic site to Oconee State Park.

The trail to the falls leaves the main trail just after it leaves the historic site property and enters the Sumter National Forest, marked by the red blaze on a nearby tree.

Looking back to the ‘entrance’ to the Station Cove Falls trail. This trail is not opened to mountain biking.

Looking upstream along one of the larger tributaries to Station Creek.

Station Creek not far below the falls.

An impressive gall on a tall tree along the trail not far from the falls. 

Looking back, just after descending to, and crossing Station Creek on the final approach to the falls. 

The trail on the final approach to the falls 

Station Cove Falls. The falls are about 60 feet high. 

This is a relatively easy hike approximately 1 mile in length from the highway and worth the effort for the scenery and for the Spring wildflowers (to follow).

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pygmypipes, Appalachian Pygmy Pipes, Sweet Pinesap (Monotropsis odorata)

April 2nd, 2014. We made a short trip over to Devil’s Fork State Park, South Carolina in search of Shortia galacifolia (Oconee Bells, Southern Shortia) and Monotropsis odorata (Pygmypipes, Appalachian Pygmy Pipes, Sweet Pinesap). One of the best places to see these wildflowers is the Oconee Bells Trail in Devil’s Fork State Park. 

The Oconee Bells Trail is a loop trail less than 1.5 miles in length. The trail begins at the end of a parking lot for a boat ramp and descends to creeks below. We followed the trail in a counterclockwise direction. The trail is well-developed; its descent is more precipitous in some places but allows for an easier ascent back to the trailhead. 

We have photographed both Monotropa uniflora (Indian Pipes, Ghostflower) and Monotropa hypopithys (Pinesap). Finding and photographing Monotropsis odorata (The first access to photograph the Oconee Bells was near the interpretive sign (Pygmypipes, Appalachian Pygmy Pipes, Sweet Pinesap) would complete our checklist for this group of plants. 

Monotropsis odorata has fragrant flowers; the fragrance has been described as being similar to cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and violets. I expected that the fragrance would be subtle and, as we began to keep an eye out for these plants, I remembered this characteristic and inhaled deeply as we moved along the trail in the hope that this would help us find them. 

The first hint of their presence came as we climbed the trail to a ridge (between the two Oconee Bell sites on the map). The fragrance wasn’t at all subtle; it was intense. It didn’t strike me as reminiscent of any of the suggested fragrances; it was just very pleasant, even it a little strong. We hunted around the area but couldn’t find any plants. After a while I began to think I had simply smelled a cologne lingering from a previous hiker and we pressed on.  

At the second Oconee Bells site, we met some other hikers one of whom had been on a guided botanical tour a few weeks earlier. We were using common names in discussing the plants in the area and I asked whether they had seen Sweet Pinesap (I couldn’t remember Pygmy Pipes at that moment). And here is another example of the confusion caused by the exclusive use of common names. The hikers didn’t recognize ‘Sweet Pinesap’ but after we talked for a while, one suddenly said ‘Pygmy Pipes’ and I recognized the name.  They had, indeed, been shown some and told us they could be found up ‘above’ the rhododendrons in the deciduous oak/hickory forest but couldn’t point us to a precise location other than the advice to follow the fragrance. 

We were certain then that we had smelled the Pygmy Pipes on the previous ridge. We pressed on up the eastern side of the trail. 

While we were talking, we had heard the melodic trill calls of a few American Toads (Anaxyrus – formerly Bufo - americanus) along the creek. As we climbed, the calls increased in numbers and we soon found out why. We came along side a pond which, judging by the deafening sound, was home to many toads. 

On several occasions along the trail, we smelled the fragrance of the Pygmy Pipes but couldn’t find the plants. I was thinking that it was a pity that there wasn’t a way for the hikers to be able to point us to some plants.  

Then, a few meters north of an interpretive marker for the forest, I found this…. 

lying on the trail. Our hiker friends had the same thought and improvised a note for us! Many thanks! 

The location – looking back up the trail to the forest interpretive sign and… 

ahead at a rhododendron grove. 

Even then I couldn’t find the plants – because I was looking too close to the trail. W spotted a clump further off the trail at the edge of the rhododendron grove. Success – with help!  We settled down to photograph the plants. 

Can you see them? 

Can you see them now? They blend into the background of dead leaves. 

They’re in the lower-center of the photo. 

Still closer. These flowers are a little past their best and the dusky maroon petals are not visible which explains why we couldn’t find them. 

The stems are clearly fleshy.

We thought that this was the best we would do but as W got up, his hand brushed away some leaves and he found some flowers 

that had not aged as much and… 

showed the dusky maroon petals nicely. 

Monotropsis odorata (Appalachian Pygmy Pipes, Pygmypipes, Sweet Pinesap) occur only in the southeastern United States from Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. In Georgia, they have only been formally documented in four counties: Stephens, Elbert, Hall and Gwinnett. 

Identification resouces:
- Native and Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas and Georgia: Monotropsis odorata (Appalachian Pygmy Pipes, Sweet Pinesap) 
- Flora of the Southeast: Monotropsis odorata 
- USDA Plant Database: Monotropsis odorata (Pygmypipes) 

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia)

April 2nd, 2014. We made a short trip over to Devil’s Fork State Park, South Carolina in search of Shortia galacifolia (Oconee Bells, Southern Shortia) and Monotropsis odorata (Pygmy Pipes, Appalachian Pygmy Pipes, Sweet Pinesap). One of the best places to see these wildflowers is the Oconee Bells Trail in Devil’s Fork State Park. 

The Oconee Bells Trail is a loop trail less than 1.5 miles in length. The trail begins at the end of a parking lot for a boat ramp and descends through a deciduous forest with a rhododendron understory to creeks below. We followed the trail in a counterclockwise direction. The trail is well-developed; its descent is more precipitous in some places but allows for an easier ascent back to the trailhead. 

The first access to photograph the Oconee Bells was near the interpretive sign (to the lower left in this photo.) Most of the plants had finished blooming but we found… 

a few clusters of plants that allowed us to photograph… 


specimen flowers and leaves.

The trail followed the creek

The plants were clustered along the banks and didn’t extend far beyond.

The trail then ascended to the top of a ridge where we had our first evidence of Monotropsis odorata but couldn’t find the plants. before it descended again to the creek at the southernmost end of the trail and more Oconee Bells… 

growing on rocks above the creek as well as...

Along the creek bank. 

Oconee Bells or Southern Shortia (Shortia galacifolia) is found only in a few counties in South and North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia. The best time to see these flowers is during March. 


From here the trail followed the hillside up to the top of the ridge where we began the search for Pygmy Pipes

Identification resources: 
- Native and Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas and Georgia: Shortia galacifolia (Oconee Bells, Southern Shortia) 
- Flora of the Southeast: Shortia falacifolia var. falacifolia

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

At The Feeders: Daylight Robbery


The Victim:
I really felt for this little warbler – a breeding male Yellow-rumped “Myrtle” Warbler  that was feeding at one of our log feeders. It’s not too cold – about 53F – but windy; it was blowing at about 24 mph. He’s a chunky little fellow and it’s not easy for him to hold onto the feeder log. But he had grabbed a mouthful of peanut butter/vegetable fat/seed mix… 
 
The Scene of the Crime:

and had just returned to a nearbly branch. He deposited the chunck of food on the branch and was about to eat it when the Hermit Thrush grabbed it and gobbled it down.
 
The Accused:

Who, me?
Yes, you – I saw you. The warbler wasn’t pressing charges;…

he had already flown back to the log feeder.

The thrush, a little later, back to get food honestly. In defense of the thrush, it has great difficulty holding onto the log to feed. It usually has to hover at the log and grab food ‘on the fly,’ literally. The opportunity to grab some food off a branch was just too tempting. 

Identification resource:

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