Thursday, January 19, 2012

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge: The Evening Before

December 28th, 2011. Between Christmas and New Year we took an overnight trip down to the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge in search of some sun and warmer weather. The weather was a little cool due to a northwesterly wind but it was sunny. The Savannah NWR is located on the east side of the Savannah River in Jasper County, South Carolina, just across the Savannah River from Georgia. We visited Argyle Island that is accessed from Alligator Alley.

In the 1800s, the island was the site of a large rice plantation. The outlines of the rice fields are clearly visible in the satellite image from Google maps. Dikes were built up to provide a drive, the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive, a 4.5-mile drive, around the freshwater marsh on the south end of the island. Wooden gates, called trunks, were used to control water to the rice fields. These are used now to keep the level of the water in the freshwater marsh constant and immune from the tidal changes in the Savannah River.

We visited the area first in the late afternoon on December 28th and, again, the next morning. These photos are from the late afternoon drive and capture the textures of the grasses and vegetation in the waning light.

The entrance to the Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive off Alligator Alley.

Looking across the fields near the beginning of the drive. The structure in the center is one of the wooden trunks that controlled water to the rice fields.

A closer view of another trunk in a dike at the west end of the marsh.

Looking across the marsh.

Looking west towards the container port, Port Wentworth. It was fascinating to see signs of civilization in the distance while driving through the relative wilderness of the marsh. The canal beyond the marsh is clearly empty at low tide.

The drive passed through a small grove of trees covered in Spanish Moss which is not a moss, but a bromeliad, Tillandsia usneoides. I’ve never seen this plant bloom but there’s a photograph of the flower here. These are relatively small plants compared with some that can be found on the coastal plain.

From the grove the road swung around to follow a canal east and then north to the exit from the marsh.

Cattails had gone to seed.

Looking towards woods beyond the marsh.

Looking back. The woods on the left are the grove of trees we had driven through.

Woods had developed along some of the dikes.

Looking across the canal at the south end of the marsh.

Looking west across the marsh towards a paper mill in the distance.

Zooming in for a closer look at the paper mill.

We were intrigued by the shape of the plants growing in the open water.

Up close, they looked like little trees.

We left the marsh for the night with plans to return the following morning.

Click on an image to view a larger image


- US Fish and Wildlife Service: Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

- University of South Carolina, Longleaf Environmental Learning Center: Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides)

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