Friday, December 30, 2011

Hard Labor State Park: Northern River Otter (Lontra Canadensis)

December 9th, 2011. We were making our way back along the north shore of Lake Rutledge in Hard Labor State Park in Morgan County, Georgia, when I saw what looked like a duck with a white front preening itself on a long just off the shore. It was strange that it sat there when all the previous ducks we’d seen had flown off the minute they spotted us. At about the same time, a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flew across the lake and settled in the branch of a pine tree just above the log.

We decided to drift along the shore and see how close we could get to the ‘duck’ as well as seeing if we could spot and photograph the eagle. Quite often, it’s useful to identify objects by taking a photograph using full zoom and then enlarging it in the preview window on the camera. And this is what we saw.

A Northern River Otter (Lontra canadensis) with a fish in its mouth. The otter was lying along the log. The fish was what had looked like a white front on the ‘duck.’

A cropped enlargement of the first image. It’s an adult otter, 3 to 4 feet in length. The fish is large too.

The otter slid back into the water and appeared on the left side of the tuft of grass at the left side of the first image. Just its head was above water. Then it disappeared under the water again. We thought this would be the last we’d see of it.

It then reappeared midway along the log again. Just its upper body visible above the log this time. I think it was having some difficulty managing the fish. The grayish sheen on the face and throat are visible in this shot.

This shot, the last we were able to get, shows the otter’s head, side-on, with the fish still in its mouth. Its holding onto the log with its short front, left leg. Clearly this otter is healthy and well fed.

The otter then disappeared. The next we saw it, it had swum underwater about 20 to 30 yards west along the shore and appeared briefly in the water before it climbed out onto the shore and took its fish off into the bushes to eat. We wondered if the Bald Eagle had seen the otter with the fish and had flown across the lake, hoping to steal a meal. Soon after the otter took its fish into the bushes, the eagle flew back across the lake and out of sight. Maybe this scene with eagle and otter is played out frequently.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Northern River Otter. The photographs aren’t the best, but not bad for the limiting light conditions, the distance from the otter, and the speed with which these events occurred. We’ll be returning to Lake Rutledge in the future in hopes of seeing this otter again.

Click on an image to view a larger image


- Hard Labor State Park

- University of Georgia Museum of Natural History: Northern River Otter (
Lontra canadensis)

Related post:

- Hard Labor State Park: The Many Moods Of Lake Rutledge

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hard Labor State Park: The Many Moods Of Lake Rutledge

December 9th, 2011. We got a small River Hawk boat to give us better access to small rivers and creeks and needed to take it out to get a feel for how it handled. The water level at Fort Yargo State Park is two to three feet low at the moment due to the drought so...

we checked out Lake Rutledge in Hard Labor State Park in Morgan County, Georgia. It was a cloudy afternoon which showed us
more interesting moods than on a sunny day.

Starting the launch. The boat launch here is shallow. It’s great for launching a rowing shell but a little more challenging for launching a larger boat. You have to wade in a little further to launch a boat from a trailer with the risk of getting water in one’s boots. Chilly on a Fall day.

In the water. Ready to go.

Out first test when we sighted this turtle resting on a log. We drifted in towards the turtle and got within 10-12 feet before the turtle quietly slid back into the water. It was interesting that the turtle was resting on its plastron; its back legs were not touching the log.

Birds were a different matter; they took off when we came into sight. Might have something to do with the fact that its hunting season.

Approaching a small inlet. There’s a small pond behind the grass at the water’s edge. This was where we started to see the different moods on the lake.

Turning to head down the south shore. A darker mood in the shadows.

Still a darker mood but with interesting shades of green.

The island at the east end of the lake. There is a very narrow passage between the island and the mainland.

Looking east from the island. Leafless trees add to the mood… The spillway is to the right.

Looking back towards the overflow tower from the entrance to the passage between the island and the mainland. This is the largest snag in the lake.

The second turtle we were able to drift towards. We got within 10 feet of this one before it slid off into the water.

Looking directly towards the spillway.

The overflow tower. It’s quite different from the overflow tower at Fort Yargo State Park.

Starting back along the north shore. A mixture of trees that had dropped all of their leaves and those that were still hanging onto their Fall color.

And more….

And still more…

Some with beautiful tree trunks.

Some that cast ghostly reflections on the waters surface

Grasses added to the character of the scenery

And more bare trees.

Occasionally a boulder broke the monotony of the shore line.

It suddenly turned quite cold as the sun sank low in the sky and we turned around to go back to the boat launch.

The vista looking back east along the north shore of the lake

With its sentinel pine.
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- Hard Labor State Park

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oconee WMA: An Abandoned Bridge, Fungi, And Herons

November 25th, 2011. We checked out a small section of the Oconee WMA bordering the Apalachee River just north of where it drains into Lake Oconee. Trimble Bridge Road once crossed the Apalachee River here but the narrow bridge has been abandoned for some time. We parked at the east end of the bridge and walked down onto the flood plain.

The ruins of the Trimble Bridge Road bridge over the Apalachee River. Only some concrete supports and the frame remain. The decking is gone.

Looking north along the flood plain.

We couldn’t reach the Apalachee River itself. There are a series of channels between the road and the river. This is one of them. Fishermen cross these fallen tree trunks to reach the main river channel.

A closer view of the crossing. The trunks are lashed together.

Old Man’s Beard lichen (Usnea strigosa). We didn’t find too much of this lichen in this area but this was a nice specimen

Small mushrooms covered the bark that had separated from a log.

A closer view from above, and…

from below.

We drove south to Reid Duvall Road and then out to US-278 and turned west to cross the Apalachee River

Looking north towards the Apalachee River from the US-278 bridge in the late afternoon.

A closer look revealed a couple of Great Blue Heron’s (Ardea herodias) fishing.

A closer view.

It’s going to be interesting to explore this area by water next year.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area, Atlanta Tract: Shoal Creek Ford to Etowah River Ford

November 19, 2011. Continued from here. The Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area is ‘divided’ into four tracts from south to north: City of Atlanta, Goethe, Amicalola, Wildcat Creek, and Burnt Mountain Tracts. We spent most of our time in the City of Atlanta Tract. We drove south from Dawsonville on GA-9 and then west on Dawson forest Road West and entered the WMA from the southeast. Like the Blanton Creek WMA, roads in this WMA are clearly labeled.

When we returned from Mill Rd, we drove north on Shoal Rd to North Gate Rd and south to the end of North Gate Road before driving north out of the Atlanta Tract.

Shoal Creek Ford. I’m sorry I didn’t take a photo at the top of the ledge before we descended to the creek. It is quite a steep descent, probably two to three times the climb out on the north side ahead of us and there were no guidance regarding the depth of the water. The ford looked quite deep and we sat a while before deciding to cross. W said the water reached the floor boards and the brakes were affected a little so this is a ford to assess carefully before crossing.

Looking upstream (east) from the ford as we crossed it. The ripples are from our movement; the water was quite still when we began the crossing.

Looking downstream from the ford. The water is flowing quite rapidly over the curb. The green bushes on the embankment in the distance looked like rhododendrons.

We saw several seed heads of Asclepias species that we guessed were A. viridiflora (Green Comet Milkweed) based on their stalks. We saw a few near the junction of Clark and Reservoir Roads as well as this one on North Gate Road.

We found this sign rather amusing although it is quite an important and very, very practical
sign. The tract has a complex series of hiking, equestrian and mountain biking trails. Horses and mountain bikers are not allowed to use the road beyond this sign. Horses are travelling slowly enough that their riders would see the small trail marker sign that tells them where the trail leaves the road and that they cannot continue along the gravel road. Mountain bikers, on the hand, would be travelling fast enough down the hill that they would likely miss the trail marker sign but they could not miss this sign.

I’d never thought much about how Lycopodium digitatum (Fan Clubmoss) plants spread. This image shows the runner system quite clearly.

We continued down North Gate Rd to the ledge above the Etowah River. The clouds had cleared for a short while and the woods looked a little less forlorn than at the end of Mill Rd.

North Gate Road ended near this old railway bridge. Only the bridge skeleton remains. It looks like this railroad supplied the Georgia Nuclear Aircraft Laboratory.

The road is closed at the bridge. The hiking, equestrian, mountain biking trail cross the Etowah River along to the left.

The sign for the river ford.

The trail down to the river. There was a very narrow ‘beach’ above the water.

The Etowah River, looking upstream from the north side of the Etowah River Ford.

Looking across the Etowah River to the south side of the river. The water varied in depth. It looked about 1.5 to 2 feet deep at a rock-covered bar about one-third of the way across but deeper in other parts. I didn’t feel the water temperature but it looked cold. It would be an interesting crossing walking or carrying a bicycle. This looked like a ford for the summer but not now.

On the surface, the Altanta Tract of the Dawson Forest WMA allows most access to this area. It’ll be interesting to return in the Spring when the hepatica blooms and see else emerges then.

Click on an image to view a larger image

- United States Department of Agriculture Plants Database: Lycopodium digitatum (Fan Clubmoss) [United States] [
- University of North Carolina Herbarium:
Lycopodium digitatum

Identification resources:
- Natural and Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas and Georgia:
Lycopodium digitatum (Common Running-cedar, Fan Ground-pine, Common Running-pine)

Related posts:
- Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area, Atlanta Tract: Mil Road and Railroad Road